Urgent copy exhibition: MF (1971)
This image is taken from the cover of the first Italian edition of MF, Anthony Burgess’s 1971 novel. The translation was made by Floriana Bossi and the publisher was Einaudi, who still publish Burgess today. The designer is not known but is likely to have been in-house.
Burgess’s second wife Liliana Macellari was born in Porto Civitanova in Italy, and among other places she and Burgess lived in Bracciano, outside Rome, after their marriage in 1968. The language spoken at home with their son Paolo Andrea (later known as Andrew Burgess Wilson) was often Italian, and the Burgess Foundation’s audio collection is rich in poetry readings, conversations and domestic activities from this time. Liana Burgess was a translator in her own right, in particular making new translations of Thomas Pynchon’s novels V and The Crying Of Lot 49.
‘I lived for a time in the house in Bracciano, and also in a flat in Rome. This was what exile should be all about. Writers are not easily acceptable to the great British public [who believe that] writing is an ignominious trade, scribbling away over the fire. The Romans did not consider it ignominious. They regarded the writer’s trade as an honorable mestiere, like that of the faker of antique furniture or the illegal vendor of Etruscan pottery. So highly was I thought of as a writer that an ex-mafioso, a former colleague of Lucky Luciano, came to me and asked me to ghost his autobiography. I did not dare refuse; I said I would think about it. Later he came along and warned me that my son was next on the kidnapping list, and that we’d better get the hell out. So we piled into the car and made our way over the border to Monaco…’ (Anthony Burgess, ‘After This Our Exile’, 1985)
How much of the above is quite true is not clear; however, Burgess writes about his Italian life a great deal in his novels – including Beard’s Roman Women and Abba Abba,and large parts of Earthly Powers – and his journalism, with reflections on Rome and Venice and, as above, his uncertain status as an exiled English, indeed Mancunian, Catholic in Europe.
‘I am proud to be Mancunian. I have, after a struggle with a people given to linguistic conservatism, even succeeded in importing the epithet mancuniense into the Italian language. Italians do not realise that the British are honorary Romans, and, lecturing in Rome, I have declared myself a cittadino mancuniense, cioè romano…’ (Anthony Burgess, Little Wilson and Big God, 1987)
While living in Italy and afterwards Burgess wrote more than a hundred pieces for the Corriere della Sera, which have never been translated into English; their obituary of Burgess is here (in Italian).
Artist Sam Huddleston has created a silk-screen print inspired by this cover design as part of the exhibition ‘Urgent Copy’, on show at Cornerhouse, 70 Oxford Street, Manchester, until 7 January 2014. More details here.