‘Girl’: a poem for Llewela Jones
In 1938, while studying English at the University of Manchester, Anthony Burgess agreed to play the part of a Ruritanian captain in a production for the university’s Stage Society. Llewela Jones (1920-1968), then a student in her first term at Manchester, saw the play and was, as Burgess later said, “improbably” attracted to him. The attraction was mutual and Burgess and Llewela — or Lynne as she was known — began a passionate courtship, resulting in their marriage in January 1942.
Among the reviews and other short poems Burgess submitted to The Serpent (a Manchester University student magazine) during his time as an undergraduate is a love poem, titled ‘Girl’, which may have been inspired by Lynne:
She was all
Silver silk over steel;
Her hair harvested
Sheaves shed by summer;
Her grace in repose the flash
Of the flesh of a river swimmer.
That was not nature’s good;
She nothing understands.
Horrible now she should
Use to her own ends.
Lynne’s own remembering, or mis-remembering, of this poem survives in her French dictionary, which now forms part of the Burgess Foundation’s collection.
It is not clear when Lynne made a note of Burgess’s poem. Although the text of the dictionary is not annotated, the blank pages to the front and back of the dictionary do contain various notes and jottings, at least some of which are by Lynne. It is marked as being the property of ‘Llewela Jones, Form VIA, Bedwellty County School, Aberbargoed,’ the school of which Lynne’s father, Edward Jones (1886-1963), was headmaster and which Lynne joined as a sixth-form pupil. Notes are included as to Lynne’s homework (‘Learn verbs, English Essay, History notes’) and a poem is drafted in French.
Brief records such as these are particularly interesting as they offer a glimpse of Lynne in her own words: apart from a handful of photographs, fragments of a diary, a few letters which she sent from Malaya, and several books which now form part of our library, Lynne has left few visible traces. Her only known published works — of which no manuscripts survive — are the three novels she translated out of French in collaboration with Burgess: The Olive Trees of Justice by Jean Pelegri (1962), The New Aristocrats by Michel de Saint-Pierre (1962), and The Man Who Robbed Poor Boxes, a translation of Deo Gratias by Michel Servin (1965). She was, however, to a limited extent, Burgess’s collaborator in his wider literary work, as the legal partnership agreement they drew up in 1964 acknowledges.
The poem ‘Girl’, was to receive one further ‘re-imagining’ during Lynne’s lifetime: it was re-attributed in fragmentary and re-written form (second-person singular for third-person singular) to F.X. Enderby in Burgess’s novel Inside Mr Enderby (1963). The fictional poet Enderby, rummaging in his bathroom, comes across ‘half of a priceless piece of juvenilia’:
You are all
Silver silk over steel…
The full poem is reprinted in Revolutionary Sonnets and Other Poems, edited by Kevin Jackson (Carcanet, 2002).
Words: Anna Edwards