Anthony Burgess, biographies

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Autobiographical and biographical works about Anthony Burgess.

By Anthony Burgess[edit]

Little Wilson and Big God, Being the First Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess (1986)[edit]

  • Wedged as we are between two eternities of idleness, there is no excuse for being idle now.
  • I was not really anything [at university in the late 1930s] but a renegade Catholic liberal humanist with tendencies to anarchism. Auden and Spender and Day Lewis, who had not proved notably quick to fight for Spain, struck me as naive; so, for different reasons, did T.S. Eliot. There was no solution to the world’s problems in communism, and no personal salvation in Anglicanism. The solutions probably lay with renegade Catholic liberal humanism. I do not think, nearly fifty years after, I have much changed my position. (Part 3, pg. 183)
  • Poor as I was [at one stage of university], however, I still insisted on the Friday night booze-up, with Gaunt and Mason and two men from the English second year called Ian McColl and Harry Green. Green and McColl fascinated me. They were coarse, rejecting totally the grace of civilisation, but the English language and its literature were their life. McColl was so soaked in Anglo-Saxon that it was a natural instinct for him to avoid Latinisms and Hellenisms even in colloquial speech. He was quite prepared, like the poet Barnes, to call an omnibus a folk wain or a telephone a fartalker. He knew German but hated the Nazis, who, after all, were, only disinfecting their language of exoticisms in McColl’s own manner. He and Green knew there was a war coming, and they did regular infantry drill with the university Officer Training Corps. They were both killed in France in 1940, following the tradition of First World War subalterns, and this they were perhaps prepared to foresee. They never spoke of a future; they were fixed in a present of which the literary past was a part. McColl composed orally an endless saga about two lecherous boozers called Filthfroth and Brothelbreath with lines like
Wight then wendeth to pisshouse whitewashéd,
Pulleth out prick, full featly pisseth.
Green, outside a pub in the Shambles called The White Horse, exclaimed at the ancient rune, which the Normans replaced with a digraph, in the definite article. In some arty antique signs, like those outside county town teashops, that rune appears as a Y, but it did not here. ‘Christ,’ Green cried, ‘they’ve got a proper fucking thorn.’ ... Both McColl and Green accepted the Scrutiny literary canon, but they were ahead of it, rather than behind, in exalting Kipling, Burns and A. E. Housman. Ale, lad, [sic] ale’s the stuff to drink, for fellows whom it hurts to think. Mithridates, he died old. McColl felt there was a literary future in the Shropshire Lad technique if it could be deprissified:
And I have walked no way I looked
But multitudinously puked
Into the gutter, legs outstretched,
Holding my sconce low as I retched.
‘Multitudinously’, a blatant Latinism, he excused since it was being vomited up or out.
  • Dylan Thomas was the one big name [in the literary circles Burgess frequented in wartime London], but George Orwell, known chiefly as a competent journalist who had had his larynx weakened by a Spanish bullet, sometimes appeared in the Wheatsheaf or Fitzroy Tavern to down a silent half. He stood on the edge of a company of film workers one evening to listen distractedly to Gilbert Wood, a petulant painter mentioned scornfully, though not by name, in Maclaren-Ross’s Memoirs. Wood ... was terrified even by the mention of rats and, inevitably in his presence, rats would sooner or later gnaw into the conversation. ... I believe Orwell picked up the idea of Winston Smith’s phobia from Gilbert Wood. When, much later, I told Wood that I had eaten stewed rat, he vomited.
  • The view of Liverpudlians that they are a race apart is well-founded. There is the unanalysable genetic mixture of a great port and also Welsh from the south and Irish a jump across from Dublin. The speech is distinctive. ‘All got your furs, love?’ cried the tram conductress, who kept warm with a bit of moth-eaten fare. The energy is immense and explains the gratuitous violence. ... Generosity could lead to violence. If I asked a direction I would soon have a crowd around me giving contradictory instructions. I would leave a fight behind and have to ask again. ... Of all the British cities that deserve the curative attention of the British government Liverpool comes first. The Bootle Beatles were taken too seriously, but, in their modest way, they exemplified the combative energy of the great decayed port. Guilt pricked me when I began to feel a larger loyalty to it than to Manchester.
  • They [Burgess’s students in foreign languages] just could not understand why one word had to be masculine and another feminine and, in German, yet another neuter. One student puzzled over das Pferd and asked ... if all the horses were castrated in Germany. My approach was as gross as the one I used with my illiterates when teaching the alphabet. I said that some cultures were so obsessed with sex that sex entered into things that had no sex. Thus, a pencil was like a prick and hence was properly el lapiz or le crayon. Water was rightly feminine: you could dip your wick in it. Discussing this technique – prick-words and cunt-words – in the Army Education Office, I disgusted a high Anglican clerk who spoke like a bishop. He asked for a transfer and told the major why. This, naturally, did me no good.
