150 facts about Anthony Burgess (according to his critics)

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 22.50.56To his detractors, Burgess was

  1. unutterably vain
  2. creatively impotent, despite the alleged prolificacy
  3. a white nationalist
  4. possessed of a low cunning, for instance in the way he extricated himself from Brunei Town — receiving an all-expenses-paid passage back to England — by fabricating a nervous breakdown
  5. a habitual, chronic, pathological liar
  6. devoted to fornication to the exclusion of virtually everything else
  7. unfunny
  8. a misogynist, not in spite of but because he was sexually inadequate to a distressing degree
  9. suspiciously fixated upon the Malays, so that he ludicrously and needlessly attempted — and wholly failed — to learn their unfathomable language
  10. insufferably boastful and arrogant
  11. salacious without being remotely amusing
  12. consumed throughout his life, and especially in the army, by insensate resentment of all who were placed over him in whatever milieu
  13. malicious
  14. an intellectual and literary friend to communist tyranny worldwide
  15. a pseudo-intellectual
  16. strangely shallow, though he pretended to deep and wide knowledge
  17. an emotional cripple, despite the bombast
  18. a pædophile, though he would probably render the word ‘pædophil’ (masc.), and would prefer ‘practitioner in pædication’ or some such rot, because he was
  19. a pedant
  20. a self-confessed anarchist
  21. sexist, obscenely so, as he demonstrated most embarrassingly and drunkenly in that chat show with Andrea Dworkin in ’88, in which he spent most of the programme knocking back the free booze while shouting ‘fuck, fuck, fuck!’ as if it wasn’t old hat and Ken Tynan hadn’t done it before him
  22. a secret Nazi
  23. despicable, really; certainly Graham Greene despised him
  24. mean and grotesquely avaricious. ‘Who’s paying for this meal?’ he would bark at every interviewer before getting so drunk on the best wines and brandies at the expense of the interviewer’s newspaper or magazine that he could not even stand, let alone speak coherently, rendering the interview useless
  25. a mendacious hypocrite
  26. practically a teetotaller, yet in a manœuvre that would have made Machiavelli proud, he allowed his first wife to drink herself to death so that he could gain her inheritance and move in with an Italian student
  27. a heartless philanderer
  28. a narcotics dealer (supplying opiates to, for instance, Graham Greene, to whom he was later so beastly, probably because Greene did not pay him enough for the supplies)
  29. a rogue and whoremonger without scruple or morals of any kind
  30. a ridiculous show-off and fraud
  31. a failure as a comic novelist, resembling nothing so much as a sniggering lout of a spoilt schoolboy
  32. as a writer and as a man, curiously dead
  33. a dangerously irresponsible subversive, working clandestinely to bring to power his drinking companion, the radical socialist and secularist A.M. Azahari, by toppling the sultan in Brunei. The attempt failed, like so many of Burgess’s quixotic projects
  34. amoral, that was the problem
  35. creatively static, darting about from form to form and from theme to theme but never developing or growing as a writer
  36. a vulgarian
  37. a fantasist mixed up with dangerous radicals and traitors such as his close relation, Guy Burgess
  38. quite humourless
  39. hysterical in a womanish way, especially in Bandar Brunei
  40. an uncontrollably priapic rake
  41. fiercely obstinate
  42. kept on life support by the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, with its preposterously grandiloquent name
  43. lacking in grace
  44. shameless
  45. always putting on airs, but full of hot air
  46. intolerably domineering, rude and boorish
  47. farcically pretentious
  48. very dead
  49. irredeemably mendacious
  50. liable to make a bloody fool of himself, as Richard Ingrams so penetratingly observed
  51. a drug dealer (his method was to sew opium pellets in the cuffs of his shirts — it fooled H.M. Customs every time)
  52. a full-on misanthrope
  53. a friend of all the world’s antinomians. For instance, he was a close friend of the drug addict William S. Burroughs
  54. a reactionary
  55. terrified of women, so that he was bullied severely by his first wife and was the virtual slave of the second, who did as she pleased with his money (such as buying their Callian house without so much as a by-your-leave)
  56. coarse and unattractive
  57. unable to bring any of his works off
  58. as a writer and as a man, second-rate
  59. dead, literally
  60. a cuckold
