|John Anthony Burgess Wilson|
|Born||February 25, 1917(1917-02-25) |
|Died||November 22, 1993 (agedá76) |
St John's Wood, London
|Pen name||Anthony Burgess, Joseph Kell|
|Occupation||novelist, critic, composer, librettist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, travel writer, broadcaster, translator, linguist, educationalist|
|Genres||Historical fiction, philosophical novel, satire, epic, spy fiction, horror, biography, literary criticism, travel literature, autobiography|
|Subjects||exile, colonialism, Islam, faith, lust, marriage, evil, alcoholism, homosexuality, linguistics, pornography|
Anthony Burgess (February 25, 1917 — November 22, 1993) was an English novelist, critic, composer, librettist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, travel writer, broadcaster, translator, linguist and educationalist. Born in Manchester, he lived for long periods in Southeast Asia, the USA and Mediterranean Europe as well as in England. His fiction includes the Malayan trilogy (The Long Day Wanes) on the dying days of Britain's empire in the East; the Enderby quartet of novels about a poet and his muse; Nothing Like the Sun, a recreation of Shakespeare's love-life; A Clockwork Orange, an exploration of the nature of evil; and Earthly Powers, a panoramic saga of the 20th century. He published studies of Joyce, Hemingway, Shakespeare and Lawrence, produced the treatises on linguistics Language Made Plain and A Mouthful of Air, and was a prolific journalist, writing in several languages. He translated and adapted Cyrano de Bergerac, Oedipus the King, and Carmen for the stage; scripted Jesus of Nazareth and Moses the Lawgiver for the screen; invented the prehistoric language spoken in Quest for Fire; and composed the Sinfoni Melayu, the Symphony (No. 3) in C, and the opera Blooms of Dublin.
Burgess was born John Burgess Wilson on February 25, 1917 in Harpurhey, a northeastern suburb of Manchester, to a Catholic father and a Catholic convert mother. He was known in childhood as Jack. Later, on his confirmation, the name Anthony was added and he became John Anthony Burgess Wilson. He began using the pen-name Anthony Burgess in 1956.
His mother, Elizabeth Burgess Wilson, died when Burgess was one year old, a casualty of the 1918–1919 Spanish flu pandemic, which also took the life of his sister Muriel. After the death of his mother, Anthony was raised by his maternal aunt in Crumpsall. Burgess described his father, Joseph Wilson, as descended from an "Augustinian Catholic" background. Burgess's father had a variety of means of earning a living, working at different times as an army corporal, a bookmaker, a pub piano-player, a pianist in movie theatres accompanying silent films, an encyclopaedia salesman, a butcher, a cashier, and a tobacconist. Burgess described his father, who later remarried a pub landlady, as "a mostly absent drunk who called himself a father". The adjective he used to describe the relationship he had with his father was "lukewarm". Burgess's grandfather was half-Irish.
Burgess was raised by his maternal aunt and later by his stepmother, whom he detested (he was to include a slatternly caricature of her in the Enderby quartet). His childhood was in large part a solitary one, during which he felt "perpetually angry" and resentful, but he taught himself to play the piano and violin, and learned to read music. He lived in Dickensian circumstances, his home being shabby rooms above an off-licence and newsagent's-tobacconist's shop that his aunt ran, and above a pub.
Burgess was to a large degree an autodidact, but nevertheless received a formal education of a high standard.
He first attended St. Edmund's Roman Catholic Elementary School and moved on to Bishop Bilsborrow Memorial Roman Catholic Primary School in Moss Side. For some years his family lived on Princess Street in the same district.
Burgess's first published work was an essay on Torbay for the children's section of the Daily Express newspaper in 1928.
Good grades from Bishop Bilsborrow resulted in a place at the noted Manchester Catholic secondary school Xaverian College, run by the Xaverian Brothers along religious lines. It was during his teenage years at this school that he lapsed formally from Catholicism, although he cannot be said to have broken completely with the church. His history teacher at Xaverian College, L.W. Dever, is credited with introducing Burgess to James Joyce's writings.
Burgess entered the Victoria University of Manchester in 1937, graduating three years later with the degree of Bachelor of Arts (2nd class honours, upper division) in English language and literature. His thesis was on the subject of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. One of Burgess's professors at the University of Manchester was A.J.P. Taylor. Grading one of Burgess's term papers, the great historian wrote: "Bright ideas insufficient to conceal lack of knowledge."
Burgess wrote that as a child he did not care at all about music. One day he heard on his home-built radio "a quite incredible flute solo, sinuous, exotic, erotic" and became spellbound. Eight minutes later the announcer told him he had been listening to PrÚlude Ó l'aprŔs-midi d'un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) by Claude Debussy. He refers to this as a "psychedelic moment... a recognition of verbally inexpressible spiritual realities". Suddenly music was very important to him. He eventually came to hold the opinion that music before the time of Wagner was orchestrally naive - it had little appeal to him.
