"This novel was, is, about Brunei, which was renamed Naraka, Malay-Sanskrit for 'hell.' Little invention was needed to contrive a large cast of unbelievable characters and a number of interwoven plots. Though completed in 1958, the work was not published until 1961, for what it was worth it was made a choice of the book society. Heinemann, my publisher, was doubtful about publishing it: it might be libellous. I had to change the setting from Brunei to an East African one. Heinemann was right to be timorous. In early 1958, The Enemy in the Blanket appeared and at once provoked a libel suit."
His mother Elizabeth (née Burgess) died at the age of 30 at home on 19 November 1918, during the 1918 flu pandemic. The causes listed on her death certificate were influenza, acute pneumonia, and cardiac failure. His sister Muriel had died four days earlier on 15 November from influenza, broncho-pneumonia, and cardiac failure, aged eight. Burgess believed he was resented by his father, Joseph Wilson, for having survived, when his mother and sister did not.
Burgess has said of his largely solitary childhood: "I was either distractedly persecuted or ignored. I was one despised.... Ragged boys in gangs would pounce on the well-dressed like myself." He attended St. Edmund's Elementary School before moving on to Bishop Bilsborrow Memorial Elementary School, both Catholic schools, in Moss Side. He later reflected: "When I went to school I was able to read. At the Manchester elementary school I attended, most of the children could not read, so I was ... a little apart, rather different from the rest." Good grades resulted in a place at Xaverian College (1928–37).
As a young child he did not care about music, until he heard on his home-built radio "a quite incredible flute solo", which he characterised as "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 by Claude Debussy. He referred to this as a "psychedelic moment ... a recognition of verbally inexpressible spiritual realities." When Burgess announced to his family that he wanted to be a Composer, they objected as "there was no money in it." Music was not taught at his school, but at about age 14 he taught himself to play the piano. Burgess had originally hoped to study music at university, but the music department at the Victoria University of Manchester turned down his application because of poor grades in physics. So instead he studied English language and literature there between 1937 and 1940, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts. His thesis concerned Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, and he graduated with an upper second-class honours, which he found disappointing. When grading one of Burgess's term papers, the Historian A. J. P. Taylor, wrote: "Bright ideas insufficient to conceal lack of knowledge."
Nothing Like the Sun is a fictional recreation of Shakespeare's love-life and an examination of the supposedly partly syphilitic sources of the bard's imaginative vision. The novel, which drew on Edgar I. Fripp's 1938 biography Shakespeare, Man and Artist, won critical acclaim and placed Burgess among the first rank novelists of his generation. M/F (1971) was listed by the Writer himself as one of the works of which he was most proud. Beard's Roman Women 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 Napoleon Symphony, Burgess brought Bonaparte to life by shaping the novel's structure to Beethoven's Eroica symphony. The novel contains a portrait of an Arab and Muslim society under occupation by a Christian western power (Egypt by Catholic France). In the 1980s, religious themes began to feature heavily (The Kingdom of the Wicked, Man of Nazareth, 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).
Burgess spent six weeks in 1940 as an army recruit in Eskbank before becoming a Nursing Orderly Class 3 in the Royal Army Medical Corps. During his Service he was unpopular and was involved in incidents such as knocking off a corporal's cap and polishing the floor of a corridor to make people slip. In 1941 Burgess was pursued by military police of the British Armed Forces for desertion after overstaying his leave from Morpeth military base with his Future bride Lynne. In 1942 he asked to be transferred to the Army Educational Corps and despite his loathing of authority he was promoted to sergeant. During the blackout his pregnant wife Lynne was beaten and robbed by four American deserters and perhaps as a result she lost the child. Burgess, stationed at the time in Gibraltar, was denied leave to see her.
Burgess met Llewela "Lynne" Isherwood Jones at the University where she was studying economics, politics and modern history, graduating in 1942 with an upper second-class. She reportedly claimed to be a distant relative of Christopher Isherwood, although the Lewis and Biswell biographies dispute this. Burgess and Jones were married on 22 January 1942.
Burgess left the army in 1946 with the rank of sergeant-major 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 near Preston. Burgess taught in the extramural department of Birmingham University (1946–50).
In late 1950 he began working as a secondary school Teacher at Banbury Grammar School (now Banbury School) teaching English literature. In addition to his teaching duties he supervised Sports and ran the school's drama society. He organised 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. Reports from his former students and colleagues indicate that he cared deeply about teaching.
