achievement

Novels

His Malayan trilogy The Long Day Wanes—the three books are Time for a Tiger,The Enemy in the Blanket and Beds in the East—was Burgess’s first published venture into the art of fiction.

It was Burgess’s ambition to become “the true fictional expert on Malaya”, and with the trilogy, he certainly staked a claim to have written the definitive Malayan novel (i.e. novel of expatriate experience of Malaya).

The trilogy joined a family of such Eastern fictional explorations, among them Orwell’s treatment of Burma (Burmese Days), Forster’s of India (A Passage to India) and Greene’s of Vietnam (The Quiet American). Burgess was working in the tradition established by Kipling for British India and, for the Southeast Asian experience, Conrad and Maugham.

Unlike Conrad, Maugham and Greene, who made no effort to learn local languages, but like Orwell (who had a good command of Urdu and Burmese, necessary for his work as a police officer) and Kipling (who spoke Hindi, having learnt it as a child), Burgess had excellent spoken and written Malay. This linguistic command results in an impressive authenticity and sensitive understanding of indigenous concerns in the trilogy.

Burgess’s repatriate years (c. 1960-69) produced not just Enderby but the neglected The Right to an Answer, which touches on the theme of death and dying, and One Hand Clapping, partly a satire on the vacuity of popular culture. This period also witnessed the publication of The Worm and the Ring, which was withdrawn from circulation under the threat of libel action from one of Burgess’s former colleagues.

A product of these highly fertile years was A Clockwork Orange, apparently inspired by an  alleged incident during World War II in which his wife Lynne was robbed and assaulted in London during the blackout by deserters from the U.S. Army (an event that may have contributed to a miscarriage she suffered). The book was an examination of free will and morality. In Flame Into Being (1985), Burgess described the novel as “a jeu d’esprit knocked off for money in three weeks”.

He followed this with Nothing Like the Sun, a fictional recreation of Shakespeare’s love-life and an examination of the (partly syphilitic, it was implied) sources of the playwright’s imaginative vision. The novel made some use of Edgar I. Fripp’s 1938 biography Shakespeare, Man and Artist.

The complex M/F (1971) showed the influence of Claude Lévi-Strauss and the structuralists, and was later listed by the writer himself as one of the works of which he was most proud. Beard’s Roman Women dealt with the death of his first wife, his bereavement, and the affair that led to his second marriage.

In another ambitious and modernist fictional expedition, Napoleon Symphony, Burgess brought Bonaparte to life by shaping the novel’s structure on Beethoven’s Eroica symphony. This experiment contains among many other assets a superb portrait of an Arab and Muslim society under occupation by a Christian western power (Egypt by France). The novel showed that while Burgess always regarded himself as little more than a student and epigone of Joyce, he was able at times to equal his master in sophistication and range.

Religious themes weighed heavily in the 1980s, (see The Kingdom of the Wickedand Man of Nazareth as well as Earthly Powers). Though Burgess lapsed from Catholicism early in his youth, the influence of the Catholic “training” and worldview remained strong in his work all his life. This is notable in the discussion of free will in A Clockwork Orange and in Earthly Powers (1980). That work was written in the first instance as a parody of the blockbuster novel.

A late novel was Any Old Iron, a generational saga about two families, one Russian-Welsh, the other Jewish. It encompasses the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the early years of the State of Israel, as well as the imagined rediscovery of King Arthur’s Excalibur.

A Dead Man in Deptford, about Christopher Marlowe, is a companion volume to his Shakespeare novel. The verse novel Byrne was published posthumously.

Criticism

Burgess began his career as a critic with a text designed originally for use outside English-speaking countries. Aimed at newcomers to the subject, English Literature: A Survey for Students is still used in many schools today. He followed this with The Novel To-day and The Novel Now: A Student’s Guide to Contemporary Fiction.

Then came the James Joyce studies Here Comes Everybody: An Introduction to James Joyce for the Ordinary Reader (also published as Re Joyce) and Joysprick: An Introduction to the Language of James Joyce. Also published was A Shorter ‘Finnegans Wake’, Burgess’s abridgement.

His 1970 Encyclopædia Britannica entry on the novel (under “Novel, the”) was highly regarded.

Burgess wrote full-length critical studies of William Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway and D. H. Lawrence. His Ninety-nine Novels: The Best in English since 1939 remains an invaluable guide, while the published lecture Obscenity and the Arts explores issues of pornography.

Linguistics

Burgess had command of Malay, Russian, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Welsh in addition to his native English, as well as some Hebrew, Japanese, Chinese, Swedish and Persian.

“Burgess’s linguistic training,” wrote Raymond Chapman and Tom McArthur inThe Oxford Companion to the English Language, “is shown in dialogue enriched by distinctive pronunciations and the niceties of register.”

His interest in linguistics was reflected in the invented, Anglo-Russian teen slang of A Clockwork Orange (Nadsat) and in the movie Quest for Fire (1981), for which he invented a prehistoric language (”Ulam”) for the characters to speak.