  • We landed at London docks [finally returning from service with Army education in Gibraltar], and the first thing we saw ashore was a poster of an anguished widow over the slogan ‘Keep Death Off the Roads’. Someone had scratched this out and substituted ‘She Voted Labour’.
  • There was a writer already working on a novel which should present the ultimate austerity, whose properties he took from the years of the British peace. This was Orwell, whom I saw briefly at the Mandrake Club, which specialized in dubious gin flavoured with cloves and a large number of chessboards. It was run by a man called Boris. I had brought back with me from Gilbraltar a number of tins of Victory cigarettes, which were a very briefly maintained army ration and quite unsmokable. But I paid taxi fares with them. orwell’s non-committal eye took in the tin I had on my table at the Mandrake, which became the Chestnut Tree Café, but [he] did not accept a cigarette, preferring to roll his own. But his description of Victory cigarettes in Nineteen Eighty-Four is accurate, and his Victory gin is Boris’s. ... The physical reality of his prophecy is, for me, set firmly in the forties, though it makes me shudder to remember that I pondered over chess moves in the Chestnut Tree Café. Orwell’s power to ensour things was considerable. ... The term Orwellian is wrongly applied to the future. It was the miserable forties that were Orwellian.
  • In 1943 there had been the Battle of Bamber Bridge, well remembered, though it never got into the official chronicles of the war. Black soldiers had barricaded the camp against the whites and trained machine guns on to them. The Brigg was totally black in sentiment. When the US military authorities had demanded that the pubs impose a colour bar, the landlords had responded with ‘Black Troops Only’.
  • The landlord of this pub [the Red Lion in Adderbury, Oxfordshire], Ted Arden, was from Stratford-on-Avon. He was of the family of Shakespeare’s mother, though he made no capital out of this, and he had inherited a fiddle-browed Shakespearian head which was clearly an Arden endowment. [It] was he, in his aitchless ungrammatical Warwickshire, who told me of the Stratford tradition that Shakespeare had had an affair with a black woman and this resulted in his nose dropping off.
  • As we entered a zone of heat more furious than anything I had known in Gibraltar, I felt I was approaching a world I could live in. I sweated and was happy to sweat. Where there ain’t no ten commandments and a man can raise a thirst. That summed it up. My repressive Catholic heritage was a very small and eccentric item in the inventory of the world’s religions. I would sweat and drink gin pahits and taste the varied sexual resources of the East.
  • I wandered Singapore and was enchanted. I picked up a Chinese prostitute on Bugis Street. We went to a filthy hôtel de passe full of the noise of hawking and spitting, termed by the cynical the call of the East. I entered her and entered the territory.
  • Colonial functionaries had to learn the major language of their territory at a formidable level. A kitchen jargon, good enough for wives, with bad grammar and a master-race pronunciation, was usually preferred by the natives, who did not believe it was possible for a foreigner with a white skin to learn their tongue. Colonial civil servants had to disconcert these natives with a linguistic mastery, including a control of many registers, equal to, or greater than, their own.
  • The demands of Islamic wives for frequent sexual congress did not indicate true sensual appetite: they were a test of the fidelity of their husbands. A Malay female body, musky, shapely, golden-brown, was always a delight....They were seductive as few women are....
    My experience with Chinese girls was mostly, alas, commercial. Prostitutes, or dance-hall girls, knew all the postures, were thin, lithe, sinuous, but disappointingly uninvolved in the act....
  • The few Thailand women I met in northern Malaya called the sexual act kedunkading, with a resonant stress on the last syllable, enjoyed congress as a laughing game and experienced quick and happy orgasms with little help from the male. It was Indian women who, as one would expect from the serious Sanskrit amatory manuals, disclosed most knowledge of the techniques of inducing transport, for themselves and for their partners...
  • Not far from Kuala Kangsar, on the road to the tin-town of Ipoh, was the village called Sungai Siput (meaning Snail River), reputed to be the headquarters of the Chinese communist terrorists. These terrorists were certainly more active in the state of Perak than in, say, the maritime province of Kelantan, because of the great number of rubber estates there abutting on the jungle. They would come out of the jungle, steal supplies, terrorise the Chinese and Indian workers, and garotte or shoot the white planters. All this in the name of human freedom. Their arms were mostly left over from the time when they were fighting the Japanese. Perak was full of troops of the Malay Regiment, which had its quota of British conscripts, and questing planes and helicopters hummed over the jungle. The atmosphere was warlike. Car trips to Ipoh could be dangerous. The mems in their flowery dresses went to do their shopping in armoured vehicles. Planters laid their heavy service revolvers in the beer-slop of the Idris Club. This was named for a former sultan of Perak, Idris being the Koranic equivalent of Enoch. The sultan who reigned during the time of the Emergency was Yusof.