He announced to his family that he wanted to be a composer ("like Debussy" he said), but they were against it because "there was no money in it." Music was not taught at his school so at about age 14 he strove to become a self-taught pianist, and in his spare time he would eventually turn himself into a composer.
Burgess's father died of flu in 1938 and his stepmother of a heart attack in 1940.
In 1940 Burgess began a wartime stint with the military, beginning with the Royal Army Medical Corps, which included a period at a field ambulance station at Morpeth, Northumberland. During this period he sometimes directed an army dance band.
He later moved to the Army Educational Corps, where among other things he conducted speech therapy at a mental hospital. He failed in his aspiration to win an officer's commission.
In 1942, in Bournemouth, Burgess married a Welshwoman named Llewela Jones, eldest daughter of a high-school headmaster. She was known to all as "Lynne". Although Burgess indicated on numerous occasions that her full name was Llewela Isherwood Jones, the name "Isherwood" does not appear on her birth certificate, and this appears to have been a fabrication. Burgess also on occasion - consciously or unconsciously - gave the impression that Lynne may have been a relative of Christopher Isherwood, but both the Lewis and Biswell biographies confirm that this was not so. Lynne and Burgess were fellow students at the University of Manchester. Their by all accounts tempestuous marriage was childless.
"I really do think, allowing for everything, Lynne was one of the most awful women I've ever met", one friend of the Burgesses once declared.[who?] But as Burgess's biographers have pointed out,[who?] Lynne provided much unacknowledged help to Burgess as he sought to establish himself as a writer - both financial and as his muse. Lynne died of cirrhosis in 1968.
Burgess was next stationed in Gibraltar at an army garrison (see A Vision of Battlements). Here he was a training college lecturer in speech and drama, teaching German, Russian, French and Spanish. An important role for Burgess was the help he gave in taking the troops through "The British Way and Purpose" programme, which was designed to reintroduce them to the peacetime socialism of the post-war years in Britain and gently inculcate a sense of patriotism. He was also an instructor for the Central Advisory Council for Forces Education of the Ministry of Education.
On one occasion in the neighbouring Spanish town of La LÝnea de la Concepciˇn, Burgess was arrested for insulting General Franco. He was released from custody shortly after the incident.
Burgess's flair for languages was noticed by army intelligence, and he took part in debriefings of Free Dutch and Free French who found refuge in Gibraltar during the war.
Burgess was pursued by military police of the British Armed Forces for desertion after overstaying his leave from Morpeth military base with his bride Lynne in 1941.
During Burgess's wartime stint, Lynne was raped by three American AWOL soldiers who had invaded their home. Burgess recounted this experience in his novel, A Clockwork Orange.
Burgess left the army with the rank of sergeant-major in 1946, and was for the next four years a lecturer in speech and drama at the Mid-West School of Education near Wolverhampton and at the Bamber Bridge Emergency Teacher Training College (known as "the Brigg" and associated with the University of Birmingham), which was situated near Preston.
At the end of 1950 he took a job as a secondary school teacher of English literature on the staff of Banbury Grammar School (now defunct) in the market town of Banbury, Oxfordshire (see The Worm and the Ring, which the then mayoress of Banbury claimed libelled her). In addition to his teaching duties Burgess was required to supervise sports from time to time, and he ran the school's drama society.
The years were to be looked back on as some of the happiest of Burgess's life. Thanks to financial assistance provided by Lynne's father, the couple was able to put a down payment on a cottage in the village of Adderbury, not far from Banbury.
Burgess organised a number of amateur theatrical events in his spare time. These involved local people and students and included productions of T. S. Eliot's Sweeney Agonistes (Burgess had named his Adderbury cottage Little Gidding, after one of Eliot's Four Quartets) and Aldous Huxley's The Gioconda Smile.
It was in Adderbury that Burgess cut his journalistic teeth, with several of his contributions published in the local newspaper the Banbury Guardian.
The would-be writer was a habituÚ of the pubs of the village, especially The Bell and The Red Lion, where his predilection for consuming large quantities of cider was noted at the time. Both he and his wife are believed to have been barred from one or more of the Adderbury pubs because of their riotous behaviour.
At the end of 1953 Burgess applied for a teaching post on Sark, but did not get the job. However, in January 1954 he was interviewed by the Colonial Office for a post in Malaya (now Malaysia) as a teacher and education officer in the British colonial service. He was offered the job and accepted, being keen to explore Eastern lands. Several months later he and his wife travelled to Singapore by the liner Willem Ruys from Southampton with stops in Port Said and Colombo.
Burgess was stationed initially in Kuala Kangsar, the royal town in Perak, in what were then known as the Federated Malay States. Here he taught at the Malay College, dubbed "the Eton of the East" and now known as Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK).
In addition to his teaching duties at this school for the sons of leading Malayans, he had responsibilities as a housemaster in charge of students of the preparatory school, who were housed at a Victorian mansion known as "King's Pavilion". The building had once been occupied by the British Resident in Perak. It had also gained notoriety during World War II as a place of torture, being the local headquarters of the Kempeitai (Japanese secret police).
