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This article is taken from PN Review 228, Volume 42 Number 4, March - April 2016.

From the Burgess Archive (05)

04: An Olivetti Typewriter
Andrew Biswell
Olivetti Valentine portable typewriter

Photograph © International Anthony Burgess Foundation

This Olivetti Valentine portable typewriter with a QZERTY keyboard was found in Anthony Burgess’s house in Bracciano after his death in 1993. It dates from the middle period of his career after his second marriage in 1968, when he was writing novels such as M/F and Napoleon Symphony and immersing himself in sub-literary projects such as Blooms of Dublin (a stage musical based on Joyce’s Ulysses) and the television scripts for Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth.

Designed by Ettore Sottsass and Perry King in 1968, the Valentine was a popular, lightweight typewriter, sold in a red plastic carrying case with back rubber fasteners. Sottass wrote that the Valentine was not supposed to be an object for the office, and its bright colour was intended ‘to keep amateur poets company on quiet Sundays in the country.’

Although Burgess wrote music by hand, he was invariably a typewriters man when it came to composing plays and novels. His earliest surviving complete work is the stage version of The Eve of St Venus (working title: ‘Gods Have Hot Backs’), whose typescript is dated 1951. He continued to work with manual typewriters for all of his novels up to Earthly Powers (working title: ‘The Affairs of Men’), which he completed in 1980.

Typing an average of 700,000 words per year, Burgess was unsentimental about the tools of his trade. In the foreword to Urgent Copy (1968), his first volume ...


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