Category Archives: uncategorized


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

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Burgess and Hollywood

Where movie adaptations of poetry or fiction are concerned, 'I don't think there's any limit to what you can do,' says Burgess.

Where cinema adaptations of poetry or fiction are concerned, ‘I don’t think there’s any limit to what you can do,’ says Burgess.

Joyce’s Ulysses

The technique employed; the novelist’s exile; the Jew as the vital figure; the role of Nora; the theme of love; the novel viewed as a Catholic testament; its intimidating mastery.

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Scanfrom O Lord, O Ford, God Help Us, Also You (1975):

We need philosophers, not men who’ve been
Exalted through their skill at shysters’ tricks
Who shell out shibboleths, who fox, who fix,
Committed to the timocratic view
That wealth is power, and neither is for you.
Add wealth and power to vulgar ignorance,
And you can tune up for our Totentanz.

To opt out of this midden into dreams —
Communes or opiates — to many seems
The desperate one solution. I say: turn
Once more to the necessity to learn,
Not make a tabula rasa of your head,
But cram it with philosophy instead;
Leave inarticulacy to the loathed
Nude apes up there: let us at least be clothed,
Attack from knowledge and not just from rage:
Reject from reason.

Finnegans Wake

The 1992 Minerva edition of James Joyce’s 1939 novel contains an introduction by Burgess, who also in 1966 prepared A Shorter Finnegans Wake, described thus:

Anthony Burgess has cut down Joyce’s masterpiece to its bare essentials and provided a sort of waking commentary, as well as a long and enlightening introduction. He hopes that readers of this small labour of love will be tempted to proceed to the whole big uncut book and learn to revel in its humour and homely profundity.

