Brian Burland

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Brian Burland
Born(1931-04-23)23 April 1931
Died11 February 2010(2010-02-11) (aged 78)
OccupationNovelist, poet

Brian Burland (23 April 1931 – 11 February 2010) was a Bermudian writer, who was the author of nine acclaimed novels[1] that typically dealt with colonialism, family strife and race.[2] He was also a published poet.[3] Burland was the first Bermudian novelist to receive international acclaim.[4]

Early years[edit]

Brian Berkeley Burland was born in Bermuda in 1931,[5] to Gordon Burland and his wife Honor (née Gosling), and was one of four siblings.[2] His was a privileged family background, but from an early age Brian was very conscious of Bermuda's racial inequalities and empathised with black Bermudians: "An important figure in his early life was Sarah Hinson, his black Bermudian nanny who... appears in his novel The Flight of the Cavalier as a heroic figure. Burland’s family honoured his request to be buried next to her at St. Paul’s Church, Paget."[2]


Burland began his education at Saltus Grammar School in Hamilton, Bermuda, before being sent to England in 1944 as a boarder to Aldenham School in Hertfordshire.[6] His experiences on the ship crossing the Atlantic crossing during World War II would be evoked in his early novel A Fall from Aloft (1968).[7] Burland subsequently attended the University of Western Ontario in Canada, where he took a graduate English course, but dropped out without graduating. Travelling to Ireland, he began working on his first novel.

On the death of his father in 1951 Burland returned to Bermuda and worked in the family construction company for five years.[2] During this time he played with a black cricket team, "which raised eyebrows from blacks and whites... and gave him material for his novels."[2] In 1956 he sold his interest in the company, and, aged 26, went to Jamaica. There he met Noël Coward, who was impressed with a short story of Burland's.


It was not until 1964, however, that Burland began to be published, with his first book, St. Nicholas in the Tub, being produced in the US. His next novel, A Fall From Aloft, was published in the United Kingdom in 1968, followed by A Few Flowers for St. George (1970), Undertow (1961) and in 1973, The Sailor and the Fox. Burland's other published novels are Surprise (1975), Stephen Decatur, the Devil and the Endymion (1975), Flight of the Cavalier (1980) and Love is a Durable Fire (1985).[2] His papers include the manuscripts of five as yet unpublished novels.[8]

Critical reception[edit]

Burland's novels were generally well reviewed in publications including The Observer, The Times Literary Supplement,[1] The Spectator,[9] The Times in London, the New Statesman and The New York Times, being praised by the likes of novelist Anthony Burgess, playwright David Rabe and actor Sir Ralph Richardson.[2] In response to one rare, particularly negative review, Burland wrote a letter to The New York Times in July 1986, taking the reviewer to task:

"I am 55 years old. I have worked five days a week, 50 weeks a year, for over 30 years, as a novelist and poet. I set myself rather high standards: that unless the story is at once as unputdownable to a taxi driver as to a university professor, it is not good enough; that unless a novel is, at the end, quite clearly an epic poem, as well as a story, it is not good enough. My work has resulted in the publication of eight novels by 16 publishers, now adding up to 22 editions. At least something in my work has been praised by such readers as Conrad Aiken, Anthony Burgess, David Rabe, Noel Coward, Alan Harrington, Janice Elliott, Mark Van Doren, V. S. Pritchett and Alec Guinness.

Sometimes critics have found flaws in my work and pointed them out: a title they didn't think was good, a character, a technique. Yet in my whole career I have never received a review that totally dismissed a novel – my characters, my plot, my scene-setting – until Thomas Cook's assessment of 'Love Is a Durable Fire' (In Short, June 22)....