  • Yusof was also the name of the cook boy who came to work for us. He was homosexual but far from effeminate. He had been in and out of the hands of the police for various small thefts, and police medical examinations disclosed a zakar or hak or pesawat or jantan or kalam or 'urat or butoh or ayok-ayutan and a pair of buah pelir or buah peler or kelepir or bodek or telor (there is no end to the number of Malay terms for the genitals) bigger than any in Kuala Kangsar. He could shift a piano single-handed. He dyed his hair with henna and muscularly minced. The advances he made to me were politely repelled, but he demanded a kind of earnest of an intimate relationship between us - a studio wedding photograph of the two of us, me in Palm Beach suit and songkok or Malay velvet cap, him in bridal dress adorned with frangipani. When I would not yield to this he exacted various acts of revenge - thefts of money and of underpants, finally the lacing of my gin with an aphrodisiac bought in the market. The aphrodisiac proved to be an emetic. He had picked up cooking in the kitchen of the Malay Regiment officers' mess, and he served us nauseating dishes with cold sculpted potatoes, parodies of some dream of the haute cuisine anglaise. Lynne taught him simpler recipes - stew of kambing (goat or mutton : one could never be sure) and even lobscouse, which was eventually adopted in the town as a dish believed to be native Malay. He would ruin these with fistfuls of carraway seeds. Eventually we lived on his curries, which, being Malay, were mild but not bad. If he stole from me, he made up for this by stealing from the store cupboards of the preparatory school mess - tinned peaches and polished rice. When he set the table he would place with the salt cellar and the Worcester sauce a tin of furniture polish. He could not read.
  • When he was given money for marketing he would spend some of it on a small animal - an ailing mouse-deer or pelandok, a twittering yellow bird in a bamboo cage. He adored Lalage but Lalage mistrusted his big brown feet. Lalage became the nucleus of a whole domestic zoo. Yusof brought in, with the help of a friend, a huge turtle that slept in the bath at night but, during the day, clanked around the house, knocking its shell against the wall. We were also given a musang or polecat which stank to heaven and ate two katis of bananas every day. The polecat was named Farouche and the turtle Bucephalus. Two rhesus monkeys, male and female, were also imported, but these swung on the ceiling fans and were destructive. All over the walls cheeped chichaks or house lizards, hunting or copulating loudly. Black scorpions clung to the bedroom walls and greeted one on waking with twitching tails an inch or so over one's head.
  • Our amah or cleaning and laundering girl was named Mas, which means gold. She was very small, less than five feet, and of mixed origin - Sumatran, Siamese, a touch of China. She spoke a little English - "Yusof a bit cracked, tuan," she would say, rightly - but was fluent in all the tongues of the peninsula. Her father called himself Mr. Raja and was reputed to have committed incest with her - sumbang, a terrible crime - but was immune from any criminal charge because the Sultan owed him money. He looked wholly Tamil. Mas had been married at the age of twelve. This was unusually young, but the occupying Japanese had had the delicacy not to send married women to their brothels. Mas's one son, born when she was thirteen, was a burly policeman who looked ten years older than his mother.
  • I gained the impression from Mas, and from other Malays, real or pseudo, that the Japanese occupation had been easy on the sons of the soil but very tough on the Chinese. This, naturally, pleased the sons of the soil, who had been allowed to turn to Mecca in the west at sunrise on condition that they turned to the east first and who, apart from the brothelisation of the unmarried girls, had been treated with reasonable courtesy. Yusof Tajuddin, one of my colleagues at the Malay College, had learned Japanese so well that he won an elocution contest open to native Nipponese as well as to the occupied. The learning of Japanese did nobody anything but good, since the Japanese were going to take over the East, if not the world, commercially when their more aggressive imperialism failed. Yusof Tajuddin had rather liked the Japanese, a clean and logical people. The Japanese had been impressed with the colonial system they took over. To the Malays the return of the British had not meant liberation from an oppressive regime but the mere replacement of a set of yellow foreigners by white ones. It was the Chinese, aggressive in business, murderous in the jungle, who were the real enemy.