fw 15c

Burgess according to his critics

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

  • unutterably vain
  • a vulgarian
  • creatively impotent, despite the alleged prolificacy
  • notoriously rude and boorish
  • a misogynist
  • insufferably boastful and arrogant
  • an erotomaniac
  • a habitual, chronic, pathological liar
  • sexually inadequate to an inordinate degree
  • a cuckold
  • salacious without being remotely amusing
  • consumed by resentment of all who were placed over him in whatever milieu
  • malicious
  • an intellectual and literary friend to communist tyranny
  • a spy — for the colonial oppressor in Kota Bharu and for the Soviet tyranny in Leningrad
  • a pseudo-intellectual
  • strangely shallow, though he pretended to wide and deep knowledge
  • an emotional cripple, despite the bombast
  • a paedophile, though he would probably render it ‘pedophil’, because he was
  • a pedant
  • possessed of a low cunning, for instance in the way he extricated himself from Brunei Town — receiving an all-expenses-paid passage back to England — by faking a nervous breakdown
  • sexist, obscenely so, as he demonstrated most embarrassingly and drunkenly in that chat show with Andrea Dworkin in ’88
  • mean and grotesquely avaricious. ‘Who’s paying for this meal?’ he would bark at every interviewer before getting so drunk on the best wines and brandies at the interviewer’s expense that could not even stand, let alone speak coherently, rendering the interview useless
  • practically a teetotaller, yet allowed his first wife to drink herself to death
  • a heartless philanderer
  • a narcotics dealer (supplying, for instance, Graham Greene with opiates)
  • a rogue and whoremonger without scruple or morals of any kind
  • a ridiculous show-off and fraud
  • a failure as a comic novelist, resembling nothing so much as a sniggering lout of a spoilt schoolboy
  • as a writer and as a man, curiously dead
  • a dangerously irresponsible subversive, working clandestinely to bring to power his drinking companion, the radical socialist and secularist A.M. Azahari, by toppling the sultan in Brunei. The attempt failed, like so many of Burgess’s quixotic projects
  • amoral, that was the problem
  • creatively static, darting about from form to form and from theme to theme but never developing or growing as a writer
  • a fantasist mixed up with dangerous radicals and traitors such as his close relation, Guy Burgess
  • academically undistinguished, to put it most kindly, though posing as a towering intellect of wide and deep learning. He did not succeed in entering the really important institutions of higher learning of our time, such as St Andrews or Wolfson College, Oxford
  • lacking in self-awareness, amounting to a kind of blindness
  • an opium-eater
  • despite the braggadocio, a deeply insecure invert
  • not fully human
  • in many ways an inferior being
  • far too much in the public bar, if you see what I mean
  • a reactionary, raging, out-of-control Catholic dogmatist of the worst kind
  • a frequenter of homosexual brothels, especially in Tangiers, to which he returned again and again in the company of his bum-chum William S. Burroughs
  • a fellow-traveller, to be bracketed with Rolland, Feuchtwanger, Spender, Sartre, Heinrich Mann and the rest of the contemptibles
  • a glutton, gorging in a disgusting way on — even himself preparing and cooking — North-country slop such as the gastronomic excrescence ‘Lancashire hotpot’
  • virulently antisemitic
  • an adulterer, carrying on blithely — and engaging in wild sexual congress — with an Italian faux-countess (in fact an ignominious lower-middle-class student) while his wife, who was his muse and more or less single-handedly created him as a personality and as a writer, lay on her death-bed enduring unimaginable pain and suffering
  • (say it softly) lacking in breeding
  • afflicted with erectile dysfunction, this being especially evident in Borneo
  • in effect, a murderer (of his first wife)
  • conveying to all the world forcefulness, yet secretly impotent
  • without ordinary shame
  • a rip-off merchant, shamelessly imitating Graham Greene’s ‘exotic’ novels
  • ever so slightly demented
  • an unapologetic fascist who idolised Goebbels (see the veiled tribute in Earthly Powers)
  • deeply uncharitable towards scholars studying his work
  • egotistically inebriated — to borrow from Disraeli — with the exuberance of own prolixity and verbosity
  • an exponent of what were little more than falderals but which were presented as high literature
  • an absurd figure
  • the author of a number of degrading why-oh-why pieces for the Nazi-supporting Daily Mail and other vulgar newspapers
  • consumed by his obsessive quest for what he called, revoltingly, ‘maximal erotic fulfilment’
  • discourteous in the extreme to all
  • a repressed homosexual who remained resolutely, irredeemably, shamefully and shamelessly closeted his entire life
  • utterly lacking in the higher style
  • a little bit cracked
  • intellectually shabby
  • more like a stamp collector, au fond, though in his Walter Mitty-like imagination he was an international rake, sexual sophisticate and highly cultivated bon viveur
  • a malevolent, destructive fabulist
  • a communist
  • in the grip of unbridled lust, especially in old age when it is most disgusting
  • a nudist and occasional streaker
  • astonishingly ungenerous to other writers
  • virtually incapable of writing a coherent, intelligible English sentence, consequent upon having removed himself to the Continent, the East Indies and elsewhere and having absorbed a whole lot of exotic, meaningless foreign gibberish and gobbledygook
  • racist
  • ineffably Mediterranean in his makeup and in his character more than a little swarthy and greasy
  • a criminal tax dodger, going anywhere — Monaco, Malaya, Switzerland, Malta — to get away from those he called ‘the fiscal tyrants’, and vulgarly always insisting, like the barrow-boy he essentially was, on ‘cash only’
  • shallow-minded, despite all the grandiosity
  • unfunny
  • unable to relate to any other member of the human race on equal terms, a quality embarrassingly in evidence in the joint interview with Isaac Bashevis Singer
  • non-creative
  • a weed, always trying to get out of sport, bowling underarm in a pissyarsed way when attempting to play cricket
  • an out-and-out charlatan
  • an apologist for Stalin who badgered his wife to go to Leningrad, then abandoned her in the hotel while he went in search of statues of his hero and wallowed in vile Marxist-Leninist carnal adventures
  • as a critic, marred by a certain deadness. Nazi would-be men of letters very often are
  • not the right kind of person and consequently not the right kind of writer
  • a falsifier
  • an abuser who exploited and abandoned a miscellany of women of all ethnic groups, enjoying them serially and severally, according to the amatory manuals such as the Kama Sutra that he salivated over
  • a liar. The man was a liar
  • a mendacious hypocrite
  • a spook, though an incompetent one (a 10-year old could work out that the capitalised lines on page 29 of A Clockwork Orange provide the HQ location of psychotronic warfare technology — a dead giveaway)
  • frivolous but never funny
  • possessed, it is rumoured, of only one testicle
  • in many ways, a perverted lunatic
  • devoted to pedication. He admitted it openly
  • a dipsomaniac who cynically cajoled his first wife, who when he met her had never touched a drop, to drink gin heavily, with the inevitable consequence for the poor woman: liver cirrhosis and an early death
  • lacking in confidence
  • nauseatingly histrionic, as a substitute for genuine thought or creativity
  • irredeemably plebeian
  • a textbook example of the dangerous loner, such that if he had had access to shotguns, the death toll would have been in the hundreds
  • a sexual freebooter
  • the outpourer of far too many books, every one of them, one is bound to say, a lamentable failure
  • painfully shy
  • a Maoist unnaturally obsessed with the Chinese — and especially Chinese ladies of the night, such as those he enjoyed in Singapore — and never missing a chance to write about China’s faraway, outlandish, inscrutable culture and even to learn a little (a dangerous thing, a mistake Mr Lewis has himself never made) of that country’s absurd language
  • devoid of wit
  • an avaricious hoarder of money and real estate
  • a predator upon pubescent girls, claiming in his autobiography to having had sexual relations with a girl ‘not older than 12’. This was a lie, of course, but it was in the atrocious taste that was so characteristic of the man
  • a chronic alcoholic
  • prone to pissyassed prissiness, though he would insist on pissyarsed (see what I mean?)
  • a male chauvinist pig
  • dead, frankly
  • self-righteous in the extreme, like so many of his fellow communists
  • impotent, both sexually and creatively
  • a secret member of, and offshore financial contributor to, the British Conservative party; in a private ceremony he knelt, fawning, before Margaret Thatcher to accept a solid gold plaque inlaid with precious stones
  • a crank
  • burdened his whole life by a gargantuan shoulder-chip associated with his North-country origins and the fact that he was never good enough to gain entry to really top-notch places of higher education such as St Andrews or Magdalen College, Oxford
  • a glamoriser of violence and cruelty, for instance in his novel A Clockwork Orange (a failure)
  • addicted to alcohol, tobacco, opium and Benzedrine
  • despicable, really; certainly Graham Greene despised him
  • deep down, a nervous little chap, though he made strenuous efforts to hide his timidity
  • a nihilist
  • besotted by communist Russia, even writing a third-rate novel, Honey for the Bears, in order to freeze forever the erotic and Marxist ecstasy and elation he experienced there
  • quite humourless
  • hysterical in a womanish way, especially in Bandar Brunei
  • suspiciously fixated upon the Malays so that he attempted — and wholly failed — to learn their language
  • an uncontrollably priapic rake
  • fiercely obstinate
  • artificially kept going by the International Anthony Burgess Foundation
  • lacking in grace
  • shameless
  • always putting on airs, but full of hot air
  • intolerably domineering
  • ludicrously pretentious
  • very dead
  • irredeemably mendacious
  • liable to make a bloody fool of himself, as Richard Ingrams so penetratingly observed
  • a drug dealer (his method was to sew opium pellets in the cuffs of his shirts — it fooled H.M. Customs every time)
  • a full-on misanthrope
  • a friend of all the world’s antinomians. For instance, he was best buddies with the drug addict William S. Burroughs
  • reactionary
  • terrified of women, so that he was bullied severely by his first wife and was the virtual slave of the second, who did as she pleased with his money (such as buying their Callian house without so much as a by-your-leave)
  • coarse and unattractive
  • unable to bring any of his works off
  • as a writer and as a man, second-rate
  • dead, literally
  • a writer for adolescence. You grow out of him
  • a self-confessed anarchist
  • little more, when all is said and done, than a rather unfunny and boring, though noisy, Manchester music-hall act

