File relating to a pack of 52 playing cards, created by Burgess ‘in homage to James Joyce’ as part of a potential commercial venture with Rosa Fantos

Scope and Content

The file contains 52 playing cards, hand-drawn by Burgess; 52 "explanatory" cards, corresponding to each playing card and describing the imagery used; and related correspondence and drawings, further outlining Burgess's creative ideas and the development of the project

Administrative / Biographical History

In about 1985 Burgess embarked on a potential commercial project with Rosa Fantos to create a pack of playing cards based on the novels of James Joyce. The idea is recorded as being that of Liana Burgess, with Burgess responsible for designing the pack and executing the drawings, which could be ‘improved upon by a draftsman or … a student of the Academy of Art in Nice’ if necessary.

The pack was originally to be Tarot-size with an explanation of the content of each card to be printed on the reverse in Burgess’s hand. Liana suggested an initial print-run of ten thousand decks. If the project proved successful, it was suggested that further packs relating to A Clockwork Orange, Freud and Napoleon might follow.

Burgess succeeded in designing a pack of 52 playing cards and produced detailed notes about his choice of suits, symbols for the numbered cards and characters on the court cards, which are mainly taken from Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. The suits are pork kidneys, corresponding to the traditional hearts; ashplants, corresponding to spades; shamrocks to clubs; and ‘flowers of the mountain’ to diamonds. The court cards relate to characters in Ulysses and there is a pattern of family or mythical relationship in each set. For example, Leopold Bloom is the King of Kidneys, since he begins the day by frying a pork kidney for his breakfast. The Knave of his suit is his dead son Rudy, and the Ace is the kidney itself, ‘symbol of economy, common sense, and prudent sobriety.’ The Joker is James Joyce himself.

Access Information


Available to researchers in consultation with the Archivist due to the condition of the item.