Anthony Burgess

From New World Encyclopedia

Anthony Burgess
Born: February 25 1917(1917-02-25)
Harpurhey, Manchester Flag of United Kingdom
Died: November 22 1993 (aged 76),
St John's Wood, London Flag of United Kingdom
Occupation(s): novelist, critic, composer, librettist, poet, pianist, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, essayist, travel writer, broadcaster, translator, linguist, educationalist
Nationality: British
Writing period: 1956-1993
Literary genre: Historical fiction, philosophical novel, satire, epic, spy fiction, horror, biography, literary criticism, travel literature, autobiography
Subject(s): exile, colonialism, Islam, faith, lust, marriage, evil, alcoholism, homosexuality, linguistics, pornography
Literary movement: Modernism
Influences: Homer, Pelagius, Dante, Lawrence, the English Bible, Shakespeare, Milton, Johnson, Hopkins, Conrad, Ford, Joyce, Freud, Orwell, Eliot, Lévi-Strauss, O'Brien
Influenced: Stanley Kubrick, Franco Zeffirelli

Anthony Burgess (February 25, 1917 – November 22, 1993) was a British novelist, critic and composer. He was also active as a librettist, poet, pianist, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, essayist, travel writer, broadcaster, translator, linguist, and educationalist.

Born in Harpurhey, Manchester in northwest England, he lived and worked variously in Southeast Asia, the United States and Mediterranean Europe.

Burgess's fiction includes the Malayan trilogy (The Long Day Wanes), on the dying days of Britain's empire in the East; the Enderby quartet of comic novels about a reclusive poet and his muse; Nothing Like the Sun, the classic speculative recreation of Shakespeare's love-life; the cult exploration of the nature of evil A Clockwork Orange; and his masterpiece, Earthly Powers, a panoramic saga of the twentieth century.

He wrote critical 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. It was not until 1956 that he was to begin using the pen-name Anthony Burgess.

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. Elizabeth, who is buried in a Protestant cemetery in Manchester (the City of Manchester General Cemetery, Rochdale Road), had been a minor actress and dancer who appeared at Manchester music halls such as the Ardwick Empire and the Gentlemen's Concert Rooms. Her stage name, according to Burgess, was "The Beautiful Belle Burgess," but there has never been any independent verification of this—no playbills have yet been discovered that include the name. His grandmother, Mary-Ann Finnegan, is thought to have come from Tipperary.

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 theaters accompanying silent films, an encyclopedia 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 of novels). 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, in 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 was nevertheless fortunate, in view of the straitened circumstances in which he grew up, to receive 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.

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 the writings of James Joyce.

Burgess entered the Victoria University of Manchester in 1937, graduating three years later with the degree of Bachelor of Arts (2nd class honors, upper division) in English language and literature. His thesis was on the subject of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus.

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 Prélude à l'après-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."[1] 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.

War service

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 the marriage took place in Bournemouth between Burgess and 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. Nor was Lynne related to the writer Christopher Isherwood as many people had believed. Lynne and Burgess were fellow students at the University of Manchester. Their marriage was childless, and, to put it mildly, explosive and tempestuous.

"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. But as Burgess's biographers have pointed out, 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.

Gibraltar. Burgess, then known as Sergeant-Major John Wilson, was stationed here in 1943-45.

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" program, 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 neighboring Spanish town of La Línea de la Concepción, Burgess was arrested for insulting General Franco. It is not known if he spent a night in the cells, but 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.

Early teaching career

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 libeled 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 picturesque village of Adderbury, not far from Banbury.

Burgess organized 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 habitué 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 behavior.


The Malay College in Kuala Kangsar, Perak, where Burgess taught in 1954-55, an experience that formed the basis of the novel Time for a Tiger.

At the end of 1953, Burgess applied for a teaching post on the island of 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 with alacrity, as he was keen to explore Eastern lands. Several months later he and his wife traveled 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, serving as 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.

Kota Bharu, Kelantan. Burgess was an education officer at the Malay Teachers' Training College here between 1955 and 1958

In the aftermath of, but not necessarily consequent upon, 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 to be 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 one does 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 along the line of Zanzibar.

The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan. Burgess was a teacher at the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin College in 1958-59, and the mosque forms the centrepiece of his Brunei novel Devil of a State

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 tumor, 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 is inaccurate, and has been explained by Burgess's biographers by reference to his (mild and mischievous) mythomania. There was no tumor, nor was a tumor ever diagnosed.

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." But 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."

Repatriate years

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, if not quite a close personal friend of, then 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.

Tax exile

Five weeks after Lynne's death in 1968 at the age of forty-seven of liver cirrhosis (see Beard's Roman Women), Burgess remarried, at Hounslow register office, to Liliana Macellari ("Liana"), an Italian translator. They had begun an adulterous affair in London several years before Lynne's death.

By the end of the 1960s he had quit England and become a tax exile. 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 double figures).

