Time For a Tiger

‘East? They wouldn’t know the bloody East if they saw it. Not if you was to hand it to them on a plate would they know it was the East. That’s where the East is, there.’ He waved his hand wildly into the black night. ‘Out there, west. You wasn’t there, so you wouldn’t know. Now I was. Palestine Police from the end of the war till we packed up. That was the East. You was in India, and that’s not the East any more than this is. So you know nothing about it either. So you needn’t be talking.’

Nabby Adams, supine on the bed, grunted. It was four o’clock in the morning and he did not want to be talking. He had had a confused coloured dream about Bombay, shot with sharp pangs of unpaid bills. Over it all had brooded thirst, thirst for a warmish bottle of Tiger beer. Or Anchor. Or Carlsberg. He said, ‘Did you bring any beer back with you?’

‘And make up your mind about what bloody race you belong to. One minute it’s all about being a farmer’s boy in Northamptonshire and the next you’re on about the old days in Calcutta and what the British have done to Mother India and the snake-charmers and the bloody temple-bells. Ah, wake up, for God’s sake. You’re English right enough but you’re forgetting how to speak the bloody language, what with traipsing about with Punjabis and Sikhs and God knows what. You talk Hindustani in your sleep, man. Sort it out, for God’s sake. If you want to put a loincloth on, get cracking, but don’t expect the privileges –’ (the word came out in a wet blurr; the needle stuck for a couple of grooves) ‘the privileges, the privileges…’

Vorpal had the trick of adding a Malay enclitic to his utterances. This also had power to irritate, especially in the mornings. It irritated Nabby Adams that this should irritate him, but somewhere at the back of his brain was the contempt of the man learned in languages for the silly show-off, jingling the small change of ‘wallah’ and charpoy…

‘What you could do with is a nice strong cup of tea, sir. I’ll tell the kuki to make you one.’ ‘Does it really do any good, Nabby? (That was better.) ‘I’ve tried every damn thing.’….

His heart beating faster, his throat drying, Nabby whispered to the driver, ‘Not so bloody fast.’ ‘Tuan?’ ‘All right, all right.’ One of these days he must really get down to the language. There never seemed to be the time, somehow….

Relief brought an aching desire to be sitting in a kedai with a large bottle of Tiger or Anchor or Carlsberg in front of him….

He spoke clean grammatical Urdu….

Sultan Aladdin… had few illusions about his own people: amiable, well-favoured, courteous, they loved rest better than industry… their function was to remind the toiling Chinese, Indians and British of the ultimate vanity of labour.

“I should want to go home, like Fenella. I should be so tired of the shambles here, the obscurantism, the colour-prejudice, the laziness and ignorance, as to desire nothing better than a headship in a cold stone country school in England. But I love this country. I feel protective towards it. Sometimes just before dawn breaks, I feel that somehow I enclose it, contain it. I feel that it needs me. This is absurd, because snakes and scorpions are ready to bite me, a drunken Tamil is prepared to knife me, the Chinese in the town would like to spit at me, some day a Malay boy will run amok and try to tear me apart. But it doesn’t matter. I want to live here; I want to be wanted. Despite the sweat, despite the fever, the prickly heat, the mosquitoes, the terrorists, the fools at the bar of the club, despite Fenella.”

He rubbed his groin in a transport of vicarious concupiscence.

…it was a cardinal rule in the East not to show one’s true feelings.

‘Sir, we are trying to work because we are having to take the examination in a very brief time from now, but the younger boys are not realizing the importance of our labours and they are creating veritable pandemoniums while we are immersed in our studies. To us who are their lawful and appointed superiors they are giving overmuch insolence, nor are they sufficiently overawed by our frequent threatenings. I would be taking it, sir, as inestimable favour if you would deliver harsh words and verbal punishing to them all, sir, especially the Malay boys, who are severely lacking in due respectfulness and incorrigible to discipline also.’

‘Quite all right, sir. Plenty of time. You have a sleep, sir.’ Hood turned over with his fat bottom towards Nabby Adams. Thank God. Nabby Adams tiptoed over again to the serving-hatch, ordered another, downed it. He began to feel a great deal better. After yet another he felt better still. Poor old Robin Hood wasn’t such a bad type. Stupid, didn’t know a gear-box from a spare tyre, but he meant well. The world generally looked better. The sun shone, the palms shook in the faint breeze, a really lovely Malay girl passed by the window. Proud of carriage, in tight baju and rich sarong, she balanced voluptuous haunches. Her blue-black hair had some sort of a flower in it; how delicate the warm brown of her flat flower-like face. ‘What time is it, Nabby?’….

…it was a cardinal rule in the East not to show one’s true feelings.

“…as the cinema shows us, they are much more accessible and, for that matter, much more wanton than our own women”

His real wife, his houri, his paramour was everywhere waiting, genie-like, in a bottle. The hymeneal gouging-off of the bottle-top, the kiss of the brown bitter yeasty flow, the euphoria far beyond the release of detumescence.

At the back some newcomers were being given a resume of the plot.

Around them the gawping locals sat, amazed with an amazement that never grew less…

The East would always present that calm face of faint astonishment, unmoved at the anger, not understanding the bitterness.

It had, perhaps, not been a very edifying life. On the booze in England, in India, in Malaya… And then a couple of gins for breakfast and then the first beers of the day in a kedai … He had been driven out of that Eden…because of his sinful desire to taste what was forbidden.

“…reality’s always dull, you know…”

‘The country will absorb you and you will cease to be Victor Crabbe. You will less and less find it possible to do the work for which you were sent here. You will lose function and identity. You will be swallowed up and become another kind of eccentric. You may become a Muslim. You may forget your English, or at least lose your English accent. You may end in a kampong, no longer a foreigner, an old brownish man with many wives and children, one of the elders whom the young will be encouraged to consult on matters of the heart. You will be ruined.’

 Time for a Tiger (1956)

The Enemy in the Blanket

…an Empire now crashing about their ears. The Sikh smiled at the vanity of human aspirations.

Her face was that of a boy gang-leader, smooth with the innocence of one who, by the same quirk as blinds a man to the mystery of whistling or riding a bicycle, has never mastered the art of affection or compassion or properly learned the moral dichotomy.

She gave the lie to the European superstition – chiefly a missionary superstition – that the women of the East are downtrodden.

…with Indians there is an unhealthy love of the law…

…he became one with his Chinese parishioners, announcing a trade as honest as that of the dentist, the seller of rice-wine, the brothel-keeper, the purveyor of quack rejuvenators and aphrodisiacs, or the vendor of shark’s-fin strips.

…the British. Haughty, white, fat, ugly, by no means sympathique, cold…

‘…You know what they call you expatriates? White leeches.’

He forgot that the Malays revere cats and that the Chinese merely relish them.

Later they would…pant in venery.


In China he had spoken good Mandarin, and in ten years this had become his first tongue. Here he found himself with a parish of Hokkien and Cantonese speakers and a few English people whose language he could hardly talk. His French, severed from its sources of nourishment, grown coarse through lack of use, halted and wavered, searching for the right word which Mandarin was always ready to supply.

And he was so sick for China that he wondered whether anything mattered now except his returning there.

France meant nothing to him. Europeans had sometimes invited him to dinner and given him stuffed aubergines and onion soup and Nuits St Georges and what they said was good coffee.…They had evinced, in their curious French mixed with Malay (both were foreign languages, both occupied the same compartment, they were bound to get mixed), a nostalgia for France which amused him slightly, bored him much, flattered him not at all.

He would milk the white man….The white man had more money than sense.

…the whole world here breathed easy concupiscence…

My dear Hardman, It was pleasant… I am sorry that your Oriental venture has not been going as well as you expected. But, then, I think that the days when a man could expect to make his fortune in the East are dead and gone. Indeed, the time seems to have come for the reverse of the old process to apply, and for the East to dominate the West.

…a striped sarong and a pyjama jacket, the best of both worlds.

…English translation of the Koran. I wonder how, with such a repetitive farrago of platitudes, expressing so self-evident a theology and an ethic so puerile, Islam can have spread as it has.

I decide that the East has definitely spoiled me for women.

 The Enemy in the Blanket (1958)

Beds in the East

Rosemary’s reputation was known; he would, by obscure logic, become retrospectively a cuckold.

Rosemary was only a spinster in the strict sense of denotation. She was eminently, eminently nubile.

…the eyes, black, were all East – houris, harems, beds scented with biblical spices; nose and lips were pan-Mediterranean. Her body…was that of the Shulamite and Italian film stars. The décolletage, with its promise of round, brown, infinitely smooth, vertiginous sensual treasure, was a torment to the blood….Many had promised marriage, but all had gone home, the promise unfulfilled….quite considerable capacity for all kinds of sensuous pleasure.

Him they would not harm, Englishmen being, though infidel, yet the race of past District Officers, judges, doctors, men perhaps, in their time, more helpful than otherwise, powerful but mild.

…a fetid cabaret with a beer-bar, two houses of ill-fame disguised as coffee-shops…

Trade and gambling and a woman occasionally – that was a man’s life.

A good morning’s work, and he felt he deserved a small beer in Loo’s kedai round the corner.

…even the police discussed this violence as possibly coming within the scope of their terms of reference.

“…And the rising sun shall rise yet higher, destroying with its flaming fire the evil will of the wicked West, but smiling warmly on the rest”

Lim Cheng Po, Anglican, Royalist, cricketer, respectable husband and father, allowed his animal reflexes out for an avenue walk on the lead.

‘I know what is love. Love is man and woman in bed.’

…I shall often think of you and the things we did.

“You mean,” said ‘Che Ramli, “he is a member of the tribe of the prophet Lot.”

She sank again into the salty water…into the delicious warm brine-tasting depths of her grief.

…the Malay word chium meant to plough the beloved’s face with one’s nose

There was a certain creative excitement, expressed in glandular constrictions which he knew well.

‘It binds the races together,’ said Crabbe.

…the prophet of harmless solace in a harsh world….

…the dark brought out the prostitutes, Malay divorcees mostly, quietly moving from light to light, gaudy and graceful, like other of night’s creatures.

“…I’m a typical Englishman of my class – a crank idealist. What do you think I’m doing here in early middle age?”

..the bathroom which Crabbe visited showed signs that Moneypenny now regarded even a lavatory as supererogatory.

‘it excites the pancreas to fresh efforts’

an Australian….They have suffered under the yoke of the English…

‘Here we go again,’ he thought. ‘Drink and reminiscence. Another day of wasted time. They’re right when they say we drink too much out here. And we slobber too much over ourselves….We’re all sorry for ourselves because we’re not big executives or artists or happily married men in a civilized temperate climate.’

Mr Liversedge…saw the whole ridiculous Oriental susah in true proportion. Here men would murder for five dollars, here men would seek divorce because their wives sighed at the handsomeness of the film star P.Ramlee….nodding at the lucid exposition of Mr Lim from Penang, though contemning inwardly the Pommie accent…

…death came so easily, hardly announced, without apparent cause, often greeted with smiles.

 Beds in the East (1959)

The Right to an Answer

‘We might as well have a cup of tea,’ he said, and we noisily marched over the hollow boards of the glass-covered bridge, down the stairs to Platform Four. We entered the filthy Gothic tea-room and Everett ordered. The serving-woman served us with tired distain; she treated her customers like a dull and endless film that could only, with order and money, make a very rare stereoscopic contact with her real though duller world. Everett took me to a table and began to talk sadly but eagerly.

‘They say the church spire interferes with their bloody television reception,’ he said.

He seemed to lose interest in the subject of his daughter, glooming at a yellow card of ancient railway regulations on the wall. But when the harbingers of the coming train were audible – porters trundling, a scrambled gabble from the station announcer, frantic blowing on hot tea – he became eager again and was out swiftly on to the platform. I followed him. The train slid in. I saw the driver look down disdainful from his cosy hell, sharing – like soldier and auxiliary – a mystique with the tea-room woman. Passengers, disillusioned with arrival, got out greyly amid grey steam; passengers, hungry for the illusion of getting somewhere, jostled their way on.

I know little about the women of my own race…

…when I went out I tried to push the door instead of pulling it. ‘Pull it, mate,’ said someone, and I had to obey. I nearly tripped over a footscraper and, the door closed, had the impression of loud laughter. The vile blunt-razor-blade wind blew hard from my sister’s house. I felt ashamed and furious. In the East there was politeness, doors opened the right way, there were no footscrapers.

…of course, keep-fit people are no good in bed…

She was an appetising woman with a full-cheeked smile, about thirty, a Nordic blonde but not icy, though ice was suggested in its tamed winter-sport aspects : the flush after skating, log-fires and hot rum and butter, fine heavy thighs, that would warm your hand like a muff, under a skirt that had swirled in a rink waltz. Her beaver lamb coat was thrust back from a green suit : solid charms, thoroughly wholesome, were indicated.

…a man who sold meat but knew nothing of the poetry of the slaughterhouse…. Ted Arden was no ice-cream butcher.

I had a sudden longing, like a pain, for the hot smelly East, and remembered that Everett had said something about an Indian restaurant. I asked the barman, a hot-haired Irishman, and he asked one of the business-men (who, I saw now, was a Pakistani) and then was able to tell me that the Calicut Restaurant was on Egg Street, by the Poultry Market. I went there and ate insipid dahl, tough chicken, greasy pappadams, and rice that had congealed to a pudding. The décor was depressing – brown oily wallpaper, a calendar with a Bengali pin-up (buff, deliriously plump, about thirty-eight) – and it was evident that the few Indian students were eating the special curry prepared for the staff. The manager was from Pondicherry : he caled me ‘monsieur’ and was not impressed by my complaints. At least one of the waiters was from Jamaica. I went out angry and, at a pub where the landlady sniffed in curlers, drank brandy till closing-time.

…the mysterious and lucrative Orient…

Ted, I noted, was very busy – at the pumps, at the glasses behind, the bottles below, the merrily ringing till, like a percussion-player in some modern work who dashes with confidence from xylophone to glockenspiel to triangle to wind-machine to big drum to tambourine.

I was only the returned Oriental eccentric, drunk at that…

It began to worry me that I could never possibly settle in England now, not after Tokyo nude-shows and sliced green chillies, brown children sluicing at the road-pump, the air-conditioned hum in bedrooms big as ballrooms, negligible income-tax, curry tiffins, being the big man in the big car, the bars of all the airports of Africa and the East.

“…The returned exile and how he sees philistine England…”

…it is recognised in England that home drinking is no real pleasure. We pray in a church and booze in a pub: profoundly sacerdotal at heart, we need a host in both places to preside over us. In Catholic churches as in continental bars the host is there all the time. But the Church of England kicked out the Real Presence and the licensing laws gave the landlord a terrible sacramental power. Ted was giving me grace of his own free will, holding back death – which is closing time – making a lordly grant of extra life.

The dog now slept, occasionally farting very gently.

The rain eased off, but the streets were greasily wet, rainbowed with oil. I went to the bank for more five-pound notes, stood like a pauper in the public library reading the Christian Science Monitor, then went for the first drinks of the day to a dive-bar popular with merchants. Hungarian refugees waited on at the tables and a West Indian negro collected dirty glasses – we were all exiles together.

As I walked towards travel, that illusion of liberation, I strangely felt myself walking back into childhood.

Stamping around, waiting, I cursed England aloud, hands dug deep into pockets, dancing to the wind that knocked in vain at the Sunday shops. Cigarette-packets, football fixtures, bus-tickets sailed by in dust-ghosts of Saturday. A woman with a puce face and a blancmange-coloured prayer-book was waiting also for The Priest and Pig, and she looked puce disapproval at me. Twenty minutes late, the bus yawned in from town, near-empty, and it swallowed us in a gape of Sunday ennui. So we sundayed along, rattling and creaking in Sunday hollowness, I upstairs, tearing my elevenpenny ticket while I read the prospectus of Winter Commercial Classes stuck on the window.

Well-fed and liquored, I responded with ardour.

‘That it is still possible for a man of initiative to make money in the East is the firm opinion of balding, plump Mr Denham who adds, however, “Not if you take a wife with you.” Mr Denham has scathing things to say about Englishwomen and their lack of domestic virtues. He particularly selects their cooking as a target, but considers also that they are far inferior to the slant-eyed beauties of the Orient in the all-important matter of fidelity to their menfolk. Mr Denham is considered an authority on the women of Japan who, he says, are lovely, demure and submissive….On his own admission he has little time for anything except money, dalliance, and the “imbibing of liquors of all kinds”.’

