Anthony Burgess

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The scientific approach to life is not necessarily appropriate to states of visceral anguish.

Anthony Burgess (25 February 191722 November 1993) was an English writer and composer whose novels include the Malayan trilogy, A Clockwork Orange, the Enderby cycle, Nothing Like The Sun, Earthly Powers and The Kingdom Of The Wicked. He also produced critical works on Joyce, Lawrence, Hemingway and Shakespeare, and studies of language and of pornography.

See also: Anthony Burgess, biographies.


If Shakespeare required a word and had not met it in civilised discourse, he unhesitatingly made it up.
  • 'East? They wouldn’t know the bloody East if they saw it. Not if you was to hand it to them on a plate would they know it was the East. That’s where the East is, there.' He waved his hand wildly into the black night. 'Out there, west. You wasn’t there, so you wouldn’t know. Now I was. Palestine Police from the end of the war till we packed up. That was the East. You was in India, and that’s not the East any more than this is. So you know nothing about it either. So you needn’t be talking.'
  • Nabby Adams, supine on the bed, grunted. It was four o’clock in the morning and he did not want to be talking. He had had a confused coloured dream about Bombay, shot with sharp pangs of unpaid bills. Over it all had brooded thirst, thirst for a warmish bottle of Tiger beer. Or Anchor. Or Carlsberg. He said, 'Did you bring any beer back with you?'
  • 'And make up your mind about what bloody race you belong to. One minute it’s all about being a farmer’s boy in Northamptonshire and the next you’re on about the old days in Calcutta and what the British have done to Mother India and the snake-charmers and the bloody temple-bells. Ah, wake up, for God’s sake. You’re English right enough but you’re forgetting how to speak the bloody language, what with traipsing about with Punjabis and Sikhs and God knows what. You talk Hindustani in your sleep, man. Sort it out, for God’s sake. If you want to put a loincloth on, get cracking, but don’t expect the privileges --’ (the word came out in a wet blurr; the needle stuck for a couple of grooves) ‘the privileges, the privileges…’
  • Vorpal had the trick of adding a Malay enclitic to his utterances. This also had power to irritate, especially in the mornings. It irritated Nabby Adams that this should irritate him, but somewhere at the back of his brain was the contempt of the man learned in languages for the silly show-off, jingling the small change of ‘wallah’ and charpoy...
  • ‘What you could do with is a nice strong cup of tea, sir. I’ll tell the kuki to make you one.’
    ‘Does it really do any good, Nabby? (That was better.) ‘I’ve tried every damn thing.’....
  • His heart beating faster, his throat drying, Nabby whispered to the driver, ‘Not so bloody fast.’
    ‘All right, all right.’ One of these days he must really get down to the language. There never seemed to be the time, somehow....
  • Relief brought an aching desire to be sitting in a kedai with a large bottle of Tiger or Anchor or Carlsberg in front of him....
  • Sultan Aladdin… had few illusions about his own people: amiable, well-favoured, courteous, they loved rest better than industry… their function was to remind the toiling Chinese, Indians and British of the ultimate vanity of labour.
  • “I should want to go home, like Fenella. I should be so tired of the shambles here, the obscurantism, the colour-prejudice, the laziness and ignorance, as to desire nothing better than a headship in a cold stone country school in England. But I love this country. I feel protective towards it. Sometimes just before dawn breaks, I feel that somehow I enclose it, contain it. I feel that it needs me. This is absurd, because snakes and scorpions are ready to bite me, a drunken Tamil is prepared to knife me, the Chinese in the town would like to spit at me, some day a Malay boy will run amok and try to tear me apart. But it doesn’t matter. I want to live here; I want to be wanted. Despite the sweat, despite the fever, the prickly heat, the mosquitoes, the terrorists, the fools at the bar of the club, despite Fenella.”
  • …it was a cardinal rule in the East not to show one’s true feelings.
  • ‘Sir, we are trying to work because we are having to take the examination in a very brief time from now, but the younger boys are not realizing the importance of our labours and they are creating veritable pandemoniums while we are immersed in our studies. To us who are their lawful and appointed superiors they are giving overmuch insolence, nor are they sufficiently overawed by our frequent threatenings. I would be taking it, sir, as inestimable favour if you would deliver harsh words and verbal punishing to them all, sir, especially the Malay boys, who are severely lacking in due respectfulness and incorrigible to discipline also.’
