Burgess, Anthony

Burgess, Anthony
(February 25, 1917–November 25, 1993)
   Hailed by author Gore Vidal as the most interesting English writer of the last half-century, Anthony Burgess wrote more than 50 novels, at least 15 nonfiction books, more than 60 musical compositions, and untold essays. Indeed,Variety claimed that neither Burgess’s agent, his publisher, nor his entry in Who’s Who could verify the exact number of books he had written. Born John Anthony Burgess Wilson, he showed a talent for drawing as early as age four. Seven years later, he earned £5 for a sketch that appeared in his local newspaper, the Manchester Guardian. Young master Wilson also wrote poems and essays very early on, and at 14, he taught himself to play piano and write music, passions which would stay with him for the rest of his life. He earned a degree in music in 1940 from Manchester University and in 1942 married Llewa Isherwood Jones, a distant relative of writer Christopher Isherwood. Burgess served in the army during World War II and afterward began his academic career at Birmingham University, where he was appointed a lecturer in phonetics.
   His first book, A Vision of Battlements (written under his birth name, John Anthony Wilson), was being considered for publication at the same time as Burgess had been offered a teaching position with the Colonial Office in Malaya; when the book deal fell through, he accepted the post in Malaya. While there Burgess wrote three novels known as the Malayan Trilogy. The first of these, Time for a Tiger, was his first novel to see publication—in 1956, when the author was 39 years old. The novels’ anticolonial sentiments would not have found favor with the Colonial office, for which he served as an officer, so he adopted the pseudonym by which he would forever after be known, comprised of his two middle names: Anthony Burgess. Burgess taught in Malaya until 1959, writing three books in the interim, until he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and given less than a year to live. Fearful that he would leave his wife a destitute widow, Burgess returned to England and wrote five novels during what he thought would be the last year of his life. As it turned out, he did not have a brain tumor, but Burgess continued to write prolifically, producing his most notorious work in 1962: A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, adapted to film by STANLEY KUBRICK.
   This controversial novella sprung partly from Burgess’s views on religion and morality, clearly Anthony Burgess (John C. Tibbetts) major themes in Clockwork. “I was brought up a Catholic, became an agnostic, flirted with Islam, and now hold a position which may be termed Manichee. I believe that the wrong God is temporarily ruling the world and that the true God has gone under. Thus I am a pessimist but believe the world has much solace to offer—love, food,music, the immense variety of race, language, literature, the pleasure of artistic creation. ” Sadly, in Burgess’s later musings, pessimism often wins out: “I think what makes us human is this . . . this inheritance of evil. One doesn’t want to believe in evil, but you’ve got to. It’s the only explanation there is for certain things. ” One of the most profound themes of A Clockwork Orange is the paradox, central to the human condition, that we are capable at once of producing such great beauty and such dreadful, violent horrors.
   The violence in A Clockwork Orange arises partly from an incident during World War II, in which Burgess’s wife was brutally raped by several U. S. servicemen. He told the Village Voice in 1972:“It was the most painful thing I’ve ever written, that damn book. I was trying to exorcise the memory of what happened to my first wife, who was savagely attacked in London during the Second World War by four American deserters. She was pregnant at the time and lost our child. This led to a dreadful depression, and her suicide attempt. After that, I had to learn to start loving again. Writing that book—getting it all out—was a way of doing it. I was very drunk when I wrote it. It was the only way I could cope with the violence. I can’t stand violence. I . . . I loathe it! And one feels so responsible . . . If one can put an act of violence down on paper, you’ve . . . why you’ve created the act! You might as well have done it! I detest that damn book now. ”
   Still, in a 1973 article for the New York Times in which he defends, even champions, pornographic and violent content in works of art, Burgess chided his book’s (and the film’s) moral detractors, saying that they, “seemed to miss the argument that the author himself has against his own book—that it was didactic rather than pornographic, since it preached the necessity of free choice, and that it is not the job of a work of art to be didactic . . . It is the purpose of all art to shock—that is, to impel the viewer, reader, or auditor to see with new eyes what he has previously taken for granted, to recognize certain patterns or relationships in life that were formerly hidden or insufficiently apparent. Art that merely soothes is not art at all; it may even be thought of as anti-art . . . Freedom is always a terrible responsibility, but no human being may shirk it. To leave it to others to decide what is good or bad for us is a sinful abdication of a human right and a human duty. ”
   In the mid-1960s, Burgess sold the film rights to A Clockwork Orange for a few hundred dollars to SI LITVINOFF and Max Raab, from whom Kubrick bought the rights in 1969. After the film’s phenomenal success, in 1973 Burgess brought suit against Litvinoff, Raab, and WARNER BROS. , alleging fraud in misleading him to relinquish valuable rights. Kubrick was not named in the suit. Whether or not because of his disdain for Litvinoff and Raab, Burgess seemed to have soured on the idea of adapting good books to film, and indeed on the film industry as a whole. He complained in the New York Times of working in the film world as a writer: “There is too much collaboration, meaning too much friction, and far too many people who would like to be writers but are not. So they become re-writers. ” Also in the Times, he commented on making novels into films: “Every best-selling novel has to be turned into a film, the assumption being that the book itself whets an appetite for the true fulfillment—the verbal shadow turned into light, the word made flesh. And yet, over and over again, film demonstrates that words do the job of story-telling far better. ” Whether or not Burgess’s words were aimed at Kubrick is unclear. In a statement released to the press in 1973, Burgess asserted:“My feeling about Stanley Kubrick’s film has not substantially changed since I first saw the film in late 1971. I think it is a remarkable work, and is as truthful an interpretation of my own book as I could ever hope to find. . . . Most of the statements I’m alleged by journalists to have made have in fact been distortions of what I have really said. This can be blamed on the difficulties of telephonic communications between Rome, where I live, and London.