In 1954, Burgess joined the British Colonial Service as a Teacher and education officer in Malaya, initially stationed at Kuala Kangsar in Perak, in what were then known as the Federated Malay States. Here he taught at the Malay College (now Malay College Kuala Kangsar – MCKK), modeled on English public school lines. In addition to his teaching duties, he was a housemaster in charge of students of the preparatory school, who were housed at a Victorian mansion known as "King's Pavilion". A variety of the music he wrote there was influenced by the country, notably Sinfoni Melayu for orchestra and brass band, which included cries of Merdeka (independence) from the audience. No score, however, is extant.
Burgess was born at 91 Carisbrook Street in Harpurhey, a suburb of Manchester, to Catholic parents, Joseph and Elizabeth Wilson. He described his background as lower middle class; growing up during the Great Depression, his parents, who were shopkeepers, were fairly well off, as the demand for their tobacco and alcohol wares remained constant. He was known in childhood as Jack, Little Jack, and Johnny Eagle. At his confirmation, the name Anthony was added and he became John Anthony Burgess Wilson. He began using the pen name Anthony Burgess upon the publication of his 1956 novel Time for a Tiger.
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. 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 and, although it dealt with Brunei, for libel reasons the action had to be transposed to an imaginary East African territory similar to Zanzibar, named Dunia. In his autobiography Little Wilson and Big God (1987) Burgess wrote:
Burgess was invalided home in 1959 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 found no illness. On discharge, benefiting from a sum of money which Lynne Burgess had inherited from her father, together with their savings built up over six years in the East, he decided to become a full-time Writer. The couple lived first in an apartment in Hove, near Brighton. They later moved to a semi-detached house called "Applegarth" in Etchingham, approximately a mile from the Jacobean house where Rudyard Kipling had lived in Burwash, and one mile from the Robertsbridge home of Malcolm Muggeridge. Upon the death of Burgess's father-in-law, the couple used their inheritance to decamp to a terraced town house in Chiswick. This provided convenient access to the White City BBC television studios where he later became a frequent guest. During these years Burgess became a regular drinking partner of the Novelist william S. Burroughs. Their meetings took place in London and Tangiers.
Burgess's repatriate years (c. 1960–69) produced Enderby and The Right to an Answer, which touches on the theme of death and dying, and One Hand Clapping, a satire on the vacuity of popular culture. The Worm and the Ring (1961) had to be withdrawn from circulation under the threat of libel action from one of Burgess's former colleagues, a school secretary.
A sea voyage the couple took with the Baltic Line from Tilbury to Leningrad in June 1961 resulted in the novel Honey for the Bears. He wrote in his autobiographical You've Had Your Time (1990), that in re-learning Russian at this time, he found inspiration for the Russian-based slang Nadsat that he created for A Clockwork Orange, going on to note "I would resist to the limit any publisher's demand that a glossary be provided."
His dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange was published in 1962. It was inspired initially by an incident during the Second World War in which his wife Lynne was robbed, assaulted and violated by deserters from the US Army in London during the blackout. The event may have contributed to her subsequent miscarriage. The book was an examination of free will and morality. The young anti-hero, Alex, captured after a short career of violence and mayhem, undergoes a course of aversion therapy treatment to curb his violent tendencies. This results in making him defenceless against other people and unable to enjoy some of his favourite music that, besides violence, had been an intense pleasure for him. In the non-fiction book Flame into Being (1985) Burgess described A Clockwork Orange as "a jeu d'esprit knocked off for money in three weeks, it became known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence." He added "the film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about, and the misunderstanding will pursue me till I die." Near the time of publication the final chapter was cut from the American edition of the book. Burgess had written A Clockwork Orange with twenty-one chapters, meaning to match the age of majority. "21 is the symbol of human maturity, or used to be, since at 21 you got to vote and assumed adult responsibility," Burgess wrote in a foreword for a 1986 edition. Needing money and thinking that the publisher was "being charitable in accepting the work at all," Burgess accepted the deal and allowed A Clockwork Orange to be published in the US with the twenty-first chapter omitted. Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange was based on the American edition, and thus helped to perpetuate the loss of the last chapter.
Burgess started his career as a critic. His English Literature, A Survey for Students, was aimed at newcomers to the subject. He followed this with The Novel To-day (Longmans, 1963) and The Novel Now: A Student's Guide to Contemporary Fiction (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1967). He wrote 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, as well as Ninety-nine Novels: The Best in English since 1939.