The hero of The Doctor is Sick, Dr. Edwin Spindrift, is a lecturer in linguistics. He escapes from a hospital ward which is peopled, as the critic Saul Maloff put it, with “brain cases who happily exemplify varieties of English speech”.

Burgess, who had lectured on phonetics at the University of Birmingham in the late 1940s, surveys the field of linguistics in Language Made Plain and A Mouthful of Air.

Journalism

Burgess produced journalism in British, Italian, French and American newspapers and magazines regularly–even compulsively–and in prodigious quantities. Martin Amis quipped in the London Observer in 1987: “…on top of writing regularly for every known newspaper and magazine, Anthony Burgess writes regularly for every unknown one, too. Pick up a Hungarian quarterly or a Portuguese tabloid–and there is a Burgess, discoursing on goulash or test-driving the new Fiat 500.”

“He was our star reviewer, always eager to take on something new, punctilious with deadlines, length and copy”, wrote Burgess’s literary editor at the Observer. Selections of Burgess’s journalism are to be found in Urgent CopyHomage to QWERT YUIOP: Selected Journalism 1978-1985 and One Man’s Chorus: The Uncollected Writings.

Screenwriting

Burgess wrote the screenplays for Moses the Lawgiver (Gianfranco De Bosio 1975, with Burt Lancaster, Anthony Quayle and Ingrid Thulin), Jesus of Nazareth(Franco Zeffirelli 1977, with Robert Powell, Olivia Hussey and Rod Steiger), andA.D. (Stuart Cooper 1985, with Ava Gardner, Anthony Andrews and James Mason).

He devised the Stone Age language for La Guerre du Feu (”Quest for Fire”) (Jean-Jacques Annaud 1981, with Everett McGill, Ron Perlman and Nicholas Kadi).

Burgess was co-writer of the script for the TV series Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson (1980).

He penned many unpublished scripts, including one about Shakespeare which was to be called Will! or The Bawdy Bard. It was based on his novel Nothing Like The Sun.

Among the motion picture treatments he produced are AmundsenAttilaThe Black PrinceCyrus the GreatDawn ChorusThe Dirty Tricks of Bertoldo,Eternal LifeOnassisPumaSamson and DelilaSchreberThe Sexual Habits of the English Middle ClassShahThat Man Freud and Uncle Ludwig.

Encouraged by his novel Tremor of Intent: An Eschatological Spy Novel (a parody of James Bond adventures), Burgess wrote a screenplay for The Spy Who Loved Me. It was not used. Burgess’s plot featured Bond’s identical twin 008 and revolved around an organisation called CHAOS (Consortium for the Hastening of the Annihilation of Organised Society). CHAOS has accumulated enough money to achieve its plans and is now concentrating on power for its own sake. It blackmails international figures into humiliating themselves by terrorism. During Burgess’s proposed opening sequence, an airliner full of passengers is exploded as it takes off, CHAOS’s response to the Pope’s refusal to personally whitewash the Sistine Chapel. Bond discovers a plot to implant ‘micro-nukes’ in appendectomy patients, the aim being to blow up Sydney Opera House during a visit by international royals and presidents (this atrocity being in response to the US President’s refusal to masturbate on live TV). In You’ve Had Your Time, Being the Second Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess, the writer commented that the only idea that survived from his screenplay was that the villains’ hideout was a ship disguised as an oil tanker.

Symphonies

As Burgess put it, in the way that others might enjoy yachting or golf, “I write music.” He was an accomplished musician and composed regularly throughout his life.

Several of his pieces were broadcast during his lifetime on BBC Radio. His Symphony (No. 3) in C was premiered by the University of Iowa orchestra in Iowa City in 1975. Many of his unpublished compositions are listed in This Man and Music.

”Sinfoni Melayu”, characterised by the Burgess biographer Roger Lewis as “Elgar with bongo-bongo drums”, was described by Burgess, its composer, as an attempt to “combine the musical elements of the country into a synthetic language which called on native drums and xylophones”.

The structure of Napoleon Symphony: A Novel in Four Movements (1974) was modelled on Beethoven’s Eroica symphony, while Mozart and the Wolf Gang(1991; also published as On Mozart) mirrors the sound and rhythm of Mozartian composition, among other things attempting a fictional representation of Symphony No. 40. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 features in A Clockwork Orange.

Burgess made plain his low regard for the popular music that has emerged since the mid-1960s.

When Burgess was on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs radio programme in 1966, he made the following choice: Purcell, Rejoice in the Lord Alway; Bach, Goldberg Variations No. 13; Elgar, Symphony No. 1 in A flat major; Wagner, Walter’s Trial Song from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; Debussy, Fêtes; Lambert, The Rio Grande; Walton, Symphony No. 1 in B flat; and Vaughan Williams, On Wenlock Edge.

Opera and musicals

Burgess produced a translation of Bizet’s Carmen which was performed by the English National Opera.

He created an operetta based on James Joyce’s Ulysses called Blooms of Dublin(composed in 1982 and performed on the BBC), and wrote the book for the 1973 Broadway musical Cyrano, using his own adaptation of the Rostand play as its basis.

His libretto for Weber’s Oberon was performed by the Edinburgh-based Scottish Opera.

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