Burgess on…


Jane Austen

…I have never been able to read [Austen] with pleasure.

Joseph Conrad

Well before James Joyce, Conrad was forging a vocabulary for the contemporary soul. This book grants us another opportunity to brood over a notable literary martyrdom. [review in the London Independent newspaper of Joseph Conrad: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers]

Ford Madox Ford

There are some, and I am one of them, who hold that the greatest British novelist of the century…is Ford Madox Ford.

Rudyard Kipling

A poet of doubt and division, with hysteria not far from the surface.

James Joyce

His mountain looms at the end of the street where so many of us work with blinds down, fearful of looking out.

Why even bother? [Burgess’s declared feelings about his own literary efforts every time he read all or part of Joyce’s Ulysses].

D.H. Lawrence

Lawrence is the patron saint of writers not having an Oxford or Cambridge education and who are despised by those who have. [‘The Rage of D.H. Lawrence’,The South Bank Show (TV), 1985]

H.W. Fowler

Who is Fowler to tell us what to say?

T.S. Eliot

I had always had grave doubts about Eliot’s taste and, indeed, intelligence. [T.S. Eliot Memorial Lecture, broadcast on BBC Radio 3, 1980]

E.M. Forster

I can’t forgive E.M. Forster for writing only five novels.

Raymond Chandler

…an original stylist, creator of a character, Philip Marlowe, as immortal as Sherlock Holmes.

W. Somerset Maugham

He stayed in no one place very long, but he usually managed to absorb something of the atmosphere of each town, village or rubber estate he visited, and he always made quick contact with the local residents. These residents were invariably Europeans – planters, colonial officials, businessmen, or just men living in exile to escape from trouble or sadness at home – and there is little evidence that Maugham gained, or wished to gain, any direct knowledge of the lives and customs of the native peoples of the East. This must be disappointing to present-day Malay and Indian and Chinese and Eurasian readers of his stories, but we have to remember that (apart from the fact that Maugham had no time to learn Malay or Chinese or Tamil) the Western attitude to the Far East was very different in Maugham’s time from what it is today. [Introduction to Maugham’s Malaysian Stories (1969)]

Dylan Thomas

He was not very good at sex. He just wanted somebody to cuddle up to.

His sexual activities normally took place in the bathroom; he was a great masturbator.

Evelyn Waugh

It evidently hurt Waugh deeply that his typical fellow-worshipper should be an expatriated Irish laborer and that the typical minister of the church should be a Maynooth priest with a brogue.

Samuel Beckett

Beckett is not an attractive author, but he is immensely important. He has dared to incarnate everybody’s true suspicions about the real nature of the universe, and to do this he has turned his back on the richness of his own literary inheritance and forged a highly personal language out of a tongue not his own.

Graham Greene

The human liver can only stand so much, unless it belongs to Graham Greene.

Mervyn Peake

“[Titus Groan] remains essentially a work of the closed imagination, in which a world parallel to our own is presented in almost paranoiac denseness of detail.”

Doris Lessing

I am late with the new Doris Lessing [The Golden Notebook]. I make no apology: it has taken me a long time to read (568 pages of close print) and at the end of it all I feel cheated. This talented writer has attempted an experiment which has failed, essayed a scale which is beyond her….This is a book of revolt – political, social, sexual. Anna [the heroine] became a Communist in South Africa, seeing in Communism a “moral energy” not to be found in other creeds or in the long-entrenched privileged class. Anna is also concerned with being a “free woman” – rebelling against traditional male dominance – and with achieving maximal erotic fulfilment….There is no doubt about the great moral virtues here – intelligence, honesty, integrity – but it is the aesthetic virtues that seem to be lacking. The characters do not really interest us: when we have dialogue it is strangely unnatural … Mrs Lessing’s old singleness of vision, her strength as a writer, is not to be found here. [Review in the English provincial newspaper theYorkshire Post, 1962]

A.J.P. Taylor

There is no A.J.P. Taylor-ish explanation for what happened in Eastern Europe during the war.