Malta, where Burgess encountered problems with the state censor. After he left the island his house was confiscated for tax evasion.

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.

Monaco. Burgess was based here from 1976.

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 center 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 kilometers outside Lugano, Switzerland.

Describing himself as "a belated father," Burgess adopted as his stepson Liana's son from a previous relationship. An attempt to kidnap the boy, called Paolo-Andrea, in Rome is believed to have been one of the factors leading to the decision to move to Monaco.


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 was to die 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. He was 76 years old. His actual death (of lung cancer) occurred at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in the St John's Wood neighborhood of London. He is thought to have composed the novel Byrne on his deathbed.

It is believed 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," which is

  • The Aramaic for "Father, father," that is, an invocation to God as Father (Mark 14:36)
  • Burgess's initials forwards and backwards
  • Part of the rhyme scheme for the Petrarchan sonnet
  • The last words Jesus uttered, in Aramaic, from the Cross
  • The Burgess novel about the death of Keats, Abba Abba
  • The abba rhyme scheme that Tennyson used for his poem on death, In Memoriam

Burgess's stepson Paolo-Andrea survived him by less than a decade, committing suicide at the age of 37 in 2002.

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 Church, 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 (that is, 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 learned 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 tour de force 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 defenseless against other people and unable to enjoy the music (especially Beethoven, and more specifically the Ninth Symphony) that, besides violence, had been an intense pleasure for him.

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 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 Lévi-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 (although it was written entirely while on the road in his Bedford Dormobile campervan). Burgess has frequently been criticized 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 Napoleon 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 Encyclopædia 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 of some Hebrew, Japanese, Chinese, Swedish, and Persian.

"Burgess's linguistic training," write 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 Anglo-Russian invented teen slang of A Clockwork Orange (called 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 organization 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 of which is to blow up the Sydney Opera House during a visit by international royals and presidents (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, characterized 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 modeled 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.

Opera and musicals

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.

Work methods

"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 favored time for working was the afternoon, since "the unconscious mind has a habit of asserting itself in the afternoon."


The Ubudiah Mosque features prominently in Time for a Tiger, Burgess's novel of Kuala Kangsar.

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.


  • Burgess garnered the Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres distinction of France and became a Monégasque Commandeur de Merite Culturel
  • He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
  • He received honorary degrees from St Andrews, Birmingham and Manchester universities
  • Burgess's masterpiece Earthly Powers was shortlisted for, but famously failed to win, the 1980 English Booker Prize for fiction (the prize went to William Golding for Rites of Passage)

Selected works

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).


  • Time for a Tiger (1956) (Volume 1 of the Malayan trilogy, The Long Day Wanes)
  • The Enemy in the Blanket (1958) (Volume 2 of the trilogy)
  • Beds in the East (1959) (Volume 3 of the trilogy)
  • The Right to an Answer (1960)
  • The Doctor is Sick (1960)
  • The Worm and the Ring (1960)
  • Devil of a State (1961)
  • (as Joseph Kell) One Hand Clapping (1961)
  • A Clockwork Orange (1962)
  • The Wanting Seed (1962)
  • Honey for the Bears (1963)
  • (as Joseph Kell) Inside Mr. Enderby (1963) (Volume 1 of the Enderby quartet)
  • The Eve of St. Venus (1964)
  • Nothing Like the Sun: A Story of Shakespeare's Love Life (1964)
  • A Vision of Battlements (1965)
  • Tremor of Intent: An Eschatological Spy Novel (1966)
  • Enderby Outside (1968) (Volume 2 of the Enderby quartet)
  • M/F (1971)
  • Napoleon Symphony: A Novel in Four Movements (1974)
  • The Clockwork Testament, or Enderby's End (1974) (Volume 3 of the Enderby quartet)
  • Beard's Roman Women (1976)
  • Abba Abba (1977)
  • 1985 (1978)
  • Man of Nazareth (based on his screenplay for Jesus of Nazareth) (1979)
  • Earthly Powers (1980)
  • The End of the World News: An Entertainment (1982)
  • Enderby's Dark Lady, or No End of Enderby (1984) (Volume 4 of the Enderby quartet)
  • The Kingdom of the Wicked (1985)
  • The Pianoplayers (1986)
  • Any Old Iron (1988)
  • Mozart and the Wolf Gang (1991)
  • A Dead Man in Deptford (1993)
  • Byrne: A Novel (in verse) (1995)


  • Moses: A Narrative (1976) (long poem)

Short stories

  • The Devil's Mode and Other Stories (1989) (collection)


