Object of the Week: A List of Manuscripts Ruined by Water
From 1976, Anthony Burgess lived in a top-floor apartment on rue Grimaldi in Monaco. In 1988, there was an ingress of water from the roof of the building, which partly destroyed Burgess’s collection of manuscripts. According to a letter in the Burgess Foundation’s archive, the papers were being stored in a spare bathroom. Shortly after the flood, in the course of making an insurance claim, Burgess compiled a list of damaged literary works.
Some of the manuscripts claimed to have been ruined by the flood are well known. Burgess’s original screenplay version of the James Bond adventure The Spy Who Loved Me, commissioned by Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli in 1975, includes one or two characters from his own spoof Bond novel, Tremor of Intent (1966). In You’ve Had Your Time (1990), Burgess details the plot of the screenplay, in which Bond faces an enemy described as ‘an Orson Welles monster based on my own character Theodorescu, crippled and confined to a wheelchair, tended by a Scottish Presbyterian doctor.’ While Burgess claimed that his typescript was destroyed by the flood, there is a version of the same work in the collection of Burgess papers at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. The film, starring Barbara Bach and Roger Moore, was released in 1977. The screenplay credit went to Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum.
Puzzlingly, the manuscript of Burgess’s book about the language of James Joyce, Joysprick, also appears on the list of works destroyed. Yet the undamaged typescript is present in the collection of the Burgess Foundation in Manchester.
Other items from the list of lost manuscripts were never published or produced. Burgess makes reference to a 120-page film adaptation of T.S. Eliot’s famous poem, The Waste Land. The only published reference to this script appears in You’ve Had Your Time: ‘I made a television version of The Waste Land and then lost it.’ It seems that the film script no longer exists, but Burgess’s musical setting of the poem is in the Manchester and Texas archives, although the list of damaged works suggests that it was destroyed by the flood. The setting for narrator, soprano and small ensemble was first performed in 1978.
Burgess also mentions the loss of his musical setting of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s The Wreck of the Deutschland, which was written in 1982. This piece has never been performed, although Burgess writes about its creation in This Man and Music (1982). A complete version of this work survives as a full orchestral score at the Ransom Center.
Another item on the list refers to an unfinished novel titled It Is the Miller’s Daughter. Dating from the 1960s, this novel was to be set in the France of Louis XIV, in a small village near the Belgian border. The plot concerns a boy who falls in love with the miller’s daughter while the village’s water well is being decommissioned by the national government. The theme of the book, Burgess wrote, was the problem of ‘submission to a central authority’. The opening chapter of the novel was published in Transatlantic Review in 1967.
The first chapter is all that remains from this lost novel, though a poem from the text appears, stripped of its context, in You’ve Had Your Time. Burgess writes in his insurance letter that the novel was ‘discontinued because of this loss’, but it is clear from the date of the flood that more than 20 years had passed since he decided to abandon it.
It is also interesting that Burgess records the loss of the ‘first movement of a symphony.’ Following the performance of his Symphony in C in Iowa in 1975, there is some evidence that he was planning to write a another symphony in or around 1984. While this project remained incomplete, there are sketches and pages of completed score elsewhere in the archive, which suggest that it was a serious undertaking, possibly begun in response to an offer from an orchestra to perform another full-length symphonic work.
There are some other water-damaged items in the Burgess Foundation’s collection, including a first edition of Don DeLillo’s Americana (1971), and a score titled Jungle Rhapsody, dating from around 1975. While these items do not appear on the list of manuscripts, it is clear from their condition that they have suffered a similar fate.
Burgess’s library and papers were the victims of other natural disasters, including in Malaya, where termites munched his copy of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the humidity destroyed his collection of vinyl records. The half-eaten Joyce novel remains in the Foundation’s book collection, but the list of water-damaged manuscripts may represent only a small proportion of the works which have been lost with no hope of recovery.