Saturday, 9 July 2011

Anthony Burgess, Black Prince (1973)


Not, of course, an actual novel by Anthony Burgess -- more's the pity, I think; for (via this 1972 Paris Review interview with him) it sounds not only fascinating, but like something fairly thoroughly worked-up, at least in a preliminary sense:
INTERVIEWER

Do you expect to write any more historical novels?


BURGESS

I’m working on a novel intended to express the feel of England in Edward III’s time, using Dos Passos’ devices. I believe there’s great scope in the historical novel, so long as it isn’t by Mary Renault or Georgette Heyer. The fourteenth century of my novel will be mainly evoked in terms of smell and visceral feelings, and it will carry an undertone of general disgust rather than hey-nonny nostalgia.


INTERVIEWER

Which of Dos Passos’ techniques will you use?


BURGESS

The novel I have in mind, and for which I’ve done a ninety-page plan, is about the Black Prince. I thought it might be amusing blatantly to steal the Camera Eye and the Newsreel devices from Dos Passos just to see how they might work, especially with the Black Death and Crécy and the Spanish campaign. The effect might be of the fourteenth century going on in another galaxy where language and literature had somehow got themselves into the twentieth century. The technique might make the historical characters look remote and rather comic—which is what I want.
I wonder what happened to this project, or that 90-page plan? Is it in some archive, somewhere? Wouldn't it be an excellent thing to complete the book, and add posthumously to Burgess's oeuvre?

5 comments:

Ruzzock said...

This sent me back to re-read Little Wilson, Big God - probably my favourite Burgess. There's a nice review somewhere that compares Burgess to a heptathelete (sp?) - very good at an almost impossible range of things, but someone who wasn't completely outstanding in any single context. That feels right to me (although I'm entirely unqualified to comment on his music) - but I suppose that at the moment he's undergoing that strange period of invisibility that kicks in five years after death and ends when the next generation "rediscovers" the person.

Adam Roberts said...

In just read M/F -- a brilliant novel. Burgess is significantly underrated in the anglophone world, I think; and you're right, due a reappraisal.

Oddly, I was thinking only yesterday that I'd never heard any of the music Burgess himself composed. So I did a quick search online, and all I could find was suite based on the life of Shakespeare, which seemed to me pleasant but unexceptional contemporary classical music. Maybe I need to sample it a bit more widely.

Little Wilson, Big God is great; but I almost prefer his follow-up volume, You've Had Your Time.

Bill from PA said...

I’m a Burgess enthusiast, but I’m not sure would like to see new books from him completed or realized by other writers. Have any of these sorts of posthumous collaborations turned out well? I recall seeing Austen, Dickens, and Chandler books of this sort, but have never been seriously tempted to read them; nor, though I’m a Peake fan, do I intend to read “Titus Awakes”. With Burgess I would most like to see “The Worm and the Ring” back in print; I understand from Biswell’s biography that any legal impediments to its publication should now have been removed with the deaths of the litigants.

I’ve only heard a little of AB’s music, a recording of quartets for four guitars; “pleasant but unexceptional contemporary classical” would be a good description of those works as well.

Adam Roberts said...

Bill: you're probably right ... it would doubtless be more fun to write than to read. Still.

DC said...

Hey-nonny nostalgia or not, both Mary Renault and Georgette Heyer could really write.