Essay, Research Paper
The Life and Work of Anthony Burgess
“Autobiography: Story of one’s life, written by oneself.”(Halsey 64).
Everyone knows what an autobiography is, but not so many people realize that
although not all authors write a book that can be called a factual autobiography,
many authors frequently allow personal, real life experiences to influence their
fictional writings. An excellent example of such an author is Anthony Burgess.
Anthony Burgess is recognized today as an English novelist, critic, essayist,
and composer (editor CLC 80). Burgess is such a literary genius, it was once
said of him that “… his agent, publisher, and his entry in “Who’s Who” could
not provide the exact number of books he wrote.” (Baldwin A8). Some of
Burgess’s works include The Long Day Wanes, The Doctor is Sick, and, perhaps
Burgess’s most famous book, Clockwork Orange. A Clockwork Orange is an
interesting novel that paints a picture of a gruesome violence in the not-so-
distant future. The story is based on, and told by the narrator, the fifteen-
year old Alex, but it shows many references to the life and experience of its
author. In a series of five books, Burgess also focused on his life experiences.
Enderby’s Dark Lady was the fifth in the series, and that will be the second
book focused on in this paper. Anthony Burgess’s work in A Clockwork Orange and
Enderby’s Dark Lady strongly reflects significant events or influences in his
Anthony Burgess was born John Burgess Wilson in Manchester, England in
early 1917. (Stinson 1). Both of Burgess’s parents were members of the theatric
arts: His father was a pianist, his mother was a musical actress. Burgess went
to a Catholic elementary school, and was one of the many victims of the “iron
discipline and largely rote memorization” (Stinson 2) typical in such schools of
the time. Burgess attended Xaverian College, and later moved on to the
inexpensive University of Manchester, where he hoped to pursue an education in
music. He was rejected form the music department because he had failed physics.
Instead, Burgess entered the English department (Stinson 6). In 1940, Burgess
graduated with his B.A., with honors, in literature and English language
(Stinson 7). Shortly after, Burgess enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps,
and spent most of his six years in the service in the entertainment section,
playing the piano and writing songs, or in the Army Educational Corps (Stinson
7). In 1946, Burgess was discharged with the rank of sergeant-major. Burgess
found himself employed in several different jobs, and living in several
different countries in the years that followed. In 1948 he became English
Master at a grammar school in Banbury, near Oxford. During his time in Banbury,
Burgess wrote occasionally, but saw writing as a time consuming process that
took away from his composing. It was around this time of transition that
Burgess received a letter form his publisher, Heinemann stating that his first
novel, A Vision of Battlements was to be published, and they were requesting
another. So began Burgess’s career of as a novelist (Stinson 9).
In 1956, Burgess was diagnosed with a brain tumor. His doctors gave him
one year to live. In a mad panic to leave some form of income behind for his
wife, Lynne Jones, Burgess set out to write ten novels in one year. Buy the end
of Burgess’s first year as a full-time writer, he had completed about five and
one half novels. A few weeks after the end of the first year, the doctors told
Burgess that they found no sign of the tumor, and he was going to live after all
(Baldwin A8). This was just the beginning of Burgess’s career as a writer.
Although some of Burgess’s works were not treated kindly by the critics, the
majority of his novels were generally well received by the public. In 1962,
Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange, the novel that many readers discovered
Burgess’s genius through. To date, this is still his most famous book (Baldwin
A8). In 1976, Burgess published Enderby’s Dark Lady under the name of Joseph
Kell. A satire in which Enderby, a director from the four previous novels in
this five novel series, searched for in England, and found in America, a place
to perform (Stinson 98).
A Clockwork Orange is a novel that deals with the violence of youth in
the future. The Narrator is a fifteen-year-old child of the streets that enjoys
beating the helpless, raping the defenseless, and robbing the penniless. About
half-way through the novel, Alex is caught by the authorities. They attempt to
reform him from his life of crime by using a controversial new technique that
forces Alex to become physically ill at even the thought of violence. In the
last chapter of the book, Alex is able to break free of the mental chains that
the reform had captured his soul in, and reinstate his existence as a creature
capable of moral choice by reentering his life of crime (Burgess A Clockwork
Throughout the rough biographical sketch given, certain points in may be
selected in which events in Burgess’s life can be shown to have heavy influence
on A Clockwork Orange. Burgess published A Clockwork Orange in 1962, a time in
England that was marked with a great amount of crime and very violent youths.
Burgess himself had once cited this setting as the source of, or at least the
inspiration of the stories of horror and violence told in this novel (Baldwin
A8). The narrator of this book is the main source of these horror stories.
