Category Archives: mainland Europe

Frying-Pan Place

The Burgess dwelling at Piazza Padella 1-2.

Spied on by the CIA

Burgess notes in the first, non-fiction, part of his 1978 work 1985 that while he was living in Rome in the 1970s, the USA’s Central Intelligence Agency was spying on him — tapping his phone, for one thing.

The CIA possibly had evidence of, or feared, an association between Burgess and the Partito Comunista Italiano. No doubt Burgess had a number of communist friends in various creative fields such as the film industry, literature, music. Remember that Burgess had been linked to the radical secularist and socialist opposition politician A.M. Azahari while he was working in Brunei, northern Borneo, in the late 1950s, although according to some accounts, Burgess was spying on Azahari on behalf of the British colonial authorities.

Burgess writes in 1985:

The CIA is a kind of Thought Police. The doublethink of democracy, self-determination, freedom of speech and action reconciled with bullying and brutality. A communist government in Italy? Not to be thought of. I, a harmless apolitical writer living in Rome, was well aware that the CIA was tapping my telephone. Doing their job, in the name of global freedom.


A short walk through Bracciano

Here Burgess owned a little house, to which he and his second wife retreated periodically from the rigours of highly touristed — and in the summer, sweltering — Rome.

Motherfucker (1971)

‘The tramontana is raging like Antichrist this last summer of the second Christian millennium.’ From Motherfucker or MF or M.F. or M/F (1971), the novel that Burgess declared he was least unhappy with. According to Burgess, the actor and producer William Conrad came up with ‘Motherfucker’. See You’ve Had Your Time, Being the Second Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess, page 208: ‘Bill Conrad, back at Warner Brothers, had facetiously suggested putting on a black Œdipus and calling it Mother-Fucker. The initials of my book were a homage to that idea, but they also stood for the hero, Miles Faber, who summed up man by being both a soldier and an artificer. The plot was based on incestuous relationships, but as seen through the lens of Lévi-Strauss’s structuralism. The book was to be published in Britain by Jonathan Cape, who had already published Lévi-Strauss’s The Scope of Anthropology, his inaugural address to the University of Paris when assuming his chair there, and facetious critics were to see a kind of incest in the fact of a mother-discourse and a son-novel lying in the bed of a common publisher. That mother-discourse on the relationship between incest and riddles moved me a great deal…’

Bad Sex Prize 1976

The Bad Sex in Fiction Award 1976 goes to Anthony Burgess for this passage in Beard’s Roman Women.

Burgess and Belli

Anthony Burgess described G.G. Belli as one of the ‘major revelations of my later life’. The monument, at Giuseppe Gioachino Belli Square (formerly Italy Square) in front of Garibaldi Bridge, was installed in 1913. Sculptor: Michele Tripisciano.


I lived for a long time on the same busy square, and I would probably still be living there if the landlord had not thrown me out.

Burgess lived here at 16A Piazza Santa Cecilia (the third floor flat) from 1970 or 1971 (after his return from Malta) until about 1976, when he moved to Monaco — while returning often to the Rome area to his residence at Bracciano.

The apartment was at Number 16A, on the third floor, and it had a salon, two bedrooms, a workroom, a bathroom, and a cold water kitchen. In the 1970s, Italian, or Milanese, furnishings were at their best, and the flat soon became a model of chic, what with wall bookshelves in the shape of a half-globe, a huge metal light-picture with beaten bronze doors to shut off or open up individual luminous patches; a great Italian letto matrimoniale, of the deep wide kind in which the wives of Mafia bosses dictate midnight policy; tables, chairs and desks of lucid cream or crimson; floor lamps in body-shaped parchment of the kind called ghosts or fantasme. The elegance was unabetted by tidiness: Liana said that life was not the making of beds but the unmaking of them. The untidy life of the piazza and of the narrow abutting lanes, car-honks, song, the labour of the makers of fake antiques, was answered by the baroque beauty of the basilica of Santa Cecilia, where the bones of the patroness of music were said to lie. We looked out on the flaking golden putti who guarded her church, some of whom made minute obscene gestures at such rulers of Rome as would pass or enter. There was a baroque organ within, and on this I was occasionally to play, though not the tunes of Cyrano. Gazing out, I felt happiness stirring like a threat. Despite the thieves, the streets and piazzas of Rome were a joy. I was always addressed as professore. To be a writer in Rome was no small thing.

On Sophia Loren

Burgess was quite interested in the Italian actress Sophia Loren. He wrote (see Abacus paperback edition of Homage to QWERT YUIOP, p. 127):

One of the heroines of our time….Total beauty…a paradigm of virtue…universal respect…goddess….When I first met her I was inclined to grovel on the carpet, but her humanity forbade it. She is a woman raised to a higher power….She cooks tasty meals out of scrag end…a real woman, ready to cook pasta and fagioli…a universal woman….Special femininity…tempestuous fieriness tempered with a hard sense of disillusion which yet allows room for hope….There are beautiful girls enough, but very few as beautiful as Sophia…her beauty is something immanent…the totality of her beauty….The body is beautifully made…a beauty that could strike straight at the appetite….The hunger that such a woman arouses…makes men howl with lust…eliciting the drying up of saliva and the lump in the throat as she exposes what is a delectable body…refocillating many a wilting male appetite…sex goddess…capacity to excite is part of her universal role…the universality of a human appeal…all woman….I was charmed, overwhelmed…a fine woman…passionate and earthy….I wish for consummation…the glow of her femininity…

La Línea and carnal relief

screen-shot-2017-02-04-at-19-38-20La Línea de la Concepción ‘was full of mantillaed prostitutes. I carried an urgency over the border to discharge in a wretched room smelling of garlic and cheap scent. I have learnt to associate garlic with the erotic and to feel excited at the sound of Andalusian Spanish in the mouth of a girl’.

La Línea de la Concepción

screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-18-44-23Political prisoner

On Victory in Europe Day (8th May 1945), Burgess found himself in jail in La Línea de la Concepción, in the province of Cádiz. His offence, he explains in his autobiography, had been to ‘uphold the democratic philosophy’ in a bar-brothel.

What happened is that he delivered a lengthy speech inside the establishment, and continued it, even more eloquently, outside in the street. (A certain quantity of alcoholic beverages had been consumed.) During the course of his address to the people — of La Línea in particular and of Spain in general — he described the Caudillo and President of the Government of Spain, Generalissimo Francisco Franco, as, among other things, a dirty great cabrón (lit. billy-goat).