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This article is taken from PN Review 230, Volume 42 Number 6, July - August 2016.

From the Burgess Archive

06: James Joyce playing-cards
Andrew Biswell
James Joyce Playing Cards

Anthony Burgess’s enthusiasm for James Joyce began in 1934, when, as a schoolboy, he bought a copy of Chamber Music. No other writer except Shakespeare shaped his literary career to the extent that Joyce did. His first novel, A Vision of Battlements, written in 1949, was a Joycean attempt to transpose the plot of The Aeneid onto Gibraltar during the Second World War. He went on to produce a television documentary and two long critical books about Joyce, and to edit (at the request of Joyce’s executors at Faber) A Shorter Finnegans Wake, which for many years outsold the full-length original text.

His most elaborate homage to Joyce was Blooms of Dublin, a stage musical based on Ulysses. Burgess worked on the libretto and score for twenty-eight years, and the Burgess Foundation’s archive contains more than one thousand pages of notes and drafts in English and Italian. This musical has never been staged, although a BBC/RTÉ radio production was broadcast for the Joyce centenary in 1982. Paul Phillips, author of the definitive book about Burgess’s music, regards Blooms of Dublin as one of his major compositions.

Burgess wrote detailed notes and sketched designs for a James Joyce pack of cards in 1985, with the intention that the full set should be drawn by a French artist and commercially produced. Most of the references are to Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, which he regarded as Joyce’s most important books. The four suits are ‘pork kidneys’ (corresponding to hearts), ‘ashplants’ ...

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