Anthony Burgess, the English author remembered for such books as Clockwork Orange and Earthly Powers lived briefly in Malta between 1968 and 1970. Burgess and his second wife Liana had left England primarily for tax purposes in 1968 and travelled through France and Italy in a campervan. His first port of call was Malta. Burgess initially seems to have liked Malta and soon purchased a house in Lija – a rather grand affair bought for £17,000, a substantial amount at the time. Burgess describes the house thus “…a rather fine house built in 1798, the year of Napoleon’s invasion. It was floored in marble, had an impressive piano nobile, three bathrooms and four toilets, and a garden with its own artesian well and many lemon and orange trees.”
What Burgess was not told was that the house had an ill-reputation – a previous owner had ended his life by flinging himself off the roof in a fit of depression; never a property’s strongest selling point. Burgess apparently was nonplussed when he discovered the fact. What did annoy the author was the rigid censorship which Malta applied at the time, resulting in books Burgess was meant to review or read being frequently withheld by the local Customs. Infamously this included a copy of Burgess’s own Clockwork Orange! After three years of this Burgess decided to leave Malta – apparently with a somewhat sour taste. In Earthly Powers and elsewhere Burgess passes some disparaging remarks on the Maltese although during his time here he also gave a well-received lecture on ‘Obscenity and the Arts’ at the University of Malta.
Burgess’s sour relations with Malta continued after he left the island. His house was confiscated by the Maltese Government in 1974 at a time when Anglo-Maltese relations were not at their best. Burgess wrote in the New York Times at the time “The Maltese claim I’ve abandoned the property and have ordered me to surrender possession and the keys. This is a totally vindictive act – a naked confrontation between the state and the individual.” The Maltese Government quickly recanted.
The house where Burgess lived in Lija is still there at 168 Main Street and is still sought out by some of the author’s numerous admirers. The nearby Three Villages Bar, combination of corner grocery and drinking hole and a regular haunt of the author, also stands – apparently little changed from Burgess’s time.
In a country replete with plaques commemorating all sorts of events it is somewhat ironic that Burgess’s stay is not remembered at all and his house does not carry any visible memento of his stay. Up to the time of writing no street in Malta carries the name of this literary colossus either. But perhaps Burgess himself would have preferred it that way…