My novels have been reviewed in The Times by Martin Levin and Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, critics of large literary acumen who approached my books as works of serious fiction. Hence my disappointment in this superficial reading and irresponsible review."[10]

Personal life[edit]

Burland was married and divorced three times: to Charlotte Ann “Gale” Burland (with whom he had three children: Susan, Anne and William), to Edwina Trentham (mother of his son Benjamin) and finally to Ishbel Gibb Lee. He was the first Bermudian to become a Baha’i, in 1949,[3] and said: "It's been an inspiration for all my writing and painting; it's a connection with a higher power."[11]

Burland suffered from Huntington's disease in his later life and spent his last years at Westmeath Nursing Home and finally at Sylvia Richardson Care Facility. He died on 11 February 2010 at the age of 78.[1] He was buried on 16 February 2010 at St. Paul's Church, Paget, following a Baha'i memorial service at the church hall.[7]

Recognition, awards and legacy[edit]

In 1994 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bermuda Arts Council.

In 2001, the Bermudian government's Department of Community and Cultural Affairs established the Bermuda Literary Awards, and Burland won the Founder's Award and the prize for Children's and Young Adult Fiction. In 2007, the fiction award was renamed the Brian Burland Prize for Fiction.[5][7]

After his death Burland's family donated a collection of his original manuscripts, unpublished novels, poems, journals, correspondence and paintings, for educational use to Bermuda College,[12][13][14] where on 9 May 2013 the Brian Burland Centre for Research was formally opened. Dedicated to preserving and promoting his works and as well as to encouraging aspiring Bermudian writers,[4][15][16] the Centre features a specially commissioned mural[17] by leading Bermudian artist Graham Foster[18] that depicts imagery from four Burland novels: The Sailor and the Fox, Flight of the Cavalier, A Fall From Aloft, and Stephen Decatur, the Devil and the Endymion.[4][19][20]

A special course is to be taught at Bermuda College on the work of Brian Burland,[8] whom Angela Barry of the Burland Collection Committee has described as "the greatest writer never to be known or acknowledged in the country of his birth".[4]



  1. ^ a b c "Tribute: Brian Burland, 1931–2010 – Push to give writer his due", Bermuda Sun, 17 February 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Brian Berkeley Burland", Bermuda Biographies.
  3. ^ a b Chris Spencer, "Writer Brian Burland to be buried today", The Royal Gazette, 16 February 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d Meredith Ebbin, "Legacy of Brian Burland preserved at College", Bermuda Sun, 15 May 2013.
  5. ^ a b "Bermuda Literary Award", Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, Government of Bermuda.
  6. ^ "Brian Burland". The Modern Novel. Archived from the original on 29 June 2015. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  7. ^ a b c Meredith Ebbin, "Tribute: Brian Burland, 1931–2010 – A durable talent", Bermuda Sun, 17 February 2010.
  8. ^ a b Raymond Hainey, "Acclaimed writer Brian Burland's unpublished papers bequeathed", Bermuda Sun, 16 March 2012.
  9. ^ Peter Ackroyd, "Blood and thunder" (review of Stephen Decatur, the Devil and the Endymion), The Spectator, 1 November 1975, p. 18.
  10. ^ "'Love Is a Durable Fire' – To the Editor". The New York Times. 20 July 1986. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  11. ^ Tony McWilliam, Interview with Burland by Bermuda Sun, 26 May 1995; quoted in "In his own words", Bermuda Sun, 17 February 2010.
  12. ^ "Bermuda College Selected as Repository for Burland Literary Works" Archived 29 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Bermuda College, 12 March 2012.
  13. ^ "Burland books go to College", The Royal Gazette, 12 March 2012.
  14. ^ Jessie Moniz, "Exploring our literary history", The Royal Gazette, 16 August 2012.
  15. ^ "Minister Brangman Remarks: Brian Burland" Archived 9 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Department of Communication and Information, Government of Bermuda website. 10 May 2013.
  16. ^ Owain Johnston-Barnes, "Island writer honoured by Bermuda College", The Royal Gazette, 10 May 2013.
  17. ^ "Brian Burland tribute mural", Graham Foster Fine Art.
  18. ^ "Graham Foster biography". Bernews. 25 November 2009. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  19. ^ Keith Archibald Forbes. "Bermuda's History after 2007". Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  20. ^ Brian Burland Centre for Research at Bermuda College.

External links[edit]