Realising Burgess’s vision

Words by Dipika Mummery

Images by Tracey Gibb

Anthony Burgess’s plans to publish his collected works as he intended were never realised – until now. Manchester University Press (MUP) is bringing unseen texts and familiar works together for the first time in an enlightening scholarly series.

An asteroid hurtles towards Earth, ready to send the planet to its doom. A man believes he is being haunted by the ghost of his first wife. John Keats meets a fellow poet in Rome during the last few weeks of his life. An army sergeant dreams of composing music when the war is over.

These are the plots of four of the many and diverse works of author and Manchester alumnus Anthony Burgess that are being published in new editions by MUP.

Known as the Irwell Edition, in tribute to the river that runs through Manchester, this series of hardbacks represents the first scholarly edition of Burgess’s works, which include novels, plays, essays, musical libretti and letters – some of which have never been published before.

A plan fulfilled

Burgess came up with the idea of collecting his writings under the Irwell Edition name, but this plan was never realised in his lifetime, explains Professor Andrew Biswell, who is a director of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation and discovered the writer’s plans for the edition in the charity’s archive.

“We’re not just reprinting the text,” he says. “Each book is re-edited from manuscripts. There’s a biographical introduction, new appendices and a comprehensive set of notes at the back of each volume.”

Five books have been published in the Irwell Edition series so far – and more than 60 titles could be launched by the end of the project. One of the published titles is the apocalyptic science fiction novel Puma, which first appeared as one of the narratives in The End of the World News and has now been released in the format that Burgess originally intended.

“People are excited that the novels are available again. Puma has done very well in America. There’s a big appetite for science fiction out there,” Professor Biswell says.

The Irwell Edition will introduce readers who may only know of Burgess through A Clockwork Orange to the huge variety of works he put out during his lifetime. Dr Howard Booth, Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing at Manchester, recalls being asked in an interview whether Burgess’s reputation could be said to rest solely on his most famous work.

“Given the range of Burgess’s published writing then available, it was always a surprising question, but since then the Irwell Edition has brought forward further new texts and shone a different light on those we thought we knew,” he says.

The care taken to ensure the Irwell Edition fulfils Burgess’s original vision can be seen in the new version of Beard’s Roman Women, a novel inspired by photographs of Rome by David Robinson. Previous editions have either printed the images in black and white or omitted them altogether. MUP’s version restores the photographs to their full-colour glory, putting them back on an equal footing with the text itself.

A Vision of Battlement by Anthony Burgess

Burgess at the University

The project is a particularly significant one for MUP, which is publishing novels for the first time in its history.

“It’s a prestigious thing to be involved with, and bringing the books back into print or publishing them is exactly what a university press should do,” says Matthew Frost, a senior commissioning editor at MUP and trustee of the Burgess Foundation.

The involvement of MUP is especially poignant in light of the years that Burgess spent at the University studying for his degree at the end of the 1930s. His upbringing within a musical household in Manchester inspired him to apply to study Music at the University, but he was rejected for not having an A-level in Physics, which was required at the time.

“He ended up studying English as a sort of second choice, and he did quite well,” says Professor Biswell, who has written a biography of the writer. Burgess threw himself into a wide range of extracurricular activities at Manchester, paving the way for his later multiple careers as an author, composer, journalist and stage director.

“He acted in and directed plays, and wrote music, including piano music for the student drama society. He also wrote poems and short stories, publishing them in a University magazine called The Serpent in the 1930s and 40s,” Professor Biswell explains.

Aside from the Irwell Edition, Burgess’s relationship with the University lives on in other ways. For the 50th anniversary of A Clockwork Orange, a blue plaque was installed at the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures. In 2017 the Whitworth was the venue for No End to Enderby, an exhibition including two prize-winning films adapted from Burgess’s novels by the artists Stephen Sutcliffe and Graham Eatough.

More recently, the Burgess Foundation has partnered with the University’s Centre for New Writing to invite visiting writers known as Burgess Fellows to the University. The Foundation has also donated a number of translated Burgess novels to the Library, creating a useful resource for scholars.

“We’re very pleased that the Library agreed to take a collection of translations,” Professor Biswell says. “And they’re being used. I’ve spoken to people who are going in to read and study them.”


Burgess’s Manchester

While the main players in the production of the Irwell Edition are Manchester-based, it isn’t just a Manchester initiative.

“The edition makes opportunities for young and established scholars; it’s an international project. We’ve got editors in countries such as the US, Hungary and Australia,” Professor Biswell says.

This echoes the globetrotting life that Burgess led before he died in 1993, living in countries including Malta, the US, Monaco and Italy. He couldn’t, however, resist the urge to regularly come back to Manchester.

He also paid tribute to Manchester in his writing, exploring what it was like to grow up in the city in the 1920s and 30s in his novel The Pianoplayers, another release in the Irwell Edition series.

“In a sense, you could say that he never left Manchester and Manchester never left him,” Professor Biswell says.

“Imaginatively he was here, regardless of where he was living.”

Find out more about Anthony Burgess at The International Anthony Burgess Foundation

Scroll to Top