Ian Fleming

I know there are some who would deny that Fleming practised the literary art. They are the aesthetic snobs who will not grant that the Sherlock Holmes stories are literature either….Both, as Shakespeare did, believed that fiction (drama or narrative) should be about well-defined characters in interesting situations.

John Wain

He ought to consider giving up extended fiction.

Geoffrey Grigson

I still smart from a review excreted by the late Geoffrey Grigson….unjust and impertinent.

G.V. Desani

…a sort of creative chaos that grumbles at the restraining banks. It is what may be termed Whole Language, in which philosophical terms, the colloquialisms of Calcutta and London, Shakespearean archaisms, bazaar whinings, quack spiels, references to the Hindu pantheon, the jargon of Indian litigation, and shrill babu irritability seethe together. It is not pure English; it is, like the English of Shakespeare, Joyce and Kipling, gloriously impure.

William Burroughs

Burroughs seems to revel in a new medium that is totally fantastic, spaceless, timeless, in which the normal sentence is fractured, the cosmic tries to push its way through the bawdry, and the author shakes the reader as a dog shakes a rat….When we have pederastic thrusts on every page we soon start to yawn….sexual strangulation is a recurrent, and soon boring, theme.

Jonathan Ross

…a great man – a great idol of the young.

Clive James

A bit of a chip on his shoulder about being Australian.

Stanley Kubrick

Kubrick was a creation of mine.

The Beatles

The words of their songs, pathetic when compared with Cole Porter, are so vapid that psychedelic meanings have to be imposed on them.

Lew Grade

…very ignorant, incredible the depth of it…

Edward Heath

There’s no doubt that there is a homosexual mafia. Indeed, we had a homosexual Prime Minister, Edward Heath. He’s been very clever about it. He’s never been found accosting little boys. It may have been hushed up. [Remark quoted in Roger Lewis, Anthony Burgess (2002), p. 184]

Margaret Thatcher

A bossy head prefect.

…a mediocre mind.

John Major

Mediocrity’s monument.

his first wife Lynne

…philosophically unfaithful. She…established the general principle that to sleep with anybody was in order….She would sleep with anyone.

I had condoned her slow suicide.


Children are uncreative. They can only imitate.

…the long barbarity of childhood…

disc jockeys

Tanned and teethed, voltaic with manic enthusiasm, spurting their vacuous encomia…


There are always intellectuals around who praise the incompetent as profound.

intellectuals who praise pop music

Do they merit vitriol, even a drop of it? Yes, because they corrupt the young, persuading them that the mature world, which produced Beethoven and Schweitzer, sets an even higher value on the transient anodynes of youth than does youth itself. For this they stink to heaven.

the young

The young I find, for the most part, baffling. They do not seem to belong to the human race. Their culture only marginally touches the mainstream that produced Shakespeare and even Cole Porter. They are unshaven and wear dirty shoes. Their speech is unintelligible.

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.

Of course, the young know nothing.

Senseless violence is a prerogative of youth, which has much energy but little talent for the constructive. Its dynamism has to find an outlet in smashing telephone kiosks, derailing trains, stealing cars and smashing them and, of course, the much more satisfactory activity of destroying human beings. There comes a time, however, when violence is seen as juvenile and boring. It is the repartee of the stupid and ignorant.

…the tradition of today’s adolescents, in which the present prescribes values which are supposed to be of permanent value. Ephemeral political debate about a child called Jennifer, ephemeral TV faces, ephemeral rock music, ephemeral books furnish the adolescent mind. To adolescent minds our leading politicians address themselves.


The students I know are terribly ignorant.

rock musicians

Electronic lice.


My 1968 passport photograph shows a meaty confident cattle-broker with a biblical nose, sly eyes, and the slack mouth of one who is evidently drunk.

the Welsh

The Welsh can’t take drink.