  • ‘Quite all right, sir. Plenty of time. You have a sleep, sir.’
    Hood turned over with his fat bottom towards Nabby Adams. Thank God. Nabby Adams tiptoed over again to the serving-hatch, ordered another, downed it. He began to feel a great deal better. After yet another he felt better still. Poor old Robin Hood wasn’t such a bad type. Stupid, didn’t know a gear-box from a spare tyre, but he meant well. The world generally looked better. The sun shone, the palms shook in the faint breeze, a really lovely Malay girl passed by the window. Proud of carriage, in tight baju and rich sarong, she balanced voluptuous haunches. Her blue-black hair had some sort of a flower in it; how delicate the warm brown of her flat flower-like face.
    ‘What time is it, Nabby?’....
  • “…as the cinema shows us, they are much more accessible and, for that matter, much more wanton than our own women"
  • His real wife, his houri, his paramour was everywhere waiting, genie-like, in a bottle. The hymeneal gouging-off of the bottle-top, the kiss of the brown bitter yeasty flow, the euphoria far beyond the release of detumescence.
  • Around them the gawping locals sat, amazed with an amazement that never grew less…
  • The East would always present that calm face of faint astonishment, unmoved at the anger, not understanding the bitterness.
  • It had, perhaps, not been a very edifying life. On the booze in England, in India, in Malaya… And then a couple of gins for breakfast and then the first beers of the day in a kedai … He had been driven out of that Eden…because of his sinful desire to taste what was forbidden.
  • “...reality’s always dull, you know...”
  • 'The country will absorb you and you will cease to be Victor Crabbe. You will less and less find it possible to do the work for which you were sent here. You will lose function and identity. You will be swallowed up and become another kind of eccentric. You may become a Muslim. You may forget your English, or at least lose your English accent. You may end in a kampong, no longer a foreigner, an old brownish man with many wives and children, one of the elders whom the young will be encouraged to consult on matters of the heart. You will be ruined.'
  • Empire now crashing about their ears. The Sikh smiled at the vanity of human aspirations.
  • Her face was that of a boy gang-leader, smooth with the innocence of one who, by the same quirk as blinds a man to the mystery of whistling or riding a bicycle, has never mastered the art of affection or compassion or properly learned the moral dichotomy.
  • She gave the lie to the European superstition - chiefly a missionary superstition - that the women of the East are downtrodden.
  • ...with Indians there is an unhealthy love of the law...
  • ...he became one with his Chinese parishioners, announcing a trade as honest as that of the dentist, the seller of rice-wine, the brothel-keeper, the purveyor of quack rejuvenators and aphrodisiacs, or the vendor of shark’s-fin strips.
  • …the British. Haughty, white, fat, ugly, by no means sympathique, cold…
  • ‘...You know what they call you expatriates? White leeches.’
  • He forgot that the Malays revere cats and that the Chinese merely relish them.
  • In China he had spoken good Mandarin, and in ten years this had become his first tongue. Here he found himself with a parish of Hokkien and Cantonese speakers and a few English people whose language he could hardly talk. His French, severed from its sources of nourishment, grown coarse through lack of use, halted and wavered, searching for the right word which Mandarin was always ready to supply.
  • Europeans had sometimes invited him to dinner and given him stuffed aubergines and onion soup and Nuits St Georges and what they said was good coffee.…They had evinced, in their curious French mixed with Malay (both were foreign languages, both occupied the same compartment, they were bound to get mixed), a nostalgia for France which amused him slightly, bored him much, flattered him not at all.
  • He would milk the white man....The white man had more money than sense.
  • …the whole world here breathed easy concupiscence…
  • My dear Hardman,
    It was pleasant... I am sorry that your Oriental venture has not been going as well as you expected. But, then, I think that the days when a man could expect to make his fortune in the East are dead and gone. Indeed, the time seems to have come for the reverse of the old process to apply, and for the East to dominate the West.
  • …English translation of the Koran. I wonder how, with such a repetitive farrago of platitudes, expressing so self-evident a theology and an ethic so puerile, Islam can have spread as it has.
  • I decide that the East has definitely spoiled me for women.