On the BBC's Desert Island Discs radio programme in 1966, Burgess chose as his favourite music Purcell's "Rejoice in the Lord Alway"; Bach's Goldberg Variations No. 13; Elgar's Symphony No. 1 in A-flat major; Wagner's "Walter's Trial Song" from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; Debussy's "Fêtes" from Nocturnes; Lambert's The Rio Grande; Walton's Symphony No. 1 in B-flat minor; and Vaughan Williams' On Wenlock Edge.
Lewis may not have been fully aware of the fact that a quarter of Malaysia's population is made up of Hokkien- and Cantonese-speaking Chinese. However, Malay had been installed as the National Language with the passing of the Language Act of 1967. By 1982 all national primary and secondary schools in Malaysia would have been teaching with Bahasa Melayu as a base language (see Harold Crouch, Government and Society in Malaysia, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1996).
Burgess was a Conservative (though, as he clarified in an interview with The Paris Review, his political views could be considered "a kind of anarchism" since his ideal of a "Catholic Jacobite imperial monarch" wasn't practicable), a (lapsed) Catholic and Monarchist, harbouring a distaste for all republics. He believed that socialism for the most part was "ridiculous" but did "concede that socialized Medicine is a priority in any civilized country today." To avoid the 90% tax the family would have incurred because of their high income, they left Britain and toured Europe in a Bedford Dormobile motor-home. During their travels through France and across the Alps, Burgess wrote in the back of the van as Liana drove. In this period, he wrote novels and produced film scripts for Lew Grade and Franco Zeffirelli. His first place of residence after leaving England was Lija, Malta (1968–70). The negative reaction from a lecture that Burgess delivered to an audience of Catholic Priests in Malta precipitated a move by the couple to Italy. The Burgesses maintained a flat in Rome, a country house in Bracciano, and a property in Montalbuccio. On hearing rumours of a mafia plot to kidnap Paolo-Andrea while the family was staying in Rome, Burgess decided to move to Monaco in 1975. Burgess was also motivated to move to the tax haven of Monaco as the country did not levy income tax and widows were exempt from death duties, a form of taxation on their husband's estates.
Burgess lived for two years in the United States, working as a visiting professor at Princeton University with the creative writing program (1970) 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 and was 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. Eventually he settled in Monaco in 1976, where he was active in the local community, becoming a co-founder in 1984 of the Princess Grace Irish Library, a centre for Irish cultural studies.
Although Burgess was predominantly a comic Writer, his dystopian satire A Clockwork Orange remains his best known novel. In 1971 it was adapted into a highly controversial film by Stanley Kubrick, which Burgess said was chiefly responsible for the popularity of the book. Burgess produced numerous other novels, including the Enderby quartet, and Earthly Powers, regarded by many critics as his greatest novel. He wrote librettos and screenplays, including for the 1977 TV mini-series Jesus of Nazareth. He worked as a literary critic for several publications, including The Observer and The Guardian, and wrote studies of classic Writers, notably James Joyce. A versatile Linguist, Burgess lectured in phonetics, and translated Cyrano de Bergerac, Oedipus Rex and the opera Carmen, among others.
Burgess produced a translation of Bizet's Carmen which was performed by the English National Opera, and wrote for the 1973 Broadway musical Cyrano, using his own adaptation of the original Rostand play as his basis. He created Blooms of Dublin in 1982, an operetta based on James Joyce's Ulysses (televised for the BBC) and wrote a libretto for Weber's Oberon, performed by the Glasgow-based Scottish Opera.
Burgess wrote the screenplays for Moses the Lawgiver (Gianfranco De Bosio 1974), Jesus of Nazareth (Franco Zeffirelli 1977), and A.D. (Stuart Cooper, 1985). Burgess was co-writer of the script for the TV series Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson (1980). The film treatments he produced include Amundsen, Attila, The Black Prince, Cyrus the Great, Dawn Chorus, The Dirty Tricks of Bertoldo, Eternal Life, Onassis, Puma, Samson and Delilah, Schreber, The Sexual Habits of the English Middle Class, Shah, That Man Freud and Uncle Ludwig. Burgess devised a Stone Age language for La Guerre du Feu (Quest for Fire; Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1981).
An accomplished musician, Burgess composed regularly throughout his life, and once said, "I wish people would think of me as a musician who writes novels, instead of a Novelist who writes music on the side." 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. Burgess described his Sinfoni Melayu 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 modelled 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.