There is no Welsh terrorism. At least, not yet.

the Malays

[writing shortly before Malaya won independence from Britain] It’s a good thing we’re leaving, because really there’s no other work to do which the Malayans are likely to appreciate. The Malays are now cocky, the Herrenvolk, and the other races, having hated the British for being here, are now hating them for leaving.

the Russians

…an undisciplined lot, given to tears and hard liquor; perhaps they needed communism.

the English

…the stupidity of the English as a whole has and will be, I suppose, their salvation.

The English don’t like people to know too much. Polymath is a term of abuse.

The only literature the British can produce on a world scale is sub-art about spies.

the Maltese

Behind the smile and the beckoning hand lie the little bureaucrats whose lives depend on delay, quibbling and the accumulation of paper…


All men dream of fat women, never thin women. [in interview with BBC TV presenter Sue Lawley]


It’s in and out of the womb all the time…..[Spies] are literally motherfuckers.


Our party leaders are, perhaps by virtue or vice of the vocation they have chosen, curiously empty, and it is doubtful whether ageing will improve their condition. It is in the nature of a politician to adhere to only half the truth. The mature mind is always in a state of beneficent doubt – is that true, or perhaps is that not true? The mature mind is philosophical and knows that no political programme can contain the whole answer. Today’s politicians with their glib certainties are permitted to be propagandists, but not philosophers. Moreover, they are committed to short-time programmes.



…philistinism – a fruit of British occupation…


…far too much philistinism…


What I note…in the entire unhappy kingdom, is a lack of genius. There are minor talents in the arts, the organs of publicity, even government. But there is no sense of the great sweeping wind of inspiration.

It’s a philistine country. The only country in the world where a man of letters is actively looked down on; where it is a matter of pride that the Royal Family love only horses.

…the great democratic mess…

One of the reasons I left England was that I didn’t want to be associated with the British school of literature and its small-minded themes…

There was a new laxness about. I did not like this hedonistic Britain.

Multiracial and multireligious, this country has not learned to come to terms with its new mixed condition. The church and the synagogue may join in harmony, but the mosque is alien, external, centrifugal. Judaeo-Christianity and Islam must always fail to cohere. Britain’s shame is best shown in beleaguered Salman Rushdie, in the face of whose predicament government is hypocritical. This country used to be one in which free thought flourished and original genius was applauded. No longer.

Mary Quant OBE invented the miniskirt, which really consists of showing more leg. It’s something we’ve always wanted; and she, probably through insensitivity, was able to push it through and was surprised at the response because she wasn’t sensitive enough to expect a response….These are not major achievements. The major achievements of a race are great architecture, great music, great literature. These are not coming out of England…

The mess of England, all television, fornication and a rising generation given to rock music and violence.

The England I like is the England I carry in my skull, the England of the past, not the decaying land of today.


I’m disgusted with its corruption, thieves, sour people and sour wine.


I did not much care for it.

the USA

…full of lies…a ghastly inability to develop any kind of reasonable human culture.


Affronted by fat matronly bottoms in shorts, it shudders at the clicking Leicas, it wistfully puts money in its purse, serves bad food, and waits patiently for the advent of bad weather and a resumption of heavy drinking.


I wrote a very good account of Paris before I ever went there. Better than the real thing…


…the peculiar hopelessness of contemporary Ireland.


A kind of prison, walled in by sea and jungle.


I resented a lot of the kids [Princeton University students] who were ragged in appearance, but very rich. It’s a horrible aspect of the heresy called Americanism.


There used to be a certain elegance in London, but that has been submerged. The citizens I watch on their way to work have a 1984 quality, a drabness, even a hopelessness that was not even manifested during the war. The girls in long black stockings do not allure. Feminine beauty is not promoted; it rather seems to escape against the will of its possessor….London remains a great city. St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey are monuments to creeds that have been systematically strangled. Wren and Hawksmoor attest that there was once architectural genius. Now we have a city of commercial boxes. Hoardings strike us more than buildings, and hoardings dribble or scream vulgarity. They are appropriate to a civilisation which has abandoned genius, stifled it, denied its existence, or sent it overseas.



