Anthony Burgess Biography

A prolific writer, John Anthony Burgess Wilson didn’t publish his first novel until he was almost forty. Born and raised in Manchester, England, Burgess spent most of his adult life abroad in the army before teaching in Malaya with the British Colonial Service. Diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1960, Burgess began writing at a frantic pace in the hope that the royalties from his books would support his wife after he died. He wrote five novels that year alone. When he later discovered that his condition had been misdiagnosed, Burgess continued to write and publish novels at a rapid rate. Though he wrote nearly forty novels, his most famous work is the dystopian novella A Clockwork Orange (1962), which owes much of its popularity to Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film adaptation. Burgess himself thought that A Clockwork Orange was far from his best work. In an interview, he dismissed the book as gimmicky and didactic, and rued the idea that this book would survive while others that he valued more were sure to pass into obscurity.

Burgess’s novels address fundamental issues of human nature and morality, such as the existence of good and evil and the importance of free will. Burgess was raised as a Catholic, and though he left the church as a young man, he retained his admiration for its tenets and doctrines. Although Burgess was interested in and influenced by numerous religions, Catholicism exerted the greatest influence on his moral views. His portrayal of human beings as inherently predisposed toward violence, for example, reflects his acceptance of the Catholic view that all human beings are tainted by original sin.

In his own estimation, Burgess had a tendency toward anarchy, and he felt that the socialistic British welfare state was too willing to sacrifice individual liberty in favor of social stability. He despised American popular culture for fostering homogeneity, passivity, and apathy. He regarded American law enforcement as hopelessly corrupt and violent, referring to it as “an alternative criminal body.” Each of these targets gets lampooned in A Clockwork Orange, but Burgess’s most pointed satire is reserved for the psychological movement known as behaviorism. Regarded as both an artistic luminary and an eccentric crank, Burgess made several television appearances and served as a visiting professor at universities throughout America and England. He continued writing and composing music until his death in 1993.

Anthony Burgess Study Guides

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Anthony Burgess Quotes

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.

Anthony Burgess Novels

Time for a Tiger

Published 1956

The Enemy in the Blanket

Published 1958

Beds in the East

Published 1959

The Right to an Answer

Published 1960

The Doctor is Sick

Published 1960

The Worm and the Ring

Published 1960

Devil of a State

Published 1961

One Hand Clapping

Published 1961

A Clockwork Orange

Published 1962

The Wanting Seed

Published 1962

The Eve of St. Venus

Published 1964

Nothing Like the Sun

Published 1964

Tremor of Intent

Published 1966

Napoleon Symphony

Published 1974

The Clockwork Testament, or Enderby's End

Published 1974

Beard's Roman Women

Published 1976

1985

Published 1978

Earthly Powers

Published 1980

Man of Nazareth

Published 1979

The Kingdom of the Wicked

Published 1985