  • Rosemary’s reputation was known; he would, by obscure logic, become retrospectively a cuckold.
  • Rosemary was only a spinster in the strict sense of denotation. She was eminently, eminently nubile.
  • ...the eyes, black, were all East - houris, harems, beds scented with Biblical spices; nose and lips were pan-Mediterranean. Her body...was that of the Shulamite and Italian film stars. The décolletage, with its promise of round, brown, infinitely smooth, vertiginous sensual treasure, was a torment to the blood....Many had promised marriage, but all had gone home, the promise unfulfilled....quite considerable capacity for all kinds of sensuous pleasure.
  • Him they would not harm, Englishmen being, though infidel, yet the race of past District Officers, judges, doctors, men perhaps, in their time, more helpful than otherwise, powerful but mild.
  • …a fetid cabaret with a beer-bar, two houses of ill-fame disguised as coffee-shops…
  • Trade and gambling and a woman occasionally - that was a man’s life.
  • ...even the police discussed this violence as possibly coming within the scope of their terms of reference.
  • “…And the rising sun shall rise yet higher, destroying with its flaming fire the evil will of the wicked West, but smiling warmly on the rest”
  • Lim Cheng Po, Anglican, Royalist, cricketer, respectable husband and father, allowed his animal reflexes out for an avenue walk on the lead.
  • ‘I know what is love. Love is man and woman in bed.’
  • “You mean,” said ‘Che Ramli, “he is a member of the tribe of the prophet Lot.”
  • She sank again into the salty water...into the delicious warm brine-tasting depths of her grief.
  • …the Malay word chium meant to plough the beloved’s face with one’s nose
  • There was a certain creative excitement, expressed in glandular constrictions which he knew well.
  • ...the prophet of harmless solace in a harsh world....
  • ...the dark brought out the prostitutes, Malay divorcees mostly, quietly moving from light to light, gaudy and graceful, like other of night’s creatures.
  • “...I’m a typical Englishman of my class - a crank idealist.”
  • ...the bathroom which Crabbe visited showed signs that Moneypenny now regarded even a lavatory as supererogatory.
  • ‘it excites the pancreas to fresh efforts’
  • an Australian….They have suffered under the yoke of the English…
  • ‘Here we go again,’ he thought. ‘Drink and reminiscence. Another day of wasted time. They’re right when they say we drink too much out here. And we slobber too much over ourselves....We’re all sorry for ourselves because we’re not big executives or artists or happily married men in a civilized temperate climate.’
  • Mr Liversedge...saw the whole ridiculous Oriental susah in true proportion. Here men would murder for five dollars, here men would seek divorce because their wives sighed at the handsomeness of the film star P.Ramlee....nodding at the lucid exposition of Mr Lim from Penang, though contemning inwardly the Pommie accent...
  • …death came so easily, hardly announced, without apparent cause, often greeted with smiles.
  • ‘We might as well have a cup of tea,’ he said, and we noisily marched over the hollow boards of the glass-covered bridge, down the stairs to Platform Four. We entered the filthy Gothic tea-room and Everett ordered. The serving-woman served us with tired distain; she treated her customers like a dull and endless film that could only, with order and money, make a very rare stereoscopic contact with her real though duller world. Everett took me to a table and began to talk sadly but eagerly.
  • 'They say the church spire interferes with their bloody television reception.'
  • He seemed to lose interest in the subject of his daughter, glooming at a yellow card of ancient railway regulations on the wall. But when the harbingers of the coming train were audible – porters trundling, a scrambled gabble from the station announcer, frantic blowing on hot tea – he became eager again and was out swiftly on to the platform. I followed him. The train slid in. I saw the driver look down disdainful from his cosy hell, sharing – like soldier and auxiliary – a mystique with the tea-room woman. Passengers, disillusioned with arrival, got out greyly amid grey steam; passengers, hungry for the illusion of getting somewhere, jostled their way on.
  • I know little about the women of my own race...
  • …when I went out I tried to push the door instead of pulling it. 'Pull it, mate,' said someone, and I had to obey. I nearly tripped over a footscraper and, the door closed, had the impression of loud laughter. The vile blunt-razor-blade wind blew hard from my sister’s house. I felt ashamed and furious. In the East there was politeness, doors opened the right way, there were no footscrapers.