…the aesthetic exploration of the world.

the profession of writer

What is this vice of writing except a kind of sloth disguised as loud cracking? I’m not out there feeding the hungry or giving cash to the poor. I’m not doing the real work of a human being; I’m just stringing words together.

Writing needs to achieve a strong local flavour before it can pretend to universality.

I call myself a professional writer in that I must write in order to eat, and I am not ashamed to belong to the Grub Street confraternity which Dr. Johnson honored.

It seems to me wrong that one should have had to do so much writing in order to make a living, and not a very good living at that.

One writes in grim earnest, only to discover that when my work is published that Burgess has done it again, another funny farce. My God, I had to write Clockwork Orange in a state of near drunkenness in order to deal with material that upset me very much.

I try to write well. I am not cynical about writing, saying to myself: nobody reads with attention nowadays, I can get away with the most resounding inaccuracy or blatant inconsistency. I try.

being a novelist

It is not the novelist’s job to preach; it is his duty to show.


It has been a sin to be prolific only since the Bloomsbury Group made it a point of good manners to produce, as it were, costively.

To discover virtue in costiveness was a mark of Bloomsbury gentility. Ladies and Gentlemen should be above the exigencies of the tradesman’s life.

No one can be said to overproduce who has a wife and child to support.

The trouble began with Forster. After him it was considered ungentlemanly to write more than five or six novels.

Mozart was both craftsman and breadwinner. Like nearly all musicians, he wrote on commission. It’s only in literature that Bloomsbury rules take over – this Bloomsbury business of not writing very much.

popular fiction

Blockbusting fiction is bought as furniture. Unread, it maintains its value. Read, it looks like money wasted.


I write a thousand words a day. At that rate you’ll write War and Peace in a year…or very near the entire output of E.M. Forster.

My only activity of the daytime is to sit at the typewriter and churn out words – ungenerously, for all the words are for sale, and I begrudge the time and stamp-money spent on personal letters. I work, I tell myself, to earn money for my prospective widow and orphan. But the work has become an unlovely drug, no more. The clack of the typewriter justifies my existence: the value of the words I weave together has become a matter of secondary moment.

free expression

Evidently, there is a political element in the attack on The Satanic Verses which has killed and injured good if obstreperous Muslims in Islamabad, though it may be dangerously blasphemous to suggest it. The Ayatollah Khomeini is probably within his self-elected rights in calling for the assassination of Salman Rushdie, or of anyone else for that matter, on his own holy ground. To order outraged sons of the Prophet to kill him, and the directors of Penguin Books, on British soil is tantamount to a jihad. It is a declaration of war on citizens of a free country, and as such it is a political act. It has to be countered by an equally forthright, if less murderous, declaration of defiance….I do not think that even our British Muslims will be eager to read that great vindication of free speech, which is John Milton’s Areopagitica. Oliver Cromwell’s Republic proposed muzzling the press, and Milton replied by saying, in effect, that the truth must declare itself by battling with falsehood in the dust and heat….I gain the impression that few of the protesting Muslims in Britain know directly what they are protesting against. Their Imams have told them that Mr Rushdie has published a blasphemous book and must be punished. They respond with sheeplike docility and wolflike aggression. They forgot what Nazis did to books … they shame a free country by denying free expression through the vindictive agency of bonfires….If they do not like secular society, they must fly to the arms of the Ayatollah or some other self-righteous guardian of strict Islamic morality. [‘Islam’s Gangster Tactics’, in the London Independent newspaper , 1989]


The ideal reader of my novels is a lapsed Catholic and failed musician, short-sighted, color-blind, auditorily biased, who has read the books that I have read.

the Oxford English Dictionary

The OED has been to me a teacher, a companion, a source of endless discovery. I could not have become a writer without it.

being a poet

If you want to be considered a poet, you will have to show mastery of the petrarchan sonnet form or the sestina. Your musical efforts must begin with well-formed fugues. There is no substitute for craft… Art begins with craft, and there is no art until craft has been mastered.


