Anthony Burgess

From Academic Kids

John Anthony Burgess Wilson (February 25, 1917November 25, 1993), better known by his pen name Anthony Burgess, was an English writer.



Anthony Burgess was born in Manchester, Lancashire, England to a Catholic family, and was left motherless at two years old by the 19181919 influenza pandemic. His mother had been a minor actress and dancer appearing at such theaters as the Manchester Ardwick Empire. His father, who died in 1948, was among other things a pianist in movie theaters, accompanying the silent films of the era (see the novel The Pianoplayers). Having some Irish blood – it is not clear how much – Burgess was raised by his maternal aunt, and later by his stepmother, in rooms above an "off-license" (liquor store) and paper shop that his aunt ran, and a pub.

He was schooled at Bishop Bilsborrow school in Moss Side, where good grades resulted in a place at the secondary school Xaverian College. He was later admitted to the University of Manchester, from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, 2nd class honours, in English language and literature.

In 1940 Burgess began a six-year stint with the military, joining the British Army educational corps. He was stationed for a period in Gibraltar, a British naval base off the coast of Spain with an army garrison (see A Vision of Battlements), where he helped instruct the troops in "The British Way and Purpose". He was an instructor for the Central Advisory Council for Forces Education of the Ministry of Education, and a lecturer in speech and drama at the University of Birmingham. Leaving the army with the rank of sergeant-major in 1946, he became a secondary school teacher of English literature, spending some years on the staff of Banbury Grammar School in Oxfordshire (see The Worm and the Ring). Here he organised a number of amateur theatrical events in his spare time involving local people.

In 1954 Burgess and the woman he had married in 1942, the Welsh-born Lynne (their union was childless), left for Malaya (now Malaysia), where he was a teacher and education officer in the British colonial service.

He was stationed initially in Kuala Kangsar 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". In addition to his teaching duties at this school for the sons of leading Malayans, he had responsibilities as a "housemaster" in charge of junior students who were housed at the building formerly occupied by the British Resident in Perak. This edifice had gained notoriety during World War II as a place of torture, being the local headquarters of the kempetei (Japanese secret police). As his novels and autobiography document, the late 1950s were the time of the communist insurgency, a period known as "the Malayan emergency" when planters and members of the British community – not to mention many Malays, Chinese and Tamils – were subject to frequent terrorist attack.

Following, but not necessarily consequent upon, a dispute with the Malay College's principal about accommodation for himself and his wife, he applied to be posted elsewhere – the couple occupied an apparently rather noisy apartment in the building mentioned above, where privacy was minimal. He was transferred to the Malay Teachers' Training College at Kota Bharu, Kelantan. This is located 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. The language was then rendered in Arabic script. He spent much of his free time creating, and achieving publication of, Time For A Tiger, The Enemy in the Blanket and Beds in the East. These became known as "The Malayan Trilogy". 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.

After leave in Britain in 1959, he took up a further Eastern post, this time at the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin College in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, then part of British North Borneo. There he sketched the novel that, when it was published in 1961, was to be entitled Devil of a State. But before long he had "collapsed" in a classroom.

He is thought at this time to have been diagnosed as having an inoperable brain tumour, with the likelihood of only surviving a short time, occasioning the alleged breakdown. However, this is disputed. Some accounts have him suffering from the effects of prolonged heavy drinking (and associated poor nutrition), of the often oppressive Southeast Asian climate, 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. 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."

He was repatriated and spent some time in a London hospital (see The Doctor Is Sick). There he underwent cerebral tests which, as far as can be made out, proved negative. On his discharge, benefitting from a sum of money Lynn had inherited from her father together with their savings built up over six years in the East, he found he had the financial independence to become a full-time writer.

The couple lived successively in an apartment in the town of Hove, near Brighton, on the Sussex coast (see the Enderby tetralogy); in a semi-detached house called "Applegarth" in the inland Sussex village of Etchingham, just down the road from the residence in Burwash once occupied by Rudyard Kipling; and in a terraced town house in Chiswick, a western inner suburb of London, conveniently located for the White City BBC television studios of which he was a frequent guest in this period. A cruise holiday Burgess and his wife took in Russia resulted in Honey For the Bears and also inspired some of the invented slang for A Clockwork Orange.

Within a decade Burgess was once again living outside England, but in grander accommodation – indeed, at his death he was a multi-millionaire and left a Europewide property portfolio of multiple houses and apartments.