  • Yusof Tajuddin may have liked the Japanese, and Mas have tolerated them, but both shuddered at memories of what King's Pavilion had been during the occupation. "This not good place, mem," Mas used to say. Yusof Tajuddin, in his impeccable RP English, was more explicit. King's Pavilion had been used as a centre of torture and interrogation. Dried blood, irremovable with any amount of Vim, stained the floor of the main bathroom, through whose open channels much blood had flowed. Yusof Tajuddin explained the peculiar chill of the bathroom, otherwise inexplicable in a house with few fans on which the sun beat, in psychic terms : the frozen hands of death clutched it still and would clutch it for ever. A Scottish engineer of intense scepticism entered the bathroom on our invitation and came out shuddering. In the raintrees and banyans at sunset, Yusof the cook alleged, the voices of the tortured and executed could be heard complaining. Lynne and I could not hear these voices, but we knew Yusof to be superstitious in the manner of his race. He found hantu-hantu (or hantu 2) everywhere. I do not know the etymology of the word, which means ghost, but have often wondered whether there is some ancient connection, through Sanskrit, with haunt. For Yusof everything was haunted. His middle finger, or jari hantu, was haunted and must be careful about what it touched. He had seen a hantu bangkit, a sheeted ghost risen from the grave that, prevented from walking by its winding sheet, had rolled towards Yusof with evil intent. He had seen the hantu belian or tiger ghost. There was a kitchen ghost, disguised as a mat, that sometimes reared itself at him and made him smash the crockery. There were gnomes in the soil, hantu tanah, and the owl, or burong hantu, was a literal ghost-bird that stared at him and made him scream in his sleep. He knew all the hantu-hantu or hantu 2. The voices in the banyans were nothing compared with the visible ghosts with trailing entrails or the spectral huntsman (hantu pemburu), but they were there. We had better believe it.
  • There were good ghostly reasons for not wishing to stay in King's Pavilion, but the real causes for our dissatisfaction with the place were more mundane. It was beautiful enough, an ample structure of the Victorian age, and the view from its verandahs was sumptuous. It looked down on great trees and gardens tended by thin Tamils drunk on todi or palm wine ; beyond was the confluence of rivers ; beyond again the jungle and the mountains. But the gorgeousness of the vista was inadequate payment for the responsibility imposed on us. We inhabited what was in effect a huge flat cut off, but not cut off enough, from the classrooms and dormitories of the preparatory school. At the beginning of the school year weeping Malay boys would arrive with their mothers and fathers, who would stay a night with them and try to stay more, and prepare to be turned into sophisticated collegians. They knew no English, and this had to be taught to them in a two-year course by a Mr. Mahalingam and a Mrs. Vivekananda. They were taught weird vowels and doubtful accentuations. Mrs. Vivekananda made them sing "Old Blick Jooooh" and Mr. Mahalingam did not correct them when they turned bullock cart into bulokar. When lessons were over they made much noise and pissed from their balcony into the inner court, visible while Lynne and I ate lunch. If I railed at them they ran away. If I entered their screaming dormitory they would drag out their prayer mats and howl towards Mecca, knowing that their religious devotions rendered them untouchable by the infidel. They called me Puteh, or white, and also Mat Salleh, or Holy Joe. The other teachers of the Malay College could go to quiet houses on Bukit Chandan, meaning Sandalwood Hill, when their work was over. Lynne and I had to cope with noise and responsibility.
  • It was literally a responsibility for life and death. The garden was full of snakes, of which Malaya has a large variety, and a king cobra with a growing family was much around King's Pavilion during my tenure. Scorpions would get into the boys' shoes or beds and sting them bitterly. Hygiene was a problem, for the water supply was erratic and sometimes totally failed. Because of some fault in the meter, the Water Department recorded an excessive use of water in a dry time when, in fact, there was no water at all. My complaints and counter-complaints were rebuffed. I groaned in my stomach. I had the reputation of being bloody-minded : it was the army all over again. Moreover, a linguistic burden was being imposed upon me which I could not, in my first few months, easily sustain. I had to harangue these young boys in good idiomatic Malay and, though I was learning the language fast, I was not able to learn it fast enough.
  • There was always an amateurishness in colonial administration, and even in technical specialisation, which was deemed desirable by the British, who have never trusted professionalism. Sir Frank Swettenham, one of the founder Malayan administrators, laid down succinctly the qualities desirable in a new recruit to the service - good at games, not so good at studies, unmarried and amoral enough to employ a sleeping dictionary, not too matey otherwise with the natives, clubbable. He might have added something about artistic taste, or lack of it, but that, like a fear of intellectualism, is probably implied in the first two items. If I had hoped to find intellectual companionship among my white colleagues it was because I expected a transferral of the grammar school atmosphere to a college celebrating fifty years of academic glory. But there was little glory, except on the rugger and hockey fields. Jimmy Howell announced with satisfaction at a staff meeting the installation of a hundred stout locks for the library bookcases. "One for each book," I unwisely said. The extra-curricular lives of the teachers reflected the lack of academic ambition in the school itself. They had their long-playing record-players and their shelves of book club novels, golf clubs in the hallway and stengahs on the tray. They took trips to Ipoh to shop at Whiteways and take a bit of decent makan in the Ipoh Club (ikan tinggeri belle meuniere). They had their decent little cars.