  • Little Wilson and Big God, Being the First Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess (1986)
  • You've Had Your Time, Being the Second Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess (1990)
  • Homage to QWERT YUIOP: Selected Journalism 1978-1985 (1986), also published as But Do Blondes Prefer Gentlemen?: Homage to Qwert Yuiop and Other Writings
  • One Man's Chorus: The Uncollected Writings, ed. Ben Forkner (1998)
  • Shakespeare (1970)
  • Language Made Plain (1964) (ISBN 0-8152-0222-9)
  • A Mouthful of Air: Language and Languages, Especially English (1992) (ISBN 0-688-11935-2)
  • Joysprick: An Introduction to the Language of James Joyce (1973)
  • Ninety-Nine Novels: The Best in English since 1939—A Personal Choice (1984)
  • New York (1976)
  • An Essay on Censorship (letter to Salman Rushdie in verse) (1989)
  • Rencontre au Sommet (conversations between Burgess and Isaac Bashevis Singer in book form) (1998)

(See List of Burgess' works for full list)

Further reading


  • Roger Lewis, Anthony Burgess (2002). A confused mixture of vilification and tribute, the book is highly readable and often penetrating. Equally, it is often wildly wrong. Lewis makes numerous unfounded assertions, for example hinting that Burgess was a spy for MI5 (see the Espionage section, above). Lewis, a former Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, is a critic and journalist.
  • Andrew Biswell, The Real Life of Anthony Burgess (2005). Semi-authorised by Burgess's widow, "Biswell's Life of Burgess" is thoroughly researched and authoritative. At the same time it is rather pedestrian and lacking in pychological and literary insight. Biswell is a lecturer in the English department of Manchester Metropolitan University.

Selected studies

  • Michael Ratcliffe, entry on Burgess for the New Dictionary of National Biography (2004).
  • Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, 8th ed. (1992), on Burgess as musician
  • Richard Mathews, The Clockwork Universe of Anthony Burgess (Borgo Press, 1990)
  • Martine Ghosh-Schellhorn, Anthony Burgess: A Study in Character (Peter Lang AG, 1986)
  • Geoffrey Aggeler, Anthony Burgess: The Artist as Novelist (Alabama, 1979)
  • Samuel Coale, Anthony Burgess (New York, 1981)
  • A.A. Devitis, Anthony Burgess (New York, 1972)
  • John J. Stinson, "Anthony Burgess Revisited" (Boston, 1991)
  • Jerome Gold, The Prisoner's Son: Homage to Anthony Burgess (Black Heron Press 1996)
  • Robert K. Morris, The Consolations of Ambiguity: An Essay on the Novels of Anthony Burgess (Missouri, 1971)
  • Carol M. Dix, Anthony Burgess (British Council, 1971)
  • Paul Phillips, A Clockwork Counterpoint: The Music and Literature of Anthony Burgess (Manchester University Press, forthcoming).


A few of the memoirs and other books in which Burgess is discussed:

  • Michael Mewshaw, 'Do I Owe You Something?', Granta No. 75 (2001)
  • Gore Vidal, United States: Essays 1952-1992 (1993)
  • Frederic Raphael, Eyes Wide Open (1999)
  • Kingsley Amis, Memoirs (1991)
  • D.J. Enright, A Mania for Sentences (1983); Man Is An Onion (1972)

Selected media profiles

  • Playboy Interview: Anthony Burgess, Playboy, September 1974
  • Valerie Grove, This Old Man Comes Ranting Home," The Times, March 6 1992
  • Jim Hicks, 'Eclectic Author Of His Own Five-Foot Shelf, Life, October 25 1968
  • Anthony Lewis, I Love England, But I Will No Longer Live There, The New York Times Magazine, November 3 1968
  • Richard Heller, Burgess The Betrayer, London Mail on Sunday, April 11 1993
  • Edward Pearce, Let Us Now Honour a Wordsmith of Unearthly Powers, The Sunday Times, July 31 1988
  • Michael Barber, Getting Up English Noses: Burgess at Seventy, Books, April 1987
  • Roger Lewis, The greatest story Anthony Burgess never told—his life as a secret agent, London Mail on Sunday, December 1, 2002
  • Chris Burkham, Lust for Language, The Face, April 1984
  • Anthony Clare, Unearthly Powers, Listener, July 28 1988
  • Jonathan Meades, Anthony Burgess, or the making of a major monster, Evening Standard, November 4 2002


  • Many of Burgess's literary and musical papers are archived at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Withington, Manchester.
  • The largest collection of Burgessiana is held at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin.
  • Burgess scholars will find much of interest at the Anthony Burgess Center of the University of Angers, with which Burgess's widow Liana (Liliana Macellari) is connected.


  1. Anthony Burgess, This Man And Music (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982, ISBN 0070089647), 17-18.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Aggeler, Geoffrey. Critical Essays on Anthony Burgess. G.K. Hall, 1986. ISBN 9780816187577.
  • De Vitis, A. A. Anthony Burgess. Twayne Publishers, 1972. OCLC 480670.
  • Lewis, Roger. Anthony Burgess. Thomas Dunne Books, 2004. ISBN 9780312322519.

External links

All links retrieved July 31, 2023.


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