Liana Burgess died in December 2007, so it's a bit early for an in memoriam, but this is not exactly an in memoriam. It has been a bit more than a year (late July), since I met her for the first and last time at a symposium on her husband, so I thought I would give her a bit of an homage here, mainly the impression I had of her.
So yes, I went to last year's Anthony Burgess symposium, where I had the chance to meet and talk to the widow of the man I admire the most. I didn't speak to her much, I didn't want to look like a suck up or a groupie, although I probably did end up looking like one. She was short and looked very frail, but her eyes were sharp. Burgess admirers like myself owe her a lot, since she fought really hard to get the work of her husband after his death. When I got introduced to her, she talked a good deal to me, told me how much Anthony Burgess loved Canada and Montréal, and how people there were nice to him. I loved that little attention, showing me that she cared about her husband's readership. She also told me all this in French, which she spoke fluently (among many other languages). This was a sweet gesture of respect that I greatly appreciated, speaking in my mother tongue. It was also strange to hear about my favorite writer by his first name "Anthony" (well, not quite his first name as Anthony was the name he took as a writer). Weird, but never really unfamiliar. I never felt distant about Anthony Burgess, I always had the feeling that his environment, his writing and to some extend his life reflected my own universe. Therefore this old lady was quite familiar to me. I had read about her from Anthony Burgess's second volume of autobiography, from the Andrew Biswell's biography (an inspired birthday gift from my wife), I had read all the dedications he made to her in his novels, she was already somebody I knew. In the next few days, I had the chance to see all the things I already had learned about her, see her still sharp spirit, her deep appetite for life (she liked fine food), barely diminished by her old age, her love and admiration for her late husband and his work (she felt in love with his novels first).
Anthony Burgess once wrote in The Pianoplayers the nicest dedication one could ever write to a loved one: "A Liana, che conosce tutta la scala cromatica dell' amore". Probably the most eloquent homage one can ever give a loved one. I feel very priviledged that I have met her, especially since she died shortly afterwards.
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