As his novels and autobiography document, Burgess's late 1950s coincided with the communist insurgency, an undeclared war known as the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) when rubber planters and members of the European community–not to mention many Malays, Chinese and Tamils–were subject to frequent terrorist attacks.
In the aftermath of an alleged dispute with the Malay College's principal, J.D.R. Powell, about accommodation for himself and his wife, Burgess was posted elsewhere. The couple occupied an apparently rather noisy apartment in the building mentioned above, where privacy was supposedly minimal, and this caused resentment. This was the professed reason for his transfer to the Malay Teachers' Training College at Kota Bharu, Kelantan. Kota Bharu is situated on the Siamese border (the Thais had ceded the area to the British in 1909 and a British adviser had been installed).
Burgess attained fluency in Malay, spoken and written, achieving distinction in the examinations in the language set by the colonial office. He was rewarded with a salary increment for his proficiency in the language. Malay was still at that time rendered in the adapted Arabic script known as Jawi.
He devoted some of his free time in Malaya to creative writing—"as a sort of gentlemanly hobby, because I knew there wasn't any money in it" and published his first novels, Time for a Tiger, The Enemy in the Blanket and Beds in the East. These became known as The Malayan Trilogy and were later published in one volume as The Long Day Wanes. During his time in the East he also wrote English Literature: A Survey for Students, and this book was in fact the first Burgess work published (if we do not count an essay published in the youth section of the London Daily Express when he was a child).
After a brief period of leave in Britain during 1958, Burgess took up a further Eastern post, this time at the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin College in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, a sultanate on the northern coast of the island of Borneo. Brunei had been a British protectorate since 1888, and was not to achieve independence until 1984. In the sultanate Burgess sketched the novel that, when it was published in 1961, was to be entitled Devil of a State. Although it dealt with Brunei, for libel reasons the action had to be transposed to an imaginary East African territory the like of Zanzibar.
About this time Burgess "collapsed" in a Brunei classroom while teaching history. He was expounding on the causes and consequences of the Boston Tea Party at the time. There were reports that he had been diagnosed as having an inoperable brain tumour, with the likelihood of only surviving a short time, occasioning the alleged breakdown. Burgess has claimed that he was given just a year to live by the physicians, prompting him to write several novels to get money to provide for his widow. This was misleading - there was no tumour, nor was a tumour ever diagnosed - and has been explained by Burgess's biographers[who?] by reference to his (mild and mischievous) mythomania.
He was, however, suffering from the effects of prolonged heavy drinking (and associated poor nutrition), of the often oppressive Southeast Asian climate, of chronic constipation, and of overwork and professional disappointment. As he put it, the scions of the sultans and of the elite in Brunei "did not wish to be taught", because the free-flowing abundance of oil guaranteed their income and privileged status. He may also have wished for a pretext to abandon teaching and get going full-time as a writer, having made a late start.
Describing the Brunei debacle to an interviewer over twenty years later, Burgess commented: "One day in the classroom I decided that I'd had enough and to let others take over. I just lay down on the floor out of interest to see what would happen." On another occasion he described it as "a willed collapse out of sheer boredom and frustration". He gave a different account to the British arts and media veteran Jeremy Isaacs in 1987 when he said: "I was driven out of the Colonial Service for political reasons that were disguised as clinical reasons." He alluded to this in an interview with Don Swaim, explaining that after his wife Lynne had said something "obscene" to the UK Queen's consort, the Duke of Edinburgh, during an official visit, the colonial authorities turned against him. He had already earned their displeasure, he told Swaim, by writing for the newspaper of the revolutionary opposition party the Parti Rakyat Brunei, and for his friendship with its leader Dr. Azahari.
Burgess was repatriated and relieved of his position in Brunei. He spent some time in the neurological ward of a London hospital (see The Doctor is Sick) where he underwent cerebral tests that, as far as can be made out, proved negative.
On his discharge, benefiting from a sum of money Lynne had inherited from her father together with their savings built up over six years in the East, he decided he had the financial independence to become a full-time writer.
The couple lived first in an apartment in the town of Hove, near Brighton, on the Sussex coast (see the Enderby quartet of novels).
They then moved to a semi-detached house called "Applegarth" in the inland Sussex village of Etchingham. This is about a mile from the Jacobean house in Burwash where Rudyard Kipling lived, and also one mile from the Robertsbridge home of Malcolm Muggeridge.
Finally, when Lynne came into some money as a result of the death of her father, the Burgesses decamped to a terraced town house in the Turnham Green section of Chiswick, a western inner suburb of London. This was conveniently located for the White City BBC television studios of which he was a frequent guest in this period.
During these years Burgess became a regular drinking partner of the novelist William S. Burroughs. Their meetings took place in London and Tangiers.
A cruise holiday Burgess and his wife took to the USSR, calling at St Petersburg (then still called Leningrad), resulted in Honey for the Bears and inspired some of the invented slang "Nadsat" used in A Clockwork Orange.
