Burgess interviewed in the USA

screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-09-45-461971. Burgess on

  • the impossibility of writing in London
  • attempting to discover something about what Shakespeare was really like
  • the pretence of certain clergymen about Shakespeare
  • his alleged nervous collapse in Borneo
  • being accused of letting the side down by failing to write costively
  • being hounded out of Brunei for political reasons
  • the right not to be aborted
  • the pub
  • the impossibility of writing in Dublin
  • pubescent creative efforts
  • the hard-heartedness of the writing profession
  • his motherfucking novel

Burgess interviewing in ’74

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-22-43-10Burgess on

  • Orwell’s A Clergyman’s Daughter
  • micturition
  • fellow Lancastrian Stan Laurel
  • Enderby
  • the stage
  • the writer’s trade
  • candour
  • losing his virginity
  • the importance of lying
  • the novelist’s unhealthy lifestyle
  • Henry James
  • the reader over his shoulder
  • prolificacy
  • producing a second work
  • martyrdom
  • what the fiscal tyrants have wrought

Burgess interviewed in ’71

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 21.44.35Burgess on

  • that Friday worn-out feeling after a week of hard work
  • the game of American football
  • his house in Princeton
  • how to deal with the aggrieved parent of a student with poetic aspirations
  • Elizabethan English
  • how Shakespeare spoke
  • being of Irish extraction
  • being a northerner
  • Shakespeare’s genius
  • how his pianoplaying father got the sack after an unfortunate incident at the cinema
  • trying to be a composer
  • his late start as a writer
  • the problem of Künstler Schuld
  • the creative demon
  • a moose and a mouse
  • contrasts between London and New York
  • his novel A Clockwork Orange
  • the vigour of the American language

Burgess and Japan

'In old age I decided that Japanese was too important for me to ignore.'

A page from Burgess’s A Mouthful of Air: ‘In old age I decided that Japanese was too important for me to ignore.’

Burgess and other European writers

Of German literature in particular, Burgess thought the best novel was Doktor Faustus.

The composer-hero has genius and syphilis. So, thought Mann, had Germany.

Howarth, the leading protagonist in Burgess’s 1960 novel The Worm and the Ring (his version of the ring cycle) is a teacher of German at an English secondary school.

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 18.56.28

Confucian Analects: the Burgess translation

Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 12.08.31Consider these translations, by James Legge (1861) and Anthony Burgess (1958), of parts of the Confucian Analects.

Book IV, Ch. 4




If the will be set on virtue, there will be no practice of wickedness.


If a man be really bent on human-heartedness then he cannot be wicked.

Book IX, Ch. 28




The wise are free from perplexities; the virtuous from anxiety; and the bold from fear.


A wise man is not perplexed, nor is a human-hearted man unhappy, and a courageous man is never frightened.

Burgess’s rendition of these chapters is to be found in his novel The Enemy in the Blanket. The character Father Laforgue, a missionary

who had been ten years in China, four of them in prison,

is an admirer of the Analects. The character Hardman, who is preparing to convert to Islam, enters the priest’s house.

Hardman sat on one of the two hard chairs and saw on the table an open book which he knew to be the Analects of Confucius, row after falling row of ideograms preserving — outside phonetic change and above dialectal differences — that eminently seductive and dangerous common sense of old China.

Burgess never visited mainland China but gained a wide and deep understanding of Chinese civilization during his time in Malaya, now Malaysia, which hosts one of the largest overseas Chinese communities — about a quarter of the population.

Extracts from Burgess’s foreword to China in the Monuments of Civilisation series:

The gateway to China, ancient or modern, is the Chinese language. My own contacts with the country have been more linguistic than geographic. When I lived in Malaysia…I regarded it as my secondary duty to try to learn Chinese….I could not fail to become acquainted with China’s exported culture — its religions, philosophies, cuisines, folklore…architecture….

Chinese…is a highly logical language and it despises grammar — which, we must admit, is more decorative than useful….Chinese…reserves etiquette to verbal formulae which bespeak the graciousness of an ancient civilisation….This excessive politeness is the sign of a nation that has learned, over thousands of years, that civilisation is built on formal self-effacement….does the ‘nose’ ideogram [鼻] represent complicated layers of olfactory sensation?….even with the most abstract words you can see the ghost of [a]…pictorial image….But this is…palaeography: no living Chinese sees the original images any more than Europeans see the hieroglyph of an ox in the capital A of the Roman alphabet….such a complex system of writing could only be developed by a leisured class of priests and scholars. The ideogram stands for an ancient inequality and perhaps…a desire to mystify the common people….

There is…a higher common sense…which has been bred out of centuries of not asking too much from the world….Their cuisine can be exquisite, but it is made out of the immediately feasible, not the grandiose dreams of French chefs. The Chinese elegance…is an elegance of extreme economy….

The incrustations of a past which stretches…to remote beginnings hardly conceivable in the West, are embodied in the system of writing.

But the spoken language seems based on the principle of making much out of very little. There is an immense elegance in the manner with which a structure of monosyllables and tones can be made to serve the subtlest discourse, without the elaborate luggage of grammatical terminations and agglutinative sesquipedalia. Such a language does not take kindly to evasive political pronouncements or orotund slogans. If we are told that the Peking street in which the Russian embassy is located is called The Street of Struggle Against Revisionism, we smile at the pomposity. Call the street Fan xiu lù and the pomposity is at once deflated. For means a road…fan means to turn over…and xiu is to build….So you turn over or change a building process and you leave to the languages of the West the bloating of the image into the humourless terminology of the apparatchik.

To gain our picture of modern China out of inept translation is a sure way to falsification, and the same is true of the ancient country whose character and achievements, as well as struggles and sufferings, this volume memorialises.

Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 11.38.49

Breakfast in Kuala Kangsar

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 09.40.03From Time for a Tiger:

Victor Crabbe slept through the bilal’s bang (inept Persian word for the faint unheeded call), would sleep till the bang bang (apt Javanese word) of the brontoid dawn brought him tea and bananas. He slept on the second floor of the old Residency, which overlooked the river.

The view from Burgess's bedroom on the second floor of King's Pavilion, Kuala Kangsar

The view from Burgess’s bedroom on the second floor of King’s Pavilion, Kuala Kangsar


Midland Hotel

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 10.03.42Burgess (John Wilson) stayed at the Midland Hotel when he paid a return visit to the town of his birth and youth.

Burgess claims to have received an anonymous letter, slipped under the door of his room, that read:

Wilson, we got three graves waiting for you in Manchester: one for yer corpse, one for yer boooks, and one for yer fookin’ EGO!


‘There was no answer to the world’s problems in communism,’ writes Burgess.

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 20.33.04

Moss Side

Screen Shot 2015-12-24 at 19.25.18A stroll in and around the street where the novelist grew up.

The cats roamed at night and screamed, that was our only evening music. Dustbins, sly copulation. Squalor, squalor.