Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Burgess the polymath

Burgess’ Manchester, 18th October

I hadn’t visited the International Anthony Burgess Foundation before. Turning off Whitworth Street West on a dark autumn evening, and walking towards the mills on Cambridge Street feels a little like going back in time. However, the interior of Chorlton Mill, which houses the foundation, is smart and airy, with exposed brick and bright lighting. It was set up in 2003 by Burgess’s widow Liana and has a library, study centre and archive with many of Burgess’s books, music and papers.

I manage to resist the licensed cafe which greets me as soon as I enter the building. It’s run by The Modern Caterer, and I’m a big fan of their outlet at The Whitworth Gallery, so I commend myself on my restraint. Other attendees, including the speaker, are less restrained and take their beers into the lecture room with them. I haven’t been to a lecture since my university days, when taking beer into lectures was definitely forbidden. Clearly, this is not going to be a stuffy occasion.

The topic of the inaugural Anthony Burgess lecture, is Burgess’s Manchester. Our speaker, Manchester Confidential Editor Jonathan Schofield, is well known for leading walking tours around Manchester. He accompanies his lecture with a selection of slides showing period photographs of the parts of Manchester that featured in Burgess’s youth and shaped the writer he would become. These are not always in the right order, but that just adds to the laid back style of the talk.

Schofield chooses to set the scene by referring to Burgess’s entry on Wikipedia, in order to explain his description of Burgess as a “polymath”. A vast list of occupations is given, followed by an equally expansive range of genre and subjects, including faith, lust, marriage and evil. It certainly underlines the extent of the writer’s achievements and is a good introduction for those of us who may know Burgess mainly for one or two works.

An hour of readings, anecdotes and discussion follows, in which Schofield focuses on the humour in Burgess’s work and how this was informed by his Mancunian upbringing. I leave the Anthony Burgess Foundation with a strong desire to read more of Burgess’s vast catalogue of work, and also a plan to make a return visit to this excellent venue.

by Kath Horwill

Kath Horwill is a Manchester-based freelance writer and blogs at Parklover and writes for a variety of online and print publications.

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