Anthony Burgess

Playwright, Author

1917 – 1993

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Who was Anthony Burgess?

John Anthony Burgess Wilson, FRSL – who published under the pen name Anthony Burgess – was an English writer. From relatively modest beginnings in a Manchester Catholic family in the North of England, he eventually became one of the best known English literary figures of the latter half of the twentieth century.

Although Burgess was predominantly a comic writer, the 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 most critics as his greatest novel. He also worked as a literary critic, writing studies of classic writers, most notably James Joyce. He was a longtime literary critic for The Observer and The Guardian.

Burgess was also an accomplished musician and linguist. He composed over 250 musical works, including a first symphony around age 18, wrote a number of libretti, and translated, among other works, Cyrano de Bergerac, Oedipus the King and Carmen.

Famous Quotes:

  • We are supposed to be the children of Seth; but Seth is too much of an effete nonentity to deserve ancestral regard. No, we are the sons of Cain, and with violence can be associated the attacks on sound, stone, wood and metal that produced civilization.
  • Bath twice a day to be really clean, once a day to be passably clean, once a week to avoid being a public menace.
  • We all need money, but there are degrees of desperation.
  • If you write fiction you are, in a sense, corrupted. There's a tremendous corruptibility for the fiction writer because you're dealing mainly with sex and violence. These remain the basic themes, they're the basic themes of Shakespeare whether you like it or not.
  • Americans will listen, but they do not care to read. War and Peace must wait for the leisure of retirement, which never really comes: meanwhile it helps to furnish the living room. Blockbusting fiction is bought as furniture. Unread, it maintains its value. Read, it looks like money wasted. Cunningly, Americans know that books contain a person, and they want the person, not the book.
  • Violence among young people is an aspect of their desire to create. They don't know how to use their energy creatively so they do the opposite and destroy.
  • The aura of the theocratic death penalty for adultery still clings to America, even outside New England, and multiple divorce, which looks to the European like serial polygamy, is the moral solution to the problem of the itch. Love comes into it too, of course, but in Europe we tend to see marital love as an eternity which encompasses hate and also indifference: when we promise to love we really mean that we promise to honor a contract. Americans, seeming to take marriage with not enough seriousness, are really taking love and sex with too much.
  • Novelists are perhaps the last people in the world to be entrusted with opinions. The nature of a novel is that it has no opinions, only the dialectic of contrary views, some of which, all of which, may be untenable and even silly. A novelist should not be too intelligent either, although he may be permitted to be an intellectual.
  • The downtrodden, who are the great creators of slang.
  • All human life is here, but the Holy Ghost seems to be somewhere else.

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Feb 25, 1917
Also known as
  • John Burgess Wilson
  • Joseph Kell
  • A. Burgess
  • Anthony Burges
  • John Anthony Burgess WIlson
  • Johnny Eagle
  • Little Jack Wilson
  • Jack Wilson
  • Catholicism
  • England
  • United Kingdom
  • University of Manchester
  • Xaverian College
  • Victoria University of Manchester
  • Princeton University
  • Columbia University
  • British Army
    (1940/10 - )
  • Education Officer, Federation of Malaya
    (1954 - )
Lived in
  • Harpurhey
Nov 22, 1993
St John's Wood

on July 23, 2013


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