Liana Macellari, an Italian translator 12 years younger than Burgess, came across Burgess' novels One was Inside Mr Enderby and A Clockwork Orange while writing about English fiction. The two first met in 1963 over lunch in Chiswick. They began began an affair and in 1964, Liana gave birth to Burgess' son, Paolo Andrea. The affair was hidden from Lynne, Burgess' alcoholic and aggressive wife, and Burgess refused to leave her because he was afraid of offending his cousin, George Patrick Dwyer, then Catholic Bishop of Leeds. Lynne died aged 47 from liver cirrhosis in March 1968. Six months later, in September 1968, Burgess married Liana. Once Burgess and Liana were married, he acknowledged the four year old boy as his own, describing himself as "a belated father", although the birth certificate listed Roy Halliday, who was previously Liana's companion, as the father. An attempt to kidnap Paolo-Andrea in Rome, is believed to have been one of the factors deciding the family's move to Monaco.
To avoid the 90% tax the family would have incurred due to their high income, they left Britain. During their travels through France and across the Alps, Burgess wrote in the back of the van as Liana drove. In this period, he wrote novels and produced film scripts for Lew Grade and Franco Zeffirelli. He occupied grander accommodation this time (at his death he was a multi-millionaire and left a Europe-wide property portfolio of houses and apartments numbering in the double figures).
His first place of residence after leaving England was Lija, Malta (1968-1970), where he bought a house. Problems with the Maltese state censor later prompted a move to Rome. He maintained a flat in the Italian capital, a country house in Bracciano, and a property in Montalbuccio. There was a villa in Provence, in Callian of the Var, France, and an apartment just off Baker Street, London, very near the presumed home of Sherlock Holmes in the Arthur Conan Doyle stories.
Burgess lived for two years in the United States, working as a visiting professor at Princeton University (1970), where he helped teach the creative writing program, and as a "distinguished professor" at the City College of New York (1972). At City College he was a close colleague and friend of Joseph Heller. He went on to teach creative writing at Columbia University. He was also a writer-in-residence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1969) and at the University at Buffalo (1976). He lectured on the novel at the University of Iowa in 1975.
Eventually he settled in Monaco, where he was active in the local community, becoming a co-founder in 1984 of the Princess Grace Irish Library, a centre for Irish cultural studies.
Although Burgess lived not far from Graham Greene, whose house was in Antibes, Greene became aggrieved shortly before his death by comments in newspaper articles by Burgess, and broke off all contact. Gore Vidal revealed in his 2006 memoir Point to Point Navigation that Greene disapproved of Burgess's appearance on various European television stations to discuss his (Burgess's) books. Vidal recounts that Greene apparently regarded a willingness to appear on TV as something that ought to be beneath a writer's dignity. "He talks about his books", Vidal quotes an exasperated Greene as saying.
Burgess spent much time also at one of his houses, a chalet two kilometres outside Lugano, Switzerland.
Burgess once wrote: "I shall die somewhere in the Mediterranean lands, with an inaccurate obituary in the Nice-Matin, unmourned, soon forgotten."
In fact he died in the country of his birth. He returned to Twickenham, an outer suburb of London, where he owned a house, to await death. He died on November 22, 1993. His death (from lung cancer) occurred at the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth in the St John's Wood neighbourhood of London. He is thought to have composed the novel Byrne on his deathbed.
It is believed by some that he would have liked his ashes to be kept in Moston Cemetery in Manchester, but they instead went to the cemetery in Monte Carlo.
The epitaph on Burgess's marble memorial stone, behind which the vessel with his remains is kept, reads "Abba Abba", being
Paolo Andrea (also known as Andrew Burgess Wilson) died in a London hospital of natural causes at the age of 37 in 2002. Although the rumour that he died by his own hand continues to circulate on websites, this is untrue. The coroner's records clearly indicate that there was no inquest into his death, as there would have been if suicide had been suspected.
Burgess had delivered the eulogy at the memorial service for Benny Hill in 1992; the eulogies at his own memorial service at St Paul's, Covent Garden, London in 1994 were delivered by the journalist Auberon Waugh and the novelist William Boyd.
His Malayan trilogy The Long Day Wanes—the three books are Time for a Tiger, The Enemy in the Blanket and Beds in the East—was Burgess's first published venture into the art of fiction.
It was Burgess's ambition to become "the true fictional expert on Malaya", and with the trilogy, he certainly staked a claim to have written the definitive Malayan novel (i.e. novel of expatriate experience of Malaya).
The trilogy joined a family of such Eastern fictional explorations, among them Orwell's treatment of Burma (Burmese Days), Forster's of India (A Passage to India) and Greene's of Vietnam (The Quiet American). Burgess was working in the tradition established by Kipling for British India and, for the Southeast Asian experience, Conrad and Maugham.
Unlike Conrad, Maugham and Greene, who made no effort to learn local languages, but like Orwell (who had a good command of Urdu and Burmese, necessary for his work as a police officer) and Kipling (who spoke Hindi, having learnt it as a child), Burgess had excellent spoken and written Malay. This linguistic command results in an impressive authenticity and sensitive understanding of indigenous concerns in the trilogy.