Plurality of reference is in the very nature of language, and its management and exploitation is one of the joys of writing.

writing for money

From my adolescence on, I’ve always been plagued by certain disabilities: a terrible shyness with women, apprehension about my own future and a genuine inability to do things that other people do without thinking. I can’t drive a car. I drive sober they way other people drive drunk. I can’t ride a bicycle without falling off. I can’t cope with machinery, with electronic devices. Writing books, I suppose, is a means of overcoming these disabilities. I wrote a book in which the hero was a used-car salesman. He knew all about cars and had an amazing grasp of the technicalities of the internal combustion engine. Of course, I don’t have this myself. I got it from manuals and books and handed it all over to him. I was trying to turn this man into a personal self I could never be. One uses books, in fact, to make the personality one doesn’t have. My own incapacity to live in the modern world causes me gloom and pessimism. One must learn to cope with publishers and money matters. One writes for various purposes, but fundamentally one writes to earn a living, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Dr. Johnson said that only a blockhead would write for anything except money. The only thing I’m proud of is the fact that for 30 years, I’ve managed to support my family by writing. I have no other boast.

the Booker Prize

It was evident for me, anyway, that my novel was no Booker material. It was hard reading for the jurors…

…the Booker prize is nothing, it’s one of those silly little British games.


If I am given a book for review, I read it all, every page.

Behind the new bad book one is asked to review lie untold misery and a very little hope. One’s heart, stomach and anal tract go out to the doomed aspirant.



I’ve never had any money, therefore I’ve no sympathy for capitalists.


I suppose I end up as an anarchist….I lean towards anarchy.


…it becomes a totem of terrorism…


Multiracial and multireligious, this country has not learned to come to terms with its new mixed condition. The church and the synagogue may join in harmony, but the mosque is alien, external, centrifugal. Judaeo-Christianity and Islam must always fail to cohere. Britain’s shame is best shown in beleaguered Salman Rushdie, in the face of whose predicament government is hypocritical. This country used to be one in which free thought flourished and original genius was applauded. No longer.


I was brought up a Catholic, became an agnostic, flirted with Islam and now hold a position which may be termed Manichee…I believe the wrong God is temporarily ruling the world and the true God has gone under. Thus I am a pessimist but believe the world has much solace to offer: love, food, music, the immense variety of race and language, literature and the pleasure of artistic creation.


You believe in one God. You say your prayers five times a day. You have a tremendous amount of freedom, sexual freedom; you can have four wives. The wife herself has a commensurate freedom. She can achieve divorce in the same way a man can.

British politics

Politics used to be ideas, but no longer. Socialism has thrown away its ideologies (which may have been misguided, but was still based on an image of what humanity ought to be), and conservatism has, under the Thatcherian revolution, lost its notions of responsibility….there is no political pundit who, bemused as he is by party loyalty, can be trusted to speak for the nation.


Garlic is the nicest smell in the world – very very erotic in a woman.


Familiarity with the medium of television has bred not contempt but a kind of chronic disappointment. It promised so much and has delivered so little. To many of us it has become a mere electric fire, a necessary warmth, not primarily a source of information or entertainment. We switch it on and then pick up the evening newspaper….It has disappointed, especially in America, by failing to be its own thing, by turning itself into an extension of cinema. Most of America’s commercial channels are little more than movie museums – admirable in themselves but already outmoded by the videocassette….In the old days, when all television was live, there was the thrill of the unforeseen or the improvisatory – a character in a drama opening a door to find a camera looking at him; that same character keeping the same clothes and hairstyle in a narrative spanning 20 years. Now the slickness bores, unmitigated by the new electronic tricks of the solid scene being turned into a flying picture, speakers and speakerines being turned on their heads and swirled away like dust. Gimmicks of immense sophistication are no substitute for real sophistication. Television did not start off as juvenile (what United States channel would put on Pirandello today?), but it has settled into a permanent state of adolescence. It is not a medium for adults.

