Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Anthony Burgess was born in Manchester, England to a Catholic family, and was left motherless at two years old by the 1918–1919 influenza pandemic. One of his father's jobs was 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 aunt, and later by his stepmother, in rooms above an "off-licence" (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 noted secondary school Xaverian College. He graduated from the University of Manchester with a Bachelor of Arts, 2nd class honours, in English language and literature.
In 1940 Burgess began a six-year stint with the military, becoming a sergeant in 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"). He was an instructor for the Central Advisory Council for Forces Education and a lecturer in speech and drama. In the late 1940s 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 his first wife, the Welsh-born Lynn, 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 notoreity 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 innocent 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 (they had an apparently rather noisy apartment in the building mentioned above, where privacy was minimal), he was posted to the Malay Teachers' Training College at Kota Bharu, Kelantan. Kelantan 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 in Malaya 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 taking leave in Britain in 1959, he took up a further Eastern post, this time in 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, 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 undergoing, it is thought, 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 modest but charming 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 BBC television studios of which he was a frequent guest in this period.
Within a decade Burgess was once again living outside England, but in much grander accommodation – indeed, at his death he was to leave a considerable Europewide property portfolio. He lived in Malta for a time, but problems with the state censor prompted a move to Rome. Eventually he settled in Monaco.
After Lynn's death (their union was childless) he had remarried, to Liana, an Italian student and researcher, adopting the latter's son from a previous relationship. An attempt to kidnap the boy in Rome is believed to have been one of the factors prompting the family's move to Monaco.
Burgess published 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".
His most famous work (or 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 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) that, besides violence, had been an intense pleasure.
Though Burgess lapsed from Catholicism early in his youth, the influence of the Catholic 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).
Some of his most interesting work was done in his repatriate years (c. 1960-69), which produced not just the Enderby cycle but the neglected "The Right to an Answer" (now, inexplicably, out of print), 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 even modelled the structure of one of his novels, The Napoleon Symphony (1974), upon Beethoven's Eroica symphony.
A prolific journalist, he published material in American, Italian, French and British newspapers and magazines regularly, especially book reviews.
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.
- Time for a Tiger (1956)
- The Enemy in the Blanket (1958)
- Beds in the East (1959)
- The Right to an Answer (1960)
- The Doctor is Sick, (1960)
- The Worm and the Ring, (1960)
- Devil of a State (1961)
- One Hand Clapping (1961)
- A Clockwork Orange (1962)
- The Wanting Seed (1962)
- Honey for the Bears (1963)
- Inside Mr. Enderby (1963)
- The Eve of St. Venus (1964)
- Nothing like the Sun (1964)
- A Vision of Battlements (1965)
- Tremor of Intent (1966)
- Enderby Outside (1968)
- MF (1971)
- Napoleon Symphony (1974)
- The Clockwork Testament (1974)
- Beard's Roman Women (1976)
- Abba Abba (1977)
- 1985 (1978)
- Man of Nazareth (1979), based on his screenplay for Jesus of Nazareth (movie)
- Earthly Powers (1980)
- The End of the World News (1982)
- Enderby's Dark Lady (1984)
- The Kingdom of the Wicked (1985)
- The Pianoplayers (1986)
- Any Old Iron (1988)
- The Devil's Mode (1989) (short stories)
- A Dead Man in Deptford (1993)
- Byrne (1995)
- Language Made Plain (1964)
- (1965) also published as Re Joyce
- The Novel Now (1967)
- Urgent Copy (1968)
- Novel, The (long essay, Encyclopedia Britannica entry) (1970)
- This Man and Music (1982)
- Homage to QWERT YUIOP (1986)
- Little Wilson and Big God (Autobiography, Part 1) (1986)
- You've Had Your Time (Autobiography, Part 2) (1990)
- A Mouthful of Air (1992)
- One Man's Chorus (1998)
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