  • Lynne and I had never learned to drive, an aspect of our long poverty, and I was not sure that I wanted a car. Few of my non-expatriate colleagues had them, and to whizz around the little royal town in a Ford or Austin was to emphasise the gulf between the privileged whites and the poor blacks, browns and yellows. Not that the coloured were necessarily without cars : there were rich Chinese and a Sultan with a whole polished fleet of Buicks and Daimlers. But the Malays trudged on big brown bare feet or took trishaws. I walked and soaked my shirt in the damnable humidity : this, and my growing mastery of the Malay language, placed me too close to the natives for the comfort of my colleagues. I also carried on a quiet love affair with one of the natives, a girl named Rahimah who worked as a waitress in a Chinese coffee shop. She was very small and very pretty and she was a divorcée. Muslim divorce was too easy, and there were far too many of these cast-off girls about. I was deeply sorry for Rahimah, who had a small wage, scant tips, and a small son named Mat to look after (Mat being the Malay short form of Mohamed). I gave her what money I could, and we made love in her tiny cell that smelt of curry and Himalayan Bouquet while Mat was at the junior Koran school.
  • I had better say a little now about love-making in the East. With Malays there were certain restrictions on the amatory forms, laid down by Islam, so that only the posture of Venus observed was officially permitted. Islamic women were supposed to be passive houris. The demands of Islamic wives for frequent sexual congress did not indicate true sensual appetite : they were a test of the fidelity of their husbands. A Malay female body, musky, shapely, golden-brown, was always a delight. Malay women rarely ran to fat, which was reserved to the wives of the Chinese towkays and was an index of prosperity. Malay women kept their figures after childbirth through a kind of ritual roasting over an open fire, tightly wrapped in greased winding-sheets. They walked proudly in sarongs and bajus (little shaped coats), their glossy hair permanently waved, their heels high. They were seductive as few white women are. Lying with Rahimah I regretted my own whiteness : a white skin was an eccentricity and looked like a disease. Simple though Malay sex was, it had an abundant vocabulary. To copulate was jamah or berjima or juma'at or bersatu (literally to become one), or sa-tuboh, asmara, betanchok (this term was peculiar to Perak), ayut, ayok and much much more. There was even a special term for sexual congress after the forty-day birth taboo - pechah kepala barut - and there were two for the boy's initiation after circumcision - menyepoh tua, with someone older, menyepoh muda, with someone younger. The orgasm was dignified with an Arabic loanword, shahuat, or colloquially called rumah sudah ratip - literally, "the structure has gone into an ecstatic trance", ratip or ratib being properly the term for the transport produced by the constant repetition of the holy name Allah. Where the Western term for experiencing orgasm is, in whatever language, "to come", the Malay mind, using keluar, thinks of going out, leaving the body, floating on air.
  • My experience with Chinese girls was mostly, alas, commercial. Prostitutes, or dance-hall girls, knew all the postures, were thin, live, lithe, sinuous, but disappointingly uninvolved in the act. Kuala Kangsar, like other Eastern towns, was full of Chinese women who went around in sexual sororities, aware, in their age-old wisdom, that only a woman can give a woman satisfaction, and that multiple congress is more ecstatic than dual. In one Malayan school I knew, the sole Chinese woman teacher seduced the white teaching wives, broke up all their marriages, and induced a male and a female suicide. Chinese men, so Chinese women seemed to believe, were not useful in bed. They deemed it sufficient to have a long-lasting erection, and there were Chinese medicines around, usually with a high lead content, which ruined the prostate but contrived a hard and unproductive rod. I knew a Chinese businessman of eighty in Kuala Kangsar who had married a wife of eighteen, a sign of prosperity unmatched by marital prowess until he filled his system with lead. He died smiling on an erection.
  • The few Thailand women I met in northern Malaya called the sexual act kedunkading, with a resonant stress on the last syllable, enjoyed congress as a laughing game and experienced quick and happy orgasms with little help from the male. It was the Indian women who, as one would expect from the serious Sanskrit amatory manuals, disclosed most knowledge of the techniques of inducing transport, for themselves and for their partners, of renewing desire more times than the frame seemed capable of supporting, of relating enjoyment to strenuous athletics, and leaving the male body a worn-out rag tenuously clinging to a spiritualised sensorium open-eyed in heaven. I had sexual encounters with Tamil women blacker than Africans, including a girl who could not have been older than twelve, but none with Bengalis or Punjabis. Whatever her race, the Eastern partner's allure was always augmented by the ambience of spice from the spice-shops, the rankness of the drains, the intense heat of the day, the miracle of transitory coolness at sundown, with the coppersmith birds hammering away at tree-trunks and the fever-bird emitting its segment of a scale - sometimes three notes, sometimes four. Sex in the West is too cold, too unaromatic. It is only fair to say that Orientals, especially, for some reason, Sikhs, have found ecstasies in Bayswater unprocurable in the lands of spice.