   But it can chiefly be blamed on the scrambling apparatus which resides in the brains of so many journalists. ”
   Either Burgess’s opinion did change over the years, or the “scrambling apparatus” continued to do its work. In 1987, Variety contended that Burgess found the film to be “not a real adaptation of the book,” because its “very visual” nature failed to do justice to the verbal qualities of the text.
   As a juror at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival, Burgess characterized the pictures as “mediocre” on the whole:“Above all, how false the image of world prosperity, with its glossy handouts and its free champagne by the bad bucketful. The tawdry, corrupt, vulgar mediocrity, the bad breath and the fat-paunched ugliness, remind us how willing we are to pay, in terms of the loss of human dignity, for the dreams that sustain us. And I include myself there. ” Despite his clear contempt for the motion picture industry, Burgess continued to work in film and television, writing numerous scripts for Italian television, including Moses the Lawgiver (1975) and Jesus of Nazareth (1977). Furthermore, Burgess collaborated once more with Kubrick, for a time, on the ill-fated NAPOLEON project. Burgess had been flirting with the idea of writing a novel in the shape of a symphony, thus merging his two chief professional paths: fiction and music. He told the Village Voice, “Kubrick wanted to make a film about Napoleon. This was going to be his next project after 2001, but he’d had great difficulty in writing the script. He knew I’d been intending to write a novel—not about Napoleon—but a novel in the shape of a symphony . . . Kubrick got on the phone and said,‘Annnthony, if you’re gonna write a symphony why don’t you write about Napoleon, ’cause [you know] you’ve already got a symphony to work with: Beethoven’s Eroica. ’” Yet Burgess told the New York Times: “I was recently accused of making my Napoleon Symphony less as a novel than as a piece of artful cinema fodder. Nothing could be further from the truth. As the title ought to have made clear, I had in mind the terse themes and abrupt transitions of Beethoven’s Eroica: never in a thousand years would so literary an artifact interest a film director. ”
   Creatively, Burgess shared in common with Stanley Kubrick the quality that one never knew what he would do next; as Gore Vidal put it, “He could not be characterised. ” In addition to his novels and film and TV work, Burgess wrote extensively as a musical composer, a linguist, a critic, and a biographer. He translated and adapted Cyrano de Bergerac for the modern stage in 1971, and by 1973 had made it into a musical. The Broadway production starred Christopher Plummer in the title role, and had previously opened to raves in Boston. Burgess also wrote a musical based on Ulysses, another based on the life of Houdini, and yet another based on A Clockwork Orange. Fluent in eight languages, Burgess wrote the textbook English Made Plain and taught linguistics, creative writing, and literature at numerous American universities. As a critic, Burgess gained early notoriety for having reviewed several of his own novels, which he had written under the pseudonym Joseph Kell. Gore Vidal quipped, “At least he is the first novelist in England to know that a reviewer has actually read the book under review. ”With its wordplay, riddles, puns, and mythical allusions, Burgess’s work was clearly highly influenced by James Joyce, and Burgess achieved some renown as a Joyce scholar. His 1965 study of Joyce, Here Comes Everybody, was published in the United States as Re Joyce. Burgess also edited A Shorter Finnegan’s Wake (1966). Other masters whom Burgess acknowledged included Evelyn Waugh, Laurence Sterne, and William Shakespeare. Burgess’s autobiography came in two volumes, a few years apart: Little Wilson and Big God (1986), and You’ve Had Your Time (1990).
   ■ “Anthony Burgess” (obituary), Variety, December 13, 1993, p. 88;
   ■ “For Love or Money,” Newsweek, June 4, 1973, p. 62;
   ■ Burgess,Anthony,“For Permissiveness, with Misgivings,” New York Times Magazine, July 1, 1973, p. 19;———,“On the Hopelessness of Turning Good Books Into Films,” New York Times, April 20, 1975: sec. 2, p. 1+;
   ■ ———,“Opening a New Cannes of Worms,” New York Times, June 1, 1975: sec. 2, p. 1+;
   ■ “Burgess Claims ‘Fraud’ In Action Over ‘Clockwork,’” Variety, May 9, 1973;
   ■ Dudar, Helen, “Live from Monaco, It’s Anthony Burgess,” Daily News, October 8, 1980;
   ■ Kissell, Howard, “‘The Distinguished Professor’ Meets Big-time Show Biz,”Women’s Wear Daily, May 1, 1973;
   ■ Kresh, Paul, “If Jane Austen Had Only Recorded ‘Pride and Prejudice,’” New York Times, November 25, 1973, p. D-36;
   ■ Life, vol. 65, October 25, 1968: 87+. [untitled clipping. ];
   ■ Mitgang, Herbert,“Anthony Burgess, 76, Dies; Man of Letters and Music,” New York Times, November 26, 1993, B-23;
   ■ National Observer, April 27, 1970, 19. [untitled clipping. ];
   ■ New York Times Book Review, November 29, 1970: 2. [untitled clipping. ];
   ■ New York Times Magazine, November 3, 1973: 39+. [untitled clipping. ];
   ■ Saturday Review, vol. 54, March 27, 1971: 31+. [untitled clipping. ];
   ■ Time, vol. 93, April 11, 1969: 108+. [untitled clipping. ];
   ■ Vidal, Gore, “Not So Poor Burgess,” The Observer, November 28, 1993;
   ■ Weller, Sheila,“A ‘Clockwork’ Burgess: No Time Like the Past,” Village Voice, August 31, 1972, 57;
   ■ Wolcott, James, “Highbrow for Hire,” Vanity Fair, April 1991, p. 62.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Burgess, Anthony — orig. John Anthony Burgess Wilson born Feb. 25, 1917, Manchester, Eng. died Nov. 22, 1993, London English novelist, critic, and composer. His experiences in Southeast Asia produced the novel trilogy The Long Day Wanes (1956–59). A Clockwork… …   Universalium

