Extract 1 from ‘The Brief Literary Career of Lewis Burgess’

Superficially then, Burgess appeared a creature of shadow and fug.  But all the while, as he stalked along the half-lit corridors between the rows of shelving that held the dusty box-files, he was dreaming up ideas for novels.  Every day of his working life a new tale would enter unbidden into his febrile imagination.  And before the day’s work – nominally speaking – had been completed, another synopsis would have formed inside his head.

These were not just the stories a man might tell himself while he whittled away the hours of the working day.  Every one of his ideas carried the potential to become a novelistic masterwork in its own right.  That impassive brow masked the ferment of intellectual activity taking place behind it.  Within his strangely proportioned skull could be found the most remarkable oeuvre in all of world literature.  Let us take a look inside…

We find vast cryptic works in the Joycean mode alongside more playful ones resembling the deconstructed folk tales of Romano Luthero.  Then there are odysseys and quests to match Mallory and Cervantes, epics on the scale of Lawrence (that’s T E rather than D H).  Elsewhere we encounter fantasies for children, and then Lewis Burgess becomes a compound of Lewis Carol and C S Lewis.  We uncover sprawling picaresque tales contained within a single volume in the manner of Rabelais and Stendhal, sagas stretching across two volumes that mirror the structure of The Brothers Karamazov or War and Peace, trilogies in the style of Beckett, quartets after the fashion of Durrell, multiple volume novel sequences that read like those of Marcel Proust or Otto Salmon…*

And yet none of these great works was ever begun.  They remain provisional masterpieces, magna opera of a purely speculative kind.  Those tales only ever existed in imagination.  The thoughts in his head somehow never managed to translate themselves into words on a page.  Before he’d got around to writing anything down another idea would occur to him, always as brilliant as the last, and then its predecessor would be forgotten.  Each masterwork was as ephemeral as a mayfly, an idea that pupated into a synopsis, inhabiting its perfect form for a few fleeting hours before being left in some forgotten chamber of his mind, as though exiled to the perpetual twilight of the warehouse.

And so we arrive at a further contradiction.  In his head, Burgess was one of the most prolific writers in the history of literature.  In reality, he produced next to nothing.  His entire oeuvre consisted of mere memoranda toward the outlines of ideas.  His imaginative fiction was exactly that, a fiction of his imagination.

*  At this point, the reader may find himself becoming discomforted.  He should not concern himself.  The present writer will not seek to reproduce Burgess’s brilliance, a task in which he could only fall pitifully short.  The impossible will not be attempted here.

* * *

“The dashing of hope upon the rocks of time”

Text © PSR 2003/image © PSR 2008

One Response to “Extract 1 from ‘The Brief Literary Career of Lewis Burgess’”


  1. Unpublished Œuvres « Paul Sutton Reeves - November 28, 2012

    […] writer himself.  I’ve imagined such a scenario myself (see the extract from my short story, The Brief Literary Career of Lewis Burgess on the ‘Writing’ section of this […]

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