"My full name is John Anthony Burgess Wilson: Anthony is my confirmation name; Burgess my mother's maiden name. When I began to write professionally, I was still an officer in Her Majesty's Overseas Colonial Service, and it was thought better that I should use a name not generally known: there is a taboo on a colonial officer's revealing too much of his true attitudes, especially to the country he serves and wants, at the same time, to write about. My first published novels make up what is known in England as the Malayan Trilogy and in American as The Long Day Wanes. I wrote them at a later age than most authors choose to publish their first work – in my late thirties. I had had artistic ambitions since my earliest days, but no one talent had managed to assert itself before Malaya acted as a midwife to a wordy gift that had had an inordinately long gestation. I had at first wished to be a pictorial artist, and I had, by the age of twelve, had drawings accepted by national newspapers. Then, at fourteen, I taught myself the piano and musical composition and, almost till the time of my first novel, I wrote full-length serious musical works – two symphonies, two concertos, sonatas, songs, incidental music for plays. I think that a triple apprenticeship of this kind (inevitably, I also wrote verse and short stories) is a good thing for a novelist.
"Invalided out of the Colonial Service in 1959, I had to take to full-time writing in order to earn a living. In my first year I wrote five novels, several stories, a couple of plays, and various radio scripts. This over-fecundity was, perhaps rightly, frowned upon by critics, but I feel that, if one is going to write, one ought to write all the time, since re-priming a dormant engine is difficult. In recent years I have written one novel a year, though usually a non-fiction book – on philology or music or literature – acts as a whetstone or foil to the more creative activity. I also appear on television, which I like, and write television scripts, which I'm not sure whether I like or not. I review books for the Guardian, the Listener, the Spectator, Encounter, the Times Literary Supplement, and various American periodicals, and I have done a two-year stint as a television critic. But I get worried if anything prevents my writing a novel every year.
"Of the quality, or even purpose, of these novels I am not really qualified to speak. They are usually intended primarily to entertain, but a fairly serious element creeps into them, often against my will. I doubt if the novels I have already written comprise a homogeneous corpus as do, say, the novels of William Golding or Muriel Spark. I have written about the future, about William Shakespeare, about contemporary Russia, about espionage, about the London underworld, about Gibraltar. I plan a mock-biography of a great composer, a comic Divina Commedia, a delirious diary of a tour of the English countryside, a political allegory set in France. If there is a common theme to both the written and projected, it is perhaps the failure of liberalism, or rather the need to expiate the sin of liberalism. I was brought up a Catholic and I have a cousin who is an archbishop, but I have long belonged to the wearisome fraternity of the renegades. Nevertheless, the older, pre-liberal philosophy which accepts the primacy of evil and the necessity of suffering permeates, I think, most of what I write.
"The novel-form itself (whatever it is; it is undergoing so many changes) seems to me to be the only viable imaginative form. If I were capable of it, I should like to write a novel that has the surface of pure entertainment (capable of being taken as easily as an Ian Fleming thriller) but, underneath, essays all the new-wave devices imaginable, getting away with them because of the solidity of the surface structure. In other words, I want the novel to be Shakespearean. It is dangerous for it to close in, as is happening in France, on the intellectual level, and to open out into the mere sex-and-violence-glorifying best seller. We have two fictional extremes at present; I want the extremes to meet in a single work of universal appeal, compact of action, psychology, ideas, as well as symbolism and poetry.
"In some ways, my own appreciation of the novel as an art-form is limited, even crippled, by a lifelong devotion to the work of James Joyce, who seems to me to have done more with the novel than anyone, with the possible exception of Laurence Sterne. To write in his shadow is humbling. In him I see the fusion of fragmentary talents which, along with renegade Catholicism, I exhibit in my own work. He may not be the best model to a novelist, but he is certainly the best example. To achieve that self-martyring devotion to art is what I would wish, but I know I'm not big enough."
--Anthony Burgess, World Authors: 1950-1970, 1975
"I hesitate to say much about my own work, which I can lay less claim to understanding than a really perceptive professional critic. I was shocked to be told that the name of the hero of A Vision of Battlements (R. Ennis) spells “sinner” backwards – a fact it took me fifteen years to realise. Since then, I have become so used to my unconscious mind dictating not only the themes of my novels but also the names and symbols that I regard myself as a mere hen, non-ovivorous. But the novels are probably all about the same thing – man as a sinner, but not sufficiently a sinner to deserve the calamities that are heaped upon him. I suppose I try to make comic novels about man's tragic lot."
--Anthony Burgess, Contemporary Novelists, 1972
"The three-page daily stint (more at weekends, when the phone rings less) represents a strictly mechanical, or journeyman's, approach to novel-writing."
--Anthony Burgess, 1991
Bernadine Bishop, Anthony Blond, Anthony Burgess and John Gross featured on Take it or Leave It, presented by Robert Robinson, 1964:
"If the world is to be improved it must be by the exercise of individual charity."
Burgess excoriates the cultural inadequacy of pop music and improvidence of youth:
"It makes me angry to see him on television or in the paper, roaring away as Anthony Burgess, coarsening himself, travestying himself...denigrating his past and the man he was."
--one of Burgess's erstwhile pedagogical colleagues
"I met one young man in Philadelphia, a young black, who wanted to learn music. But he wouldn't learn music from whites because it was 'tainted' music. Well, this is bloody ridiculous..."
--Anthony Burgess, 1971
Anthony Burgess discusses university youth with William F. Buckley on Firing Line, 1972:
Burgess endorses biographies, encapsulates T.H. White's career and hardships on The Dick Cavett Show, 1974:
"The only guilt I have felt at leaving England is the guilt of not missing England more."