  • Burgess, Anthony — ► (1917 93) Escritor británico. Autor de una copiosa obra, integrada por ensayos (Shakespeare, 1970) y novelas en las que destacan el humorismo y la visión irónica de la cultura y la política: La naranja mecánica (1962) y El médico está enfermo… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Burgess,Anthony — Bur·gess (bûrʹjĭs), Anthony. 1917 1993. British writer and critic noted for his comic novels, including the futuristic classic A Clockwork Orange (1962). * * * …   Universalium

  • BURGESS (A.) — BURGESS ANTHONY (1917 1993) En 1971, Anthony Burgess connut pour la première fois la grande notoriété lorsque fut porté à l’écran (par Stanley Kubrick) le roman Orange mécanique (The Clockwork Orange ) qu’il avait publié en 1962 et qui reste sans …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Burgess — Burgess, Anthony * * * (as used in expressions) Burgess, Anthony John Anthony Burgess Wilson Burgess, esquisto de Burgess, Guy (Francis de Moncy) Burgess, Thornton W(aldo) …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Anthony Burgess — Infobox Writer name = John Anthony Burgess Wilson caption = The 2005 Cover of the Andrew Biswell biography (Picador) pseudonym = Anthony Burgess, Joseph Kell birthdate = birth date|1917|2|25|mf=y birthplace = Harpurhey, Manchester deathdate =… …   Wikipedia

  • Anthony Burgess — Este artículo o sección necesita referencias que aparezcan en una publicación acreditada, como revistas especializadas, monografías, prensa diaria o páginas de Internet fidedignas. Puedes añadirlas así o avisar al aut …   Wikipedia Español

  • Anthony Burgess — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Burgess. Anthony Burgess Anthony Burgess, de son nom complet John Anthony Burgess Wilson, est un écrivain et linguiste britannique, né le 25 février 1917 …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Anthony Blunt — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Anthony et Blunt. Anthony Frederick Blunt (26 septembre 1907 – 26 mars 1983) est un historien d art britannique, également connu pour avoir été le « quatrième homme » des Cinq de Cambridge, un groupe d… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Anthony — /an teuh nee/ for 1, 2; /an theuh nee/ for 3; /an theuh nee/ or, esp. Brit., / teuh / for 4, n. 1. See Antony, Mark. 2. Saint, A.D. 251? 356?, Egyptian hermit: founder of Christian monasticism. 3. Susan Brownell /brow nel/, 1820 1906, U.S.… …   Universalium

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