I watched the grey villages limp by, the wind tearing at torn posters of long-done events. What I needed, of course, was a drink.

Ah, well, if they wanted their adultery, what did it matter to me? I hadn’t much room to talk, anyway, with my five-pound prostitutes who did a bunk and the Japanese girls who cost far less and didn’t do a bunk and whatever I was likely to pick up in Colombo.

‘You are admitting, then, to frivolity of attitude to important global problems?’

‘…Your little feuilleton…recording…my crude nabob’s philistinism…’

Mr Raj had been purely Orientally and fancifully complimentary (‘So great a man, his lingam as long and thick as a tree, the father of whole villages’)

‘…The senior Mr Denham’s,’ he said, with deadly Eastern realism, ‘will perhaps only be better in the grave

‘I come here to your beautiful country -’ Mr Raj saw through the window bare branches, coil after coil of dirty clouds, washing on neighbour lines, forlorn pecking birds, a distant brace of gasometers. ‘- your beautiful country, I say,’ he said defiantly. ‘…So far I have had mixed career. Fights and insults, complete lack of sexual sustenance – most necessary to men in prime of life – and inability to find accommodation commensurate with social position and academic attainments…’

‘They’ll be in all our houses,’ I said, ‘blackies of all colours, before the century’s over. The new world belongs to Asia.

Singapura means lion-city; prehistoric, myopic, Sanskrit-speaking visitors having spotted a mangy tiger or two in the mangroves. Sly Malays sometimes call it Singa pura-pura, which means ‘pretending to be a lion’….It is a profoundly provincial town pretending to be a metropolis.

…jumped-up commercials pretending, too late, to be the ruling class..

‘I knew im, she knew im, e knew im, we all knew im.’ After this paradigm, which impressed his hearers, he paused. ‘E was a customer ere. Not perhaps one of the best customers. Not like Roger Alliwell ere oo drinks whisky to the tune of near one bottle a day, which is good for the ouse and, as far as we can see, does imself no arm. But e was a customer, loyal to the ouse, regular in attendance, and that’s all we ask of any man or woman for that matter. Well, now e’s gone. We’re sorry e’s gone. You’re sorry e’s gone. I’m sorry e’s gone. And we can’t say much more than that. Now the question is: is e gone to a better place? I don’t know the answer to that, nor do you, nor does she. Perhaps e knows,’ said Ted, shrugging towards the vicar, ‘because it’s is job to know. But the rest of us don’t know. Right. But I say this. E done is best for all. Never a ard word come out of that man’s art. Right. Well loved e was and for all is faults we would love im still, if e was still alive. But e’s dead now and we wish im all the best in is new destination. And I can’t say no fairer than that.’

That night we visited various places where well-shaped and scented, though completely naked, Japanese girls came to sit on male knees.

…surely that sneered-at suburban life was more stable than this shadow life…in a country where

no involvement was possible…better than the sordid dalliance that soothed me after work?

After all, what bit of money I’ve made has been made among mosquitoes and sand-flies, snakes in the bedroom, long monotonous damp heat, boredom, exasperation with native clerks. Who are these sweet stay-at-homes, sweet well-contents, to try and suck it out of me and feel aggrieved if they can’t have it?

Love seems inevitable, necessary, as normal and as easy a process as respiration, but unfortunately

The greater part of the time I spent, when I talked at all, talking to men. I liked to take luncheon in some pub or other, sitting on a high stool at the snack-counter, barons of beef, hams, salads and dishes of pickle spread before me, the server in his tall white cap carving with skill. Other male eaters would be wedged against me, champing over newspapers, and there were a peculiar animal content in being among warm silent men, raising glasses in smacking silent toasts to themselves, the automatic ‘ah’ after the draught, the forkful of red beef and mustard pickle. Sitting with my gin or whisky afterwards I would often manage to get into conversation with some lonely man or other – usually an exile like myself – and the talk would be about the world, air-routes and shipping-lines, drinking-places thousands of miles away. Then I felt happy, felt I had come home, because home to people like me is not a place but all places, all places except the one we happen to be in at the moment.

The dog looked up through its hairy yashmak and farted.

The Right to an Answer (1960)

The Doctor is Sick

Outside, the main doors behind him, he was hit full in the chest by autumn. The doggy wind leapt about him and nipped; leaves skirred along the pavement, the scrape of the ferrules of sticks; melancholy, that tetrasyllable, sat on a plinth in the middle of the square. English autumn, and the whistling tiny souls of the dead round the war memorial.

The window opened gently and a still Autumn night entered cat-like. Edwin smelt freedom and London autumn – decay, smoke, cold, motor oil.

He walked down the side street to a wide thoroughfare of shop-windows and offices. This, he assumed, was one of the main arteries of London, a city he did not know very well. There were sodium street-lights, lights in windows. Occasional cars sped by. There was even an airline bus crammed with yawning passengers. Edwin saw himself reflected in a window full of tape-recorders.

The London office of the International Council for University Development was in Queen Street. Edwin hesitated outside, adjusting his cap, tightening the knot of his tie, smoothing his pyjama collar. The portals, a naked sculptural group above them emblematic of the Tutorial System, were designed to intimidate. The doors were all glass and hence appeared to be ever-open ; this again must be emblematic of something.

Edwin, so much himself a sham, felt a sort of kinship with the sham pleasures of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street as they travelled painfully towards Soho.

 The Doctor is Sick (1960)

 The Worm and the Ring

Howarth and his son walked to their cottage. This was less than a hundred years old, but its soft local stone was much punished and bitten by weather, and its slate roof sagged and wore a nap of moss. Howarth turned the key and pushed his son ahead into the dark dampish hallway.

In the suburb, lashed by the March shower, the new school stood, waiting to be unwrapped. Its yellow-white freestone lent new dignity to the sandy windy hill of red houses like boxes, each with its regulation square lawn and television aerial. It was like a recently created title come to live among the decently snobbish chief clerks, car salesmen, and dress buyers. The building was handsome and slick, suggesting a kind of H.G. Wells Hellenism. There were wide high windows covering the lengthy façade, well-proportioned and decently spaced, and the airy portico evoked, with its slim columns topped with ram’s-horn volutes, the leisured dialectics of a never-ending Platonic summer.

‘But you like her, don’t you?’ asked Howarth. ‘You like Mrs Connor?’ For himself, thought Howarth, he did not particularly like Mrs Connor. He desired Mrs Connor, however.

‘Do come round this morning,’ said Woolton to his wife…. Both silly old women, he thought….To be alone again, to be free of women, a celibate scholar, witty, witty sometimes with delicate impropriety, whose monographs were admired, whose major work on Pindar…

Howarth began to see that, however much it was against one’s will and convictions, sides had to be taken, the dreary corrupt world of politics had to be entered by the good and dispassionate, to protect and avenge the weak. But one always entered too late.

There was a silence. Outside, and most unfortunately, a boy could be heard calling to another boy: ‘Piss off, Cowie.’ Stern looks were fixed on Woolton.

 The Worm and the Ring (1960)

 Devil of a State

The Antipods…were always ready to burst.

There were…smiles of encouragement for Lydgate, and some smiles of sweet pity as well, as for the only leper present.

A…taxi…Chinese youth…”You,” he said.

…for thy huggest thy bolster, which men call a Dutch wife in some parts.

…wild-life protection cranks, birth control propagandists…

Lydgate opened the sort of letter…”My dear husband I very good…I come in flying ship…we be very happy…love.” It was as satisfactory a letter as he had ever received from a woman.

“All right,” said Rowlandson. He began shakily to count out notes. Near-broken, he was still an Englishman; he would not bargain.

…all heroes and heroines trying to approximate, through barriers of pigmentation, to the Hebraico-Caucasian norm of Hollywood

From ancient drains and sewers of the language (maritime inns and brothels…), from scrawls in the catacombs…whoremasters’ chapbooks…the vocabulary of tavern brawls

…no European whore’s mock-respectability.

…the sin of gluttony, also the sin of lecherous intent toward an honourable and high-placed matron….But more sin is to come, and that sin a double one, namely of lechery in act, perhaps venial in the young but by no means to be condoned, and of adultery, which Saint John saith shall be punished by fire for the act and brimstone for the stink of the ordure of the partners in that sin….She is but a heathen….With the instinct of her kind she knoweth the best and most secret places for lechery….thou are bent on sin, the act of darkness….On her breath is no honey but the smell of strong drink, the potent mingling of barley and juniper in deadly ferment….One man is from the Antipodes but, contrary to the superstition of the vulgar, he is like other men….It is he who seeth the cabin where thy lust worketh itself out, he remembereth lewd advice of the charioteer of Cathay….approacheth on tiptoe the sound of beastly gratification….Lust croucheth now above in the rooftree, his wings fearfully foldeth….But in his rage he spareth not her, calling her Jezebel and harlot….

Head of the Faithful, Head of the Infidel…

…the inevitable colonial philistinism.

Disgusting, ridiculous, when other people did it.

…he had to admit to a faint admiration (faint as angostura colouring gin and water)

…workmen who wanted (a) the white man out…,(c) sinecures

“…Just you bloody hypocrites with your four wives and your ten thousand houris in heaven?…”

…Novello should be extremely grateful that his innubile daughter was being taken off his hands by a Tasca.

“…My name…is Mahalingam….is Sanskrit for ‘large or great or mighty generative organ’ – this, of course, having more a religious (through associations of religion and fertility) significance than an anatomical one. Though anatomically and…socially the name has not proved inept.

‘How magnificent the new mosque…its cupolas gleamed like oranges….Why did [oil] wealth and Islam go together?….There must, somewhere in the Koran, be a fulfilled prophecy: “For, as Allah Most High has denied you in this world the solace of the fatness of pigs, so He has made the earth to yield a most spiritual fatness, wherewith your loins shall be larded and those of the fruit of your loins, and the richness thereof shall spout heavenwards to His glory.’

‘[Brunei’s] secondary title (conventional Arabic epistolary) was Daru’r-ridzwan — the Abode of Grace. What grace could there be…where the reek of opium, of pork-sellers’ stalls, of whores’ perfumes rose to choke the calling muezzin?’

‘”It has been reported to me,” said the [Sultan] impatiently, “that he is already creating a disturbance. He is shouting abuse down to his father, for one thing. For another, some of the disaffected elements of the town are treating him as a kind of hero. Members of the People’s Party have been cheering him. Men with beards have been taking up curries and cases of beer. Beer!” cried the [Sultan]. “Beer in the holy place of God’s word.” “Beer and God can go together, Your Highness,” said Mr Tomlin. “There is a poet called Chesterton —” “I don’t want to hear about infidel poets,” said the [Sultan]. He strolled a few paces, gracefully smoking, angry. “Get this man down.”‘

‘The loudspeakers all over the town belched like a volcano. And through the loudspeakers a voice, like the voice of God, called, “Mio padre. Molto cattivo. Bloody robber.”‘

‘Looking up to the tip of the ithyphallic minaret, the people of the town found something missing….The muezzin practised the retroflex divided consonants that made up the name of God, an emblem of stasis, of the old order never to be changed…’

‘…the Mosque…seemed a crouched leprous sun-beast, bulbous, pillared, the golden dome the spike-nippled breast of a supine giant Amazon. It was terrifying and somewhat obscene, like its Semitic God.’

Devil of a State (1961)

 One Hand Clapping

… ‘I’ve only one hobby, and that is my wife.’

I suppose the only real reason for travelling is to learn that all people are the same.

England become a feeble-lighted Moon of America…

 One Hand Clapping (1961)

 A Clockwork Orange

‘What’s it going to be then, eh?’

There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry. The Korova Milkbar was a milk-plus mesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like, things changing so skorry these days, and everybody very quick to forget, newspapers not being read much neither.

There was no real need…of crasting any more pretty polly to tolchock some old veck in an alley and viddy him swim in his blood while we counted the takings and divided by four, nor to do the ultra-violent on some shivering starry grey-haired ptitsa in a shop and go smecking off with the till’s guts.

That’s what it’s going to be then, brothers, as I come to the like end of this tale. You have been everywhere with your little droog Alex, suffering with him, and you have viddied some of the most grahzny bratchnies old Bog ever made, all on to your old droog Alex. And all it was was that I was young. But now as I end this story, brothers, I am not young, not no longer, oh no. Alex like groweth up, oh yes.

Pete held his rookers and Georgie sort of hooked his rot wide open for him and Dim yanked out his false zoobies, upper and lower. He threw these down on the pavement and then I treated them to the old boot-crush, though they were hard bastards like. . . . The old veck began to make sort of chumbling shooms — “wuf waf wof” — so Georgie let go of holding his goobers apart and just let him have one in the toothless rot with his ringy fist, and that made the old veck start moaning a lot then, then out comes the blood, my brothers, real beautiful.

They saw themselves, you could see, as real grown-up devotchkas already, what with the old hipswing when they saw your Faithful Narrator, brothers, and padded groodies and red all ploshed on their goobers….They viddied themselves as real sophistoes….They had the same ideas or lack of, and the same colour hair — a like dyed strawy. Well, they would grow up real today….No school this afterlunch, but education certain, Alex as teacher.

‘The Government cannot be concerned any longer with outmoded penological theories….Common criminals…can best be dealt with on a purely curative basis. Kill the criminal reflex, that’s all.’

But where I itty now, O my brothers, is all on my oddy knocky, where you cannot go. Tomorrow is all like sweet flowers and the turning vonny earth and the stars and the old Luna up there and your old droog Alex all on his oddy knocky seeking like a mate. And all that cal. A terrible grahzny vonny world, really, O my brothers. And so farewell from your little droog. And to all others in this story profound shooms of lip music brrrrr. And they can kiss my sharries. But you, O my brothers, remember sometimes thy little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal.

Now we were the very good malchicks, smiling good evensong to one and all, though these wrinkled old lighters started to get all shook, their veiny old rookers all trembling round their glasses, and making the suds spill on the table. ‘Leave us be, lads,’ said one of them, her face all mappy with being a thousand years old, ‘we’re only poor old women.’

‘Prison religion’…

Oh, it was gorgeosity and yumyumyum. When it came to the Scherzo I could viddy myself very clear running and running on like very light and mysterious nogas, carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cut-throat britva. And there was the slow movement and the lovely last singing movement still to come. I was cured all right.

‘My darling one….I shall be thinking of you while you are away and hope you will remember to wrap up warm when you go out at night.’

There was Your Humble Narrator Alex coming home from work to a good hot plate of dinner, and there was this ptitsa all welcoming and greeting like loving….I had this sudden very strong idea that if I walked into the room next to this room where the fire was burning away and my hot dinner laid on the table, there I should find what I really wanted….For in that other room in a cot was laying gurgling goo goo goo my son….I knew what was happening, O my brothers. I was like growing up.

the heighth of…callousness.

[Youth] is only being in a way like it might be an animal. No, it is not just like being an animal so much as being like one of these malenky toys you viddy being sold in the streets, like little chellovecks made out of tin and with a spring inside and then a winding handle on the outside and you wind it up grrr grrr grrr and off it itties, like walking, O my brothers. But it itties in a straight line and bangs straight into things bang bang and it cannot help what it is doing. Being young is like being like one of these malenky machines.

My son, my son. When I had my son I would explain all that to him when he was starry enough to like understand. But then I knew he would not understand or would not want to understand at all and would do all the veshches [things] I had done…and I would not be able to really stop him. And nor would he be able to stop his own son, brothers. And so it would itty on to like the end of the world.

 A Clockwork Orange (1962)

 The Wanting Seed

It’s sapiens to be homo.

‘Brutality!’ cried Tristam. The class was at last interested. ‘Beatings-up. Secret police. Torture in brightly lighted cellars. Condemnation without trial. Finger-nails pulled out with pincers. The rack. The cold-water treatment. The gouging out of eyes. The firing squad in the cold dawn. And all this because of disappointment. The Interphase.’

 The Wanting Seed (1962)

 The Eve of St. Venus

‘…I prefer to think of [young women] less as human beings than as pimply parcels of televisual reflexes.’

‘So she was Greek, was she?’ said Sir Benjamin. ‘Well, well. I suppose the new vice laws are driving some of them out of Soho. Driving them down here,’ he said, as though a whole new world were opening up. ‘Well.’