  • I wrote a novel some years ago which presents a whole lifetime of homosexuality and, in American bookshops, found its way to the shelf specialising in "gay" literature. For all that, I have never had homosexual proclivities, and I do not well understand what causes the inversion, which goes against biology. There seemed, in my time in Malaya, very few British expatriates drawn to brown male bodies. Islam does not approve of sodomy, despite its prevalence in the desert and in the lands of the Moghrab, and my cook Yusof seemed to be a rare and notorious exception to the sexual current of Kuala Kangsar. He was sometimes called benignly a limau nipis, or thin-skinned lime, which is one of the few terms the Malays have for catamite, or a member of the kaum nabi Lot, the tribe of the prophet Lot, which is a libel on the one straight man of the Cities of the Plain, but his disposition was merely mused upon as an interesting deviation. In the dormitories of the Malay College there was little amatory thumping around. I was surrounded in the Federation by a vigorous fleshly normality. Only the Sikhs, feeling themselves to be an exclusive warlike brotherhood, grunted against each other with turbans awry and beards wagging. The land pullulated with brown and yellow children tumbling into the monsoon drains. There was no danger of its going dry through unwillingness to breed.
  • There was enough commercial sex around in the towns of Malaya, but there was a certain discretion of display. The secondary exploitation of it, in stage shows or blatant underwear advertisements, was mostly abhorrent to the Eastern mind, though there was a famous Chinese striptease performer named Rose Chan who drew crowds of towkays panting under their binoculars. It was the white woman who was expected to be shameless and provocative. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell were to be seen in Cinemascope, and there was a full-page advertisement for The Barefoot Contessa in the Straits Times presenting Ava Gardner as "the most beautiful animal in the world". Some of my students pinned this page to the wall above their beds. The crinolined or embustled mems of the old days had been untouchable, but things were changing in the new age of democracy and equality. All Kuala Kangsar was on fire when a French film called Ah! Les Belles Bacchantes was shown. In it French women exhibited pert little bosoms and men of all races united in groans of lust. The Frenchwoman, or perempuan Paranchis, stood for lasciviousness, and the town of Kota Bharu on the East Coast was known, pathetically, as the Paris of the East because of the sexual licence that was believed to prevail there. There was a Frenchwoman in Kuala Kangsar, but she was a very austere doctor of medicine in a white coat. There was only one woman who, not behaving like the traditional English mem in the East and possessing the blonde beauty of a film star, was taken to be erotic in the French manner, and that was my wife.
  • Time for a Tiger was sometimes compared unfavourably with the Eastern stories of Somerset Maugham, who was considered, and still is, the true fictional expert on Malaya. The fact is that Maugham knew little of the country outside the very bourgeois lives of the planters and the administrators. He certainly knew none of the languages. Nor did Joseph Conrad. When I stated, as a matter of plain fact, that I knew more Malay than Conrad, I was accused of conceit....
  • Greene made it clear to me that he had achieved much and had reached a plateau where he could afford to take leisurely breath. He had not written the definitive Malayan novel which should match the definitive Vietnamese one entitled The Quiet American, and he did not think that I would write it either....

You've Had Your Time, Being the Second Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess (1990)[edit]

  • I got on with the task of turning myself into a brief professional writer. The term professional is not meant to imply a high standard of commitment and attainment: it meant then, as it still does, the pursuit of a trade or calling to the end of paying the rent and buying liquor. I leave the myth of inspiration and agonised creative inaction to the amateurs. The practice of a profession entails discipline, which for me meant the production of two thousand words of fair copy every day, weekends included. I discovered that, if I started early enough, I could complete the day’s stint before the pubs opened. Or, if I could not, there was an elated period of the night after closing time, with neighbours banging on the walls to protest at the industrious clacking. Two thousand words a day means a yearly total of 730,000. Step up the rate and, without undue effort, you can reach a million. This ought to mean ten novels of 100,000 words each. This quantitative approach is not, naturally, to be approved. And because of hangovers, marital quarrels, creative deadness induced by the weather, shopping trips, summonses to meet state officials, and sheer torpid gloom, I was not able to achieve more than five and a half novels of very moderate size in that pseudo-terminal year. Still, it was very nearly E.M.Forster’s whole long life’s output.
  • After that first visit, East Berlin became for me one of the metaphysical cities. If ever I wavered in my acceptance of Western capitalism, I had only to return to that grimness unenlivened by the gaudy posters of commercialism to wish to scuttle back to nudes and Mammon...