Burgess expounds his literary characterizations of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdaline, 1975:
"Journalism may not dare too much. It can be gently humorous and ironic, very lightly touched by idiosyncrasy, but it must not repel readers by digging too deeply. This is especially true of its approach to language: the conventions are not questioned. The questioning of linguistic conventions is one of the main duties of what we call literature."
Anthony Burgess revisits Malaya, 1981:
"To be left alone is the most precious thing one can ask of the modern world."
Anthony Burgess interviewed by Don Swaim, 1985:
"It is generally felt that the educated man or woman should be able to read Dante, Goethe, Baudelaire, Lorca in the original - with, anyway, the crutch of a translation."
--Anthony Burgess, A Mouthful of Air: Language and Languages, Especially English
Anthony Burgess lauds D.H. Lawrence on Canadian television to promote Flame Into Being, 1985:
Anthony Burgess revisits Xavieran College, where he graduated:
"I was not really anything [at university] but a renegade Catholic liberal humanist with tendencies to anarchism. Auden and Spender and Day Lewis, who had not proved notably quick to fight for Spain, struck me as naive; so, for different reasons, did T.S. Eliot. There was no solution to the world’s problems in communism, and no personal salvation in Anglicanism. The solutions probably lay with renegade Catholic liberal humanism. I do not think, nearly fifty years after, I have much changed my position."
--Anthony Burgess, Little Wilson and Big God, Being the First Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess, 1986
Face to Face with Anthony Burgess, 1989.3.21:
"Pound's Cantos rage against usury, which they see as an abomination created by international Jewish banks, and Eliot's Four Quartets call for a Christian resignation in the face of the horrors of history, but the value of these works resides in the rhetoric–a rhetoric devised to suggest where the just society might be located. But the creation of that just society has nothing to do with politics."
--Anthony Burgess, Why Were the Revolutionaries Reactionary?
"I cannot keep myself healthy – too many bad habits ingrained, cardiac bronchitis like the orchestra of death tuning up under water – but I submit to the promptings of an energy that might be diagnosed as health perverted, for true health enjoys itself and does not wish to act. The energy, which I call creative, is given to the thousand words a day I vowed to produce after the failure of the neurologists’ prognosis freed me from writing more."
"The Chinese will taxonomise according to what seem to the West to be irrelevancies, finding a cat more like a table than a female biped because both have four legs."
--Anthony Burgess, France and Myself, 1985
10 Oct 2012
Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess was publicly honoured for the first time in the UK, with a blue plaque unveiled tomorrow at The University of Manchester, where he studied.
The unveiling was proceeded by the world premier of a trumpet fanfare he wrote as a birthday present for his son - Andrew Burgess Wilson - and recently discovered by the International Anthony Burgess Foundation (IABF) also based in Manchester.
Other than a plaque outside his flat in Monaco - where he lived for 17 years - no other monument exists to the world-famous author, who died in 1993.
Dr Andrew Biswell, Director of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, said: "Although Burgess was one of the great English-language writers of the 20th century, he has always been neglected in the country of his birth.
"In his lifetime, he was always regarded with suspicion because he lived abroad, even though he regularly visited the UK and came back to London towards the end of his life.
"Burgess was awarded major public honours by President Mitterand of France and Prince Rainier of Monaco, but in Britain he received nothing except a cheap plastic trophy presented to him by Mrs. Thatcher at the British Press Awards.
"So I'm delighted that the University has decided to install the first British public monument to Burgess, fifty years after A Clockwork Orange was first published."
The undergraduate John Burgess Wilson - who invented the name "Anthony Burgess" when he published his first novel - studied English literature at the University from 1937 to 1940.
He went on to write 33 novels, 25 works of non-fiction, two volumes of autobiography, three symphonies, and more than 250 other musical works, including a violin concerto for Yehudi Menuhin.
The son of a music-hall dancer and a shopkeeper, he grew up in Harpurhey and Moss Side, before winning a scholarship to Xaverian College in Manchester.
Some of his earliest poems were published in The University of Manchester student magazine "The Serpent", including a love poem to his first wife and fellow student, Llewela Jones. They became engaged while they were studying at Manchester.
He also wrote music as an undergraduate, composing a piano sonata, a number of cabaret songs, and a setting of T.S. Eliot's poem, "Lines for an Old Man".
The fanfare, called Flourish, was originally written for recorder and trumpet in the 1980s - but arranged for two trumpets by University of Manchester lecturer and Head of Composition Dr Kevin Malone.
Dr Howard Booth, lecturer in English and American literature, will be chairing a discussion on Burgess with Dr Biswell and Dr Kaye Mitchell from the University's English and American Studies department.
The plaque was unveiled by Professor Jeremy Gregory, Head of the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, to mark the launch of the school.
Dr Booth said: "It's a great opportunity for all of us in the new School to celebrate a former English literature student. Burgess is a major novelist who deeply loved literature and language - he wrote so well about other writers.
"I'm eager to celebrate a distinguished former literature student for the benefit of the present cohort.
"Who knows, in fifty years' time there may be a blue plaque for one of our current students."
August marked the fiftieth anniversary of arguably Burgess' most famous novel A Clockwork Orange with a landmark exhibition at the John Ryland's Library.
The magnificent surroundings of the Historic Reading Room at the John Rylands Library provide the backdrop to a major new exhibition of rare books, photographs, manuscripts and film props.
The exhibition remains open until Sunday 27 January 2013. For more information about the exhibition, visit the John Ryland's website: www.library.manchester.ac.uk/deansgate/exhibitions
The International Anthony Burgess Foundation is an educational charity that encourages and supports public and scholarly interest in all aspects of the life and work of Anthony Burgess. More details at www.anthonyburgess.org
"Wedged as we are between two eternities of idleness, there is no excuse for being idle now."