Category Archives: London

Plastic plaque


‘This was not quite the honour I wanted.’



screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-17-42-12Burgess on A Little Learning (1964), the first volume of the autobiography of Evelyn Waugh. Waugh died before he could publish a second volume.




Burgess discusses Metamorphosis, The Trial, The Castle and the Brod-edited diaries.

1980 Sexist Pig of the Year

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-21-10-36The award came from the Female Publishers of Great Britain.

Burgess wrote:

‘Cleaning out my son‘s bedroom the other day (he has gone to Paris to work as an apprentice fish chef in the all-male kitchens of Le Fouquet) I came across a partly eaten pig in pink marzipan. It had come, apparently, in the Christmas mail and was so ill-wrapped that neither its provenance nor purpose was apparent. My son thought it was an eccentric gift from one of his friends. Now, quite by chance, I discover (a matter of an old Punch in a thanatologist‘s waiting room) that it was a trophy sent by the Female Publishers of Great Britain to myself as one of the Sexist Pigs of the year. I forget who the others were, but I think one of them published a picture book on the beauty of the female breast. What my own sin against woman was I am not sure, but I‘m told that it may have been a published objection to the name the Virago Press (women publishers publishing women) had chosen for itself.

‘Now all my dictionaries tell me that a virago is a noisy, violent, ill-tempered woman, a scold or a shrew. There is, true, an archaic meaning which makes a virago a kind of amazon, a woman strong, brave and warlike. But the etymology insists on a derivation from Latin vir, a man, and no amount of semantic twisting can force the word into a meaning which denotes intrinsic female virtues as opposed to ones borrowed from the other sex. I think it was a silly piece of naming, and it damages what is a brave and valuable venture. The Virago Press has earned my unassailable gratitude for reprinting the Pilgrimage of Dorothy Richardson, and I said so publicly. But I get from its warlike officers only a rude and stupid insult, and I cannot laugh it off. Women should not behave like that, nor men either.

‘It has already been said, perhaps too often, that militant organizations pleading the rights of the supposedly oppressed ‒ blacks, homosexuals, women ‒ begin with reason but soon fly from it. On this basic level of language they claim the right to distort words to their own ends. I object to the delimitation of ‘gay‘. American blacks are not the only blacks in the world: the Tamils of India and Sri Lanka are far blacker. ‘Chauvinistic‘ stands for excessive patriotism and not for other kinds of sectional arrogance. ‘Pig’ is an abusive word which libels a clean and tasty animal: it is silly, and it can be ignored. But ‘sexist‘ is intended to have a precise meaning, and, on learning that I was a sexist pig, I felt it necessary to start thinking about the term.

‘As far as I can make out, one ought to be a sexist if one preaches or practices discrimination of any kind towards members of the other sex. In practice, a sexist is always male, and his sexism consists in his unwillingness to accept the world view of women in one or other or several or all of its aspects. This means, in my instance, that if I will not accept the meaning the Virago Press imposes on its chosen name, I qualify, by feministic logic, for the pink pig. But I cannot really believe it is as simple as that. The feminists must have other things against me but none of them will speak out and say what they are.

‘In the Harvard Guide to Contemporary American Writing, Elizabeth Janeway, discussing women‘s literature, considers a book by Mary Ellmann called Thinking About Women. She says: ‘It is worth being reminded of how widespread and how respectable has been the unquestioned assumption of women‘s inevitable, innate, and significant otherness, and Ellmann here collects utterances on the subject not only from those we might expect (Norman Mailer, Leslie Fiedler, Anthony Burgess) but from Robert Lowell, Malamud, Beckett, and Reinhold Niebuhr.‘ Note both the vagueness and the obliqueness. There can be no vaguer word in the world than ‘otherness‘. The vagueness is a weapon. Since it is not defined, the term ‘otherness‘ can mean whatever its users wish, rather like ‘virago‘. The position of people like Mailer and Burgess and Fiedler vis-à-vis this ‘otherness‘ does not have to be defined either: we have an intuitive knowledge of their qualities, and, between women, no more need be said.

‘That women are ‘other‘, meaning different from men, is one of the great maxims of the feminists. They are biologically different, think and feel differently. But men must not say so, for with men the notion of difference implies a value judgement: women are not like us, therefore they must be inferior to us. I myself have never said or written or even thought this. What I am prepared to see as a virtue in myself (as also in Mailer and Fiedler and other pigs) is ‒ because of the feminist insistence on this damnable otherness ‒ automatically transformed by such women as read into a vice. I mean the fact that I admire women, love the qualities in them that are different from my own male ones, but will not be seduced by their magic into accepting their values in areas where only neutral values should apply. Here, of course, the trouble lies. Women don‘t believe there are neutral zones: what males call neutral they call male.

‘I believe, for instance, that in matters of art we are in a zone where judgements have nothing to do with sex. In considering the first book the Virago Press brought out ‒ the masterpiece of Dorothy Richardson ‒ I did not say that here we had a great work of women‘s literature, but rather here we had a great work which anticipated some of the innovations of James Joyce. I should have stressed that this was a work by a woman, and the womanly aspect of the thing didn‘t seem to me to be important. I believe that the sex of an author is irrelevant, because any good writer contains both sexes. But what we are hearing a lot of now, especially in American colleges, is the heresy that Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina can‘t be good portraits of women because they are written by men. These are not aesthetic judgements: they are based on an a priori position which refuses to be modified by looking at the facts. The feminists just don‘t want men to be able to understand women. On the other hand, women are quite sure they understand men, and nobody finds fault with the male creations of the Brontës or of Jane Austen.