He lived in Malta for a time, but problems with the state censor prompted a move to Rome and later Bracciano. He lived for two years in the United States, in Princeton and New York where he was a visiting professor. Eventually he settled in Monaco, spending much of his time also at one of his houses in Lugano, Switzerland.

After Lynn's death of cirrhosis of the liver (see Beard's Roman Women), he had remarried, to Liliana, an Italian student and researcher, adopting the latter's son from a previous relationship. An attempt to kidnap the boy, called Andrea, in Rome is believed to have been one of the factors deciding the family's move to Monaco.

A lifelong heavy smoker, Burgess returned to Twickenham, an outer suburb of London, England, where he owned a house, to die of lung cancer in 1993. His actual death occurred in a nearby hospice. It is thought he would have liked his ashes to be kept in Manchester, but they went to the cemetery in Monte Carlo (the epitaph on the memorial stone reads "Abba, Abba"). Sadly, his stepson Andrea survived him by less than a decade.


Burgess published well over 50 books covering a wide range of subject matter, including mainstream fiction such as the Enderby tetralogy (about a reclusive poet), dystopian science fiction such as The Wanting Seed, and the guides to James Joyce, Here Comes Everybody (aka Re Joyce) and Joysprick. He also produced journalism in American, Italian, French and British newspapers and magazines regularly and in large quantities.

His best-known work (or most notorious, after Stanley Kubrick made a controversial film adaptation) was the novel A Clockwork Orange (1962). Inspired initially by an incident during World War II in which his wife Lynn was assaulted in London by US army deserters, the book was among many things 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 the music (especially Beethoven, and more especially the Ninth Symphony) that, besides violence, had been an intense pleasure for him.

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 – notably in the discussion of free will in A Clockwork Orange and in the apocalyptic vision of devastating changes in the Church due to what can be understood as Satanic influence in his novel Earthly Powers (1980).

His repatriate years (c. 1960-69) produced not just the Enderby cycle 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. By the 1970s his output had become highly experimental, and in the 1980s religious themes began to exercise him (see The Kingdom of the Wicked and Man of Nazareth as well as Earthly Powers).

Burgess had a considerable interest in music. As he once put it, in the way that others might enjoy yachting or golf, "I write music." He composed regularly throughout his life. His works are infrequently performed today, but several of his pieces were broadcast during his lifetime on BBC Radio, including a musical based on James Joyce's Ulysses called The Blooms of Dublin (composed in 1982). His Symphony No. 3 was premiered by the University of Iowa orchestra in 1975. He modelled the structure of one of his novels, Napoleon Symphony (1974), on Beethoven's Eroica symphony. He made plain his low regard for much popular music, yet he has been called "the godfather of punk" as a result of the nihilist atmosphere he created in A Clockwork Orange.

He was polyglot, with a 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. His interest in linguistics was reflected in the invented teen slang of A Clockwork Orange (called Nadsat) and in the film Quest for Fire (1981), for which Burgess invented a prehistoric language for the characters to speak.

Burgess held a number of academic appointments in the latter part of his career. He was a professor at the City College of New York for a time in the early 1970s, and a writer-in-residence at the University of New York, Buffalo. He was also a visiting professor at Princeton University.

Many of Burgess's literary and musical papers are archived in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. There are also items at the University of Angers.

There is a number of critical studies, and a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University named Andrew Biswell is thought to have been working on a fact-based biograpy for several years – with the cooperation, apparently, of Burgess's widow Liliana. The title is undecided but "The Real Life of Anthony Burgess", "The Fictionist" and "Inside Mr Burgess" are believed to have been considered. The best treatment so far is arguably Roger Lewis's impressionistic and often hilarious tribute Anthony Burgess: A Life (2002), which offers many penetrating insights.


Anthony Burgess had a long-term peeve of being confused with members of the Cambridge Five. This is partly because one of the members was called Guy Burgess, and another Anthony Blunt. Unfortunately, by the time their notoreity came about, Anthony Burgess' pen name was well established.

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, his wife driving while he wrote at a desk behind.

London's "Daily Mail" newspaper published in the 1960s a number of comically puritanical letters written by Burgess purporting to be from an Indian Muslim named "Mohammed Ali", who expressed his utter disgust at the degradation of contemporary western morals.

The Sheffield electropop band Heaven 17 named themselves after a pop group that appears in the novel "A Clockwork Orange" (though they dropped the "the").

Burgess was fired as a reviewer for the English provincial newspaper the "Yorkshire Post" after a piece he wrote about his own Inside Mr Enderby appeared in the newspaper. The novel had been published under the pseudonym Joseph Kell.

Select bibliography



External links


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