Burgess's repatriate years (c. 1960-69) produced not just Enderby but the neglected The Right to an Answer, which touches on the theme of death and dying, and One Hand Clapping, partly a satire on the vacuity of popular culture. This period also witnessed the publication of The Worm and the Ring, which was withdrawn from circulation under the threat of libel action from one of Burgess's former colleagues.
A product of these highly fertile years was his best-known work (or most notorious, after Stanley Kubrick made a motion picture adaptation), the dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange (1962). Inspired initially by an incident during World War II in which his wife Lynne was allegedly robbed and assaulted in London during the blackout by deserters from the U.S. Army (an event that may have contributed to a miscarriage she suffered), the book was an examination of free will and morality. The young anti-hero, Alex, captured after a career of violence and mayhem, is given aversion conditioning to stop his violence. It makes him defenceless against other people and unable to enjoy music that, besides violence, had been an intense pleasure for him. In the non-fiction book Flame Into Being (1985), Burgess described A Clockwork Orange as "a jeu d'esprit knocked off for money in three weeks, it became known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence. The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about, and the misunderstanding will pursue me till I die."
Burgess followed this with Nothing Like the Sun, a fictional recreation of Shakespeare's love-life and an examination of the (partly syphilitic, it was implied) sources of the bard's imaginative vision. The novel, which made some use of Edgar I. Fripp's 1938 biography Shakespeare, Man and Artist, won critical acclaim and placed Burgess in the front rank of novelists of his generation.
By the 1970s his output had become highly experimental, and some[who?] see a falling-off in the quality of his work in the period between the release of the Clockwork Orange movie, which brought Burgess fame, and the end of the decade.
Indeed, Burgess has been considered by some critics to be uneven in the quality of his output, and he has been faulted for what has been called a "novelettish kind of dialogue".
The bold and extraordinarily complex M/F (1971) showed the influence of Claude LÚvi-Strauss and the structuralists, and was later listed by the writer himself as one of the works of which he was most proud. Beard's Roman Women is considered by some to be his least successful novel (plea of mitigation: it was written entirely while on the road in his Bedford Dormobile campervan). Burgess has frequently been criticised for writing too many novels and too quickly. All the same, Beard was revealing on a personal level, dealing with the death of his first wife, his bereavement, and the affair that led to his second marriage.
In another ambitious and unashamedly modernist fictional expedition, Napoleon Symphony, Burgess brought Bonaparte to life by shaping the novel's structure on Beethoven's Eroica symphony. This daring fictional experiment contains among many other assets a superb portrait of an Arab and Muslim society under occupation by a Christian western power (Egypt by Catholic France). The novel showed that while Burgess always regarded himself as little more than a student and epigone of Joyce, he was able at times to equal the master of modernism in literary sophistication and range.
There was a triumphant return to form in the 1980s, when religious themes began to weigh heavily (see The Kingdom of the Wicked and Man of Nazareth as well as Earthly Powers). Though Burgess lapsed from Catholicism early in his youth, the influence of the Catholic "training" and worldview remained strong in his work all his life. This is notable in the discussion of free will in A Clockwork Orange, and in the apocalyptic vision of devastating changes in the Catholic Church—due to what can be understood as Satanic influence—in Earthly Powers (1980). That work was written in the first instance as a parody of the blockbuster novel.
He kept working through his final illness, and was writing on his deathbed. A late novel was Any Old Iron, a generational saga about two families, one Russian-Welsh, the other Jewish. It encompasses the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the early years of the State of Israel, as well as the imagined rediscovery of King Arthur's Excalibur.
A Dead Man in Deptford, about Christopher Marlowe, is a kind of companion volume to his Shakespeare novel Nothing Like the Sun. The verse novel Byrne was published posthumously.
Burgess began his career as a critic with a well regarded text designed originally for use outside English-speaking countries. Aimed at newcomers to the subject, English Literature, A Survey for Students is still used in many schools today. He followed this with The Novel To-day and The Novel Now: A Student's Guide to Contemporary Fiction.
Then came the Joyce studies Here Comes Everybody: An Introduction to James Joyce for the Ordinary Reader (also published as Re Joyce) and Joysprick: An Introduction to the Language of James Joyce. Also published was A Shorter 'Finnegans Wake', Burgess's abridgement.
His 1970 EncyclopŠdia Britannica entry on the novel (under "Novel, the") is regarded as a classic of the genre.
Burgess wrote full-length critical studies of William Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway and D. H. Lawrence. His Ninety-Nine Novels: The Best in English since 1939 remains an invaluable guide, while the published lecture Obscenity and the Arts explores issues of pornography.
The polyglot Burgess had command of Malay, Russian, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Welsh in addition to his native English, as well as some Hebrew, Japanese, Chinese, Swedish and Persian. In Earthly Powers, German, or perhaps its sound to an unlearned ear, is described as "a glottal fishboneclearing soulful sobbing sausagemachine of a language".