‘Let‘s get out of literature and into life. I think I am quite capable of seeing the feminist point of view with regard to men‘s sexual attitude to women. I am strongly aware of the biological polarity, and it intrudes where women say it shouldn‘t. I am incapable of having neutral dealings with a woman. Consulting a woman doctor or lawyer, shaking hands with a woman prime minister, listening to a sermon by a woman minister of religion, I cannot help letting the daydream of a possible sexual relashionship intrude. That this diminishes the woman in question I cannot deny. It depersonalizes her, since the whole sexual process necessarily involves depersonalization: this is nature‘s fault, not man‘s. Women object to their reduction into ‘sex objects‘, but this is what nature decrees when the erotic process gets to work. While writing this I am intermittently watching a most ravishing lady on French television. She is talking about Kirkegaard, but I am not taking much of that in. Aware of her charms as she must be, she ought to do what that beautiful lady professor of mathematics did at the University of Bologna in the Middle Ages ‒ talk from behind a screen, meaning talk on the radio. But then the voice itself, a potent sex signal, would get in the way.

‘This awareness of the sexual power of women, I confess, induces attitudes which are, from the feminist angle, unworthy. At Brown‘s Hotel a woman porter proposed carrying my bags upstairs. It was her job, she said, but I could not let her do it. Old as I am, I still give up my seat to women far younger when on a bus or tube train. This is a protective tenderness wholly biological in origin. How can I apologise for it when it is built into my glands? Women are traditionally (but this is, I admit, possibly a man-imposed tradition) slower to be sexually moved than are men, and this enables them to maintain a neutral relationship with the other sex in offices and consulting rooms.

‘I believe what women tell me to believe ‒ namely, that they can do anything men can do except impregnate and carry heavy loads (though this latter was contradicted by the girl at Brown‘s Hotel). Nevertheless, I have to carry this belief against weighty evidence to the contrary. Take music, for instance. Women have never been denied professional music instruction ‒ indeed, they used to be encouraged to have it ‒ but they have not yet produced a Mozart or a Beethoven. I am told by feminists that all this will change some day, when women have learned how to create like women composers, a thing men have prevented their doing in the past. This seems to me to be nonsense, and it would be denied by composers like Thea Musgrave and the shade of the late Dame Ethel Smyth (a great feminist herself, the composer of The March of the Women as well as The Wreckers and The Prison, which the liberationists ought to do something about reviving). I believe that artistic creativity is a male surrogate for biological creativity, and that if women do so well in literature it may be that literature is, as Mary McCarthy said, closer to gossip than to art. But no one will be happier than I to see women produce the greatest art of all time, so long as women themselves recognise that the art is more important than the artist.

‘I see that most, if not all, of what I say above is likely to cause feminist rage and encourage further orders to pink-pig manufacturers (did the Virago Press search for a woman confectioner?). But, wearily, I recognise that anything a man says is liable to provoke womanly hostility in these bad and irrational times. A man, by his very nature, is incapable of saying the right thing to a woman unless he indues the drag of hypocrisy. Freud, bewildered, said: ‘What does a woman want?‘ I don‘t think, despite the writings of Simone de Beauvoir, Caroline Bird, Sara Evans, Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, Elizabeth Janeway, Kate Millett, Juliet Mitchell, Sarah B. Pomeroy, Marian Ramelson, Alice Rossi, Sheila Rowbotham, Dora Russell, Edith Thomas, Mary Wollstonecraft and the great Virginia herself, the question has yet been answered, except negatively. What women dont want is clear ‒ their subjection to the patriarchal image, male sexual exploitation, and all the rest of it. When positive programmes emerge ‒ like the proposed desexualization‘ of language ‒ we men have an uneasy intimation of the possible absurdity of the whole militant movement. I refuse to say Ms, which is not a real vocable, and I object to ‘chairperson‘ and the substitution of ‘ovarimony‘ to ‘testimony‘. And I maintain (a) that a virago is a detestable kind of woman and (b) that feminist militancy should not condone bad manners. If that pink pig had not been thrown in the garbage bin I should tell the women publishers of Britain what to do with it.’

24 Glebe Street

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 22.42.09A commonplace dwelling on an undistinguished street in a prosaic suburb. It was not exactly the Villa Mauresque. ‘Fame comes slowly,’ Burgess once remarked. Chiswick is a neighbourhood of London, England, about six miles from the downtown area. Burgess and his first wife Lynne lived in the small terraced house on this road in 1964-68.

Burgess fabulism (instance Nº 234)

The myth of the inoperable brain tumour never dies.


November 22nd, 1993. ‘If you plunge into that dark there you will emerge at length into a raging sun and all the fabled islands of my East.’

24 Glebe Street

24 Glebe Street, Chiswick. To be sure, it is not the Villa Mauresque, but it seems cosy enough.