Alex is cheerful in his life of crime, and is high-spirited about beating the
elderly and raping the defenseless (Bergonzi 85). This trend can be seen in
other books as well. One critic summed it up rather well by saying “His fiction
is peopled with lapsed Catholics, failed poets and musicians, ineffective
teachers, linguists who cannot adjust to the world as easily as they do to the
word, and other intellectual misfits.” (Friedman 1). And so, in this manor,
Burgess used the setting in which he lived to create the characters of many of
his fiction novels.
One of the themes in A Clockwork Orange even seems to have a strong
connection to Burgess’s early life. The “conservative and pessimistic view of
human nature” portrayed in A Clockwork Orange can be attributed to his mother’s
death (Bergonzi 85). In 1919, Burgess’s father came home on furlough to find
that the Spanish Influenza had killed both Burgess’s mother and older sister.
Although Burgess was only two, “This event and its consequences may have played
some part in fashioning Burgess into what he considers a “creature of gloom” is
reasonable speculation” (Stinson 1). This pessimism is evident in the final
chapter of A Clockwork Orange, where the narrator exercises his right to moral
choice by choosing a life of crime even after extensive attempts at reforming
A much more direct parallel can be drawn to the beating of Mrs. F.
Alexander in A Clockwork Orange. In April, 1944, Burgess’s pregnant wife Lynne
was beaten and robbed in London, and miscarried. The doctor ordered her never
to have children, and this caused Lynne to sink into a pit of alcoholism. She
died of cirrhosis of the liver in March 1968. Burgess felt that the attack was
“an important cause of her death. [Burgess] transmutes this wrenching real-life
experience into the fatal attack on Mrs. F. Alexander by Alex and his three
droogs in A Clockwork Orange.” (Stinson 9).
Out of all these influences of Burgess’s life on A Clockwork Orange,
Burgess’s love of music, and its effect on his writing are perhaps the most
evident. As mentioned earlier, Burgess originally wanted to go to school for
music, but he was not accepted due to the fact that he had failed physics
(Stinson 6). This minor set back did not, however, keep Burgess from learning
how to play the piano and teaching himself how to compose music (Stinson 5).
Even some critics have noticed how Burgess allows his love for music to creep
into his love for literature: “[Burgess's] continuing fondness for music often
found its way into his novels, however, and he did produce a number of musical
compositions.” (Friedman 1). Burgess himself wasn’t too humble about his
knowledge in the field of music. He once wrote “Most Musicians know about
literature, but few literaturists know about music.” (Baldwin 1).
Burgess’s love for music can very easily be seen in the narrator of A
Clockwork Orange, Alex. Alex love music too. He often finds himself enveloped
and surrounded by such classical works as Beethoven, to whom he refers to as
‘Ludwig Van’ in this passage: “Waving the great shiny white sleeve of the Ninth,
which had on it, brothers, the frowning beetled like thunderbolttled listo of
Ludwig Van himself….and I set the needle hissing on the last movement, which
was all bliss. There it was then, the bass strings gavoretting away from under
the bed at the rest of the orchestra, and then the male human goloss coming in
and telling them all to be joyful.” (Burgess 43,46). This passage shows how
much Alex enjoys and lives for music, much as Burgess did at times.
The reflection of Burgess’s life can also clearly be seen in the second
book to be analyzed in this paper, Enderby’s Dark Lady. This book is about the
travels of Enderby, a out-of-work theatrical director, searching for work in
England and abroad. Enderby finally does find work in the USA, in Manhattan.
“Dark Lady”, a play directed by Enderby, that took place in Shakespearean times,
was the play Enderby directed in the USA. Enderby falls in love with the
actress that plays the part of ‘the Dark Lady’, April Egar. When his love is
not returned, Enderby deal with the pain by drinking excessively. In the end,
Enderby’s play was a huge success, but Enderby never wins the heart of April
(Burgess Enderby’s Dark Lady).
For example, the previously mentioned beating of Burgess’s wife Lynne
influenced Enderby’s Dark Lady, as well as A Clockwork Orange. In the book,
Enderby’s Dark Lady, Enderby’s wife was savagely beaten, and raped in the
violent streets of England, much like Lynne was beaten (Encyclopedia Americana
80). This also displays a parallel to the turbulent times in England in which
Burgess wrote many of his novels (Baldwin 8).
Throughout the book, Enderby’s Dark Lady, Enderby constantly tries to
find a place to express his creative talent in the field of theatrical directing.
He is unsuccessful in England, and is forced to go across an ocean to find a
place to display his work. This is much like the difficulty Burgess had finding
someone to publish his work (Roger 55).
As mentioned before, Burgess always had a great interest in music.
Burgess even taught himself how to compose music and play the piano.