"Burgess's linguistic training," wrote Raymond Chapman and Tom McArthur in The Oxford Companion to the English Language, "is shown in dialogue enriched by distinctive pronunciations and the niceties of register."
His interest in linguistics was reflected in the invented, Anglo-Russian teen slang of A Clockwork Orange (Nadsat), and in the movie Quest for Fire (1981), for which he invented a prehistoric language (Ulam) for the characters to speak.
The hero of The Doctor is Sick, Dr. Edwin Spindrift, is a lecturer in linguistics. He escapes from a hospital ward which is peopled, as the critic Saul Maloff put it in a review, with "brain cases who happily exemplify varieties of English speech."
Burgess, who had lectured on phonetics at the University of Birmingham in the late 1940s, investigates the field of linguistics in Language Made Plain and A Mouthful of Air.
Burgess produced journalism in British, Italian, French and American newspapers and magazines regularly–even compulsively–and in prodigious quantities. Martin Amis quipped in The Observer (London) in 1987: "...on top of writing regularly for every known newspaper and magazine, Anthony Burgess writes regularly for every unknown one, too. Pick up a Hungarian quarterly or a Portuguese tabloid–and there is a Burgess, discoursing on goulash or test-driving the new Fiat 500."
"He was our star reviewer, always eager to take on something new, punctilious with deadlines, length and copy", wrote Burgess's literary editor at The Observer, Michael Ratcliffe.Selections of Burgess's journalism are to be found in Urgent Copy, Homage to QWERT YUIOP and One Man's Chorus.
Burgess wrote the screenplays for Moses the Lawgiver (Gianfranco De Bosio 1975, with Burt Lancaster, Anthony Quayle and Ingrid Thulin), Jesus of Nazareth (Franco Zeffirelli 1977, with Robert Powell, Olivia Hussey and Rod Steiger), and A.D. (Stuart Cooper 1985, with Ava Gardner, Anthony Andrews and James Mason).
He devised the Stone Age language for La Guerre du Feu (Quest for Fire) (Jean-Jacques Annaud 1981, with Everett McGill, Ron Perlman and Nicholas Kadi).
Burgess was co-writer of the script for the TV series Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson (1980).
He penned many unpublished scripts, including one about Shakespeare which was to be called Will! or The Bawdy Bard. It was based on his novel Nothing Like The Sun.
Among the motion picture treatments he produced are Amundsen, Attila, The Black Prince, Cyrus the Great, Dawn Chorus, The Dirty Tricks of Bertoldo, Eternal Life, Onassis, Puma, Samson and Delila, Schreber, The Sexual Habits of the English Middle Class, Shah, That Man Freud and Uncle Ludwig.
Encouraged by his novel Tremor of Intent (a parody of James Bond adventures), Burgess wrote a screenplay for The Spy Who Loved Me. It was rejected. Burgess's plot featured Bond's identical twin 008 and revolved around an organisation called CHAOS (Consortium for the Hastening of the Annihilation of Organised Society). CHAOS has accumulated enough money to achieve its plans and is now concentrating on power for its own sake. It blackmails international figures into humiliating themselves by terrorism. During Burgess's proposed opening sequence, an airliner full of passengers is exploded as it takes off, CHAOS's response to the Pope's refusal to personally whitewash the Sistine Chapel. Bond discovers a plot to implant 'micro-nukes' in appendectomy patients, the aim being to blow up Sydney Opera House during a visit by international royals and presidents (this atrocity being in response to the US President's refusal to masturbate on live TV). In You've Had Your Time, Burgess commented that the only idea that survived from his screenplay was that the villains' hideout was a ship disguised as an oil tanker.
As Burgess put it, in the way that others might enjoy yachting or golf, "I write music." He was an accomplished musician and composed regularly throughout his life.
His works are infrequently performed today, but several of his pieces were broadcast during his lifetime on BBC Radio. His Symphony (No. 3) in C was premiered by the University of Iowa orchestra in Iowa City in 1975. Many of his unpublished compositions are listed in This Man and Music.
Sinfoni Melayu, characterised by the Burgess biographer Roger Lewis as "Elgar with bongo-bong drums", was described by Burgess, its composer, as an attempt to "combine the musical elements of the country into a synthetic language which called on native drums and xylophones".
The structure of Napoleon Symphony: A Novel in Four Movements (1974) was modelled on Beethoven's Eroica symphony, while Mozart and the Wolf Gang (1991) mirrors the sound and rhythm of Mozartian composition, among other things attempting a fictional representation of Symphony No.40. Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 features prominently in A Clockwork Orange (and also in Stanley Kubrick's film version of the novel).
Burgess made plain his low regard for the popular music that has emerged since the mid-1960s, yet he has been called "the godfather of punk" as a result of the nihilist future world he created in A Clockwork Orange.
When Burgess was on the BBC's Desert Island Discs radio programme in 1966, he made the following choice: Purcell, Rejoice in the Lord Alway; Bach, Goldberg Variations No. 13; Elgar, Symphony No. 1 in A flat major; Wagner, Walter's Trial Song from Die Meistersinger von NŘrnberg; Debussy, Fŕtes; Lambert, The Rio Grande; Walton, Symphony No. 1 in B flat; and Vaughan Williams, On Wenlock Edge.
