Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Anthony Burgess

John Burgess Wilson (25 February 1917 – 22 November 1993) – who published under the pen name Anthony Burgess – was an English author, poet, playwright, composer, linguist, translator and critic.

The dystopian satire A Clockwork Orange is Burgess’s most famous novel, though he dismissed it as one of his lesser works. It was adapted into a highly controversial 1971 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. He was a prominent critic, writing acclaimed studies of classic writers such as William Shakespeare, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence and Ernest Hemingway. In 2008, The Times newspaper placed Burgess number 17 on their list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”. 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 and Carmen.

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 and assaulted in London during the blackout by deserters from the U.S. Army. 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 defenseless against other people and unable to enjoy some of his favorite 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 a paycheck 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 U.S. 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.

In Martin Seymour-Smith’s Novels and Novelists: A Guide to the World of Fiction, Burgess related that he would often prepare a synopsis with a name-list before beginning a project. Seymour-Smith wrote: “Burgess believes overplanning is fatal to creativity and regards his unconscious mind and the act of writing itself as indispensable guides. He does not produce a draft of a whole novel but prefers to get one page finished before he goes on to the next, which involves a good deal of revision and correction.”

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  1. Pingback: Terry Southern « socialpsychol

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