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This article is taken from PN Review 225, Volume 42 Number 1, September - October 2015.

From the Anthony Burgess Archive

(1) A Musical Matchbox
Andrew Biswell
Anthony Burgess composed music and smoked cheroots in the same ways that he wrote fiction: tirelessly and compulsively, as if time was running short. In total he composed around 250 musical works, including the Symphony in C, a piano concerto and a violin concerto for Yehudi Menuhin. This matchbox, found in Burgess’s house in Bracciano after his death, is probably a sort of musical joke, but elsewhere in the collection there is a collapsed cigar packet used for the noting down of melodies for a musical based on Byron’s Don Juan.

Burgess was the son of a wholesale tobacconist, and in his autobiography he recalls writing his university dissertation in the summer of 1940 in the back parlour of his father’s shop in Manchester, ‘a room that smelt, because of all the Swan Vesta cartons around, like a pine forest’. The subject of his dissertation was Christopher Marlowe, another heroic smoker, who was the subject of a late Burgess novel, A Dead Man in Deptford (1993). It is said by the fictional Marlowe that pipe-smoking is ‘buggery of the lungs’ – a variation on the words attributed to Marlowe in a note of denunciation by the informer Richard Baines: ‘All those who love not tobacco and boys are fools.’

A Musical Matchbox Photograph by Graham Foster
Photograph by Graham Foster

There are around six thousand photographs of Burgess in the picture archive of the Anthony Burgess Foundation, and he is smoking in all of them. Stationed in Gibraltar during the ...

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