What worries me most about British TV is its vulgarity. Let us be quite sure what vulgarity is. It is not dirty words or ill-bred insults. Vulgarity is the rendering of human beings down to their appetites – for sex or instant coffee or frozen French fries. It is not merely television commercials that debase humanity to the level of an animated stomach or penis. TV drama has to conform to the philosophy of the advertisers. There can be appetite (for killing as well as for sex and gorging and guzzling) but there cannot be thought. Homo Britannicus is being perverted into a non-thinking biped, thanks to TV, the more lurid tabloid newspapers and other agents of anaesthesia.


I have lost my taste for reading anything except the most reprehensible paperback tripe that my local tobacconist and newsagent carries in hisdrehstand.


Aesthetic martyrs ought to kiss the stars, rejoice in being totally rejected, and work away like disregarded beavers.

Like James Joyce, I heard the call of art.

being 70

I feel my age. One cannot evade it. One can delude oneself that one is still young inside, but the whole physical mechanism begins to break down. One cannot climb stairs without having immense palpitations. One sees less well, and one’s memory fails. That’s the most appalling aspect of growing old. It’s no good our ancient philosophers talking about the virtues of age. Age has no virtues.


The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate.

being 50

Fifty-odd might well be, as well as the shut door of sex, the end of all endeavour. After it nothing but decline, gardening, bingo, saving for a berth in an old people’s home.


A perverse nature can be stimulated by anything. Any book can be used as a pornographic instrument, even a great work of literature if the mind that so uses it is off-balance. I once found a small boy masturbating in the presence of the Victorian steel-engraving in a family Bible.


Like diving into a bath of pure logic. Everything is pared to a minimum.

The Malay language changed not just my attitude to communication in general but the whole shape of my mind.


Curiously chameleon-like. It imitates Chinese.

his genitals

I carry a penis and a pair of testicles. These are not particularly handsome, unless stylized into the Holy Trinity or a Hindu lingam. They are inconvenient, and men’s clothing is not well designed to accommodate them. I promise myself to declare Scottish ancestry and wear a kilt. In Malaya I wore a sarong as often as I could. Trousers were meant for women, as women have belatedly discovered.


One of the delights known to age, and beyond the grasp of youth, is that of Not Going.


Life is a wretched gray Saturday, but it has to be lived through.

trades unions

In the nineteenth century, the doctrine of utilitarianism, promulgated with the best will in the world by John Stuart Mill, in fact produced desperate conditions in factories, and trade unions were vitally important. But today, we’ve reached a situation in which government itself is lacking in moral fibre and unions are showing the same lack of human responsibility that capitalists did in the past.

sex appeal

I remember, when I was 50, feeling that what I had chiefly achieved was a failure of sexual allure.


…debased Baroque, debased Rococo…the small church with its incense, with its horrible little paintings, and horrible little statues…