  • The East Berliners were in their wretched element, having passed immediately from one totalitarian regime to another. The damnable hypocrisy of the half-town, pretending that the West was the true prison and the gunmen were protecting the freedom of the citizen, stood for a metaphysic based on lies, the biggest lie of all being the perversion of the term demokratisch. Under the roof of the Friedrichstrabe S-Bahn platform two boys with sub-machine-guns paced, their eyes on potential refugees from communist prosperity. It was a relief to get to the Zoo station and all the howling injunctions to consume.
  • The only guilt I have felt at leaving England is the guilt of not missing England more.
  • I do not boast about the quality of my work, but I may be permitted to pride myself on the gift of steady application. I will get things done somehow, as D.H.Lawrence did. I fade out of the life of my loved ones to work, even while in their presence, and to them I do not seem to have been working at all. I will even compose music in front of a television film that is blasting music of its own. I do not like my work to get in the way of other people’s lives. I do not call for silence or cups of tea. In the Bedmobile, jolting through Italy, I would type at the rear table, having made myself a pint of strong tea on the stove fed by nether gas tubes. The gift of concentration stays with me, and it is perhaps my only gift.
  • ...one can't throw away the Eucharist so easily.
  • The aura of the theocratic death penalty for adultery still clings to America, even outside New England, and multiple divorce, which looks to the European like serial polygamy, is the moral solution to the problem of the itch. Love comes into it too, of course, but in Europe we tend to see marital love as an eternity which encompasses hate and also indifference: when we promise to love we really mean that we promise to honour a contract. Americans, seeming to take marriage with not enough seriousness, are really taking love and sex with too much.
  • I cannot keep myself healthy - too many bad habits ingrained, cardiac bronchitis like the orchestra of death tuning up under water - but I submit to the promptings of an energy that might be diagnosed as health perverted, for true health enjoys itself and does not wish to act. The energy, which I call creative, is given to the thousand words a day I vowed to produce after the failure of the neurologists’ prognosis freed me from writing more.
  • Am I happy? Probably not. Having passed the prescribed biblical age limit, I have to think of death, and I do not like the thought. There is a vestigial fear of hell, and even of purgatory, and no amount of rereading rationalist authors can expunge it. If there is only darkness after death, then that darkness is the ultimate reality and that love of life that I intermittently possess is no preparation for it. In face of the approaching blackness, which Winston Churchill facetiously termed black velvet, concerning oneself with a world that is soon to fade out like a television image in a power cut seems mere frivolity. But rage against the dying of the light is only human, especially when there are still things to be done, and my rage sometimes sounds to myself like madness. It is not only a question of works never to be written; it is a matter of things unlearned. I have started to learn Japanese, but it is too late; I have started to read Hebrew, but my eyes will not take in the jots and tittles. How can one fade out in peace, carrying vast ignorance into a state of total ignorance?
  • The rage I wake to and take to bed is a turbulence not always related to an object. It seems like a pure emotion looking for an object. It cathartises itself into salty howling, then exhaustion, then it starts again.
  • Kingsley Amis and John Braine had been very much men of the left, but now they were swinging towards a reactionary stance that denied artistic progressivism as well as political.
    • Page 140
  • I had never had strong political beliefs. If I was a kind of Jacobite Tory, like John Dryden and Samuel Johnson, this was because socialism was positivist and denied original sin.
    • Page 140
  • I was in the right country for cheating. The Italians, after two thousand years of bad government (except for the odd interludes recorded by Gibbon), had no respect for la legge.
    • Page 222
  • The young Jane Eyre, sternly asked what she, foul sinner, must do to avoid hell, answers that she must keep herself healthy to put it off as long as possible.
    • Page 389

About Anthony Burgess[edit]

Anthony Burgess: A Life (2002)[edit]

Roger Lewis, Anthony Burgess: A Life, Faber and Faber, 2002; also published as Anthony Burgess (Faber and Faber, 2003, ISBN 0571217214) and as Anthony Burgess: A Biography (Macmillan, Thomas Dunne, 2004, ISBN 0312322518).

  • Words were things to him, objects, jewels. They are what he gets emotional and meaningful about.
  • He never got the hang of young people and would bridle and bristle at long hair and pop music like a beef-faced retired colonel in Angmering-on-Sea.
  • Being Burgess was...a bogus business.
  • ...a parody of a great writer, rather than a great writer.
  • ...what is this persistent fantasy that he is a great leg-over man?....he has had carnal knowledge of Chinese, Malay, Buginese, Tamil, Singhalese, Bengali, Japanese and Algonquin women - all prostitutes....Or perhaps it was the same prostitute - there's a lot of racial overlap in the Federated Malay States....his sexual antics are fiction.
  • ...great writer who never wrote a great book - but perfected a great writer act.
  • He was a whole world to me once when I was young and what I published was academic in inspiration ... It worries me that henceforward he is going to have a spurious reputation ... pumped up by second-rate scholar-squirrels from unheard-of institutions.
