Anthony Burgess (1917 – 1993)
English novelist, composer, and critic, whose novels are characterized by verbal inventiveness and social satire. Burgess has also written several biographies. However, the author's first love was music: he composed a number of works before publishing his first books. Among Burgess's best-known novels is A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1962).
John Anthony Burgess Wilson was born in Manchester into a Catholic middle-class family. He studied at Xaverian College and Manchester University, where he read English language and literature, graduating in 1940. During World War II Burgess served in the Royal Army Medical corps.
From 1946 to 1950 Burgess taught at Birmingham University, worked for the Ministry of Education, and was teacher at Banbury Grammar School. Burgess wrote comparatively little until 1959, but primararily studied music composition. His first novel, A VISION OF BATTLEMENT, was completed in 1949 but published in 1965. It was loosely based on the Aeneid and showed the influence of Joyce. In 1954 Burgess became an education officer in Malaya and Brunei, and wrote during this time his trilogy TIME FOR A TIGER (1956), THE ENEMY IN THE BLANKET (1958), and BEDS IN THE EAST (1959). The work juxtaposed the progressive disintegration of a hapless civil servant against the birth of Malayan independence.
After collapsing in classroom Burgess returned to England, was diagnosed as having a cerebral tumor, and given twelve months to live. Concerned about leaving his wife without means set off a rush of literary activity. Under the too early death sentence Burgess feverishly wrote novels, reviews and he also studied. The doctor's diagnosis was wrong, and the author lived another 33 years, producing over fifty books and hundreds of journalistic pieces. His first wife Lynne proposed the pseudonym Anthony Powell and her second suggestion was Anthony Gilwern. Burgess was the maiden name of John Wilson's mother. He also used the pseudonym Joseph Kell and once reviewed Kell's novel INSIDE MR ENDERBY (1963) for the Yorkshire Post; when the editor sent him the author's novel - Burgess thought it was a practical joke but it wasn't. Burgess himself wrote letters to the editor of the Daily Mail as Mohamed Ali, an outraged Pakistani moralist.
In 1959 Burgess devoted himself entirely to writing, living since in Malta, Italy, US, and Monaco. Between the years 1960 and 1964 Burgess wrote eleven novels. THE WANTING SEED (1962) depicted an overpopulated England of the future, caught up in the alternating cycles of libertarianism and totalitarianism. In 1962 his most famous science fiction fable, A Clockwork Orange appeared, which made him famous as a satirical novelist, and which was filmed by Stanley Kubrick in the 1970s. The novel was born from the growth of teenage gangs and the universal application of B.F. Skinner's behavior theories in prisons, asylums, and psychiatric clinics. In 1961 Burgess had also observed the stilyaqi, gangs of young thugs, in Leningrad.
A Clockwork Orange is set in a future London and is told in nadsat, a mixture of Russian, English and American slang, gypsy talk and, odd bits of Jacobean prose. Alex, the main character, is a juvenile delinquent, who rapes and kills people. He is captured, and brainwashed by authorities to change his murderous aggressions. As an unexpected side effect he starts to hate Beethoven's music, his unspoiled self. The central question of the story is a philosophical one: is an 'evil' human being with free will preferable to a 'good' citizen without it? The character of Alex, played in the film by Malcolm McDowell, gained cult status. Kubrick later withdrew his film following a moral panic about a 'copycat killing' allegedly performed by a youth wearing the costume of Alex and his 'droogs'. A Clockwork Orange received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay but critics were on the whole furious. Kauline Kael wrote in the New Yorker (January 1, 1972): "Literal-minded in its sex and brutality, Teutonic in its humor, Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange might be the work of a strict and exacting German professor who set out to make a porno-violent sci-fi comedy. Is there anything sadder - and ultimately more repellent - than a clean-minded pornographer?... How can people go on talking about the dazzling brilliance of movies and not notice that the directors are sucking up to the thugs in the audience?" - The original London edition of the book includes a final chapter that anticipates a future for Alex wherein he chooses a law-abiding life. The American version ends with Alex reverting to his natural, evil self. "But you, O my brothers, remember sometimes the little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal."
Burgess returned to the questions of A Clockwork Orange in the humorous novel ENDERBY (1968), which followed the travels of a non-conforming poet in England and the continent. In the sequel, THE CLOCKWORK TESTAMENT; OR, ENDERBY'S END (1975) the hero, Burgess's alter ego, lived in New York. The book was a merciless assault on American media and academia, and the decline of language.
In 1968 Burgess married an Italian countess and they
spent much of their time on the Continent - although he managed to appear
frequently on TV chat shows and as a columnist in British newspapers. When
he appeared on BBC's Newsnight immediately after the death of author
Graham Greene, Burgess could not help talking about himself. In 1970-71
Burgess was a visiting professor at Princeton University, a Distinguished
Professor at the City College of New York (1972-72), and a
writer-in-residence at the University of New York at Buffalo (1976). He
was appointed in 1972 a literary adviser to the Guthrie Theatre,
Minneapolis, in 1972. From 1975 until the death of his second wife eight
years later, Burgess lived in Malta.
Burgess wrote film scripts and several critical studies - he was a specialist in Shakespeare and Joyce. His musical compositions include symphonies, a ballet, and an opera. Burgess's autobiographies, LITTLE WILSON AND BIG GOD (1987) and YOU'VE HAD YOUR TIME (1990) reveal a more self-doubting person than the one that was his public image. Burgess's third symphony was performed at the University of Iowa in 1975, and his musical version of Ulyssess, Blooms and Dublin, was performed on radio on the centenary of James Joyce's death.