Extract 2 from ‘The Brief Literary Career of Lewis Burgess’

Lewis Burgess was a literary genius, of that there can be no doubt.  It might strike you as odd, then, that his work is so little known.  You may not have read it yourself.  It is even possible that his name is unknown to you.  How should we account for this seeming paradox, for the total failure of Burgess’s work to connect with an audience or gain so much as a glimmer of critical recognition?  We might begin our investigation on the bookstand of a typical news stall.  Its contents will soon inform us that popular acclaim has a tendency to accumulate in inverse proportion to literary merit.  After all, few in number are those who’ve read that great work of lyrical obscurantism, Flanagans Whiskers, and yet this epic account of a dead man’s struggle to grow his beard – in the face of a force ten gale – has been declared a masterpiece by literary authorities the world over.*  But this beginning is insufficient, offering only a partial explanation at best.  His work ought to be known at least in the universities or among the critics.  And yet it would seem not.  Where is that élite band of insiders, self-satisfied in their intimacy with a writer of whom the rest of the world remains unaware?  Burgess has become the sine qua non of cult writers, almost entirely unread.  His is the name to drop at the literary soiree should you wish to maximise the obscurity of your reference, to allude to a writer of whom no-one else will have heard.  Why, then, is there no section of the intelligentsia stubbornly defending his reputation?  We shall see.  And as you’d expect from a writer of Burgess’s sophistication, we must look beyond the obvious for an answer…

* Burgess himself posited a ruthlessly abridged version, The Shorter Flanagans Whiskers, translated into English from the Gibberish, as a means of bringing its author before a wider readership.  The project was never initiated.  Burgess did, however, complete the following limerick: ‘There was an old man, name of Flanagan/Got embroiled in some drunken shenanigan/He fell on his head/Slept the sleep of the dead/Poor old Flanagan, begin again…’ (Taken from The Collected Works of Lewis Burgess)

Flanagans Whiskers: an epic account of the dead man’s struggle to grow his beard

Text © PSR 2003/image © PSR 2008

One Response to “Extract 2 from ‘The Brief Literary Career of Lewis Burgess’”


  1. November: Can a novel be written in a month? « Paul Sutton Reeves - November 28, 2012

    […] work at different speeds.  It took James Joyce a couple of decades to write Finnegans Wake (see Extract 2 from The Brief Literary Career of Lewis Burgess) while Jack Kerouac apparently wrote On the Road in a matter of weeks.  Talking of which, […]

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