Jimmy Savile

called disc jockeys like Jimmy Savile ‘electronic lice’. He referred to Savile as ‘that disgusting man’ (‘Secrets of [Savile’s] caravan’ in this London Independent newspaper diary column points this out: second item). And he writes in You’ve Had Your Time (the second volume of his autobiography):

I detested…especially a Yorkshireman [Savile] who was..awarded the Order of the British Empire….I had to appear on a BBC radio programme to defend…the apparent depravity of a book [Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange] that few had read. The programme was one of a series put out on the most demotic of the BBC’s channels, in which discussion on serious topics with a live audience was justified with breaks for pop music. The seriousness was thus mitigated and the final effect was cynical. The anchorman was…Savile. He had been noted for bipartite hair-dyes and his love of the young.

Love of the young indeed. Burgess states:

[Savile] had boasted of the ‘quids’ he had earned in his promotion of musical garbage, but he had the reputation also of a philanthropist who used the media…to help the suffering, unite the sundered, and be admitted to the Order of the British Empire.

We now know how Savile went about ‘helping the suffering’. Burgess goes on:

[Savile’s] name now never appeared without the OBE appendage. He was taken…to be the finest type of Yorkshireman and [was] paid to promote…British Rail….Savile…[asked] a man in the audience to stand up. This man admitted he had served a long jail sentence for Grievous Bodily Harm. He was asked by Savile if his reading had influenced his criminal behaviour. Without doubt, the man replied, and the programme came to an end. The weighting of what was meant to be a free discussion with a dramatic conclusion that confirmed the prejudice of so many made me boil…

This is just one of very many instances of bias that together make the British state broadcaster, many people feel, unfit to receive its large subventions from the British taxpayer.

As for the corrupt British state itself, while time and again passing over Burgess for honours, it ushered Savile in to the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and proudly conferred on him a knighthood.

Very few people can now any longer contest Burgess’s statement that

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

Genre-fracturing masterpiece

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Roger Lewis’s coruscating Anthony Burgess has established itself as one of the greatest literary biographies of the last half-century.