  61. intellectually shabby and academically undistinguished, to put it most kindly, though posing as a towering intellect of wide and deep learning. He lacked the benefit of a proper education at any of the really important institutions of higher learning of our time, such as St Andrews or Wolfson College, Oxford
  62. lacking in self-awareness, amounting to a kind of blindness
  63. an opium-eater
  64. despite the braggadocio, a deeply insecure invert
  65. not fully human
  66. in many ways an inferior being
  67. a miser
  68. far too much in the public bar, if you see what I mean
  69. a raging, out-of-control Catholic dogmatist of the worst kind
  70. a frequenter of homosexual brothels, especially in Tangiers, to which he returned again and again in the company of his bum-chum William S. Burroughs
  71. a fellow-traveller, to be bracketed with Rolland, Feuchtwanger, Spender, Sartre, Heinrich Mann and the rest of the Stalin-worshipping contemptibles
  72. conveying to all the world fecundity, yet secretly impotent
  73. a glutton, gorging in a disgusting way on — even himself preparing and cooking — North-country slop such as the gastronomic embarrassment ‘Lancashire hotpot’
  74. virulently antisemitic, and at the same time being unnaturally preoccupied with the character Bloom in Ulysses
  75. an adulterer, carrying on blithely — and engaging in wild sexual congress — with an Italian faux-countess (in fact an ignominious lower-middle-class student) while his wife, who was his muse and more or less single-handedly created him as a personality and as a writer, lay on her death-bed enduring unimaginable pain and suffering
  76. (say it softly) lacking in breeding
  77. afflicted with erectile dysfunction, this being especially evident in Borneo
  78. in effect, a murderer (of his first wife)
  79. without ordinary shame
  80. a hoarder of money and properties
  81. a rip-off merchant, shamelessly imitating Graham Greene’s ‘exotic’ novels
  82. ever so slightly demented
  83. an unapologetic fascist who idolised Goebbels (see the veiled tribute in Earthly Powers)
  84. a naïf, as Graham Greene so percipiently noted
  85. deeply uncharitable towards scholars studying his work
  86. egotistically inebriated — to borrow from Disraeli — with the exuberance of prolixity and verbosity
  87. an exponent of what were little more than falderals but which were presented as high literature
  88. an absurd figure, yet a grasping one — money was always on his mind
  89. the author of a degrading weekly why-oh-why column for the Hitler apologist Rothermere’s Nazi-supporting Daily Mail and other vulgar newspapers
  90. a coward. By pulling strings, he made sure he saw no action in the Second World War, which he served out sunning himself in Gibraltar in some cushy army teaching job
  91. consumed by his obsessive quest for what he called, revoltingly, ‘maximal erotic fulfilment’
  92. a spy — for the colonial oppressor in Kota Bharu and for the Soviet tyranny in Leningrad
  93. discourteous in the extreme to everyone, above all to his wives, concubines and whores. It goes without saying that he beat all his women
  94. a repressed homosexual who remained resolutely, irredeemably, shamefully and shamelessly closeted his entire life
  95. utterly lacking in the higher style
  96. a little bit cracked
  97. more like a stamp collector, au fond, though in his Walter Mitty-like imagination he was an international sexual sophisticate and highly cultivated bon viveur
  98. a malevolent, destructive fabulist
  99. a communist
  100. in the grip of unbridled lust, especially in old age when it is most disgusting
  101. astonishingly ungenerous to other writers
  102. virtually incapable of writing a coherent, intelligible English sentence, consequent upon having removed himself to the Continent, to the East Indies and elsewhere and having absorbed a whole lot of exotic, meaningless foreign gibberish and gobbledygook which he only half-understood
  103. a racist
  104. ineffably Mediterranean in his makeup, and in his character more than a little swarthy and greasy
  105. a criminal tax dodger, going anywhere — Monaco, Malaya, Switzerland, Malta — to get away from those he called ‘the fiscal tyrants’, and coarsely always insisting, like the barrow-boy he remained, on ‘cash only’
  106. shallow-minded, despite all the grandiosity
  107. unable to relate to any other member of the human race on equal terms, a quality embarrassingly in evidence in the joint interview with Isaac Bashevis Singer
  108. a non-creative charlatan
  109. a weed, always trying to get out of sport, bowling underarm in a laughably feminine manner when attempting, and failing, to play cricket in Banbury
