On this day…25 February

On 25 February 1917 Anthony Burgess was born.

Probably best known today for his novel A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess also wrote three books on Joycean topics and a musical adaptation of Joyce’s Ulysses.

In Here Comes Everybody: An introduction to James Joyce for the ordinary reader (1965), Burgess tries to make Joyce’s works accessible to those who, he says, have been scared off by the aura of difficulty created by academic Joyceans. He claims that “If ever there was a writer for the people, Joyce was that writer.” For A Shorter Finnegans Wake (1966), Burgess reduced Joyce’s novel by two thirds. His aim was to provide what he thought was the gist of the novel by giving the reader lengthy extracts from the Wake connected by short pieces of running commentary. In his book Joysprick: An introduction to the language of James Joyce (1973), Burgess, an accomplished linguist and translator, tackles the subject of Joyce’s language itself. In 1982, to celebrate the centenary of Joyce’s birth, the BBC commissioned a musical version of Joyce’s Ulysses, entitled The Blooms of Dublin, from Burgess.

Born John Anthony Burgess Wilson in Manchester to Catholic parents, he graduated from Victoria University of Manchester in with a degree in English literature and language in 1940, and spent the next six years in the army, working mainly in the Educational Corps. After a further eight years as a teacher in England he joined the British Colonial Service and went to Malay as an education officer. His first published novels, dating from 1956, were based on his experiences in Malaya. He then moved to Brunei, and back to England in 1959 where he became a full-time writer.

A trip to Leningrad inspired the Russian-based slang Nadsat used in Burgess’ most famous novel, A Clockwork Orange, which was published in 1962 and later made into a controversial film by Stanley Kubrick. He left England with his second wife and lived in Malta, Rome, and the United States, before settling in Monaco where he was a co-founder of the Princess Grace Irish Library. He was a multi-millionaire by the time he returned to England where he died in 1993.

In addition to being a prolific novelist, a composer, and a translator, Burgess was also a long-time literary critic for the Observer and Guardian newspapers.


Sources & Further Reading:

Burgess, Anthony: Here Comes Everybody – An introduction to James Joyce for the ordinary reader, London: Faber & Faber, 1965.

–  –  : Joysprick – An introduction to the language of James Joyce, London: André Deutsch, 1973.

Joyce, James: A Shorter Finnegans Wake, edited by Anthony Burgess, London: Faber & Faber, 1965.