Malta Diary Anthony Burgess and Desmond Morris – both fell foul of Malta’s strict censors
Few may perhaps know that controversial but world famous English authors Anthony Burgess and Desmond Morris spent some time living in MaIta – and both fell foul of Malta’s censorship laws and thus in turn with the Government and the Maltese version of the Roman Catholic Church.
Burgess shot to fame with his novel “The Clockwork Orange” and shot to more notorious fame when Stanley Kubrick made this into a highly controversial film full of gratuitous and sickening violence – predicting a future development that has come about. He was a prolific author and song-writer and boasted to be equally good at both although his writing outshone his musical compositions.
Desmond Morris became famous for his anthropological studies and penned a great number of books the more famous of which were “The Naked Ape” and “The Human Zoo”, based on his studies and contending that man is a mere extension of the ape species and has created living conditions that are tantamount to living in a human zoo.
With Burgess it all kicked off in 1970 shortly after having taken up residence in the village at Lija where he relocated from England. Bringing over his belongings he was outraged when the authorities banned him bringing in some of his books on grounds they were “pornographic” and “unfit for human reading”.
When he realised their absence he wrote to the Maltese postal authorities asking for their release and was further outraged when they replied they would first read through them and then decide.
His reaction was instantaneous and he managed to deliver a lecture at the Malta University, highly critical of literary censorship. The hall was packed with an audience of 1,000 people, mostly extremely conservative and highly critical of Burgess himself. The content was equally outrageous with Burgess arguing that obscenity and pornography should not be outrightly banned but should be judged on their merits. He classed censorship as “a slippery slope” and that all censorship retarded human progress.
Three days earlier he had given an interview to “The Sunday Times of Malta” in which he had hinted on the content he would be delivering and during which he totally dismissed arguments in favour of local censorship.
Interviewed by Marie Said he asked, “Is Malta in greater need of protection than Rome? Or are Malta’s faith and morality so shaky that they cannot resist the onslaught of new ideas?”
He was also highly critical of the Maltese diocese classing the Church in Malta as “trying to act for Caesar as well as God”, charging the Church with wanting to retain hold of secular power and quipping “Malta will remain a good place for young Maltese … to get out of!”
The lecture ended in a great rumpus with Burgess later reporting that as he was leaving the hall “a fat Franciscan monk made a throat-cutting gesture” in his direction.
The die was further cast in 1971 when while he was holidaying in Italy with his family the Government requisitioned his Lija house and many others in the vicinity claiming the properties were needed for social housing accommodation.
Speaking to the media in Rome, Burgess classed this to be “a totally vindictive act – a naked confrontation between the State and the individual”. It marked the end of his Malta sojourn and he left never to return. Later he recounted his struggles with the Maltese authorities in his fictional saga “Earthly Powers”.
Burgess died in 1993.
Last week “The Times of Malta” reported that his essay in a new book “Obscenity and the Arts” will deal with the content of his University lecture, the script of which had remained banned until last year when all the censorship laws in Malta were revised and virtually all of them removed.
Desmond Morris had a more bemusing experience in Malta and managed to retain his humour. Having built a career in anthropology and published various studies linking humans to the animal world he contended that drawings by apes were almost identical to drawings made by young human children.
In 1967 he published the book that made him famous “The Naked Ape – A Zoologist’s study of the Human Animal” fully extending Charles Darwin’s theory of human descent from apes. The book was later serialised in “The Sunday Mirror”.
The book earned him enough money and enabled him to take up residence in Malta in late 1967.
However, the book was outrightly banned in Malta as a result of Church pressure on the censors, steadfastly maintaining that human creation was divine with a soul and had no relativity to the animal world.
Morris was banned from bringing in a copy of his book, the book he had written, to Malta! When he objected on the grounds that he had after all written the book and had a right to have his own copy, his plea fell on deaf ears. No, he could not have a copy of his own book.
The ban created a furore and Malta’s censorship was given a severe lashing by the international media highlighting the absurdity of it all.
Morris went on to write a great number of other books and even found time to publish one on the boats of Malta.
Since then, it took almost 50 years before Malta revised its strictness and last year virtually all censorship laws were removed. In equal measure even the laws banning sex shops and pornography were also removed although there have not been any outlets daring to retail sex goods or porno magazines.
Over the last two years Malta has also become probably the friendliest country in the world regarding LGBT issues, ensuring gender equality, enabling same sex unions and now as a further step passing legislation for same sex marriage. This is decisively and undoubtedly a complete revolution from 50 years ago.