Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Fall 2003 Newsletter

Anthony Burgess

A Decade After Anthony Burgess


Anthony Burgess.

To say that Anthony Burgess was a prolific writer is to underestimate the significance of the term: he authored some thirty novels, hundreds of reviews, volumes of critical analysis, film and television scripts, plays, children's books, studies on language, music, Shakespeare and Joyce, and, among much more, a two-volume autobiography in which he stated, "I refuse no reasonable offer of work, and very few unreasonable ones."

John Burgess Wilson was born in 1917 the son of a musician, Joseph Wilson, a piano player who worked in pubs and movie houses, and a singer, Elizabeth (née Burgess), who died in the influenza epidemic following World War I, facts which bolstered his aspirations towards a career in music. He was, however, unable to secure a scholarship, and instead channeled his energies towards his other interests, reading and writing. After serving as an intelligence officer in Gibraltar during World War II and the aftermath, Burgess was assigned to Malaya as a colonial education officer, an experience that effected the Malayan Trilogy, composed of Time for a Tiger (1956), The Enemy in the Blanket (1958), and Beds in the East (1959). In 1959, Burgess was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and informed he would die within a year. In an attempt to provide financial security for his wife, Burgess produced five novels during this "pseudoterminal year," though he survived an additional 33 years to write such masterpieces as A Clockwork Orange (1962), the Enderby series (Inside Mr. Enderby (1963), Enderby Outside (1968), The Clockwork Testament (1974), and Enderby's Dark Lady (1984)), and Earthly Powers (1980).

The Anthony Burgess collection at the Ransom Center covers the period from 1956-1997, and includes manuscripts for the author's later novels, sheet music, correspondence, clippings, financial statements, contracts and legal documents, appointment books, notes, and magazine articles.

During the week of November 17, 2003, in commemoration of the passing of the author, the Center will celebrate its Anthony Burgess collection with a series of events including a lecture on A Clockwork Orange, a presentation and discussion of the film adaptation, and a performance of original music written by Burgess. More details regarding these events will be available on the Ransom Center website in coming months.  

-Travis Willmann

Burgess Excerpt from Earthly Powers (1980)


Cover of Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess.

"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."  

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