Islamist extremism

Evidently there is a political element in the attack on The Satanic Verses which has killed and injured good if obstreperous Muslims in Islamabad, though it may be dangerously blasphemous to suggest it….The Ayatollah Khomeini is probably within his self-elected rights in calling for the assassination of Salman Rushdie, or of anyone else for that matter, on his own holy ground. To order outraged sons of the Prophet to kill him, and the directors of Penguin Books, on British soil is tantamount to a Jihad. It is a declaration of war on citizens of a free country, and as such it is a political act. It has to be countered by an equally forthright, if less murderous, declaration of defiance….Islam, like Genevan Calvinism, accepts the theocratic principle. The law of the State is the law of God: there are no crimes of purely secular import. If a thief is caught, he must suffer the severance of the hand that stole because the Koran says so. (The Koranalso recommends mercy, a grace on which Khomeini insists rather little.) Great Britain has allowed the secular virtue of tolerance to prevail over religious rigour. This explains why its Muslims are permitted freely to exercise their faith so long as their code of behaviour does not conflict with civil law. We want no hands cut off here. For that matter, we want no ritual slaughter of livestock, though we have to put up with it….I gain the impression that few of the protesting Muslims in Britain know directly what they are protesting against. Their Imams have told them that Mr Rushdie has published a blasphemous book and must be punished. They respond with sheep-like docility and wolf-like aggression. They forget what the Nazis did to books – or perhaps they do not: after all, some of their co-religionists approved of the Holocaust – and they shame a free country by denying free expression through the vindictive agency of bonfires. They have no right to call for the destruction of Mr Rushdie’s book. If they do not like secular society, they must fly to the arms of the Ayatollah or some other self-righteous guardian of strict Islamic morality. They cannot have the privileges of a theocratic State in a society which, as they knew when they entered it, grants total tolerance to all faiths so long as those faiths do not conflict with that very principle of tolerance….What applies to the United Kingdom applies equally to the United States. What a secular society thinks of the prophet Mohammed is its own affair, and reason, apart from law, does not permit aggressive interference of the kind that has brought shame and death to Islamabad….Logic would seem to demand that the whole corpus of anti-Islamic literature in English should be placed in the hands of incendiary Muslims -the guild plays of the Middle Ages, for instance, in which Mohammed appears -as in The Satanic Verses – as Mahound, an atheistic force loosely identified with both King Herod and the Devil….If Muslims want to attack the Christian or humanistic vision of Islam contained in our literature, they will find more vicious travesties than Mr Rushdie’s. They had better look, for instance, at Edward Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. But nobody is interested in this issue historically or philosophically. There is a little too much political opportunism in this picking on a recently-published book which neither Iran nor Pakistan would read even if it could. One doubts the sincerity of protest that is secondhand and unjustified by argument, thought or anything more intellectual than the throwing of stones and the striking of matches….It is not for me to question the manner in which Islamic theocracy conducts affairs on its own ground. I feel about Khomeini as I felt about Hitler before 1939: I may not like his domestic policy, but I have no grounds, other than those of common humanitarianism, for protest. I am within my rights, I think, in regretting that both his brand of Islamic fundamentalism and the equally intolerant Christian fundamentalism of the American South have remembered nothing of the medieval subtleties of Averroes on the one hand and St Thomas Aquinas on the other. Neither religion used to be as crude as this. And I am even more within my rights in inveighing against an aggressiveness which denies to a free society its privilege of allowing its citizens to speak their minds without fear of brutal reprisal….I do not think that even our British Muslims will be eager to read that great vindication of free speech, which is John Milton’s Areopagitica. Oliver Cromwell’s Republic proposed muzzling the press, and Milton replied by saying, in effect, that the truth must declare itself by battling with falsehood in the dust and heat.Mohammed is presumably great enough to report a spiritual victory over misrepresentation by both theologians and novelists….Islam once did intellectual battle. Now it prefers to draw blood. It seems to have lost its major strength only to resort to the tactics of the gangster. This is unworthy of a major religion….One wonders if even major religions, however sincerely held, should be allowed to prevail over those secular beliefs that no longer owe anything to theology – tolerance, charity, a sense of humour and a great deal of goodwill. There is something not very likable about a faith that is so quick to order assassination….I would much prefer that Khomeini argued rationally with the infidel West in the manner of the great medieval Arabs. But, instead of arguing, he declared a holy war against argument. His insolence is an insult to Islam. [‘Islam’s Gangster Tactics’, in the London Independent newspaper , 1989]


…the real trouble about dying…is fighting for breath and losing, and leaving behind a body which discharges its excrements with abandon and makes death disgusting rather than ennobling….We expect to feel guilty, because we, the children, are being made room for, but we do not expect to feel disgusted. The desperate asthma, the rattle, the rictus are so mechanical and depersonalizing, and the collapse of the excretory system, with its aftermath of a ruined mattress waiting days for the garbage cart, is a sub-Rabelaisian joke in very bad taste.

If I am lucky, I will die in my sleep. What a messy lot of work for others, especially for my loved ones.


One becomes less able to give affection or take affection – because one never had this early filial experience.


I wish I could approve of homosexuality, but I’m enough of a Catholic to regard [it] as an aberration, as the spending of seed in barren places….I don’t know why…it exists….it’s not natural. I’ve just been reading Aldous Huxley’s essay about parrots, which imitate human speech, although they don’t have the apparatus and there’s no earthly biological reason for it….This is like homosexuality. What is nature up to here? Only God would be interested in playing such games with nature – in making parrots speak, or homosexuality. [remarks to Duncan Fallowell, quoted in Roger Lewis, Anthony Burgess (2002)]

A trip to Morocco, it is said, where Moslem juveniles will offer their brown bodies for 10 dirhams or so, may even make men waver who have been heterosexual all their lives and made bad jokes about “poofters”. Greece in its most golden days had a homosexual culture. The young men who sat with Socrates, and argued about truth and goodness and illusion and reality, were all given to the embraces of boys or of each other. Women were for begetting more Greeks, but young males were for sexual pleasure. And, in some regions, goats were for ecstasy.

affirmative action

At various universities, I’ve seen black men who are treated very indulgently, over-indulgently. They are allowed to do what they want, take what they want, drop what they want. I met one young man in Philadelphia, a young black, who wanted to learn music. But he wouldn’t learn music from whites because it was ‘tainted’ music. Well, this is bloody ridiculous…[remark made in 1971, cited in Roger Lewis, Anthony Burgess (2002), p. 152]

popular music

Illiterate, instinctual, impulsive, aleatoric, unscorable and unpredictable.

the Establishment

I do not like the Establishment and the Establishment does not like me…


I get angry at the stupidity of critics who wilfully refuse to see what my books are really about. I’m aware of malevolence, especially in England.


I take no exercise.


Five days shalt thou labour, as the Bible says. The seventh day is the Lord thy God’s. The sixth day is for football.

the sexual impulse

The sexual impulse, which teen-agers believe to fade out at about 30, is still pretty powerful, but the execution – and this, of course, is a good thing – is somewhat slow. I groan at pretty girls on television and regret the futility of approaching them in real life. They do not want to be approached, and I don’t blame them.


I love teaching. Once a teacher…you’re always one.


Rabbits join with humanity in being perpetually randy.


I hate to see people wear three-hundred-pound trainers.

the modern world

…the modern world with its paltry perversions and cheap mockeries of values.

The appreciation of literature is dying out in our schools and we have a kind of system of government which extols the utilitarian, the creation of things for sale rather than the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. This is not a humanistic culture we’re living in and this is bound to diminish the value of language.


I suffer terribly from lust, and this brings on anger at and envy of those who are young and handsome enough to justify their indulgence in it. An old man’s lust is not pleasant.

the Malayan Emergency

Our war in Malaya was a prelude to your war in Viet Nam….the Malayan War was a war which the Americans would not learn from.


I think marriage is the fundamental, the basis of life. Within a marriage, you develop vocabulary, you develop a culture which makes sense within that very, very small closed circle. But one also accepts that it can be outrageously difficult. One of the reasons why some people have turned against Jesus Christ, why people are prepared to accept Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ, is that Christ didn’t do the most difficult thing of all, which was to live with a woman.

The married state represents the essence of a civilisation, with its enclosed rites, arts, language.

British honours

If they can give Jimmy Savile a knighthood, well, the honours system is so dishonoured that one wouldn’t want it.


I do not think that travel to the countries I have not visited will result in new and delicious surprises.


In 1968 I left England for good. This expatriation was regarded by some…as criminal defection. I was evading salutary taxation, sinfully baring my bosom to better weather, failing in the patriotism of the long-suffering.


It’s satisfying to know one needn’t ever go east again: that duty has been fulfilled.

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