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These pictures reveal a very familiar image of Anthony Burgess: the smoker. Burgess’s relationship with tobacco is well documented in images throughout the archive and he’s rarely pictured without a cigarette or his favoured Schimmelpenninck Duet cigar. The archive includes many pieces of smoking paraphernalia, including tins of cigars, ashtrays, gas lighters and a large collection of matchbooks.
A life-long smoker, Burgess was introduced to the world of tobacco in his youth, when his father opened a tobacconist’s shop in the Moss Side district of Manchester in the 1920s. Burgess recalls being sent to buy cartons of cigarettes by his father, in order to spy on competitors’ prices. He also recalls studying in the cellar of the shop, ‘a room without air that smelt, because of all the Swan Vesta cartons around, like a pine forest.’ He was at his most vigorous when he was in the army during the Second World War, at which time he claimed to have smoked 100 cigarettes every day.
Tobacco plays an important role in Burgess’s fiction. Most notably, the fictional Christopher Marlowe in A Dead Man in Deptford is a prodigious smoker, declaring that the act is ‘pure pleasure’. The Marlowe novel is shrouded in a blue haze of smoke, tobacco being an exotic delight from the New World: ‘He smoked, the word would come in though some would prefer drinking. But here was an organ summoned for pleasure innutritive, the buggery of the lungs.’
Kenneth Toomey, the narrator of Earthly Powers, is also an enthusiastic smoker and, like Burgess, keeps a collection of matchbooks from his various travels. In the early chapters of the novel, Toomey is introduced to us smoking and, on his eighty-first birthday, worrying that cigarettes may shorten his life.
Many of Burgess’s other characters are smokers. Ronald Beard, in Beard’s Roman Women (1976) smokes Schimmelpenninck cigars, and Enderby smokes a brand called Sport.
It is clear that smoking is a significant feature of Burgess’s creative work, but it led to various illnesses during his life, and no doubt contributed to his death from lung cancer in 1993, at the age of seventy-six.