Anthony Burgess


(1917- 1993)

British novelist, composer, librettist, essayist, semanticist, translator and critic, Anthony Burgess published over 50 books. In a 1973 interview in The Paris Review about the art of fiction, he said, "The ideal reader of my novels is a lapsed Catholic and failed musician, short-sighted, color-blind, auditorily biased, who has read the books that I have read."

His best-known novel, A Clockwork Orange (1962), offered a bleak vision of a violence-ridden future. It follows a murderous, Beethoven-loving teen-age gang leader in complacent and conformist society. Roving bands of delinquents fight, steal and rape to assert their freedom against the conformity of a clockwork society.

Dark and powerful, A Clockwork Orange is written in an artificial language that owes something to Russian but most of all to Burgess's uninhibited experimentation with language.
William Burroughs, another linguistic experimenter, said of the novel: "I do not know of any other writer who has done as much with language as Mr Burgess has done here."

The brutality depicted in A Clockwork Orange emerged after an assault on Burgess's first wife Lynne in 1943 by American GI's in London, that resulted in the loss of their expected child.

The movie version of the novel, directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1971, encountered heavy criticism - some of its violent scenes were said to have inspired real-life violence by gangs of hoodlums - and was eventually withdrawn by its producers and distributors.

After graduating from Manchester University in 1940, Burgess (born John Anthony Burgess Wilson in 1917 into an impoverished Catholic Lancashire family) joined the British Army Education Corps where he served as musical director of a special services unit, entertaining troops in Europe.
Later he was an education officer in Malaya and Brunei (1954-59).
In 1959, he was invalided out of a teaching job in Borneo, diagnosed as having a brain tumor and given a year to live.
And so John Wilson, the teacher, became Anthony Burgess, the writer. Wanting to leave Lynne with some money, he wrote five novels during what he called his "pseudo-terminal year", sold them all, and continued his daily labors as a writer. The erroneous diagnosis, he later said, was more political than medical.

Burgess regained his health, but his wife died in 1968. He remarried to Liana, an Italian countess, a translator of Pynchon's V and Lawrence Durrell's Alexandrian Quartet. Anthony, Liana and their son Andrea (Andrew) went to live first on Malta, then in Rome, in Switzerland, and in Monaco.

Between 1970 and 1973 Burgess was a visiting fellow at Princeton and a distinguished professor at the City College of New York.

He didn't ever stop writing, moving easily from genre to genre - farcical comedy in Honey for the Bears, gritty English provincial realism in The Worm and the Ring and, most famously, the Enderby series, which "are even finer comedies than those by the so much admired E. Waugh" (Gore Vidal).
His 1985 is both a convincing dystopia and an original reading of Orwell. The End of the World News combines apocalypse, Trotsky and Freud. But the book that brought him closest to critical approbation is Earthly Powers (shortlisted for the Booker 1980). Earthly Powers is the first of the "twentieth-century-through-one-pair-of-eyes" epics and features possibly the best opening sentence ever written:

"It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archibishop had come to see me."

Anthony Burgess wished people viewed him as a musician who writes novels instead of as a novelist who writes music. "Music is a purer art because it has no direct relationship to human events. It's totally outside the field of moral judgment. That's why I prize it." 

He once professed surprise about his reputation as a prolific writer of comic novels.
As he said, "The trouble began with Forster. After him it was considered ungentlemanly to write more than five or six novels."
"One writes in grim earnest," he also said, "only to discover that when my work is published that Burgess has done it again, another funny farce. My God, I had to write Clockwork Orange in a state of near drunkenness in order to deal with material that upset me very much." Nonetheless, he conceded, "I think that I'm a comic writer."

Anthony Burgess died November 26, 1993, in London Hospital, and is buried in Monte Carlo.



Film work

Dedicated Sites


A Clockwork Orange




A Clockwork Orange

Nineteen Eighty-Five

Earthly Powers

The End of the World News

A Dead Man in Deptford

The Wanting Seed

The Long Day Wanes : A Malayan Trilogy

You've Had Your Time

The Doctor Is Sick

Tremor of Intent

The Devil's Mode : Stories

Nothing Like the Sun : A Story of Shakespeare's Love-Life


One Hand Clapping

Re Joyce

The Complete Enderby Inside Mr. Enderby, Enderby Outside, the Clockwork Testament, Enderby's Dark Lady

One Man's Chorus : The Uncollected Writings


Honey for the Bears

Napoleon Symphony

The Kingdom of the Wicked

Man of Nazareth

The Kingdom of the Wicked

99 Novels : The Best in English Since 1939

Any Old Iron

Napoleon Symphony

The End of the World News : an entertainment

The Pianoplayers

Abba Abba

The Malayan Trilogy

A Mouthful of Air: Language, Languages... Especially English

"The horrid evidence of age"

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