Burgess's interest in language was reflected in the invented, Anglo-Russian teen slang of A Clockwork Orange (Nadsat), and in the movie Quest for Fire (1981), for which he invented a prehistoric language (Ulam) for the characters. His interest is reflected in his characters. In The Doctor is Sick, Dr Edwin Spindrift is a lecturer in linguistics who 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.
In May 1988, Burgess made an extended appearance with among others Andrea Dworkin on the episode What Is Sex For? of discussion programme After Dark. He spoke at one point about divorce: “Liking involves no discipline; love does...A marriage, say that lasts twenty years or more, is a kind of civilization, a kind of microcosm - it develops its own language, its own semiotics, its own slang, its own shorthand...sex is part of it, part of the semiotics. To destroy, wantonly, such a relationship, is like destroying a whole civilization”.
About this time Burgess collapsed in a Brunei classroom while teaching history and was diagnosed as having an inoperable brain tumour. Burgess was given just a year to live, prompting him to write several novels to get money to provide for his widow. He gave a different account, however, to Jeremy Isaacs in a Face to Face interview on the BBC The Late Show (21 March 1989). He said "Looking back now I see that I was driven out of the Colonial Service. I think possibly for political reasons that were disguised as clinical reasons." He alluded to this in an interview with Don Swaim, explaining that his wife Lynne had said something "obscene" to the British Queen's consort, the Duke of Edinburgh, during an official visit, and the colonial authorities turned against him. He had already earned their displeasure, he told Swaim, by writing articles in the newspaper in support of the revolutionary opposition party the Parti Rakyat Brunei, and for his friendship with its leader Dr. Azahari. Burgess' biographers attribute the incident to the author's notorious mythomania. Geoffrey Grigson writes,
Burgess wrote: "I shall die somewhere in the Mediterranean lands, with an inaccurate obituary in the Nice-Matin, unmourned, soon forgotten." In fact he died in the country of his birth. He returned to Twickenham, an outer suburb of London, where he owned a house, to await death. Burgess died on 22 November 1993 from lung cancer, at the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth in London. His ashes were inurned at the Monaco Cemetery.
The epitaph on Burgess's marble memorial stone, reads: "Abba Abba". The phrase has several connotations. It means "Father, father" in Aramaic, Arabic, Hebrew and other Semitic languages. It is Burgess's initials forwards and backwards; part of the rhyme scheme for the Petrarchan sonnet; and the title of Burgess's 22nd novel, concerning the death of Keats. Eulogies at his memorial Service at St Paul's, Covent Garden, London in 1994 were delivered by the Journalist Auberon Waugh and the Novelist william Boyd. The Times obituary heralded the author as "a great moralist." His estate was worth $3 million, and left a large European property portfolio of houses and apartments.
Through his widow, Anthony Burgess' papers were placed at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin beginning in 1995 with several additions being made in subsequent years. Comprising over 135 boxes, the archive includes typed and handwritten manuscripts, sheet music, correspondence, clippings, contracts and legal documents, appointment books, magazines, photographs, and personal effects. A substantial amount of unpublished and unproduced music compositions is included in the collection, along with a small number of audio recordings of Burgess' interviews and performances of his work. Over 90 books from Burgess' library can also be found in the Ransom Center's holdings. In 2014, the Ransom Center added the archive of Burgess' long-time agent Gabriele Pantucci, which also includes substantial manuscripts, sheet music, correspondence, and contracts.
The depth of Burgess's multilingual proficiency came under discussion in Roger Lewis's 2002 biography. Lewis claimed that during production in Malaysia of the BBC documentary A Kind of Failure (1982), Burgess's supposedly fluent Malay was not understood by waitresses at a restaurant where they were filming. It was claimed that the documentary's Director deliberately kept these moments intact in the film to expose Burgess's linguistic pretensions. A letter from David Wallace that appeared in the magazine of the London Independent on Sunday newspaper on 25 November 2002 shed light on the affair. Wallace's letter read, in part:
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') books. Vidal recounts that Greene apparently regarded a willingness to appear on television as something that ought to be beneath a writer's dignity. "He talks about his books", Vidal quotes an exasperated Greene as saying.
Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 features prominently in A Clockwork Orange (and in Stanley Kubrick's film version of the novel). Many of his unpublished compositions are listed in This Man and Music. He wrote a good deal of music for recorder as his son played the instrument. Several of his pieces for recorder and piano including the Sonata No. 1, Sonatina and "Tre Pezzetti" have been included on a major CD release from recorder player John Turner and Pianist Harvey Davies; the double album also includes related music from 15 other composers and is titled Anthony Burgess – The Man and his Music (Metier records, release September 2013).