‘She is a goddess,’ said Ambrose, drunkenly and stoutly. ‘…And she wants me. She’s the pursuer…She’s the epitome of woman, not,’ he said, ‘not a second-hand bundle of coy erogeneity draped,’ he said, ‘in an all-too-diaphanous robe,’ he said, ‘of pudeur.’

‘…today’s…newspapers…full of…diminishing exports, the unkillable widening grin of the pullulating East, the expanding machine of the almighty infallible State….He himself could only turn to the past, but he heard that it was already possible to change the past, bringing the past perpetually up to date, a perpetual jackal fawning on the present, a malleable witness with no qualms about perjury. He knew that the armies were on the march, the Tannoys blaring, the collective mind – tool of oligarchy – being fashioned under the anaesthetic of the catchphrase and the mass entertainment…’

 The Eve of St. Venus (1964)

 Nothing Like the Sun

It was all a matter of a Goddess – dark, hidden, deadly, horribly desirable.

There he lieth, tossing in the guilt of his lewdness, the primal lecher, neglectful of his duties to a fair wife but all too ready to plunge his sizzling steel into the slaking black mud of a base Indian.

I am near the end of the wine, sweet lords and lovely ladies, but out there the big wine is being poured – thin, slow, grey. Never more shall I taste the oncoming of this particular darkness. But I shall not be sorry to go. I am not seduced by the dainty lusts, clothed in cold green and clean linen, of an English spring. If you plunge into that dark there you will emerge at length into a raging sun and all the fabled islands of my East. And that is what I shall be doing tonight, off like a bird. I see you have your pennies ready, ladies. Twitch not, hop not about nor writhe so: I shall not be long now.

The West is eveningland, the East morningland.

 Nothing Like The Sun: A Story of Shakespeare’s Love Life (1964)

 Tremor of Intent

…my two chronic diseases of gluttony and satyriasis…

‘This damnable sex, boys – ah, you do well to writhe in your beds at the very mention of the word. All the evil of our modern times springs from unholy lust, the act of the dog and the bitch on the bouncing bed, limbs going like traction engines, the divine gift of articulate speech diminished to squeals and groans and pantings. It is terrible, terrible, an abomination before God and His Holy Mother. Lust is the fount of all other of the deadly sins, leading to pride of the flesh, covetousness of the flesh, anger in the thwarting of desire, gluttony to feed the spent body to be at it again, envy of the sexual prowess and sexual success of others, sloth to admit enervating day-dreams of lust. Only in the married state, by God’s holy grace, is it sanctified, for then it becomes the means of begetting fresh souls for the peopling of the Kingdom of Heaven.’

…the cold deflation of crapula…

…British louts with guitars and emetic little songs…infantile screamers…

‘…Women I do not much care for myself – I prefer little Greek shepherd-boys…’

‘…you read mostly menus and the moles on whores’ bellies….’


…enjoyed Dravidian transports.

 Tremor of Intent (1966)

 Napoleon Symphony

In the name of Allah the all-powerful, all-merciful, all-knowing, know that it is by his holy will that we come to free the peoples of the Nile from their immemorial and most cruel bondage to the Turks and the Mamelukes, free men of Frankistan bringing freedom, respecting Islam and the tenets of the holy prophet, may his name be praised and the holy name of Allah most high exalted for ever more.

The disembarkation was a fucking shambles and we only took Alexandria as quick as we did to get a fucking drink somewhere, because we were near dead with the thirst….The town was full of a lot of half-starved blacks, near-blacks you could call them, in filthy rags, raising their hands to the bloody burning heavens when they saw us come in, shouting Allah Allah and so on. Some old bints with veils on gave us fucking filthy water to drink, but filthy or not it was like elation and ecstasy and so on. There was hardly a solitary fucking thing worth having in the whole town, all half-starved goats and so on, and talk about the fucking heat and the smell. Anyway, what they called sheiks came and gave him the keys, and the officers did all right with like knives and scimitars with jewels on, but then we had to move on to Damanhur and Rahmaniya and so on, near dropping with the fucking heat….

….The fucking heat and the flies and scorpions and all this fucking sand….These fucking great swarms of black flies had plenty to drink, which was the sweat on our necks and faces. In a way you could see that a man could laugh at the extremes of the misery of it, stumbling through all this white sand like hot snow, the dried shit in our breeches, and knowing we were marching on on on on only to get cut to pieces with fucking axes and scimitars at the end of it….Once or twice we came to villages, but they were all empty or full of dead that the Bedouin had left to the flies and the ants, and the wells had been filled in with stones….and the only sound was the buzzing of those fucking great black flies….and the sun was like a great round arse shitting fire.

They could hardly believe it, the retreating arses of all that Mameluke or Turkish cavalry, heathen anyway, crying heathen words as they cantered off in gunsnioke and dust-clouds, dropping spears and jewels and good Birmingham pistols. And soon it was water water water, a world of blessed water, the muddy stinking welcoming mother Nile near Rahmaniya.

Defiling their shadows, infidels, accursed of Allah, with fingernails that are foot-long daggers, with mouths agape like cauldrons full of teeth on the boil, with eyes all fire, shaitans possessed of Iblis, clanking into their wars all linked, like slaves, with iron chains. Murad Bey, the huge, the single-blowed ox-beheader, saw without too much surprise mild-looking pale men dressed in blue, holding guns, drawn up in squares six deep as though in some massed dance depictive of orchard walls. At the corners of the squares were heavy giins and gunners. There did not seem to be many horsemen. Murad said a prayer within, raised his scimitar to heaven and yelled a fierce and holy word. The word was taken up, many thousandfold, and in a kind of gloved thunder the Mamelukes threw themselves on to the infidel right and nearly broke it. But the squares healed themselves at once, and the cavalry of the faithful crashed in three avenging prongs along the fire-spitting avenues between the walls. A great gun uttered earthquake language at them from within a square, and, rearing and cursing the curses of the archangels of Islam on to the uncircumcized, they wheeled and swung towards their protective village of Embabeh. There they encountered certain of the blue-clad infidel horde on the flat roofs of the houses, coughing musket-fire at them. But then disaster sang along their lines from the rear as shell after shell crunched and the Mamelukes roared in panic and burden to the screams of their terrified mounts, to whose ears these noises were new. Their rear dissolving, their retreat cut off, most sought the only way, that of the river. They plunged in, horseless, seeking to swim across to join the inactive horde of Ibrahim, waiting for .action that could now never come. Murad Bey, with such of his horsemen as were left, yelped off inland to Gizeh.

‘Like a great big meaty stew,’ Gallimard of the 32nd kept saying. In the sauce-coloured Nile blown corpses floated gently seaward, to be fished out with bent bayonets. There were good pickings here, since each Mameluke carried his gold about him. On the shore lay ornate pommels, daggers, pistols, all encrusted with pearl and jewels, worth a fucking fortune….he started to harpoon out a sogged and bloated dreaming Mameluke or Turk or whatever he was.

‘Poor bugger’s in paradise now, drinking sherbet, poor bugger.’

…like a ship, clean and trim on a dirty sea of pox and camel-dung.

Legrand scratched his cheek with one of Conté’s lead pencils and started to Koranize: I say unto you that you have been brought low by kings who lie with houris on the fat sofas of Stamboul and by those that were once among you and came from lands of the sunset, men pale but warlike, to steal your camels and women and snatch the bread from your teeth, in no wise to raise you high among the peoples of the earth. Meanwhile the C-in-C got on with other things – gunpowder factory, street-lighting, Paris-style café, accommodation for laundresses, a balloon demonstration.

Imams and muftis and kathis sat here on cushions, turbaned elders who had risen above the squalor of the flesh. The heat was tamed by wide-eyed boys with feathery fans. One of the muftis much admired one of these boys, and he stroked his buttocks with a gentle hand. The smell of the holy was wafted towards entering Bonaparte, who said with care:

‘Salam aleikum.’

They nodded at that and waited. Bonaparte sat on a kind of throne. Young Legrand did his best, but it was a long slow business.

‘We believe in Allah, we take the Koran as a sacred book. In our land we broke the power of infidel Rum, in his own land we struck down her Sultan whom men called the Pope, in Malta we slew the Knights, sworn enemies of Islam. Inform your people that we are sent by Allah to geld the evil Turk and raise high the people of the Nile.’

‘How can slaves be sent by Allah? You all have hairless faces, the mark of the bondman.’

‘You drink wine, you have foreskins. These things have been observed.’

‘It was not seemly to raise your flags on the minarets.’

‘As for your circumcisions, the chief modin can arrange all. Your wine must return to the earth, whence the grape came. Haram.’

‘Yes yes yes, later. For now I would ask you to proclaim next Friday from the mimbar in the masjid that the French are protectors of the faith and friends of the Prophet.’

The Turks would do anything with a captured screaming infidel body – make it chew its own penis, thrust the testicles up the anus, saw the noseless earless head off with slow delicacy.

And then there were the sick to be transported back to Cairo (where already the holy war might have spread like the bubonic and smiling beards above gelder’s knives be waiting at the gates), and how in the name of filthy castrating Allah did you march men back through the Sinai who couldn’t even sit a mule? He reviewed the sweating patients in gloom, all distorted with bubos…

There must always be somebody. However young or insignificant. There has to be somebody who comes from nowhere to say what others are too foolish or too frightened to say.

‘The lure of Egypt, gentlemen, and the greater exotic lure of the lands beyond. The East – does not our way lie there? Europe shall, after tomorrow, be wholly ours. We do not wish America or Africa, shapeless savage continents with no future. But ah, the East. India, China, fabulous Japan. And, of course,’ with a fierce savagery replacing the mystic look, ‘we have the mission of striking at the enemy of mankind in that very East where he has so precarious a toehold –’

 Napoleon Symphony (1974)

 The Clockwork Testament

The important thing is to get yourself born. You’re entitled to that. But you’re not entitled to life. Because if you were entitled to life, then the life would have to be quantified. How many years? Seventy? Sixty? Shakespeare was dead at fifty-two. Keats was dead at twenty-six. Thomas Chatterton at seventeen.

‘But what happens when you die?’ ‘You’re finished with,’ Enderby said promptly. ‘Done for. And even if you weren’t – well, you die then, gasp your last, then you’re sort of wandering, free of body. You wander around and then you come in contact with a sort of big thing. What is this big thing? God, if you like.’

‘Everything off. I want to see you in your horrific potbellied hairy filthy nakedness.’

 The Clockwork Testament, or Enderby’s End (1974)

 Beard’s Roman Women

From these years in Brunei on, when he worked for Radio Brunei, it never seemed to him that either of them drank excessively. In the tropics, surely, you sweated all the gin out before it got anywhere near the liver. To the house in Hammersmith they had had, true, one dozen bottles of Gordon’s delivered weekly, but they dispensed tropical hospitality even to the delivery man; they drank wine only with dinner and did not invariably take a liqueur after; they spent no more than two hours a day in pubs. He had emerged undamaged from this; why not then she also?

‘We’re in control, and we have what we want!’

Beard’s Roman Women (1977)

Earthly Powers

It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.

Geoffrey…my Ganymede…as well as my secretary….pulling on his overtight summer slacks…

I lay a little while, naked, mottled, sallow, emaciated, smoking a cigarette that should have been postcoital but was not.

…To the mother hubbard girl, whose name seemed to be Janie: ‘It becomes you, it does really, that chunk of filthy butter muslin, but then you’re the sort of girl who could get away with anything, even having one tit bigger than the other.’ He did a comic oenophil act with the bottle of Marsovin…

…in the bar, he treated me and all around us to a loud recapitulation, based loosely on the visas and entry permits in his passport, of the more scandalous elements of our life together. ‘New York, dear, and that pissyarsed publisher of yours who tried to stop me going to the fistfuck party, dangerous he said, lethal, stupid sod. Toronto, that was where we had that little whatsit at the same time, remember, lovely kind of henna colour, half Indian, half French, not an ounce of bloody Anglosaxon blood remember.’ He got drunk very rapidly on undiluted Pernod. ‘The man on the Washington Post who once had it off with a ghost. At the point of orgasm the pale ectoplasm shrieked ‘Coming, I’m coming — almost.’”

“We,” he said, not without complacency, “are different. We attest the divine paradox. We are barren only to be fertile. We proclaim the primary reality of the world of the spirit which has an infinitude of mansions for an infinitude of human souls. And you too are different. Your destiny is of the rarest kind. You will live to proclaim the love of Christ for man and man for Christ in a figure of earthly love.” Preacher’s rhetoric; it would have been better in Italian, which thrives on melodious meaninglessness. I said, with the same weariness as before, “My destiny is to live in a state of desire both church and state condemn and to grow sourly rich in the purveying of a debased commodity. I’ve just finished a novel which, when I’d read it through in typescript, made me feel sick to my stomach. And yet it’s what people want — the evocation of a past golden time when there was no Mussolini or Hitler or Franco, when gods were paid for with sovereigns, Elgar’s Symphony Number One in A flat trumpeted noblimente a massive hope in the future, and the romantic love of a shopgirl and a younger son of the aristocracy portended a healthful inflection but not destruction of the inherited social pattern. Comic servants and imperious duchesses. Hansom cabs and racing at Ascot. Fascists and democrats alike will love it. My destiny is to create a kind of underliterature that lacks all whiff of the subversive.” “Don’t,” Carlo said, “underestimate yourself.”

`You’re staying here, fucker,’ the milky-eyed one said. You’ve got to get done.’ `You and whose navy?’ I quoted vulgarly from one of my own stupid plays. `Summat to say about it?’ somebody said, flushed face an inch from mine. `Got it in for the fucking Andrew?’ `I’m getting out of here,’ and I marvelled at myself as I grabbed the rump of the smashed glass from the runny zinc and swivelled it from one to another of the blue swayers like a flashlamp. `Ah, playing dirty. Right, here it comes.’ But the proffered fist with its tattooed LOVE AND DUTY with blue flowers could not really connect, drink having drained strength from the arm beyond it. The door opened again and to a windier blackness two genuine matelots came in, French, pompommed caps with MAZARIN on them. ‘Parleyvoo wee wee. Jigajig traybon.’ Of course, my original play title. I dropped the tumbler stump on the filthy wet floor and, for some reason, ground it growling with my heel among the unground out fag ends. Then I shouldered and pushed out. ‘Come back, fucker, to get fucked.’ ‘Dick,’ I called to the sidestreet. There was only one lamp, dimmish, near a Byrrh poster. I ran inland and came to an alleyway. I heard groaning, then a splash. The thin moon emerged to show Dick, sober and vigorous, holding the doubled up sailor up with strong clasping arms round his middle. The sailor’s trousers were right down, hobbling his ankles. Dick was buggering away deep and cheerfully in brutal Norman Douglas style. ‘Just one second, dear,’ Dick smiled, ‘then he’s all yours. Not all that tight, surprising really. Relaxation consequent on nausea and so on.’ And still he ground away. Then he shuddered, lips apart, as on unsugared lemon juice as he spattered. ‘Delicious. So mindless. There, come on, angelface, get it all up for daddy.’ The two voidings were one. I had an erection. I was bitterly ashamed. Then there were voices calling. ‘Porky. Fucking Porky.’ Fucked Porky, really,’ Dick said, releasing him into his own vomit. `All right, dear,’ buttoning up, ‘he’s all yours.’ And Dick ran with long expert strides into the blackness of the alley as the moon buttoned itself into its fly of cloud. It was as if he knew the damned place blind. The boy lay heaving, terribly besmirched, bare arse to the sky. A great gust blew the cloud tatters off the moon. Then Porky’s mates were there.

Carlo looked as at the world of fallen man on the endless suburbs that passed for a city, an eatery in the likeness of a Sphinx (enter between its forepaws), another, for jumbo malts so thick you can’t suck ‘em through a straw, in the form of an elephant crouched as at the bidding of its mahout, gimcrack temples of various faiths, attap roofs of nutburger stands with Corinthian columns, loans loans loans, stores crammed with cutprice radios, a doughnuttery, homes like Swiss chalets, like Bavarian castles, miniature Blenheims, Strawberry Hills, Taj Mahals, a bank in the form of a tiny ocean liner, dusty trees on the boulevards (datepalm, orange, oleander), bars with neon bottles endlessly pouring, colleges for stuntmen, beauticians, morticians, degrees in drummajoretteship.