  110. an apologist for Lenin who badgered his sick wife to go to Leningrad, then abandoned her to her sufferings in the hotel while he went in search of statues of his hero, taking part in discussion groups on Marxist-Leninist theory and going off on vile carnal adventures
  111. as a critic, marred by a certain deadness. Ultraconservative would-be men of letters very often are
  112. not the right kind of person. Hence not the right kind of writer, if you follow me
  113. a falsifier
  114. a compulsive abuser who exploited and abandoned a miscellany of women of all ethnic groups, enjoying them serially and severally, according to the amatory manuals such as the Kama Sutra that he salivated over
  115. a liar. The man was a liar
  116. a spook, though an incompetent one (a 10-year-old could work out that the capitalised lines on page 29 of A Clockwork Orange provide the HQ location of psychotronic warfare technology — a dead giveaway)
  117. frivolous but never funny
  118. possessed, it is rumoured, of only one testicle
  119. in many ways, a perverted lunatic
  120. a dipsomaniac who cynically cajoled his first wife, who when he met her had never touched a drop, to drink gin heavily, with the inevitable consequence for the poor woman: liver cirrhosis and an early death
  121. lacking in confidence, with good reason, since he was an literary amateur
  122. nauseatingly histrionic, as a substitute for genuine thought or creativity
  123. irredeemably plebeian
  124. a textbook example of the dangerous loner, such that if he had had access to shotguns, the death toll would have been in the hundreds
  125. a sexual freebooter
  126. the excretor of far too many books, every one of them, one is bound to say, a failure
  127. painfully shy
  128. a Maoist unnaturally obsessed with the Chinese — and especially Chinese ladies of the night, such as those he enjoyed in Singapore — and never missing a chance to write about China’s faraway, inscrutable culture and even to learn a little (a dangerous thing) of that country’s outlandish language
  129. devoid of wit
  130. an avaricious hoarder of money and real estate
  131. a predator upon pubescent girls, claiming in his autobiography to having had sexual relations with a girl ‘not older than 12’. This was a lie, of course, but it was in the atrocious taste that was so characteristic of the man
  132. a chronic alcoholic
  133. prone to pissyassed prissiness, though he would insist on pissyarsed (see what I mean?)
  134. a male chauvinist pig
  135. dead, frankly
  136. self-righteous in the extreme, like so many of his fellow communists
  137. impotent, both sexually and creatively
  138. a hater of persons of colour. This was especially evident while he was teaching in New York — he used to single out African-Americans and humiliate them in front of hundreds of students in the lecture theatre, often reducing the female ones to tears, because of their ignorance of some arcane point of linguistics, with which he was obsessed though about which, in reality, he knew little
  139. a nudist and occasional streaker
  140. a member of, and offshore financial contributor to, the British Conservative or ‘Tory’ party; in a private ceremony he knelt, fawning, before Margaret Thatcher to accept a solid gold plaque inlaid with precious stones
  141. a crank
  142. besotted by communist Russia, even writing a third-rate novel, Honey for the Bears, in order to freeze forever the erotic and Marxist ecstasy and elation he experienced there
  143. burdened his whole life by a gargantuan shoulder-chip associated with his North-country origins and the fact that he was never good enough to gain entry to really top-notch places of higher education such as Magdalen College, Oxford
  144. an erotomaniac
  145. a glamouriser of violence and cruelty, for instance in his trifling novelette A Clockwork Orange (another of his failures)
  146. addicted to alcohol, tobacco, opium and Benzedrine
  147. deep down, a nervous little chap, though he made strenuous efforts to hide his timidity
  148. a nihilist
  149. a writer for adolescence. You grow out of him
  150. little more, when all is said and done, than a rather unfunny and boring, though noisy, Manchester music-hall act
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Comments

  • Daniel Mertens  On September 17, 2018 at 9:32 am

    No. 73, which refers to Lancashire hotpot as “North-country slop” is especially hurtful.

  • Geoffrey Grigson  On September 18, 2018 at 7:18 am

    Yes, No. 73 went for the jugular. More impertinent even than the ‘coarse and unattractive’ tag. Quite untrue, of course: it’s a delicious dish, though it takes time to prepare.

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