For a list of some of Burgess's musical compositions, see under List of Burgess' works.
Burgess produced a translation of Bizet's Carmen which was performed by the English National Opera.
He created an operetta based on James Joyce's Ulysses called Blooms of Dublin (composed in 1982 and performed on the BBC), and wrote the book for the 1973 Broadway musical Cyrano, using his own adaptation of the Rostand play as its basis.
His new libretto for Weber's Oberon was performed by the Edinburgh-based Scottish Opera.
"I start at the beginning, go to the end, then stop", Burgess once said.
He revealed in Martin Seymour-Smith's Novels and Novelists: A Guide to the World of Fiction (1980) that he would often prepare a synopsis with a name-list before beginning a project. But Seymour-Smith wrote: "Burgess believes overplanning is fatal to creativity and regards his unconscious mind and the act of writing itself as indispensable guides. He does not produce a draft of a whole novel which he then revises, but prefers to get one page finished before he goes on to the next, which involves a good deal of revision and correction."
His output from when he began writing professionally in his early forties until his death was to produce, at a minimum, 1,000 words of fair copy per day, weekends included, 365 days a year. His favoured time for working was the afternoon, since "the unconscious mind has a habit of asserting itself in the afternoon".
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Even so, by the end of 2007, the ban had been lifted, and the title was again on open sale.
Burgess's multilingual proficiency came under discussion in Roger Lewis's 2002 biography. Lewis claimed that during production in Malaysia of the BBC documentary A Kind of Failure (1982), Burgess, supposedly fluent in Malay, was unable to communicate with several waitresses at a restaurant where they were filming. It was claimed also that the documentary's director deliberately kept these moments intact in the film in order to expose Burgess's linguistic pretensions. There was a mixed response to the charge. For example, one critic appeared to accept the veracity of the claim, saying it "had me laughing immoderately", while another dismissed it as "another of Lewis's little smears". A letter from David Wallace that appeared in the magazine of the London Independent on Sunday newspaper on 25 November 2002 shed light on the affair. Wallace's letter read, in part: "…the tale was inaccurate. It tells of Burgess, the great linguist, 'bellowing Malay at a succession of Malayan waitresses' but 'unable to make himself understood'. The source of this tale was a 20-year-old BBC documentary....[The suggestion was] that the director left the scene in, in order to poke fun at the great author. Not so, and I can be sure, as I was that director…. The story as seen on television made it clear that Burgess knew that these waitresses were not Malay. It was a Chinese restaurant and Burgess's point was that the ethnic Chinese had little time for the government-enforced national language, Bahasa Malaysia [i.e. Malay]. Burgess may well have had an accent, but he did speak the language; it was the girls in question who did not." Lewis may not have been fully aware of the fact that a quarter of Malaysia's population is made up of Hokkien- and Cantonese-speaking Chinese. However, Malay had been installed as the National Language with the installation of the Language Act of 1967. By 1982 all national primary and secondary schools in Malaysia would have been teaching with Bahasa Melayu as a base language (see Harold Crouch, Government and Society in Malaysia, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1996).
During his years in Malaya, and after he had mastered Jawi, the Arabic script adapted for Malay, Burgess taught himself the Persian language, after which he produced a translation of Eliot's The Waste Land into Persian. It was never published, in Tehran or elsewhere. He also worked on an anthology of the best of English literature translated into Malay, which also failed to achieve publication.
One of Burgess' literary achievements is as a memoirist. His two volumes of autobiography (entitled Little Wilson and Big God and You've Had Your Time, respectively) are notable for their unflinching self-examination, but also for the frank assessment of how aspects of his personal life informed his work. While the bulk of his fiction is not overtly autobiographical, several characters share the attributes or life experiences of their creator.
Burgess smoked, by his own admission, up to 80 cigarettes, panatelas, cigars, cigarillos and/or cheroots per day. Virtually all photographs and drawings of Burgess after about 1970 show him with cigarillo or cigarette in hand or mouth. He described his tobacco smoking habit as "a patriotic duty to the Exchequer". High nicotine ingestion has been noted to be the cause of BŘrger's disease, from which Burgess suffered. In his novel A Clockwork Orange, he refers to cigarettes as "cancers".
Burgess was an occasional smoker of opium, which he described as "a fine drug", during both his Kota Bharu and Brunei years, but he was under no illusions as to its negative effects: "Later, abetted by an ailing liver, the bad visions would come", he wrote. He once became an unwitting smuggler of opium. In 1957 Graham Greene asked him to bring some Chinese silk shirts back with him on furlough from Kuala Lumpur. As soon as Burgess handed over the shirts, Greene pulled out a knife and severed the cuffs, into which opium pellets had been sewn.
Burgess evinced qualified approval towards the smoking of hemp or cannabis, but with the proviso that it should be a means to an end rather than the end itself. Speaking of young people in a BBC Omnibus documentary in the 1960s, he said: "They smoke their marihuana, which is an admirable thing in itself, but no end of anything..."