Robert panted. ‘It will do you no harm, you will like it, you will see.’ And he gently undid the boy’s shirt and drew it over his crisply curled head, casting it to the floor, where it lay limp as the boy’s own body. ‘Ralph, Ralph,’ murmured Robert as he caressed the young warm flesh, running a hand ever and again over the thin but muscular arms with their delicate flue, the smoothness of the taut belly, the silkiness of the back, the delicate moving contours of the breast, where the tiny nipples had already begun to respond to the moist fervour of Robert’s kisses. It was while his mouth held his in passionate prolongation that Robert blindly tore at the buttons of the boy’s trousers. He whispered, ‘See, Ralph my darling, we must be the same, naked as the day when we were born, and rightly so since we are both at this moment being reborn. The whole world will seem to have changed, you will see, it is the beginning of a life for both of us.’ The world outside, the alien world of disgust and hate impinged in the clash of the Angelus bell, but, yes, it was the bell of the Annunciation, the Angel of the Lord, an impending miracle. His questing hand was aware of the boy’s own nascent excitement, the silken sheath about the iron of tumescence, and he smoothed with a shaking hand the royalty of the sceptre and the twinned orbs. Then: ‘It must be now,’ he gasped, ‘it is the moment, do not move, Ralph my love.’ Thus, newly locked in a kiss, Robert found the antrum amoris and eased his body up to engage it with his own palpitant rod, now grown and glorified to a mace of regal authority. The boy cried out, and it seemed not to Robert to be a cry of pain, rather a call or crow of acceptance. Encouraged, Robert gently eased his throbbing burden into the timid heat of the sacred fissure, soothing with gentle words, words of love, while the angelic bell pounded and pulsed without. And then the promise loomed, the declaration of the Angel of the Lord, and the rhythm of ancient drums pulsed in imperceptible gradations of acceleration under a choral utterance that was emitted from the silver throats of all the Angels of the Lord, filling the universe to the remotest crevices where lurked, like shy sea beasts, stars not yet named, galaxies uncharted. And then the madness followed, the drouth of a demented hoarseness of arcane and terrible incantations, the rasp of words ineffable, prayers to gods long thrust under earth or set to gather the dust of eons in caverns remote and hallowed only by mouths themselves long filled with dust, for the rancorous hordes or those who flaunted the banners of Galilee had smitten and broken and flattened the ancient empire of Faz and Khlaroth. And then, O miracle of miracles, the drought was overtaken by the bursting of the dam, by the flooding of the whole desiccated earth, and Robert’s voice rose like a trumpet in the ecstasy of his spending. A love nameless, unspeakable, spoke the name over and over again, ‘Ralph, Ralph my beloved,’ and the lips that were agape in a wordless prayer of gratitude now closed about the head and flower of the boy’s Aaronic baston, mouthed softly as about a grape to effect and yet delay its bursting, and Ralph writhed and groaned and the words were strange. ‘Solitam…Minotauro…pro caris corpus…’ Latin, the memory of some old lesson, of some ancient attempt at seduction in that Jesuit school library he had spoken of: the supposition flashed in Robert’s cooling brain. Then, with the speed of incontinent youth, Ralph gushed his burden out, sweet and acrid and copious, and Robert gulped greedily of the milk of love. Then they lay a space, wordless both, the thunder of their twin hearts subsiding, Robert’s head couched on the boy’s loins, Ralph’s right hand smoothing his lover’s wet and tangled hair.

…Carlo delivered what began as a panegyric and ended as an anathema….His brother…regarded by the stupid and the wicked as a sort of imbecilic weakness, an infantile inability to come to terms with the sophisticated world of affairs. Because he was just he was to be seen as a quixotic madman, because he was virtuous he was to be taken for a eunuch, because he was magnanimous he was to be gulled and derided…. ‘There are many here today in this great modern temple of the Lord who have come not out of the piety of friendship or respect but following sickening forms of hypocritical convention, and among these are some that are soiled, bemerded, stinking with wealth amassed unjustly, wealth made out of torture and murder and the exploitation of human frailty, a precarious wealth as insubstantial as fairy gold, demon gold rather, that will crumble into dust at the dawn of the recovery of sanity and virtue by a great nation temporarily demented, an angelic land to its immigrants that is now set upon by the devils of greed, stupidity and madness…’

And now, as so often happened, my brain in a fever took over the datum of the dream and enriched and expanded it. Norman Douglas spoke pedantically on behalf of the buggers. `We have this right, you see, to shove it up. On a road to Capri I found a postman who had fallen off his bicycle, you see, unconscious, somewhat concussed. He lay in exactly the right position. I buggered him with athletic swiftness: he would come to and feel none the worse.’ The Home Secretary nodded sympathetically while the rain wept on to him in Old Palace Yard. `I mean, minors. I mean, there’d be little in it for us if you restricted the act to consenting males over, say, eighteen. Boys are so pliable, so exquisitely sodomizable. You do see that, don’t you, old man?’ The Home Secretary nodded as if to say: Of course, old public-school man myself, old boy. I saw a lot of known faces, Pearson, Tyrwit, Lewis, Charlton, James, all most reasonable, claiming the legal right to maul and suck and bugger. I put myself in the gathering and said, also most reasonable, that it was nothing to do with the law: you were still left with the ethics and theology of the thing. What we had a right to desire was love, and nothing hindered that right. Oh nonsense, he’s such a bore. As for theology, isn’t there that apocryphal book of the Bible in which heterosexuality is represented as the primal curse?

When we arrived at New York I went, straight after clearing customs, to the Algonquin Hotel. I would not claim as of right a room in my own flat, since Hortense must now regard it as hers. After a couple of whisky sours in the Blue Bar I walked up Fifth Avenue. The September heat was intense and the air was all woollen shirts aboil. The town was full of jumbo steaks and ice cream, the shops pleaded that we buy useless gadgets. This was not Europe. This was very far from being Europe. Victory in Europe and Asia confirmed the excellence of the American way of life. Strong appetite and inviolable health. The afternoon sun was higher here than in any town of Europe, forced upwards by the skyscrapers. The place was rife with life.

Goebbels…now made an applauded entrance. He was no man to improvise a word or two of greeting; he had typewritten sheets…. He spoke of the cinema as the popular voice of the state…those products, themselves a means of cleansing the world film market through their purity and excellence of the regrettable decadent ordures excreted by international Jewry….

I had felt sick before and had been saved by Sekt. Now I was beginning to feel sick of the Sekt. I would, I knew, shortly have to vomit…. I started gently to move towards one of the open windows. The aims of the artistic policy enunciated by the National Chamber of Film might, said Goebbels, be expressed under seven headings. Oh Christ. First, the articulation of the sense of racial pride, which might, without reprehensible arrogance, be construed as a just sense of racial superiority. Just, I thought, moving towards the breath of the autumn dark, like the Jews, just like the. This signified, Goebbels went on, not narrow German chauvinism but a pride in being of the great original Aryan race, once master of the heartland and to be so again. The Aryan destiny was enshrined in the immemorial Aryan myths, preserved without doubt in their purest form in the ancient tongue of the heartland. Second. But at this point I had made the open window. With relief the Sekt that seethed within me bore itself mouthward on waves of reverse peristalsis. Below me a great flag with a swastika on flapped gently in the night breeze of autumn. It did not now lift my heart; it was not my heart that was lifting. I gave it, with gargoyling mouth, a litre or so of undigested Sekt. And then some strings of spittle. It was not, perhaps, as good as pissing on the flag, but, in retrospect, it takes on a mild quality of emblematic defiance…

Grimaldi and a sixteen-year-old girl still at Hollywood High. He was a good journalist but he was going to die soon. At fifty he was on a bottle and a half of Californian brandy a day and four packs of Lucky Strike. His clothes smelt as though they were seeped in tobacco juice. His white forlock was stained with it…

 Earthly Powers (1980)

 Man of Nazareth

“And now,” Herod calmly said, “You can kill all the new-born….Kill them all….take your men and let your men take their swords. Make sure they’re sharp. To Bethlehem. Hack. Lunge. Chop. Kill.”

“Easier, lad, with those soft small bodies….Nothing to it. They’re just soft squashy things.”

 Man of Nazareth (1979)

 The Kingdom of the Wicked

I take my title from the name the Jews have traditionally given the Roman Empire. You may expect to meet all manner of wickedness in what follows – pork-eating, lechery, adultery, bigamy, sodomy, bestiality, the most ingenious varieties of cruelty, assassination, the worship of false gods and the sin of being uncircumcised.

‘You served here how long, Cornelius?’ ‘Long enough to learn about what they believe. Not long enough to learn to speak their language well enough to get their confidence. Not long enough to learn how to read their books. Now I’ve three years before retirement and a measure of spare time for getting down to it.’ ‘This, you know,’ Marcellus said, ‘is all wrong. You’re not here to get their confidence or read their books. They’re a colonized people. We’re here to give orders. ‘They’d rather die than obey some of the Roman orders. Besides, it’s laid down that their religion is inviolate…’

God, say some philosophers, manifests himself in the sublunary world in particular beauties, truths and acts of benevolence; properly, the values should be conjoined to shadow their identity in the godhead, but this happens so infrequently that one must suppose divinity condones a kind of diabolic fracture or else, and perhaps my book is already giving some hint of this, he demonstrates his ineffable freedom through contriving at times a wanton inconsistency. If this is so, we need not wonder at Messalina’s failure to match her beauty with a love of truth and goodness. She was a chronic liar and she was thoroughly bad. But her beauty, we are told, was a miracle. The symmetry of her body obeyed all the golden rules of the mystical architects, her skin was without even the most minuscule flaw and it glowed as though gold had been inlaid behind translucent ivory, her breasts were full and yet pertly disdained earth’s pull, the nipples nearly always erect, and visibly so beneath her byssinos, as in a state of perpetual sexual excitation, the areolas delicately pigmented to a kind of russet. The sight of her weaving bare white arms was enough, it is said, to make a man grit his teeth with desire to be encircled by them; the smooth plain of her back, tapering to slenderness only to expand lusciously to the opulence of her perfect buttocks, demanded unending caresses.

‘….There was a good deal of drunkenness – … There was lechery, nakedness. It was a warm afternoon,’ he added, as if to excuse the nakedness….. ‘I saw the ceremony between the Empress and Gaius Silius and I assumed it was all a game. There was a great deal of laughter and little solemnity. Then the marriage or mock marriage was …. consummated at once and in public. And, in sympathy as it were, the other guests – A great mass of naked bodies. Men and women. Fornication for them. There were boys there too, Ganymedes. …. ‘And when does Gaius Silius think he can strike the blow that will secure him the imperial c -’ I do not think,’ Narcissus said, ‘that Gaius Silius has such an ambition. He is a weak man besotted by the erotic, no more.’

…whereas the vices of Messalina were in themselves venial, being mostly a passion for sensual gratification which subordinated all things to its encompassing, Agrippina lived solely for power, frightening enough in a man but terrifying in a woman….she would sleep with anyone, though not for physical pleasure, only for political advantage. She was cursed or blessed with a certain sexual coldness, knowing as much as a temple prostitute about the arousing of male passion and the procurement of its ecstatic release but keeping herself aloof, despite an occasional simulation of desire and the odd false orgiastic shudder and scream of fulfilment, from a process she found distressingly bestial when it was not frankly comic.

 The Kingdom of the Wicked (1985)


Sit like a fool then, crassly emptying/Glass after wineglass in some foul tavern,/Watching the night and its candles gutter,/Snoring at sunrise.

In England now the wind blows high/And clouds brush rudely at the sky;/The blood runs thinly through my frame,/I half-caress the hearthstone’s flame,/Oppressed by autumn’s desolate cry./Then homesick for the south am I,/For where the lucky swallows fly,/But each warm land is just a name/In England now./The luckless workers I espy/With chins dipped low and collars high,/Walk into winter, do not blame/The shifting globe. A gust of shame/Represses my unmanly sigh/In England now.

English Literature: A Survey for Students (1958)

Oh, love, love, love -/Love on a hilltop high,/Love against a cloudless sky,/Love where the scene is/Painted by a million stars,/Love with martinis/In the cabarets and bars./Oh, love, love, love…

 Beds in the East (1959)

Find a cosy table/Inside a restaurant,/Somewhere formidable/Where you’ll betrès contents./Let your lady fair know/That she is all you see,/Prime her with a Pernod/Or three./Watch her crack a lobster/And strip it to the buff,/Rough as when a mobster/Gets tough./Keep the wine cascading/And you’ll ensure/Une petite spécialité called l’amour….

 Earthly Powers (1980)

A heavy task, but there was light relief/In the Germanic ambience, boisterous, brash,/Torchlit parades and pogroms, guttural grief/In emigration queues, the smash and crash/Of pawnshop windows by insentient beef/In uniform, the gush of beer, the splash/Of schnapps, the joy of being drunk and Aryan,/Though Hitler was a teetotalitarian./Human pain meant/But little in the Gulf War’s visual grammar, a/Big feast of death to feed the cinecamera

 Byrne (1995)


English Literature: A Survey for Students

 …..The subjects we study at school can be divided roughly into two groups—the sciences and the arts. The sciences include mathematics, geography, chemistry, physics, and so on. Among the arts are drawing, painting, modelling, needlework, drama, music, literature. The purpose of education is to fit us for life in a civilised community, and it seems to follow from the subjects we study that the two most important things in civilised life are Art and Science.

Is this really true? If we take an average day in the life of the average man we seem to see very little evidence of concern with the sciences and the arts. The average man gets up, goes to work, eats his meals, reads the newspapers, watches television, goes to the cinema, goes to bed, sleeps, wakes up, starts all over again. Unless we happen to be professional scientists, laboratory experiments and formulae have ceased to have any meaning for most of us; unless we happen to be poets or painters or musicians—or teachers of literature, painting, and music—the arts seem to us to be only the concern of schoolchildren. And yet people have said, and people still say, that the great glories of our civilisation are the scientists and artists. Ancient Greece is remembered because of mathematicians like Euclid and Pythagoras, because of poets like Homer and dramatists like Sophocles. In two thousand years all our generals and politicians may be forgotten, but Einstein and Madame Curie and Bernard Shaw and Stravinsky will keep the memory of our age alive.

Why then are the arts and sciences important? I suppose with the sciences we could say that the answer is obvious: we have radium, penicillin, television and recorded sound, motor-cars and aircraft, air-conditioning and central heating. But these achievements have never been the primary intention of science; they are a sort of by-product, the things that emerge only when the scientist has performed his main task. That task is simply stated: to be curious, to keep on asking the question ‘Why?’ and not to be satisfied till an answer has been found. The scientist is curious about the universe: he wants to know why water boils at one temperature and freezes at another; why cheese is different from chalk; why one person behaves differently from another. Not only ‘Why?’ but ‘What?’ What is salt made of? What are the stars? What is the constitution of all matter? The answers to these questions do not necessarily malke our lives any easier. The answer to one question—’Can the atom be split?’ – has made our lives somewhat harder. But the questions have to be asked. It is man’s job to be curious; it is man’s job to try to find out the truth about the world about us, to answer the big question ‘What is the world really like?’

‘The truth about the world about us.’ ‘Truth’ is a word used in many different ways – ‘You’re not telling the truth.’ ‘The truth about conditions in Russia.’ ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty.’ I want to use it here in the sense of what lies behind and outward show. I.et me hasten to explain by giving an example. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. That is what we see; that is the ‘outward show’. In the past the outward show was regarded as the truth. But then a scientist came along to question it and then to announce that the truth was quite different from the appearance: the truth was that the earth revolved and the sun remained still -the outward show was telling a lie. The curious thing about scientific truths like this is that they often seem so useless. It makes no difference to the average man whether the sun moves or the earth moves. He still has to rise at dawn and stop work at dusk. But because a thing is useless it does not mean that it is valueless. Scientists still think it worthwhile to pursue truth. They do not expect that laws of gravitation and relativity are going to make much difference to everyday life, but they think it is a valuable activity to ask their eternal questions about the universe. And so we say that truth – the thing they are looking for—is a value.

…1660 virtually starts a new era – an era in which the old land-owning class sinks and the new middle-class rises, an era too in which the English character seems to have become subtly changed. A sense of guilt seems to permeate all pleasure, and this has continued to the present day….the many living monuments to Puritan rule….the Englishman’s peculiar restraint – the coldness that repels so many Africans and Asians, an unwillingness to ‘let oneself go’.

…in the Restoration period, feeling and imagination were mistrusted: feeling implied strong convictions, and strong convictions had produced a Civil War and the harsh rule of the Commonwealth; imagination suggested the mad, the wild, the uncouth, the fanatical. It was best to live a calm civilised life governed by reason. Such a life is best lived in the town, and the town is the true centre of culture; the country estates are impoverished, and little of interest is going on there; the country itself is barbaric.

The story of English literature, viewed aesthetically, is one thing; the story of English writers is quite another. The price of contributing to the greatest literature the world has ever seen is often struggle and penury: art is still too often its own reward. It is salutary sometimes to think of the early deaths of Keats, Shelley, Byron, Chatterton, Dylan Thomas, of the Grub Street struggles of Dr. Johnson, the despair of Gissing and Francis Thompson. That so many writers have been prepared to accept a kind of martyrdom is the best tribute that flesh can pay to the living spirit of man as expressed in his literature. One cannot doubt that the martyrdom will continue to be gladly embraced. To some of us, the wresting of beauty out of language is the only thing in the world that matters.

English Literature: A Survey for Students (1958)


Every grain of experience is food for the greedy growing soul of the artist.

If you reject family – which a mother holds together – as well as the ties of Church and State, is there anything left for you?

If the world is to be improved it must be by the exercise of individual charity.

Men are influenced by big loud empty words, styes which swell the eyelids and impede vision of the truth.

The church stands that it may be battered, but the fists that batter know their own impotence.

Here Comes Everybody: An Introduction to James Joyce For The Ordinary Reader, also published as Re Joyce (1965)

The Novel Now

We can no longer expect the one big book, the single achievement, to be an author’s claim to posterity’s regard. We shall be more inclined to assess the stature of a novelist by his ability to create what the French call an oeuvre, to present fragments of an individual vision in book after book, to build, if not aWar and Peace or Ulysses, at least a shelf.

The Novel Now: A Student’s Guide to Contemporary Fiction (1967)

Novel, The

[Graham Greene’s] ability to encapsulate the essence of an exotic setting in a single book is exemplified in The Heart of the Matter (1948); his contemporary Evelyn Waugh stated that the West Africa of that book replaced the true remembered West Africa of his own experience.

‘Novel, the’, Encyclopedia Britannica essay (1970)


I myself was, for nearly six years, in such close touch with the Malay language that it affected my English and still affects my thinking. When I wrote a novel called A Clockwork Orange, no European reader saw that the Malay word for “man” – orang – was contained in the title (Malay students of English invariably write “orang squash”…

“Joysprick: An Introduction To The Language Of James Joyce” (1973)


[Stendhal] was small, ugly and obsessed by physical beauty in others, and he spent most of his time in salons and opera houses, pursuing aristocratic hostesses and singers. After the fall of Napoleon, he retired to Italy, adopted his pseudonym and began to write. He was a sexual freebooter who “found a notion of obtaining happiness from a virtuous woman wholly inconceivable”. At 59, unmarried, syphilitic and obscure, he dropped dead in a Paris street.

The British arrived with no intention of conquest: the East India Company had set up trading posts on the western seaboard, and its officers were called on by the native sultans to help with the putting down of rapacious river barons. The parallel with India is exact, and Stamford Raffles is a perfect analogue of Robert Clive. First came trade, then the amateur protective army, finally the flag….

Maugham was a mere visitor and did not have to take any language examinations; a civil servant like myself was forced to reach degree level in Malay….

All that the Malays can do is run the police force and the army…. They are not fitted even to the lowlier mechanical skills, such as car maintenance. They are essentially a people who have been pulled out of the kampongs into the towns, and the town in Malaysia seems essentially a Chinese creation….

There is a profound middle-class nostalgia for the days of British protection….

Penang is a paradise, and east coast Kelantan has beautiful Malay women who walk proudly ahead of their husbands and scorn Koranic purdah….

With such exquisite women there is little need for aphrodisiacs….

Chickaks or geckos chirp on the walls….

Somerset Maugham refers more than once to the pleasure of the Malayan morning – papaya and eggs and bacon and strong British tea taken while the air is cool and the sun awaits its sudden thrust into the green land….

(Singapore) is not even a place where a white man is permitted to go to pieces….

‘Tanah Melayu’, reprinted in Homage to QWERT YUIOP

The Residents knew what they wanted of their Malayan Civil Service cadets as early as 1883: “What we require our here are young public school men – Cheltenham, for preference – who have failed conspicuously at all bookwork and examinations in proportion as they have excelled at sports.” As Resident of Perak, Swettenham “kept an eye out for men who would do credit to both the civil service and the state cricket team, which one sporting official judged as the equal of a good English county team.” Oliver Marks, who performed brilliantly for a visiting Ceylon eleven, was at once urged to come and work for the Perak government….

Some young men could not afford to marry or were statutorily forbidden to do so, and then their visits to Japanese brothels engendered guilt as well as VD. The official attitude to taking brown mistresses was always ambivalent. It let the side down, but a sleeping dictionary was the only way to learn the language. Mr Butcher is good on all this, and he gives such tables as one headed ‘Ethnicity of Women from whom European Men Treated at the Sultan Street Clinic Contracted Venereal Disease, 1927-1931.’ The girls of Siam were the great infectresses, but the Malays came a close second. The Japanese, who had regular medical inspections and lived in brothels cleaner than hotels, were down with the Eurasians to 0.4% in 1931. This damnable sex, by no means to be tamed by quinine or cricket. Guilt guilt guilt….

A white woman tipsy at the club, discoursing sexual needs unsatisfied by an overworked and debilitated husband, was a great topic of scandal in the bazaar. It was a man’s world, and a realistic planter or government officer should have been content with beery sodality and the odd session with a geisha or perempuan jahat. But these men had been to decent schools and were romantic. It was the same in Burma, as Orwell reminds us. The French suffered less.

Whether the French were better colonists than the British is an academic question, but at least such Frenchmen as were planting in Malaya (Pierre Boulle, for instance, and Henri Fauconnier) were kept sane by their own culture and some of them (those two, anyway) produced memorable novels based on their Malayan experiences. The British were mostly philistines, and they left behind a heritage of philistinism. Kampung culture is dying, and a metropolitan culture of art galleries and orchestras seems unlikely to arise. What there is, and flourishing too, is a materialist consumerism that is threatened from the north by the communists and from the west by the militant Islam of the ayatollahs. Mr Butcher’s book deals with a race of people who may well be surveyed in terms of anthropological generalities. There was no room for the brilliant or the eccentric. British Malaya was created by courageous and suffering mediocrities. The building of Singapore in 1819 was a rather different affair.

‘White Men Sweating’ – review of The British in Malaya 1880-1941: The Social History of a European Community in Colonial South-East Asia, by John G. Butcher, reprinted in Homage to QWERT YUIOP

…the jeaned and rucksacked young I see on Continental trains or thumbing rides on motorways are not in search of the exotic. They are seeking confirmation that their own kind exists everywhere and denies the racial and cultural variety that used to be one of the joys of the world. If they want the exotic at all it is in the form of what they know well in their own lands through regular, though usually illegal, importation….

If one does not wish to be dissatisfied with one’s lot at home, one ought to go where the flies and the stinks are, which means the Middle East. This is also a good way of reconciling oneself to one’s laws and police force and the probity of one’s magistrates. The really great British travellers, like Charles M. Doughty for instance, to say nothing of ‘Eothen’ Kinglake, always went East, but not too far East. When you get to Southeast Asia you find no dirt or flies but the suspicion that you are in a tropical paradise, and then you go to pieces. It is essential, when travelling, to feel that you belong to a superior civilization, and the lands of the Arabs lavishly grant opportunities to nourish this conviction….

What we used to think of as exotic can now only be found in countries that cannot afford Americanization. Meaning no home comforts, peppers, unleavened bread. It is a kind thing to take one’s bit of tourist money there, to the deserving, and not put it in the hands of the disdainful Nicois or Cannois. If you can get into a country which is politically oppressed, that too is a good thing for the natives, for you are bringing a breath of freedom. Increasingly, perhaps, one ought to be travelling for the benefit of those who cannot afford or are not permitted to travel. We all belong to one another now, and no foreign country ought to be merely a sideshow….

‘Thoughts on Travel’, reprinted in Homage to QWERT YUIOP

…the snarling, whining, pampered, analphabetic humanoids of Hollywood emerge as garbage irrelevantly gilded with adventitious photogeneity.

‘Schmuck’, reprinted in Homage to QWERT YUIOP

Southwark, where the whores or Winchester geese displayed their breasts at the windows of the trugging houses. They were called Winchester geese because the Bishop of Winchester controlled the property there and had done so since about 110. Traditional Christianity has never seen much wrong in episcopal brothel-keeping. St Augustine said: ‘Suppress prostitution and capricious lusts will overthrow society.’ St Thomas Aquinas went further: ‘Prostitution in the towns is like the cesspool in the palace; take away the cesspool and the palace will become an unclean and evil smelling-place.’

‘What Shakespeare Smelt’, reprinted in Homage to QWERT YUIOP

Tertiary syphilis, as my readers will not need reminding perhaps, comes, when it comes at all, about ten years after the initial infection. About two thirds of syphilitics miss it, especially if they are women or coloured. It is believed, though without solid evidence, that it attacks the sedentary more than the active. This means that writers and composers, granted that primary lesion, are prone to it.

Paresis, as it is generally called in preference to the old GPI or general paralysis of the insane, is characterized by symptoms of bewildering variety, confirming the description of syphilis as the Great Imitator or, because of this very wealth of its ultimate manifestations, the Aristocrat of Diseases. Paresis involves a meningoencephalitis which marks its onset by personality changes, mild at first but growing steadily worse. There is irritability, failure of memory and judgement, insomnia, slovenliness, aggression, confusion, delusion, manic depression, epileptiform convulsion, slurred speech, incontinence, emaciation, sensational psychosis, finally death. The act of careless bohemian love, anonymous, quick and uncondomized, is proved not to have been worth the trouble or money…..

Dr Williams’s book is about a number of nineteenth-century French writers who caught syphilis and probably died of paresis. They are Baudelaire, Jules de Goncourt, Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant and Daudet. A similar book could probably be written about nineteenth-century British writers, including such unlikely victims of syphilis as John Keats and Edward Lear. People were not so frightened of the disease as we are. Few physicians saw the connection between cerebral degeneration and the primary chancre: when the secondary stage of the infection had healed, it was generally assumed that everything was over and lightning would not strike the tree again. This was Baudelaire’s belief. One could even rejoice at picking up the pox: it was not merely an inoculation; it advertised one’s virility to the world….

Williams’s starting point is the immense pessimism of nineteenth-century men of letters….One can explain this pessimism to some extent in terms of various social and political failures, especially in France….But Dr Williams would rather look at the physically examinable, and he finds in the author’s disease the roots of what his book cover calls, with an admirable eye on the market, the horror of life….

The most sensational of all the sick literary lives was that of Maupassant, who died mad at forty-three and whose hatred of God, man and nature – manifested in literary productions which give us immense pleasure: how is that to be explained? – spring from a kind of mother fixation as well as a terror of the cold. He was a bull of a man much given to boats and riparian dalliance, but he had bad circulation. He had other things too, including a Chinese-style priapism which enabled him to copulate, usually in public, six times in a row, the secret being his failure to detumesce. This, of course, like acne and the common cold, can be a symptom of tertiary syphilis, which Maupassant certainly had.

….Daudet differs from the hate-filled Baudelaire and Maupassant in being gentle to fellow-sufferers from the disease of life. Syphilis in him did not engender misanthropy.

‘A Pox on Literature’ – review of The Horror of Life by Roger L. Williams, reprinted in Homage to QWERT YUIOP

Writers are not, by nature, respectable: their function is to be subversive.

The great gift of the southern lands to our civilisation is the simple right to sit at an outside cafe table and look at things.

To be left alone is the most precious thing one can ask of the modern world.

‘The Ball is Free to Roll’, reprinted in Homage to QWERT YUIOP

Homage to QWERT YUIOP (1986)

Flame into Being

In Lady Chatterley’s Lover we meet the ancient honest word fuck. Lawrence believed that it could be cleansed of its centuries of accumulated filth and stalk nakedly through his pages like Connie and Mellors themselves, standing for an act of love which had been too long swaddled in euphemisms. There are many people who cherish the fallacy of a golden age of Anglo-Saxon candour in which lovers invited each other to fuck or be fucked….This was never so. The word has always been taboo. You will find no Anglo-Saxon document which contains it. True, it is old, cognate with the German ficken, but it stands for a brutal act unsuitable for the marriage bed. It connotes impersonality and aggression. When Dr Johnson said that drinking and fucking were the only things worth doing…he was referring to getting drunk and going to brothels. A man can fuck a whore but, unless his wife is a whore, he cannot fuck his wife….fuck is a…dysphemism….there is no love in it. Lawrence made an aesthetic rather than a moral gaffe….

We know what goes on in the act of love, and those of us who are writers despair of ever finding verbal equivalents for the pain and pleasure of excitation fulfilled in what Rabelais’s translator Urquhart called ‘venerean ecstasy’. A mechanical description of the act tells us nothing, any more than a scientifically accurate account of mastication will convey the flavour of roast duck.

Flame into Being: The Life and Work of DH Lawrence (1985)

Little Wilson and Big God

Wedged as we are between two eternities of idleness, there is no excuse for being idle now.

There was no answer to the world’s problems in communism, and no personal salvation in Anglicanism. The solutions probably lay with renegade Catholic liberal humanism.

As we entered a zone of heat more furious than anything I had known in Gibraltar, I felt I was approaching a world I could live in. I sweated and was happy to sweat. Where there ain’t no ten commandments and a man can raise a thirst. That summed it up. My repressive Catholic heritage was a very small and eccentric item in the inventory of the world’s religions. I would sweat and drink gin pahits and taste the varied sexual resources of the East.

Colonial functionaries had to learn the major language of their territory at a formidable level. A kitchen jargon, good enough for wives, with bad grammar and a master-race pronunciation, was usually preferred by the natives, who did not believe it was possible for a foreigner with a white skin to learn their tongue. Colonial civil servants had to disconcert these natives with a linguistic mastery, including a control of many registers, equal to, or greater than, their own.

The demands of Islamic wives for frequent sexual congress did not indicate true sensual appetite: they were a test of the fidelity of their husbands. A Malay female body, musky, shapely, golden-brown, was always a delight….They were seductive as few women are…. My experience with Chinese girls was mostly, alas, commercial. Prostitutes, or dance-hall girls, knew all the postures, were thin, lithe, sinuous, but disappointingly uninvolved in the act….

The few Thailand women I met in northern Malaya called the sexual actkedunkading, with a resonant stress on the last syllable, enjoyed congress as a laughing game and experienced quick and happy orgasms with little help from the male. It was Indian women who, as one would expect from the serious Sanskrit amatory manuals, disclosed most knowledge of the techniques of inducing transport, for themselves and for their partners…

Not far from Kuala Kangsar, on the road to the tin-town of Ipoh, was the village called Sungai Siput (meaning Snail River), reputed to be the headquarters of the Chinese communist terrorists. These terrorists were certainly more active in the state of Perak than in, say, the maritime province of Kelantan, because of the great number of rubber estates there abutting on the jungle. They would come out of the jungle, steal supplies, terrorise the Chinese and Indian workers, and garotte or shoot the white planters. All this in the name of human freedom. Their arms were mostly left over from the time when they were fighting the Japanese. Perak was full of troops of the Malay Regiment, which had its quota of British conscripts, and questing planes and helicopters hummed over the jungle. The atmosphere was warlike. Car trips to Ipoh could be dangerous. The mems in their flowery dresses went to do their shopping in armoured vehicles. Planters laid their heavy service revolvers in the beer-slop of the Idris Club. This was named for a former sultan of Perak, Idris being the Koranic equivalent of Enoch. The sultan who reigned during the time of the Emergency was Yusof.

Yusof was also the name of the cook boy who came to work for us. He was homosexual but far from effeminate. He had been in and out of the hands of the police for various small thefts, and police medical examinations disclosed a zakar or hak or pesawat or jantan or kalam or ‘urat or butoh or ayok-ayutan and a pair of buah pelir or buah peler or kelepir or bodek or telor (there is no end to the number of Malay terms for the genitals) bigger than any in Kuala Kangsar. He could shift a piano single-handed. He dyed his hair with henna and muscularly minced. The advances he made to me were politely repelled, but he demanded a kind of earnest of an intimate relationship between us – a studio wedding photograph of the two of us, me in Palm Beach suit and songkok or Malay velvet cap, him in bridal dress adorned with frangipani. When I would not yield to this he exacted various acts of revenge – thefts of money and of underpants, finally the lacing of my gin with an aphrodisiac bought in the market. The aphrodisiac proved to be an emetic. He had picked up cooking in the kitchen of the Malay Regiment officers’ mess, and he served us nauseating dishes with cold sculpted potatoes, parodies of some dream of the haute cuisine anglaise. Lynne taught him simpler recipes – stew of kambing (goat or mutton : one could never be sure) and even lobscouse, which was eventually adopted in the town as a dish believed to be native Malay. He would ruin these with fistfuls of carraway seeds. Eventually we lived on his curries, which, being Malay, were mild but not bad. If he stole from me, he made up for this by stealing from the store cupboards of the preparatory school mess – tinned peaches and polished rice. When he set the table he would place with the salt cellar and the Worcester sauce a tin of furniture polish. He could not read.

When he was given money for marketing he would spend some of it on a small animal – an ailing mouse-deer or pelandok, a twittering yellow bird in a bamboo cage. He adored Lalage but Lalage mistrusted his big brown feet. Lalage became the nucleus of a whole domestic zoo. Yusof brought in, with the help of a friend, a huge turtle that slept in the bath at night but, during the day, clanked around the house, knocking its shell against the wall. We were also given a musang or polecat which stank to heaven and ate two katis of bananas every day. The polecat was named Farouche and the turtle Bucephalus. Two rhesus monkeys, male and female, were also imported, but these swung on the ceiling fans and were destructive. All over the walls cheeped chichaks or house lizards, hunting or copulating loudly. Black scorpions clung to the bedroom walls and greeted one on waking with twitching tails an inch or so over one’s head.

Our amah or cleaning and laundering girl was named Mas, which means gold. She was very small, less than five feet, and of mixed origin – Sumatran, Siamese, a touch of China. She spoke a little English – “Yusof a bit cracked, tuan,” she would say, rightly – but was fluent in all the tongues of the peninsula. Her father called himself Mr. Raja and was reputed to have committed incest with her – sumbang, a terrible crime – but was immune from any criminal charge because the Sultan owed him money. He looked wholly Tamil. Mas had been married at the age of twelve. This was unusually young, but the occupying Japanese had had the delicacy not to send married women to their brothels. Mas’s one son, born when she was thirteen, was a burly policeman who looked ten years older than his mother.

I gained the impression from Mas, and from other Malays, real or pseudo, that the Japanese occupation had been easy on the sons of the soil but very tough on the Chinese. This, naturally, pleased the sons of the soil, who had been allowed to turn to Mecca in the west at sunrise on condition that they turned to the east first and who, apart from the brothelisation of the unmarried girls, had been treated with reasonable courtesy. Yusof Tajuddin, one of my colleagues at the Malay College, had learned Japanese so well that he won an elocution contest open to native Nipponese as well as to the occupied. The learning of Japanese did nobody anything but good, since the Japanese were going to take over the East, if not the world, commercially when their more aggressive imperialism failed. Yusof Tajuddin had rather liked the Japanese, a clean and logical people. The Japanese had been impressed with the colonial system they took over. To the Malays the return of the British had not meant liberation from an oppressive regime but the mere replacement of a set of yellow foreigners by white ones. It was the Chinese, aggressive in business, murderous in the jungle, who were the real enemy.

Yusof Tajuddin may have liked the Japanese, and Mas have tolerated them, but both shuddered at memories of what King’s Pavilion had been during the occupation. “This not good place, mem,” Mas used to say. Yusof Tajuddin, in his impeccable RP English, was more explicit. King’s Pavilion had been used as a centre of torture and interrogation. Dried blood, irremovable with any amount of Vim, stained the floor of the main bathroom, through whose open channels much blood had flowed. Yusof Tajuddin explained the peculiar chill of the bathroom, otherwise inexplicable in a house with few fans on which the sun beat, in psychic terms : the frozen hands of death clutched it still and would clutch it for ever. A Scottish engineer of intense scepticism entered the bathroom on our invitation and came out shuddering. In the raintrees and banyans at sunset, Yusof the cook alleged, the voices of the tortured and executed could be heard complaining. Lynne and I could not hear these voices, but we knew Yusof to be superstitious in the manner of his race. He found hantu-hantu (or hantu 2) everywhere. I do not know the etymology of the word, which means ghost, but have often wondered whether there is some ancient connection, through Sanskrit, with haunt. For Yusof everything was haunted. His middle finger, or jari hantu, was haunted and must be careful about what it touched. He had seen a hantu bangkit, a sheeted ghost risen from the grave that, prevented from walking by its winding sheet, had rolled towards Yusof with evil intent. He had seen the hantu belian or tiger ghost. There was a kitchen ghost, disguised as a mat, that sometimes reared itself at him and made him smash the crockery. There were gnomes in the soil, hantu tanah, and the owl, or burong hantu, was a literal ghost-bird that stared at him and made him scream in his sleep. He knew all the hantu-hantu or hantu 2. The voices in the banyans were nothing compared with the visible ghosts with trailing entrails or the spectral huntsman (hantu pemburu), but they were there. We had better believe it.

There were good ghostly reasons for not wishing to stay in King’s Pavilion, but the real causes for our dissatisfaction with the place were more mundane. It was beautiful enough, an ample structure of the Victorian age, and the view from its verandahs was sumptuous. It looked down on great trees and gardens tended by thin Tamils drunk on todi or palm wine ; beyond was the confluence of rivers ; beyond again the jungle and the mountains. But the gorgeousness of the vista was inadequate payment for the responsibility imposed on us. We inhabited what was in effect a huge flat cut off, but not cut off enough, from the classrooms and dormitories of the preparatory school. At the beginning of the school year weeping Malay boys would arrive with their mothers and fathers, who would stay a night with them and try to stay more, and prepare to be turned into sophisticated collegians. They knew no English, and this had to be taught to them in a two-year course by a Mr. Mahalingam and a Mrs. Vivekananda. They were taught weird vowels and doubtful accentuations. Mrs. Vivekananda made them sing “Old Blick Jooooh” and Mr. Mahalingam did not correct them when they turned bullock cart into bulokar. When lessons were over they made much noise and pissed from their balcony into the inner court, visible while Lynne and I ate lunch. If I railed at them they ran away. If I entered their screaming dormitory they would drag out their prayer mats and howl towards Mecca, knowing that their religious devotions rendered them untouchable by the infidel. They called me Puteh, or white, and also Mat Salleh, or Holy Joe. The other teachers of the Malay College could go to quiet houses on Bukit Chandan, meaning Sandalwood Hill, when their work was over. Lynne and I had to cope with noise and responsibility.

It was literally a responsibility for life and death. The garden was full of snakes, of which Malaya has a large variety, and a king cobra with a growing family was much around King’s Pavilion during my tenure. Scorpions would get into the boys’ shoes or beds and sting them bitterly. Hygiene was a problem, for the water supply was erratic and sometimes totally failed. Because of some fault in the meter, the Water Department recorded an excessive use of water in a dry time when, in fact, there was no water at all. My complaints and counter-complaints were rebuffed. I groaned in my stomach. I had the reputation of being bloody-minded : it was the army all over again. Moreover, a linguistic burden was being imposed upon me which I could not, in my first few months, easily sustain. I had to harangue these young boys in good idiomatic Malay and, though I was learning the language fast, I was not able to learn it fast enough.

There was always an amateurishness in colonial administration, and even in technical specialisation, which was deemed desirable by the British, who have never trusted professionalism. Sir Frank Swettenham, one of the founder Malayan administrators, laid down succinctly the qualities desirable in a new recruit to the service – good at games, not so good at studies, unmarried and amoral enough to employ a sleeping dictionary, not too matey otherwise with the natives, clubbable. He might have added something about artistic taste, or lack of it, but that, like a fear of intellectualism, is probably implied in the first two items. If I had hoped to find intellectual companionship among my white colleagues it was because I expected a transferral of the grammar school atmosphere to a college celebrating fifty years of academic glory. But there was little glory, except on the rugger and hockey fields. Jimmy Howell announced with satisfaction at a staff meeting the installation of a hundred stout locks for the library bookcases. “One for each book,” I unwisely said. The extra-curricular lives of the teachers reflected the lack of academic ambition in the school itself. They had their long-playing record-players and their shelves of book club novels, golf clubs in the hallway and stengahs on the tray. They took trips to Ipoh to shop at Whiteways and take a bit of decent makan in the Ipoh Club (ikan tinggeri belle meuniere). They had their decent little cars.

Lynne and I had never learned to drive, an aspect of our long poverty, and I was not sure that I wanted a car. Few of my non-expatriate colleagues had them, and to whizz around the little royal town in a Ford or Austin was to emphasise the gulf between the privileged whites and the poor blacks, browns and yellows. Not that the coloured were necessarily without cars : there were rich Chinese and a Sultan with a whole polished fleet of Buicks and Daimlers. But the Malays trudged on big brown bare feet or took trishaws. I walked and soaked my shirt in the damnable humidity : this, and my growing mastery of the Malay language, placed me too close to the natives for the comfort of my colleagues. I also carried on a quiet love affair with one of the natives, a girl named Rahimah who worked as a waitress in a Chinese coffee shop. She was very small and very pretty and she was a divorcée. Muslim divorce was too easy, and there were far too many of these cast-off girls about. I was deeply sorry for Rahimah, who had a small wage, scant tips, and a small son named Mat to look after (Mat being the Malay short form of Mohamed). I gave her what money I could, and we made love in her tiny cell that smelt of curry and Himalayan Bouquet while Mat was at the junior Koran school.

I had better say a little now about love-making in the East. With Malays there were certain restrictions on the amatory forms, laid down by Islam, so that only the posture of Venus observed was officially permitted. Islamic women were supposed to be passive houris. The demands of Islamic wives for frequent sexual congress did not indicate true sensual appetite : they were a test of the fidelity of their husbands. A Malay female body, musky, shapely, golden-brown, was always a delight. Malay women rarely ran to fat, which was reserved to the wives of the Chinese towkays and was an index of prosperity. Malay women kept their figures after childbirth through a kind of ritual roasting over an open fire, tightly wrapped in greased winding-sheets. They walked proudly in sarongs and bajus (little shaped coats), their glossy hair permanently waved, their heels high. They were seductive as few white women are. Lying with Rahimah I regretted my own whiteness : a white skin was an eccentricity and looked like a disease. Simple though Malay sex was, it had an abundant vocabulary. To copulate was jamah or berjima or juma’at or bersatu (literally to become one), or sa-tuboh, asmara, betanchok (this term was peculiar to Perak), ayut, ayok and much much more. There was even a special term for sexual congress after the forty-day birth taboo – pechah kepala barut – and there were two for the boy’s initiation after circumcision – menyepoh tua, with someone older, menyepoh muda, with someone younger. The orgasm was dignified with an Arabic loanword, shahuat, or colloquially called rumah sudah ratip – literally, “the structure has gone into an ecstatic trance”, ratip or ratib being properly the term for the transport produced by the constant repetition of the holy name Allah. Where the Western term for experiencing orgasm is, in whatever language, “to come”, the Malay mind, using keluar, thinks of going out, leaving the body, floating on air.

My experience with Chinese girls was mostly, alas, commercial. Prostitutes, or dance-hall girls, knew all the postures, were thin, live, lithe, sinuous, but disappointingly uninvolved in the act. Kuala Kangsar, like other Eastern towns, was full of Chinese women who went around in sexual sororities, aware, in their age-old wisdom, that only a woman can give a woman satisfaction, and that multiple congress is more ecstatic than dual. In one Malayan school I knew, the sole Chinese woman teacher seduced the white teaching wives, broke up all their marriages, and induced a male and a female suicide. Chinese men, so Chinese women seemed to believe, were not useful in bed. They deemed it sufficient to have a long-lasting erection, and there were Chinese medicines around, usually with a high lead content, which ruined the prostate but contrived a hard and unproductive rod. I knew a Chinese businessman of eighty in Kuala Kangsar who had married a wife of eighteen, a sign of prosperity unmatched by marital prowess until he filled his system with lead. He died smiling on an erection.

The few Thailand women I met in northern Malaya called the sexual act kedunkading, with a resonant stress on the last syllable, enjoyed congress as a laughing game and experienced quick and happy orgasms with little help from the male. It was the Indian women who, as one would expect from the serious Sanskrit amatory manuals, disclosed most knowledge of the techniques of inducing transport, for themselves and for their partners, of renewing desire more times than the frame seemed capable of supporting, of relating enjoyment to strenuous athletics, and leaving the male body a worn-out rag tenuously clinging to a spiritualised sensorium open-eyed in heaven. I had sexual encounters with Tamil women blacker than Africans, including a girl who could not have been older than twelve, but none with Bengalis or Punjabis. Whatever her race, the Eastern partner’s allure was always augmented by the ambience of spice from the spice-shops, the rankness of the drains, the intense heat of the day, the miracle of transitory coolness at sundown, with the coppersmith birds hammering away at tree-trunks and the fever-bird emitting its segment of a scale – sometimes three notes, sometimes four. Sex in the West is too cold, too unaromatic. It is only fair to say that Orientals, especially, for some reason, Sikhs, have found ecstasies in Bayswater unprocurable in the lands of spice.

I wrote a novel some years ago which presents a whole lifetime of homosexuality and, in American bookshops, found its way to the shelf specialising in “gay” literature. For all that, I have never had homosexual proclivities, and I do not well understand what causes the inversion, which goes against biology. There seemed, in my time in Malaya, very few British expatriates drawn to brown male bodies. Islam does not approve of sodomy, despite its prevalence in the desert and in the lands of the Moghrab, and my cook Yusof seemed to be a rare and notorious exception to the sexual current of Kuala Kangsar. He was sometimes called benignly a limau nipis, or thin-skinned lime, which is one of the few terms the Malays have for catamite, or a member of the kaum nabi Lot, the tribe of the prophet Lot, which is a libel on the one straight man of the Cities of the Plain, but his disposition was merely mused upon as an interesting deviation. In the dormitories of the Malay College there was little amatory thumping around. I was surrounded in the Federation by a vigorous fleshly normality. Only the Sikhs, feeling themselves to be an exclusive warlike brotherhood, grunted against each other with turbans awry and beards wagging. The land pullulated with brown and yellow children tumbling into the monsoon drains. There was no danger of its going dry through unwillingness to breed.

There was enough commercial sex around in the towns of Malaya, but there was a certain discretion of display. The secondary exploitation of it, in stage shows or blatant underwear advertisements, was mostly abhorrent to the Eastern mind, though there was a famous Chinese striptease performer named Rose Chan who drew crowds of towkays panting under their binoculars. It was the white woman who was expected to be shameless and provocative. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell were to be seen in Cinemascope, and there was a full-page advertisement for The Barefoot Contessa in the Straits Times presenting Ava Gardner as “the most beautiful animal in the world”. Some of my students pinned this page to the wall above their beds. The crinolined or embustled mems of the old days had been untouchable, but things were changing in the new age of democracy and equality. All Kuala Kangsar was on fire when a French film called Ah! Les Belles Bacchantes was shown. In it French women exhibited pert little bosoms and men of all races united in groans of lust. The Frenchwoman, or perempuan Paranchis, stood for lasciviousness, and the town of Kota Bharu on the East Coast was known, pathetically, as the Paris of the East because of the sexual licence that was believed to prevail there. There was a Frenchwoman in Kuala Kangsar, but she was a very austere doctor of medicine in a white coat. There was only one woman who, not behaving like the traditional English mem in the East and possessing the blonde beauty of a film star, was taken to be erotic in the French manner, and that was my wife.

Time for a Tiger was sometimes compared unfavourably with the Eastern stories of Somerset Maugham, who was considered, and still is, the true fictional expert on Malaya. The fact is that Maugham knew little of the country outside the very bourgeois lives of the planters and the administrators. He certainly knew none of the languages. Nor did Joseph Conrad. When I stated, as a matter of plain fact, that I knew more Malay than Conrad, I was accused of conceit….

Greene made it clear to me that he had achieved much and had reached a plateau where he could afford to take leisurely breath. He had not written the definitive Malayan novel which should match the definitive Vietnamese one entitled The Quiet American, and he did not think that I would write it either….

I was teaching one morning when the end of my colonial career was signalled. The class was Form Four, the subject the Boston Tea Party; the fans were not working and it was rumoured that a female cobra was looking for her young in the corridor outside. At the end of the lesson I felt I had also come to the end of my tether. A great deal of tension had been building up — a dissatisfied wife, a libel action, Australians who called me a pommy bastard, a disordered liver, dyspepsia and dyspnoea which morning droplets of Axe oil did nothing to alleviate, a very large measure of simple frustration. I had done my best; I could do no more: let other agencies take over. I lay on the classroom floor and closed my eyes….There was prompt action. The principal, Bradshaw, appeared, and he summoned strong Malays. I was taken to the local hospital. I felt well enough now but maintained my passivity: passivity from now on would be the answer to everything.

Little Wilson and Big God, Being the First Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess (1986)

You’ve Had Your Time

I got on with the task of turning myself into a brief professional writer. The term professional is not meant to imply a high standard of commitment and attainment: it meant then, as it still does, the pursuit of a trade or calling to the end of paying the rent and buying liquor. I leave the myth of inspiration and agonised creative inaction to the amateurs. The practice of a profession entails discipline, which for me meant the production of two thousand words of fair copy every day, weekends included. I discovered that, if I started early enough, I could complete the day’s stint before the pubs opened. Or, if I could not, there was an elated period of the night after closing time, with neighbours banging on the walls to protest at the industrious clacking. Two thousand words a day means a yearly total of 730,000. Step up the rate and, without undue effort, you can reach a million. This ought to mean ten novels of 100,000 words each. This quantitative approach is not, naturally, to be approved. And because of hangovers, marital quarrels, creative deadness induced by the weather, shopping trips, summonses to meet state officials, and sheer torpid gloom, I was not able to achieve more than five and a half novels of very moderate size in that pseudo-terminal year. Still, it was very nearly E.M.Forster’s whole long life’s output.

After that first visit, East Berlin became for me one of the metaphysical cities. If ever I wavered in my acceptance of Western capitalism, I had only to return to that grimness unenlivened by the gaudy posters of commercialism to wish to scuttle back to nudes and Mammon…

The East Berliners were in their wretched element, having passed immediately from one totalitarian regime to another. The damnable hypocrisy of the half-town, pretending that the West was the true prison and the gunmen were protecting the freedom of the citizen, stood for a metaphysic based on lies, the biggest lie of all being the perversion of the term demokratisch. Under the roof of the Friedrichstrabe S-Bahn platform two boys with sub-machine-guns paced, their eyes on potential refugees from communist prosperity. It was a relief to get to the Zoo station and all the howling injunctions to consume.

The only guilt I have felt at leaving England is the guilt of not missing England more.

I do not boast about the quality of my work, but I may be permitted to pride myself on the gift of steady application. I will get things done somehow, as D.H.Lawrence did. I fade out of the life of my loved ones to work, even while in their presence, and to them I do not seem to have been working at all. I will even compose music in front of a television film that is blasting music of its own. I do not like my work to get in the way of other people’s lives. I do not call for silence or cups of tea. In the Bedmobile, jolting through Italy, I would type at the rear table, having made myself a pint of strong tea on the stove fed by nether gas tubes. The gift of concentration stays with me, and it is perhaps my only gift.

…one can’t throw away the Eucharist so easily.

The aura of the theocratic death penalty for adultery still clings to America, even outside New England, and multiple divorce, which looks to the European like serial polygamy, is the moral solution to the problem of the itch. Love comes into it too, of course, but in Europe we tend to see marital love as an eternity which encompasses hate and also indifference: when we promise to love we really mean that we promise to honour a contract. Americans, seeming to take marriage with not enough seriousness, are really taking love and sex with too much.

I cannot keep myself healthy – too many bad habits ingrained, cardiac bronchitis like the orchestra of death tuning up under water – but I submit to the promptings of an energy that might be diagnosed as health perverted, for true health enjoys itself and does not wish to act. The energy, which I call creative, is given to the thousand words a day I vowed to produce after the failure of the neurologists’ prognosis freed me from writing more.

Am I happy? Probably not. Having passed the prescribed biblical age limit, I have to think of death, and I do not like the thought. There is a vestigial fear of hell, and even of purgatory, and no amount of rereading rationalist authors can expunge it. If there is only darkness after death, then that darkness is the ultimate reality and that love of life that I intermittently possess is no preparation for it. In face of the approaching blackness, which Winston Churchill facetiously termed black velvet, concerning oneself with a world that is soon to fade out like a television image in a power cut seems mere frivolity. But rage against the dying of the light is only human, especially when there are still things to be done, and my rage sometimes sounds to myself like madness. It is not only a question of works never to be written; it is a matter of things unlearned. I have started to learn Japanese, but it is too late; I have started to read Hebrew, but my eyes will not take in the jots and tittles. How can one fade out in peace, carrying vast ignorance into a state of total ignorance?

The rage I wake to and take to bed is a turbulence not always related to an object. It seems like a pure emotion looking for an object. It cathartises itself into salty howling, then exhaustion, then it starts again.

Kingsley Amis and John Braine had been very much men of the left, but now they were swinging towards a reactionary stance that denied artistic progressivism as well as political. [Page 140]

I had never had strong political beliefs. If I was a kind of Jacobite Tory, like John Dryden and Samuel Johnson, this was because socialism was positivist and denied original sin. [Page 140]

I was in the right country for cheating. The Italians, after two thousand years of bad government (except for the odd interludes recorded by Gibbon), had no respect for la legge. [Page 222]

The young Jane Eyre, sternly asked what she, foul sinner, must do to avoid hell, answers that she must keep herself healthy to put it off as long as possible. [Page 389]

You’ve Had Your Time, Being the Second Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess (1990)

A Mouthful Of Air

An Egyptian priest….plays up the mystery of language to enhance his own power.

Languages never stand still. Modern spelling crystallises lost pronunciations: the visual never quite catches up with the aural.

The British…used to regard foreigners as either a comic turn or a sexual menace. To learn a European language…was, at best, to seek to acquire a sort of girls’-finishing-school ornament, at worst, to capitulate feebly to the enemy.

It is generally felt that the educated man or woman should be able to read Dante, Goethe, Baudelaire, Lorca in the original – with, anyway, the crutch of a translation.

‘Ass’ for ‘arse’ does not seem to represent a willingness, on British lines, to make the word arhotic; rather it is a puritanical substitution which forces a real ass to become a donkey or burro.

Any kind of discourse which has a flavour of the British ruling class, so powerful is ancestral memory, must be strenuously avoided.

…Australian English may be thought of as a kind of fossilised Cockney of the Dickensian era.

The consciousness in [Australia and New Zealand] of the elevation of a substandard dialect into a national tongue has been responsible for a mixture of attitudes to citizens of the mother country – inferiority, defiance, contempt. A blending of the first two may be responsible for the upward intonation pattern of answers, more appropriate to questions….slang is of its nature defiant. It is also demotic….But the ruling class of Australia is itself demotic.

…slang…the home-made language of the ruled, not the rulers, the acted upon, the used, the used up. It is demotic poetry emerging in flashes of ironic insight.

If Shakespeare required a word and had not met it in civilised discourse, he unhesitatingly made it up.

Pornography….the reader panting, eventually masturbating

Journalism may not dare too much. It can be gently humorous and ironic, very lightly touched by idiosyncrasy, but it must not repel readers by digging too deeply. This is especially true of its approach to language: the conventions are not questioned. The questioning of linguistic conventions is one of the main duties of what we call literature.

All art preserves mysteries which aesthetic philosophers tackle in vain.

A Mouthful of Air (1992)



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.


…a creation of Kubrick….a lesser English novelist until Kubrick came along with that film….the book was more or less forgotten until Kubrick made the film….Thanks to the film [Burgess was] transformed into a personality.

James B. Hemesath in Transantlantic Review, 1976

…Burgess’ chief themes…a Catholic sense of sin and a social sense of disaster, a fascination with the polymathic and polyglot artist and the strange and often gross and unbidden sources of art. Nor had Burgess taught languages or studied Joyce for nothing, though where Joyce sought the final consolation of form he sought those of prolixity; he was also a very effective literary critic, obsessed with language and punning….was happy to describe himself as a craftsman and not an aesthetician of writing; he is a Joycean without the formalism or indeed the restraint….inventive prolixity…gifts of linguistic and technical discovery; Burgess is a great postmodern storehouse of contemporary writing, opening the modern plurality of languages, discourses and codes for our use. [The Modern British Novel, 1993]

If his work sometimes resembled an unstoppable monologue, it was also intellectually, morally and artistically complex. It bounced with ideas, was laden with freight.

Malcolm Bradbury

…he had the good fortune not to be hit…by the Swedes.

Gore Vidal in the London newspaper the Observer, 1993

Polyglot, polymath and mythomane.

the Times of London, December 13, 1997

The whole of English Lit. at the moment is being written by Anthony Burgess. He reviews all new books except those by himself, and these latter include such jeux d’esprit as A Shorter Finnegans Wake and so on. Do you know him? He must be a kind of Batman of contemporary letters. I hope he doesn’t take to poetry.

Philip Larkin, letter to Anthony Thwaite, 1966

…something of an anomalous figure in the republic of letters. His…masters were Sterne, Joyce, and Waugh….

the New Republic magazine, 1993

So Anthony Burgess, contrary to popular mythology, was not after all a literary genius, a novelist of world-encompassing ambition, an essayist who assessed literary reputations with the final-word gravitas of a Recording Angel; nor was he a polymath and polyglot as we’d thought, a synthesiser of all mythologies, a walking compendium of modern thought, philosophy and theology, phrase and fable, a cigar-puffing, apoplectic Dr Johnson de nos jours, a monumental figure about whom it was said when he died in 1993, that (as Thackeray said about Swift) ‘thinking of him is like thinking of an empire falling’. Nope, we were all wide of the mark. Don’t you hate it when you get these things completely wrong?….Seen through [Lewis’s] eyes, Burgess was a mendacious, drunken, impotent, vain, emotionless, puffed-up, talentless clown who neglected his first wife as she spiralled fatally into alcoholism, who lived abroad to avoid paying tax, and nursed a sentimental chip on his shoulder about not being sufficiently respected by the British establishment….In the presence of a genuinely great man, something odd happens to you – you feel older and wiser, worldlier and cleverer, and pleased with yourself just for being in his company….He was the sort of man who made you feel like cheering just because he existed, and there’s nobody remotely like him around today. There are, unfortunately, more than enough Roger Lewises. [review of Roger Lewis’s Anthony Burgess in the London newspaper the Independent, 2002]

One thinks with a shudder of the abysmal cacophony that Burgess (Joyce’s biggest fan) made of [Ulysses] in his symphonic Blooms of Dublin.

John Walsh

The literary world seems much more sparsely-populated with Anthony Burgess gone. He had the energy and the wide-ranging interests of a dozen writers, and his love of life was of an intensity that few can produce nowadays in our post-print worlds. He seemed not only a prodigious intellect, but an affectionate spirit, whose mind, like Ariel’s, circled the globe in a few seconds.

John Updike

I suspect [Burgess’s] anxiety to convince himself…that an insatiable liking for words amounts to an ability to use them well and to distinct purpose. Only such literary anxiousness coupled with energy could explain writing on and on with a badness at once so surprisingly defiant and so exceedingly obvious.

Geoffrey Grigson

The prophetic element in A Clockwork Orange becomes more apparent with every month that passes.

Auberon Waugh

…virtuoso playfulness…exasperated his more solemn English critics….need for work was voracious….could never predict the direction in which [Burgess’s] discoveries and interconnections would go.

…elegist, superb communicator and great comic novelist…buoyant, playful, furious, a romancer of words for whom language itself becomes a dynamic character. I can’t remember a time when the compulsively over-productive Burgess was not thought of by the British literary and media establishment as more ambitious and curious than any English writer needed to be…crimes of ambition and curiosity…

Michael Ratcliffe

Bright ideas insufficient to conceal lack of knowledge.

A.J.P. Taylor, when history professor at Manchester University, on one of Burgess’s youthful essays

Burgess had been a schoolteacher (like William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies) and evidently sensed a stirring of revolt among the youth of his country and elsewhere in the West, a revolt with which—as a deeply unconventional man who felt himself to be an outsider however wealthy or famous he became, and who drank deep at the well of resentment as well as of spirituous liquors—he felt some sympathy and might even have helped in a small way to foment. And yet, as a man who was also deeply steeped in literary culture and tradition, he understood the importance of the shift of cultural authority from the old to the young and was very far from sanguine about its effects. He thought that the shift would lead to a hell on earth and the destruction of all that he valued….Burgess intuited with almost prophetic acuity both the nature and characteristics of youth culture when left to its own devices, and the kind of society that might result when that culture became predominant.

Theodore Dalrymple, City Journal, 2006

Mr Burgess disappoints!

affectionate quip delivered regularly to Burgess by his first wife Lynne about his early writing efforts

He has buttressed his disenchantment with modern society by the use of every type of modernist technique, ranging from science fiction through the more or less conventional novel (such as Nothing Like The Sun…) to savage satire (Honey For The Bears)….he rejects the notion of the meaningless of life which seems to be put forward by novelists such as Beckett, and has…a religious nature; but as he looks about him he sees nothing but nihilism and rot. [Novels and Novelists(1980)]

He has become the most prolific as well as most gifted and versatile novelist of his generation. Not one member of it approaches his fluency, energy, inventiveness, effrontery….For sheer intelligence, learning, inventiveness, imaginative capacity, writer’s professional cunning – no English novelist comes near him. [Who’s Who in Twentieth Century Literature (1976)]

Martin Seymour-Smith


He was a splendid chap. Everyone was fond of him…All his grandiose ways are an act. He was a sensitive man, John…It makes me angry to see him on television or in the paper, roaring away as Anthony Burgess, coarsening himself, travestying himself…denigrating his past and the man he was.

former teaching colleague, quoted in Lewis biography

…unstable and violent when drunk.

Doctor’s note, Tangier, 1963

I wish I had three hundred John Wilsons.

One of Burgess’s teachers, Brother Martin, in a school report

…an unfeeling, massively egotistical bookworm.

Kirkus Reviews, 2003

Although he was 76, I always thought of him as an unusually brilliant, angst-ridden young man who was destined to become a close friend as soon as he had resolved life’s problems to the extent of settling in London and allowing those of us who loved him to burn incense at his feet.

Auberon Waugh, diary column, 1993

I think we had all established that Burgess was not altogether a good egg.

Murrough O’Brien in the London Independent on Sunday newspaper, 2003

Liar, liar, pants on fire….the man was a liar….To be true means to be grounded at your core, and Burgess never was….The habitual bending of the truth for ulterior motives had important consequences for Burgess’s art. Cavalier liars think that anything will do. The idea of revising something to make it more true never occurs to him. Yet this inner truth is the essence of great art….Burgess told me that fecundity as a writer was a parallel of erotic freeing-up and that careful writers were not sexual people. He was clearly boasting that what made him a prolific author also made him a great lay. Not so….Burgess thought he was Cervantes, but in fact he is Don Quixote. There is no Burgess book that gives the impression you are reading something entirely grown-up. That a book might be brooded over or lived was alien to him. Instead he gluttonised on nicotine, booze and stimulants….He was not at all vindictive – how rare in the literary world! His kindness and warmth, which showed in his face as well as his conduct, were doubtless among the reasons Graham Greene disliked him (Greene was unnerved by spontaneous personalities; only he was allowed to be spontaneous)….what Burgess put up with from his first wife makes him a saint….how enthusiastic Burgess was with the inner-city kids he taught in New York, endlessly patient with their rudeness and fatuity. Burgess was a cranky charmer who could sound off on anything to fabulous effect – and he wasn’t a bully in conversation….He was a terrific journalist. Couldn’t write a dreary column to save his life.

Duncan Fallowell in the London Sunday Telegraph, 30 Oct 2005

His desire to teach, to bring about a positive change in what were sometimes rather deranged minds, exceeded by far his need for self-preservation….In all my life…I have not even come close to reaching that enormous inner generosity that characterised Anthony Burgess. A lot of writers can be haughty, or irritable, or downright insane, but Burgess was one of the most modest, the kindest, people you’d ever meet.

Joseph Heller

Burgess worked all day, chain-smoking small cigars and producing 1,000 words a day at a large architect’s table – a word processor for his journalism, a typewriter for the fiction…

…went home, did the kitchen, spring-cleaned the flat, wrote two book reviews, a flute concerto and a film treatment, knocked off his gardening column forPravda, phoned in his surfing page to the Sydney Morning Herald, and then test-drove a kidney dialysis machine for El Pais before settling down to some serious work.

Martin Amis, London Observer magazine profile

…coarse and unattractive…

Geoffrey Grigson

I found him affable, mock-pedantic, nicely opinionated.

Anthony Thwaite

Burgess, while fiercely competitive and ambitious, almost never lacked generosity. He often went out of his way to praise and to draw attention to works which might otherwise have been overlooked. This generosity was part of a kind of playfulness which make his writings on literature, on music, on the art of translation, among the most stimulating in our time.

George Steiner

[Burgess is] the greatest living expert on sex.

Benny Hill

He was superficially easy to love but, I suspect, very hard to get to know.

Nigel Williams

Wilson [Burgess] lets the side down badly. Amoral and a liar.

J.D.R. (“Jimmy”) Howell (headmaster of Malay College, Kuala Kangsar)

…when I first heard of him (we have never met) [Burgess] was vaguely spoken of as bisexual, never as a thoroughgoing queer.

Anthony Powell, journal entry (1988)

The colonials were disappointed with the new arrival who turned up in crumpled clothes to teach at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar. He arrived at the college, I think, during the second or last term of the 1954 academic year in a crumpled shirt and trousers and without a tie. We knew right away that he was not a typical colonial. The tell-tale incidents that showed the non-conformist streak in John Wilson [Burgess] occurred inside as well as outside the classroom. They were exciting and scandalous by both local and British moral standards. The circumstances in which Wilson found himself at the college, in addition to his own experiences and talks with his pupils, inspired him to write the Malayan Trilogy. And when it was published in 1965, his expatriate colleagues who did not like him felt betrayed. I have not reread the Trilogy, but what I can recall is that he did capture pretty well the spirit and life at the Malay College and the society in the Kuala Kangsar colonial enclave. Perhaps with a bit of exaggeration….Wilson taught English to the 1954 Cambridge Class for an eventful one term. The senior students were stirred by the Umno-led merdekamovement but were generally unsupportive of the vanguard militant rebellion spearheaded by the Malayan Communist Party. Several politically conscious students were quite unhappy with the unenlightened school administration. I recall the first morning Wilson came into class, red-faced (must have been the result of too much beer and gin the previous night), perspiring and smoking. He was in many ways a throwback to a social class the British colonials had scrupulously tried to shield us from. We were being trained to join and enlarge the small Malay administrative-cum aristocratic establishment. Apparently with some reluctance, he scrawled several essay subjects on the blackboard for us to choose from, one of which was “communism”. A day later when he returned our work, it turned out I was the only one who wrote about communism. I got seven marks out of a possible ten for my effort. Only years later did I discover that he was once a communist. He complimented my knowledge of the subject and advised me to pay more attention to my English and spelling, and said that I appeared to have a gift for left-wing polemics. He made it all look very easy and I thought he was rather generous to praise me based on an essay. He did not know how I had struggled during that 45-minute period to write it. I was elated by his remarks about my knowledge of comparative politics and grateful for his advice. Wilson did not teach the fifth form long. He moved on to teach English to the fourth formers which included my former classmates in form one, Abdul Rahim Ismail, the current vice president of the Lake Club and a great Rotarian, Ahmad Rassidi Abdullah, a retired banker whose hobby is travelling around the world with his wife of 36 years, Zainal Abidin Nordin, a retired senior civil servant, Tunku Zuhri Zakaria (a lawyer, deceased), Ariff Shafie, an lpoh sportsman and a sometime emcee. By all accounts Wilson was a good and simultaneously, an unconventional teacher. Rahim knew him rather well. I was told they corresponded with each other long after Wilson left Malaysia, and when both had become rich.

Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad


…either a liar or unbalanced and should see a doctor.

He put words in my mouth that I had to look up in the dictionary. [after being interviewed by Burgess in 1982 for the Observer, a London newspaper]

Graham Greene

About the eroticism of Anthony Burgess, it is interesting to notice that we never find ‘penetrative Eros’ either in twosome, threesome or a roomful of people. Anthony is, more than reticent, endowed with what used to be called ‘Christian modesty’ (which is also, Muslim, Jewish Orthodox Fundamentalism and Hindu, be it said). The grosser form of the sexual act is, very effectively, either – and this is more often the case – suggested by sequences of rhythmical images, as in Tremor of Intent when Miss Devi’s seduces Rupert Hillier in his ship cabine and her initial seduction followed by his response are evoked in a splendidly rythmical crescendo (I’ve heard him read the pages aloud during a lecture given in Oklahoma or Denver), or, funnily and matter-of-factly, in a foreign language, as when, in a case of rape brought by Malay assistant against a small Chinese shopkeeper, her employer, while the prosecution goes on about “had he done this and he done that, and had there been any attempt to, shall we say, force his attention on her, and had he perhaps been importunate in demanding her favours”… The interpreter, having listened very patiently, just asks the girl, ‘Sudah masok?’ and she replies, quick as a flash, ‘Sudah.’ [from Anthony Burgess’s Honey for the Bears: A Running Commentary]

Anthony was never a good-looking man.

Liana Burgess (Burgess’s second wife)

Burgess’s tarty charlatanry was central to his genius.

Jonathan Meades in the London Evening Standard newspaper, 2002

What…remains of Burgess’s colossal output? The canon…is limited….at its heart, we find just a handful of books: the Malayan Trilogy, the Enderby novels, A Clockwork Orange, and Earthly Powers. These are lasting and significant. The career, on the other hand, is not inspiring, poisoned by paranoia, bombast and an accumulation of lies so corrosive that the…life…comes down as something rusty and sadly disposable.

Robert McCrum in the London Observer newspaper, November 6 2005

He could be foully bad-tempered, but he was a cheering presence as a writer.

Claire Tomalin

Anthony Burgess’s gusto and exuberance springs from his brilliant bum. [final sentence of letter to Philip Larkin, 5 December 1980, reproduced on page 906 ofThe Letters of Kingsley Amis, ed. Zachary Leader, HarperCollins 2000]

Kingsley Amis

Nearly 40 years ago, on the ferry from Liverpool to Dublin, I hurled one of Burgess’s Enderby novels into the Irish Sea, unable to bear another word. I have thought of him ever since as a pretentious windbag, a buttonholing bore whose writing had energy but no vitality.

Jeremy Lewis in the London newspaper the Mail on Sunday, 2002

He was an inspiration and example to other writers, particularly younger writers, because of his enormous professionalism, tireless energy and fertility of invention. He never repeated himself; he tried to do new things with each book. And he had a cosmopolitan view of culture – he was a world and European figure as well as a very English one. He set an example to the English literary world, which can become insular, gossipy and bland.

David Lodge

Anthony Burgess had an ego as big as Hyde Park.

Dave Wood, The Gibraltar Magazine, 2005

You are an extraordinarily cerebral man. But where’s the heart?

Bernard Levin

For a Lancashire man to live in Monaco is the height of poshness.

Yorkshireman (Barnsley-born) and TV interviewer Michael Parkinson


Words were things to him, objects, jewels. They are what he gets emotional and meaningful about.

He never got the hang of young people and would bridle and bristle at long hair and pop music like a beef-faced retired colonel in Angmering-on-Sea.

Being Burgess was…a bogus business.

…a parody of a great writer, rather than a great writer.

…what is this persistent fantasy that he is a great leg-over man?….he has had carnal knowledge of Chinese, Malay, Buginese, Tamil, Singhalese, Bengali, Japanese and Algonquin women – all prostitutes….Or perhaps it was the same prostitute – there’s a lot of racial overlap in the Federated Malay States….his sexual antics are fiction.

…great writer who never wrote a great book – but perfected a great writer act.

He was a whole world to me once when I was young and what I published was academic in inspiration … It worries me that henceforward he is going to have a spurious reputation … pumped up by second-rate scholar-squirrels from unheard-of institutions.

His conversation was a monologue, delivered in his exhibitionistic Victorian actor-manager voice.

I think Burgess hated being a human being, and he was only to be happy inside his head.

Burgess was not a generous man, financially, spiritually or morally…

[on Burgess’s first wife Lynne] Who, in actuality, would want to align themselves with her ruinous boozing? Once you’d seen her project a stream of vomit, like the trumpet of the Archangel Gabriel, six feet across a room, you’d seen everything. It’s so sad, the decline from a sheltered and provincial childhood to a non-life as an afternoon-club drunk and good-time girl. She returned to her husband because there really was nobody else….she couldn’t cope with adulthood – with its disappointments, curtailments, longings and dissolvings. Hence, the drinking trough, the recourse of those who fear a clear consciousness, who are disinclined to see things in their true colours.

…Burgess is like a definition of hell.

He wrote to keep back his thoughts, and not (particularly) to articulate them.

….Though he wanted us to believe his sexual energies were unstoppable, actually he was impotent.

…gaunt, wan features … waxy and pallid, long deprived of the sun. And how are we going to describe his hair? The yellowish-white powdery strands were coiled on his scalp like Bram Stoker’s Dracula … What does it say about a man that he could go around like that … king of the comb-over (did the clumps and fronds emanate from his ear-hole?) … however the nicotine-stained fuzzy bush at the summit of frame served to distract from the ugliness of the rest of his face … unnaturally long lower teeth, the colour of maize, and no upper set to speak of, the top of his mouth or lip having become elongated to conceal his gums, like a baboon.

If he’d had a daughter, would he have pounced on her? An impossible speculation – who can say?

…he was berserk.

His success came from impressing people who didn’t quite know better; he was left alone by those who did. He fell into that gap, and made a fortune for himself.

He knew you weren’t his equal, and I find this an insult.

Who does he think he is?

I continue to feel close to him….His dedication and intelligence can’t be denied…

I wallowed in Burgess’s fecundity and catholicity….I adored his spectacle and noise, his flamboyance, the surface pleasures of his prose….he was irresistible.

…he is a man whose talents, acquirements and virtues are so extraordinary, that the more his character is considered, the more he will be regarded by the present age, and by posterity, with admiration and reverence. He was a Doctor Johnson of our fin de siècle…

…a prince of the powers of the air; a mountain range full of ravines and waterfalls, torrents, crags and snowfields, casting a shadow for leagues over the plains…[even if his] house of fiction, for all its flights of stairs, antechambers, labyrinthine libraries, annexes, sliding panels, trapdoors, secret rooms, chambers of horrors and ornate carvings, is a bit gimcrack.

Roger Lewis, Anthony Burgess (2002)


[Burgess] engaged in a good deal of public and private fantasising…laying down an alarming number of false trails.

…harmless tendency to misremember the events of his own past for comic or dramatic effect.

This was the order of a typical Burgess day in Etchingham in the 1960s. He would get up between seven and eight in the morning – ‘grudgingly’, he said – and bring himself to full wakefulness by blasting out William Walton’s Portsmouth Point Overture or the Crown Imperial March on the record-player downstairs. Then he would kick his dog, a border collie named Hajji….Breakfast would be followed by…jokes and conversation with Lynne. She would open the morning’s post while he went through the newspapers (the Times and the Daily Mirror). Around ten o’clock he would go upstairs to his study, a large room with a south-facing window, looking out on to a long garden where caged guinea-pigs chewed the grass to save the trouble of having to mow it. He would settle down at the typewriter with a pint-mug of strong tea – ‘stepmother’s tea’ is what F.X. Enderby calls it – made with ‘no fewer than five Twinings Irish Breakfast tea-bags’. He would remain at his desk for at least eight hours every day, weekends included, smoking excessively (his regular intake was eighty cigarettes per day) and rising occasionally – because he suffered from haemorrhoids, which he called the Writer’s Evil – to pace around the study….When his concentration failed, he would take three Dexedrine tablets, washing them down with a pint of iced gin-and-tonic before returning to the typewriter. Piles of books for review…covered the floor of his study and overflowed…onto the landing and down the stairs. (He reviewed more than 350 novels in just over two years for the Yorkshire Post, and there were always other freelance writing jobs on the go….) Apart from the work, of which there was obviously a great deal, there was also the drinking to get done. Burgess and Lynne would get through a couple of bottles of wine over dinner, and a dozen bottles of Gordon’s gin were delivered to the house every week….

Andrew Biswell, The Real Life of Anthony Burgess (2005)


The Malayan trilogy

…delightful, comic, linguistically playful…an opening step in the extraordinarily rich, inventive and experimental career that was to come.

Malcolm Bradbury, The Modern British Novel, 1993

He has never done better than in his opening trilogy about Malaya…

Martin Seymour-Smith, Novels and Novelists, 1980

A Clockwork Orange

…can be read as an ‘answer’ to…Mailer’s The White Negro (1957) and other works of that period recommending crime and…murder as expressions of existential freedom….Mailer recommended that whites emulate…traits that…were producing…the black ‘underclass’. In A Clockwork Orange, the young thugs are scarcely existential heroes. The surrounding society does not provide the norms which, internalized, allow for civilization. In the underclass foreseen in A Clockwork Orange, Mr Mailer’s sentimental dream has become our own nightmare.

the New Republic magazine, 1993

… remains a novel of immense power. Linguistically inventive, socially prophetic, and philosophically profound, it comes very close to being a work of genius.

In 1962, the idea that the young would someday impose upon old people in Britain a de facto after-dark curfew was still unimaginable, but Burgess, seeing the cloud no bigger than a man’s hand on the horizon, imagined that outcome very vividly. With a prophet’s imagination, he saw what would happen when the cloud grew until it covered the sky. With like prescience, Burgess foresaw many other aspects of the youth culture to come: the importance that mind-altering drugs and an industrialized pop music would play in it, for example.

Burgess foresaw the importance that the youth culture would attach to sexual precocity and a kind of disabused knowingness….

The world in which youth culture predominates and precocity is the highest achievement is one in which all tenderness is absent. When Alex and his gang attack the teacher, they find a letter in his pocket, which one of them reads out derisively: ‘My darling one…I shall be thinking of you while you are away and hope you will remember to wrap up warm when you go out at night.’ Such simple and heartfelt affection and concern for another person are extinct in the world of Alex and his droogs….

In the world of Alex and his droogs, all relations with other human beings are instrumental means to a selfish, brutal, hedonistic end….

But Burgess was not merely a social and cultural prophet. A Clockwork Orange grapples as well with the question of the origin and nature of good and evil….

Burgess was a lapsed Catholic, but he remained deeply influenced by Catholic thought throughout his life. The Skinnerian view of man appalled him. He thought that a human being whose behavior was simply the expression of conditioned responses was not fully human but an automaton. If he did the right thing merely in the way that Pavlov’s dog salivated at the sound of a bell, he could not be a good man: indeed, if all his behavior was determined in the same way, he was hardly a man at all. A good man, in Burgess’s view, had to have the ability to do evil as well as good, an ability that he would voluntarily restrain, at whatever disadvantage to himself….

He extrapolated from what he saw in the prime manifestation of the emerging youth culture, pop music, to a future in which self-control had shrunk to vanishing, and he realized that the result could only be a Hobbesian world, in which personal and childish whim was the only authority to guide action….

One cannot condemn a novel of 150 pages for failing to answer some of the most difficult and puzzling questions of human existence, but one can praise it for raising them in a peculiarly profound manner and forcing us to think about them.

Theodore Dalrymple, City Journal, 2006

the Enderby cycle

…the post-Joycean artist as lecher-poet, obsessed with death, language and his own insides.

Malcolm Bradbury, The Modern British Novel, 1993

The Enderby series are even finer comedies than those by Evelyn Waugh.

Gore Vidal


Mr Burgess has written a brilliant and humane study of the most brilliant and humane of twentieth-century novelists.

Philip Toynbee

Jesus of Nazareth

…Gospel potpourri.

Franco Zeffirelli on Burgess’s first draft for the script of the television film

The Land Where The Ice Cream Grows

Frankly, it’s a fucking farrago.

Roger Lewis in Anthony Burgess: A Life, 2002

Earthly Powers

…highly ambitious work…continuing power….vast novel…told over eighty-one chapters by an eighty-one-year-old pederast Catholic writer-narrator…summed up the literary, social and moral history of the century with comic richness as well as encyclopedic knowingness.

Malcolm Bradbury, The Modern British Novel, 1993

…the parody is so much better than anything that W. Somerset Maugham ever wrote himself.

Christopher Hitchens in the Atlantic magazine, 2004

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