  • His conversation was a monologue, delivered in his exhibitionistic Victorian actor-manager voice.
  • I think Burgess hated being a human being, and he was only to be happy inside his head.
  • Burgess was not a generous man, financially, spiritually or morally...
  • [on Burgess's first wife Lynne] Who, in actuality, would want to align themselves with her ruinous boozing? Once you'd seen her project a stream of vomit, like the trumpet of the Archangel Gabriel, six feet across a room, you'd seen everything. It's so sad, the decline from a sheltered and provincial childhood to a non-life as an afternoon-club drunk and good-time girl. She returned to her husband because there really was nobody else....she couldn't cope with adulthood - with its disappointments, curtailments, longings and dissolvings. Hence, the drinking trough, the recourse of those who fear a clear consciousness, who are disinclined to see things in their true colours.
  • ...Burgess is like a definition of hell.
  • He wrote to keep back his thoughts, and not (particularly) to articulate them.
  • ....Though he wanted us to believe his sexual energies were unstoppable, actually he was impotent.
  • ...gaunt, wan features ... waxy and pallid, long deprived of the sun. And how are we going to describe his hair? The yellowish-white powdery strands were coiled on his scalp like Bram Stoker's Dracula ... What does it say about a man that he could go around like that ... king of the comb-over (did the clumps and fronds emanate from his ear-hole?) ... however the nicotine-stained fuzzy bush at the summit of frame served to distract from the ugliness of the rest of his face ... unnaturally long lower teeth, the colour of maize, and no upper set to speak of, the top of his mouth or lip having become elongated to conceal his gums, like a baboon.
  • If he'd had a daughter, would he have pounced on her? An impossible speculation – who can say?
  • ...he was berserk.
  • His success came from impressing people who didn't quite know better; he was left alone by those who did. He fell into that gap, and made a fortune for himself.
  • He knew you weren't his equal, and I find this an insult.
  • Who does he think he is?
  • I continue to feel close to him....His dedication and intelligence can't be denied...
  • I wallowed in Burgess's fecundity and catholicity....I adored his spectacle and noise, his flamboyance, the surface pleasures of his prose....he was irresistible.
  • ...he is a man whose talents, acquirements and virtues are so extraordinary, that the more his character is considered, the more he will be regarded by the present age, and by posterity, with admiration and reverence. He was a Doctor Johnson of our fin de siècle...
  • ...a prince of the powers of the air; a mountain range full of ravines and waterfalls, torrents, crags and snowfields, casting a shadow for leagues over the plains...[even if his] house of fiction, for all its flights of stairs, antechambers, labyrinthine libraries, annexes, sliding panels, trapdoors, secret rooms, chambers of horrors and ornate carvings, is a bit gimcrack.

The Real Life of Anthony Burgess (2005)[edit]

Andrew Biswell, The Real Life of Anthony Burgess, 2005, ISBN 0330481703

  • [Burgess] engaged in a good deal of public and private fantasising...laying down an alarming number of false trails.
  • ...harmless tendency to misremember the events of his own past for comic or dramatic effect.
  • This was the order of a typical Burgess day in Etchingham in the 1960s. He would get up between seven and eight in the morning – 'grudgingly', he said – and bring himself to full wakefulness by blasting out William Walton’s Portsmouth Point Overture or the Crown Imperial March on the record-player downstairs. Then he would kick his dog, a border collie named Hajji....Breakfast would be followed by...jokes and conversation with Lynne. She would open the morning’s post while he went through the newspapers (the Times and the Daily Mirror). Around ten o’clock he would go upstairs to his study, a large room with a south-facing window, looking out on to a long garden where caged guinea-pigs chewed the grass to save the trouble of having to mow it. He would settle down at the typewriter with a pint-mug of strong tea – ‘stepmother’s tea’ is what F.X. Enderby calls it – made with 'no fewer than five Twinings Irish Breakfast tea-bags'. He would remain at his desk for at least eight hours every day, weekends included, smoking excessively (his regular intake was eighty cigarettes per day) and rising occasionally – because he suffered from haemorrhoids, which he called the Writer’s Evil – to pace around the study....When his concentration failed, he would take three Dexedrine tablets, washing them down with a pint of iced gin-and-tonic before returning to the typewriter. Piles of books for review...covered the floor of his study and overflowed...onto the landing and down the stairs. (He reviewed more than 350 novels in just over two years for the Yorkshire Post, and there were always other freelance writing jobs on the go....) Apart from the work, of which there was obviously a great deal, there was also the drinking to get done. Burgess and Lynne would get through a couple of bottles of wine over dinner, and a dozen bottles of Gordon's gin were delivered to the house every week....

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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