On display are exquisite critical taste and judgment, extraordinary depth of understanding, and the rich fruits of a lifetime’s scholarship. Appealing widely to the specialist and layman alike, the work has taken its place with Painter’s on Proust, Edel’s on James, Ellmann’s on Joyce, Brod’s on Kafka and a very few others in the sanctum of masterpieces of the biographer’s art.

Mr Lewis approaches his subject with intense seriousness and concentration, reading everything Burgess read, studying everything he studied, and travelling the world to understand the many places — particularly in Asia — that were so important in the Burgess œuvre.

Screen Shot 2012-10-07 at 21.38.31The rag-bag structure of Mr Lewis’s work is revolutionary. The biography is experimental, chaotic, inebriated, even delirious, dispensing with outworn conventions such as those of chronology, intelligibility or rationality. The biography mimics, satirises, subtly illumines, and truly represents its rollicking subject’s rambunctious life and literary style.

One unexpected and very welcome bonus is that Mr Lewis himself enters the narrative often. Indeed from time to time he takes it over, such that the reader begins to apprehend that Mr Lewis is in a number of important ways a greater figure than his subject, and certainly better educated.

This major biographer’s masterstroke is to adopt a form that is consonant with the character of this minor novelist. ‘I fractured the genre,’ Mr Lewis has stated. The form matches the content triumphantly, and it cannot be doubted that the way literary biographies are written has changed for ever.

Mr R. Lewis

Mr R. Lewis



‘The whole of English Lit. at the moment is being written by Anthony Burgess. He must be a kind of Batman of contemporary letters,’ wrote the poet Philip Larkin in 1966 in a letter to Anthony Thwaite. Hear Burgess reciting Larkin’s 1967 poem ‘Annus Mirabilishere.

Burgess the gay-lit god

Burgess was, at the very least, bisexual. That’s if you believe the novelist and blogger Rupert Smith, who places Earthly Powers at the top of the league of the world’s great homosexual novels. Mr Smith writes:

Sometimes I’m asked to list the best gay novels ever, and I often put [Earthly Powers] at Number One. Burgess isn’t thought of as a gay writer, though you don’t have to dig too far to figure out that he was, at the very least, bisexual.

Mr Smith writes well on Burgess. He states that ‘even [Burgess’s] slighter novels have more to them than the works of Barnes, Rushdie, McEwan et al.’ Very true.

Describing the ‘extremely funny and erudite’ Earthly Powers as ‘a 20th-century history viewed through the prism of homosexuality and homophobia’, Mr Smith points out that it is the finest post-war novel in English written by the greatest post-war British novelist.

On Burgess’s sexuality, Mr Smith is in good company: in Tangiers (described by Burgess as ‘all junkies and pederasts’), Burgess’s own wife felt she had cause to offer similar observations. Burgess writes:

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.

And Burgess states in You’ve Had Your Time, Being the Second Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess (p. 70):

After a drinking session Lynne turned her sharp blue eyes on me (sa-rupa pisau, Alladad Khan had used to say: like a dagger) and put the straight question: was I perhaps really a closet homosexual?

Burgess says he ‘denied the charge’, but Lynne had seen the manuscript of a novel he had been writing in which Shakespeare appeared to be characterised as a gay syphilitic, and she suggested that Burgess’s ‘true sexual nature was beginning to come out’.

This, I said, was all nonsense. What I would have liked in Tangier was to seize one of these kohl-eyed houris in a yashmak and kiss her from the neat brown ankles up. One evening…I said to hell, I was going to visit the kasbah. Ah, she said, to find little boys.

Guy Burgess

There is also the problem that the great writer shared the surname of the homosexual spy and traitor Guy Burgess, which has given rise to confusion over the years. (Guy Burgess is played here by an actor who shares Burgess’s Christian name. I refer to Anthony Hopkins, whom I would quite like to see play Anthony Burgess.)

However, with the greatest respect both to the late Lynne Wilson and to Mr Smith, I don’t believe Burgess was gay, or in the slightest degree bisexual, despite the fact that he was pleased and honoured to discover that Earthly Powers had ‘found its way to the shelves of Gay Lit in American bookshops’.

Burgess’s own self-assessment, that he had ‘always been afflicted with a powerful but banal heterosexual drive, unmodified by the sight of Greek or African boys lying naked in the sun’, can be accepted as accurate, especially in view of the fact — as a commenter points out below — that in the 20 years since Burgess’s death not a soul has come forward to say he had any kind of homosexual encounter with him, even in childhood.

(Don’t miss the hilarious anecdote about Burgess and the son of a Chiswick greengrocer in You’ve Had Your Time, pp. 117-118.)