Burgess prepared a translation of the erotic poetry of Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, but it was never published. However, he produced what the poet and critic Anthony Thwaite has called "cheeky imitations" of Belli's satirical sonnets in the novel Abba Abba.
In Burgess's novel Time for a Tiger, the Malay state of Perak is named Lanchap, which is the Malay word for masturbate. Burgess announced on several occasions that he had never in his life had carnal relations with an Englishwoman. He enjoyed a miscellany of sexual partners from other lands, however, including Buginese, Japanese, Welsh, Malay, Chinese, Siamese, Italian and Sinhalese women. He wrote in the first volume of his autobiography, Little Wilson and Big God (p. 386 of the Penguin edition), that he had had sexual encounters "with Tamil women blacker than Africans, including a girl who could not have been older than twelve, but none with Bengalis and Punjabis". The vast majority of the liaisons had been, as he put it, "sadly commercial".
However, on a visit to Sarawak, he spent a night in an Iban longhouse where he was invited to sleep with the chief's daughters. He wrote: "The Ibans waved me off with smiles of gratitude....I sometimes think of the child I may have fathered...I hope I have given something to the East."
By most accounts, Burgess was a heavy consumer of alcoholic beverages, especially of cider during his Banbury/Adderbury years, of brandy-and-ginger in the East, and, throughout his life, of gin. Burgess created his own version of the cocktail, "Hangman's Blood," first described by novelist Richard Hughes in his 1929 novel, A High Wind in Jamaica. He described its preparation as follows: "Into a pint glass, doubles [i.e. 50ml measures] of the following are poured: gin, whiskey, rum, port and brandy. A small bottle of stout is added and the whole topped up with Champagne... It tastes very smooth, induces a somewhat metaphysical elation, and rarely leaves a hangover." Burgess cut his alcohol consumption to some extent in later life. "I drank too much until I was 50", he wrote.
He was afflicted by dyspepsia, constipation and flatulence during much of his life, difficulties that are dwelt on to comic effect in the Enderby cycle of novels.
Burgess nursed a lifelong hatred for physical fitness and its advocates and exponents. He conceived this antipathy in wartime Gibraltar, where the army put himself and other soldiers through a compulsory, and gruelling, programme of exercise. "Keep-fit men", he once stated, "are no good in bed." One of the reasons he apparently despised the Welshman J.D.R. ("Jimmy") Howell, headmaster of the Malay College where he taught in the 1950s, was that Howell was an enthusiastic rugby player.
Burgess made no secret of his determination throughout his career to thwart tax authorities worldwide. "I will, naturally, cheat the fiscal tyrants, but it would be inhuman not to", he wrote. He kept to a strict personal rule of not accepting a publisher's advance on work not written, and his preferred medium of payment for his work, he indicated, was "non-taxable cash", and he maintained one or more Swiss bank accounts.
Burgess's house in Lija, Malta, was confiscated by the Maltese authorities over non-payment of taxes. Burgess was a currency smuggler. His house in Bracciano was, he wrote, paid for "by smuggling dollar royalty cheques into the [Italian] peninsula and paying them into the bank account of an expatriate American sculptor living near Rome". His move to Monaco in 1974 was prompted by the knowledge that there is no income tax in the principality, and moreover that his widow Liana would not be required to pay death duties on his estate.
Although he never learned to drive a car, Burgess was among a select group of celebrity owners of the classic Bedford Dormobile (a campervan or motorhome of the Bedford marque, manufactured in England by Vauxhall Motors). He and his second wife spent, in the early years of their marriage, long periods on the road across western Europe, especially in France and Sicily, his wife driving the Dormobile while he wrote at a built-in desk behind. He later explained that the Dormobile aided him in what he described as "the struggle against bourgeois conformity".
For a brief period during his studies of the Malay language and culture during the late 1950s, Burgess seriously considered becoming a Muslim.
Explaining the allure of Islam in a 1969 interview with the University of Alabama scholar Geoffrey Aggeler, Burgess remarked: "You believe in one god. You say your prayers five times a day. You have a tremendous amount of freedom, sexual freedom; you can have four wives. The wife herself has a commensurate freedom. She can achieve divorce in the same way a man can."
He later fantasized: "Four wives and an incalculable number of offspring, all attesting my virility and sustained by my patriarchal authority."
In the novel 1985 (1978), Burgess imagines what Britain might be like if a virile, triumphant Islam won far-reaching influence in the country.
(See List of Burgess' works for a fuller list, including musical compositions.)
That so many writers have been prepared to accept a kind of martyrdom is the best tribute that flesh can pay to the living spirit of man as expressed in his literature. One cannot doubt that the martyrdom will continue to be gladly embraced. To some of us, the wresting of beauty out of language is the only thing in the world that matters.
– Anthony Burgess, English Literature (ch. 21 of 1974 edition)
(See List of Burgess' works for full list)
A few of the memoirs and other books in which Burgess is discussed: