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The Amazing Life of Anthony Burgess

Anthony Burgess, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday in 2017, is remembered now mostly for a novel “A Clockwork Orange”, more often talked about than read, and for the film based on it which disappeared from public view for decades after its director’s, Stanley Kubrick´s decision to withdraw and effectively disown it.

For all his once-high public profile in the United Kingdom as a journalist and broadcaster, and more academic reputation in the United States, he is now surprisingly undervalued as a writer and virtually unknown as a composer. Many people are unaware of Burgess’s credentials as an outspoken opponent of literary censorship.

He liked to appear dishevelled, with greasy hair all over the place, fleshy-faced and perpetually wreathed by the cigarette smoke that eventually killed him.

The legacy of Shakespeare and Joyce looms large over Burgess. He described himself as “novelist, critic and Shakespeare lover”, about his book “Re Joyce” he wrote: “My book does not pretend to scholarship, only to a desire to help the average reader who wants to know Joyce's work but has been scared off by the professors. The appearance of difficulty is part of Joyce's big joke; the profundities are always expressed in good round Dublin terms; Joyce's heroes are humble men.
He was born John Anthony Burgess Wilson to a Roman Catholic family in Manchester, England on February 25, 1917. His mother, Elizabeth Burgess, was a singer and dancer on the music-hall stage in Glasgow and Manchester. She, and his sister, Muriel, died of influenza epidemic in 1918. Burgess described his father, Joseph Wilson, a drinker, a pub pianist and a one-time tobacconist as "a mostly absent drunk who called himself a father".
In 1922 Joseph Wilson married a publican, Margaret Dwyer (née Byrne), and the family lived above a pub, the Golden Eagle, on Lodge Street in the Miles Platting area of Manchester.

Muriel, John and Elizabeth Burgess Wilson

In 1922 Joseph Wilson married a publican, Margaret Dwyer (née Byrne), and the family lived above a pub, the Golden Eagle, on Lodge Street in the Miles Platting area of Manchester

By 1928, when Burgess enrolled at his secondary school, they had moved to Moss Side, where he wrote his earliest published poems and short stories. He composed his first symphony at the age of 18.He was brought up under the influence of a stepmother who reappeared as a grotesque figure in Inside Mr. Enderby(1963). The other dominant influence in his life both at home and at school was the Roman Catholic Church, which was described in many of his novels. Burgess renounced Catholicism at about age sixteen. From his scholarship years at a Catholic boys' grammar school, he had a precocious passion for language and an ability to make it dance to his tune, even when the facts did not fit.
Burgess's most persistent youthful ambition was to become a composer. After a secondary education at Xaverian College in his home city, Burgess enrolled at the University of Manchester in 1936. A failed science background kept him out of the music department at Manchester University, so he studied English language and literature instead and had been fascinated by the close relation of words and music. Burgess was also editing the university magazine, the Serpent, and participated in the dramatic society.

Living at 21 Princess Road, the Burgess family opened an off-licence nearby at 261 Moss Lane East, Moss Side. Burgess's hated stepmother ran the shop

After graduating in 1940 with a degree in English Literature, Burgess joined the British Army and was assigned to the Royal Army Medical Corps and the Army Educational Corps from 1940 until 1946. He was then sent to join a small entertainment group as a pianist and arranger.

In 1942, Burgess married a Welsh girl, Llewela Isherwood Jones (1920-1968), in Bournemouth, while he was the musical director of an army dance band there. She was the eldest daughter of a high school principal, an abusive and paranoid alcoholic, and was depicted as the source of Burgess's "great joy and unimaginable pain." Lynne became his muse ans a source of incpiration. She had an affair with Dylan Thomas, and her alleged assault by a gang of drunken GIs possibly inspired the notorious rape scene in A Clockwork Orange. This tragedy prevented her from having children and sent the Wilsons (not yet the Burgesses) on their alcoholic wanderings in the Fifties. Biswell, an author of rather critical biography of Burgess, who has written the book with the support of Liana, the second Mrs Burgess (the Contessa Pasi), paints a rather moving portrait of John Burgess Wilson's first muse, the woman without whom, as he puts it, 'there would have been no Anthony Burgess'.

Burgess and Lynne Jones were married at the Register Office in Bournemouth on 28 January 1942 while he was visiting her on leave from the army. This first marriage was followed by two more: a Welsh Protestant wedding in the winter of 1942 to satisfy Lynne's parents, and a Manchester Catholic ceremony the following summer to keep the peace with Burgess's remaining relations.

In 1943, Burgess was transferred to the Army Education Corps in Gibraltar, Spain . Here he was a training college lecturer in speech and drama, teaching German, Russian, French and Spanish, and he helped instruct the troops in "The British Way and Purpose." His first novel A Vision of Battlements (written in 1949 and published in 1965 under the pseudonym Joseph Kell) concerns the life of a failed musician. Richards Ennis is the first of Burgess' antiheroes who is in the cruel process of learning about his failures, and not only in music either. The novel is significantly set in Gibraltar, in the postwar period when the soldiers are waiting around to be given something to do.
In August 1945 he composed a Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, which is his earliest surviving musical work.
After discharging from the army in 1946, Burgess worked at a variety of jobs, serving as a piano player in a jazz band in London and as a grammar school instructor teaching various subjects including English literature in Banbury, Oxfordshire. In 1954, Burgess accepted a position in Malaya (now Malaysia ) as a teacher and education officer for the British Colonial Service and began his literary career "as a kind of hobby." Time for a Tiger (1956), The Enemy in the Blanket (1958) and Beds in the East (1959) are known as A Malayan Trilogy which base upon his fascinating experiences in Malaya. Following the adventures of Victor Crabbe, a young British schoolmaster living in Malaya, the books examine the demise of British rule and present a detailed portrait of the conflicts between the British colonials and the diverse indigenous populations (Tamils, Sikhs, Malays and Chinese). These novels gave him a modest reputation and, because the Colonial Service did not want its staff publishing novels under their own names, a new identity, Anthony Burgess. In September 1959, he collapsed in the middle of class and was invalided home with a mysterious neurological condition.

Burgess’s wife Lynne, with an unknown man (possibly one of the models for Time for a Tiger’s Nabby Adams).

Burgess was diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor and given less than a year to live. Insuring his wife's posthumous income after his death, Burgess returned to England, rented a flat in Sussex and produced five novels during that period. Those "terminal novels" include The Doctor Is Sick (1960), drawing on his own near-tragic situation and also Inside Mr. Enderby (1963), The Worm and the Ring (1961), The Wanting Seed (1962), and One Hand Clapping (1961). For two of these novels he used the pseudonym Joseph Kell. Burgess launched himself as a professional novelist by accident, and his productivity of "terminal novels" during his "terminal year" astonished publishers and critics.

On the photo:Burgess in front of his class at Malayan Teachers’ Training College in Kota Bharu. The blackboard behind him shows that he is teaching phonetics (between 1955-1957)

He also gave a talk on the "Rebellion in Brunei," broadcasted by BBC radio on December 14, 1962. Inspired by teaching experiences in Malaya and Brunei, Burgess found the conflict of races and tensions between the colonizing British and the independent-minded Malays, a "confluence of cultures," the subject matter of many of his novels.

 I was christened John Burgess Wilson and confirmed in the name of Anthony ... So I pulled the cracker of my total name and unfolded the paper hat of Anthony Burgess'. Burgess adopted the pseudonym by which he would become known on the publication of Time For A Tiger, published on 8 October.

Between 1962 and the end of 1980, Burgess produced fifteen novels. Some of these, such as The Eve of St. Venus (1964), The Clockwork Testament (1974), Beard's Roman Women (1976), and ABBA ABBA (1977), are rather slight books. The most significant are A Clockwork Orange (1962), Nothing Like the Sun (1964), Tremor of Intent (1966), Enderby Outside (1968 ), M/F (1971), Napoleon Symphony(1974), and Earthly Powers (1980). The Earthly Powers is considered by many critics Burgess's finest novel, but in some ways it is also his most controversial. In this novel, Burgess took the controversial narrator Kenneth Marchal Toomey as an eminent novelist, an unsympathetic homosexual and a character reportedly modeled on W. Somerset Maugham. This is also the story of Carlo Campanati, an Italian priest linked with Toomey through family ties. Carlo Campanati, is modeled on the late Pope John XXIII, whom Burgess neither revered nor admired. He is a Faustian figure who made a bargain with the devil in return for the earthly powers of the papacy.

A Clockwork Orange was published on 14 May. While it sold modestly on its appearance, this disturbing, powerful and hugely imaginative novel gathered an underground following and became a global phenomenon after the release of Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film.

¨Clockwork Oranges don't exist, except in the speech of old Londoners. The image was a bizarre one, always used for a bizarre thing. 'He's as queer as a clockwork orange' meant he was queer to the limit of queerness ... Europeans who translated the title as Arancia a Orologeria or Orange Méchanique could not understand its Cockney resonance and they assumed that it meant a hand grenade, a cheaper kind of explosive pineapple. I mean it to stand for the the application of a mechanistic morality to a living organism oozing ith juice and sweetness. [...] Eat this sweetish segment or spit it out. You are free.' - Anthony Burgess, 'A Clockwork Orange Resucked', 1986

It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me. - Anthony Burgess, Earthly Powers
Burgess's most substantial novel, Earthly Powers, appeared in October. It presents a panorama of the twentieth century as seen by Kenneth Toomey, a gay writer who is asked by the archbishop of Malta to help with the canonisation of the next Pope. The book was very well received and was a favourite to win the Booker Prize for that year. Burgess was bitterly disappointed to miss out to William Golding's Rites of Passage.

His literary stamina was remarkable. As well as his fiction and his musical compositions, he found time to write reviews for The Observer, the Listener, the TLS and also (on one occasion) to review Joseph Kell for the Yorkshire Post, as Anthony Burgess. This amusing story was used against him as an example of his shameless self-promotion.

Lynne died of liver failure on 20 March, aged 47

His marriage to Lynne lasted until her death. After many years of severe illness, Lynne died from liver failure in March 1968. Within a few months of his first wife's death, Burgess remarried Italian contessa Liliana Macellari Johnson, a linguist and translator. Together with Liana’s son, Paolo Andrea (later known as Andrew), they soon left England for Malta. They acquired various houses throughout Europe, including residences in London, Cambridge, Rome, Bracciano, Lugano and Callian in the south of France, before settling in Monaco in the mid-1970s, people say to avoid taxes.

Liana Macellari and Burgess were married on 9 September, and moved to Malta with Paulo Andrea, Liana's son, in November.

Living in Rome in the mid-1970s, Burgess decided to translate the obscene and blasphemous sonnets of the 19th-century Roman dialect poet Belli, who had worked as a Vatican censor by day and secretly written more than 3000 offensive poems, unpublished in his lifetime. Burgess translated Belli into defiantly colloquial English, taking care to preserve the tone of the original poems:
You know the day, the month, even the year.
While Mary ate her noonday plate of soup,
The Angel Gabriel, like a heaven-hurled loop,
Was bowing towards her through the atmosphere.
He crashed a window. Mary, without fear,
Saw him come through the hole in one swift swoop.
A lily in his fist, his wings adroop,
‘Ave,’ he said, and after that, ‘Maria.
Rejoice, because the Lord’s eternal love
Has made you pregnant — not by orthodox
Methods, of course. The Pentecostal dove
Came silently and nested in your box.’
‘A hen?’ she blushed. ‘For I know nothing of –’
The angel nodded, knowing she meant cocks.

Burgess also composed more than 200 musical works, stimulated in this activity by the 1975 performance of his Symphony in C by the University of Iowa. He wrote the lyrics for the award-winning Broadway musical Cyrano, with music composed by Michael Lewis and featuring Christopher Plummer in the title role. His ballet suite about the life of William Shakespeare, Mr WS, was broadcast on BBC radio. He wrote a song cycle based on his own poems, The Brides of Enderby, along with musical settings of texts by T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Blooms of Dublin, his musical adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses, was broadcast on BBC radio in 1982. He also provided new libretti for Scottish Opera’s Glasgow production of Oberon in 1985 (revived in Venice in 1987), and for the English National Opera’s 1986 production of Carmen.

Inevitably, music played a significant role in his writing, not just as a theme but as a structural device. His 1974 novel Napoleon Symphony deploys that overworked fictional analogy with more than usual success, a work divided into four distinct “movements”, each with their defining signatures and keys.

A very dominant musical strain runs through A Clockwork Orange, but it’s often forgotten that the macaronic Nadsat language of the text – a blend of English and Russian argot – has something of the improvisatory quality of Burgess’s beloved jazz.
Arguably his major fictional achievement, the sprawling Earthly Powers is also organised symphonically, or perhaps operatically, with frequent use of leitmotif (like the almost obsessive rendering of “venerean strabismus”), transitions of mood and large-scale resolutions.

Stanley Kubrick's film version of A Clockwork Orange opened in the US on 1 December, and would open in the UK in January 1972. Burgess admired Kubrick's work, though worried that the presentation of violence went too far (even while the content of the book itself is in many ways more shocking). 'I realised, not for the first time, how little impact even a shocking book can make in comparison with a film. Kubrick's achievement swallowed mine whole, and yes I was responsible for what some called its malign influence on the young.' (You've Had Your Time, 1990)

During his last years, Burgess and his wife settled in Monte Carlo and in Lugano, Switzerland . He loved to gamble and visited the casinos nightly. He knew the royal family well and frequently strolled with Princess Grace. Wherever he was living, Burgess continued to work systematically from 10 a .m. to 5 p.m., drinking strong tea, smoking small cigars, and producing a thousand words a day, using a word processor for his journalism and a typewriter for fiction. Even when his health began to fail and he had to return to England, even when he knew that he was dying from lung cancer, Burgess continued to write and compose music. His novel about the murder of Christopher Marlowe, A Dead Man in Deptford, was completed and published in 1993. His stage play, Chatsky, starring Colin Firth and Jemma Redgrave, was produced at the Almeida Theatre in London in March 1993. He completed his St John’s Sonata on 12 November 1993.

Anthony Burgess died at the age of 76 in London on 22 November 1993 of lung cancer. He arranged to be buried in Monaco, where he had made his home for some years. His last novel, Byrne, was published posthumously in 1995. A selection of his poems, Revolutionary Sonnets, was edited by Kevin Jackson and published by Carcanet.
Burgess died of lung cancer on 22 November in London. His ashes were interred in Monaco.
He was survived by his son Paulo Andrea (Andrew) Burgess (d.2002), and his wife Liliana (Liana) Burgess (d.2007).

Established in 2003 by Liana, the second wife of Anthony Burgess, the Burgess Foundation is an independent charity that encourages research into the life and work of the Lancashire-born writer. The Foundation houses a library and study centre, boasting a vast bank of material on subjects that relate to the author, ranging from unpublished plays and film scripts to cassette tapes, letters and manuscript scores. The archive also contains family photographs and personal artefacts, including items that relate to Manchester in the pre-war period.
Established in 2003 by Liana Burgess (1929-2007), and directed by Dr Alan Roughley between 2003 and 2010, the Burgess Foundation is an entirely independent charity that welcomes all individuals and institutions interested in Burgess’s work.

Andrew Burgess Wilson died in London from a cerebral haemorrhage in 2002. Liana Burgess died in Italy on 3 December 2007.
Burgess and Censorship
one of his favourite lines from the German poet Heinrich Heine, which Burgess himself translated thus: “Whoever burns books will be burning people next.”
From the beginning, his career as a novelist was plagued by legal difficulties. The second volume of his Malayan trilogy, The Enemy in the Blanket (published by William Heinemann in 1958), was the subject of a successful claim for libel in the High Court in Singapore. The judgement was overturned on appeal, but Burgess gained a reputation for being troublesome. Matters were not improved when another novel, The Worm and the Ring, was also judged to be libellous in 1962. Unsold copies of the book were pulped, and the novel has never been reprinted in its original form.
This was the context in which Burgess became a champion of free expression. When, in the early 1960s, his friend William Burroughs was having trouble finding a British publisher for his scandalous novel The Naked Lunch, Burgess wrote a letter to the Times Literary Supplement (published 2 January 1964) promoting Burroughs and his work, and another article published in the Manchester Guardian. Among the novel’s detractors was Dame Edith Sitwell, who wrote to the TLS, saying: “I do not wish to spend the rest of my life with my nose nailed to other people’s lavatories.”
In 1966 Burgess gave evidence on behalf of Hubert Selby, whose novel, Last Exit to Brooklyn, was the subject of an obscenity trial. When the novel was eventually acquitted in 1968, Burgess wrote an introduction to the first post-trial edition, in which he defended Selby’s writing on the grounds of literary merit. Reflecting on the Selby case in the 1990s, Burgess admitted that he had exaggerated the literary qualities of Last Exit to Brooklyn in order to thwart the guardians of public morals who had wanted to see it banned. He maintained that the deception had been worthwhile.
Burgess embroiled himself in another controversy shortly after the Moors Murders trial, in which it was revealed that Ian Brady had owned a collection of books including erotic novels and a biography of the Marquis de Sade. Pamela Hansford Johnson wrote about the trial in a non-fiction book called On Iniquity: Some Personal Reflections Arising Out of the Moors Murder Trial (1967). Johnson quoted Burgess on free expression and attacked him as a “rhetorical poseur”.
Burgess’s response was swift and robust. In an article titled What Is Pornography? he wrote:
Any book can be used as a pornographic instrument, even a great work of literature, if the mind that so uses it is off balance. I once found a small boy masturbating in the presence of the Victorian steel-engravings in a family Bible […] Ban the Marquis de Sade and you will also have to ban the Bible.

Having established his anti-censorship credentials, Burgess moved to Malta with his wife and son in 1968. Shortly after arriving on the island, he discovered that a large chunk of his personal library had been impounded by the Office of State Censorship. The list of confiscated items included books by D.H Lawrence, Angela Carter and Kingsley Amis. When the Sunday Times sent a copy of Doris Lessing’s Children of Violence for review, this was also confiscated by the censors, presumably because of its inflammatory communist and feminist content.
Enraged by the climate of censorship in Malta, Burgess decided to open up the subject for debate. He gave a lecture at the University of Malta titled “Obscenity and the Arts”, in which he argued that the suppression of literature on ideological or religious grounds was intolerable in a modern liberal society. When Burgess left Malta to visit his wife’s family in Italy, he returned to find that his house had been confiscated by the vengeful Maltese government. He managed to get it back, but only after he had leaked the story to The Guardian and the New York Times.


When A Clockwork Orange was published in 1962, it was considered sheer science fiction. But Burgess intended this novella to be a study on free will and psychological behaviorism. A Clockwork Orange was later regarded as a successor to earlier great novels such as Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, We, and Anthem. Burgess invented a dialect out of English and American slang, Russian, gypsy argot, and Jacobean prose in A Clockwork Orange. The book, narrated by Alex, contains many words in a slang dialect called nadsat.

In Burgess's later introduction "A Clockwork Orange Resucked," he wrote that the title of the novel came from an old Cockney slang expression from East London, "as queer as a clockwork orange"—indicating that one "has the appearnce of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil."; meaning very queer indeed (the meaning can be, but is not necessarily, sexual).
Alex must be able to choose to be good he must be an orange, capable of growth and sweetness, not a wound-up clockwork toy.

Its genesis lies partly in memories of wartime Britain and partly in Burgess's fascination with Russian literature. In 1961, when he and his wife went to Leningrad, he found abundant details in the Soviet Union for the apolitical futurism of his novel-in-progress.

But the early reviews were lukewarm. It was not until Kubrick's film in 1971 that its place was secure. Burgess was always disappointed it was the film that made his book a hit.
A Clockwork Orange is divided into three parts that each containing seven chapters. Twenty-one is a symbolic number as it is the age that which a child earns his rights at the time. Stanley Kubrick 's 1971 film adaptation A Clockwork Orange used an American version of the script, which left out the twenty-first chapter. The book was partly inspired by a violent event that Burgess's first wife Lynn was assaulted by four U.S. GI deserters on the street in London, suffering a miscarriage and lifelong dysmenorrhea.

According to Burgess, writing the novel was both a catharsis and an "act of charity" toward senseless male violence against defenseless women. The narrator Alex, a fifteen-year-old attacker, assaults brutally on the writer and his wife. In Kubrick 's screenplay, the protagonist Alex's ultimate moral and psychological growth is replaced by a celebration of violence. While some critics argue that Alex's violence lessens or counterbalances the extreme actions of the State, others consider the final chapter completes the "bildungsroman" framework for a novel.