Abba Abba

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Abba Abba
First edition
Author Anthony Burgess
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Faber and Faber
Publication date
May 1977
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 128 pp
ISBN 0-571-11125-4 (hardback edition)
OCLC 3306533
LC Class PZ4.B953 Ab PR6052.U638

Abba Abba was published in 1977. It is English writer Anthony Burgess's 22nd novel.

The theme is the last months in the life of John Keats. The sonnets of Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli that feature in the novel were translated by Burgess's Italian wife, Liana Burgess.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

In Part One, the poet has various adventures, meeting the Roman (dialectal) poet Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli in the Sistine Chapel, and Pauline Bonaparte, sister of Napoleon, in the Pincio.

Part Two consists of about seventy (from a total of 2,279) amusingly blasphemous sonnets by Belli, purportedly translated by one "Joseph Joachim Wilson", a descendant of the Roman man-of-letters Giovanni Gulielmi (a character in Part One).

An elaborate passage describes how the Italian Gulielmis were transformed into English Wilsons "during a wave of anti-Italian feeling occasioned by alleged ice-cream poisoning in the 1890s in the Lancashire coastal resorts of Blackpool, Cleveleys, Bispham and Fleetwood". "J. J. Wilson" is a thinly veiled "John Anthony Burgess Wilson".

"Abba Abba" is the epitaph on Burgess's marble memorial stone, behind which the vessel with his remains is kept, in Monte Carlo. The phrase refers to Christ's words on the cross: "Abba" means "father". ABBA also refers to the Enclosed Rhyme, commonly used by both Keats and Belli

Characters in "Abba Abba"[edit]


  1. ^ "Obituary: Liana Burgess". The Daily Telegraph. 5 December 2007. Retrieved 30 April 2015.