  • …of course, keep-fit people are no good in bed…
  • She was an appetising woman with a full-cheeked smile, about thirty, a Nordic blonde but not icy, though ice was suggested in its tamed winter-sport aspects : the flush after skating, log-fires and hot rum and butter, fine heavy thighs, that would warm your hand like a muff, under a skirt that had swirled in a rink waltz. Her beaver lamb coat was thrust back from a green suit : solid charms, thoroughly wholesome, were indicated.
  • …a man who sold meat but knew nothing of the poetry of the slaughterhouse…. Ted Arden was no ice-cream butcher.
  • I had a sudden longing, like a pain, for the hot smelly East, and remembered that Everett had said something about an Indian restaurant. I asked the barman, a hot-haired Irishman, and he asked one of the business-men (who, I saw now, was a Pakistani) and then was able to tell me that the Calicut Restaurant was on Egg Street, by the Poultry Market. I went there and ate insipid dahl, tough chicken, greasy pappadams, and rice that had congealed to a pudding. The décor was depressing – brown oily wallpaper, a calendar with a Bengali pin-up (buff, deliriously plump, about thirty-eight) – and it was evident that the few Indian students were eating the special curry prepared for the staff. The manager was from Pondicherry : he caled me ‘monsieur’ and was not impressed by my complaints. At least one of the waiters was from Jamaica. I went out angry and, at a pub where the landlady sniffed in curlers, drank brandy till closing-time.
  • Ted, I noted, was very busy - at the pumps, at the glasses behind, the bottles below, the merrily ringing till, like a percussion-player in some modern work who dashes with confidence from xylophone to glockenspiel to triangle to wind-machine to big drum to tambourine.
  • I was only the returned Oriental eccentric, drunk at that…
  • It began to worry me that I could never possibly settle in England now, not after Tokyo nude-shows and sliced green chillies, brown children sluicing at the road-pump, the air-conditioned hum in bedrooms big as ballrooms, negligible income-tax, curry tiffins, being the big man in the big car, the bars of all the airports of Africa and the East.
  • is recognised in England that home drinking is no real pleasure. We pray in a church and booze in a pub: profoundly sacerdotal at heart, we need a host in both places to preside over us. In Catholic churches as in continental bars the host is there all the time. But the Church of England kicked out the Real Presence and the licensing laws gave the landlord a terrible sacramental power. Ted was giving me grace of his own free will, holding back death – which is closing time – making a lordly grant of extra life.
  • The dog now slept, occasionally farting very gently.
  • The rain eased off, but the streets were greasily wet, rainbowed with oil. I went to the bank for more five-pound notes, stood like a pauper in the public library reading the Christian Science Monitor, then went for the first drinks of the day to a dive-bar popular with merchants. Hungarian refugees waited on at the tables and a West Indian negro collected dirty glasses – we were all exiles together.
  • As I walked towards travel, that illusion of liberation, I strangely felt myself walking back into childhood.
  • Stamping around, waiting, I cursed England aloud, hands dug deep into pockets, dancing to the wind that knocked in vain at the Sunday shops. Cigarette-packets, football fixtures, bus-tickets sailed by in dust-ghosts of Saturday. A woman with a puce face and a blancmange-coloured prayer-book was waiting also for The Priest and Pig, and she looked puce disapproval at me. Twenty minutes late, the bus yawned in from town, near-empty, and it swallowed us in a gape of Sunday ennui. So we sundayed along, rattling and creaking in Sunday hollowness, I upstairs, tearing my elevenpenny ticket while I read the prospectus of Winter Commercial Classes stuck on the window.
  • Well-fed and liquored, I responded with ardour.
  • ‘That it is still possible for a man of initiative to make money in the East is the firm opinion of balding, plump Mr Denham who adds, however, “Not if you take a wife with you.” Mr Denham has scathing things to say about Englishwomen and their lack of domestic virtues. He particularly selects their cooking as a target, but considers also that they are far inferior to the slant-eyed beauties of the Orient in the all-important matter of fidelity to their menfolk. Mr Denham is considered an authority on the women of Japan who, he says, are lovely, demure and submissive....On his own admission he has little time for anything except money, dalliance, and the “imbibing of liquors of all kinds”.’
  • I watched the grey villages limp by, the wind tearing at torn posters of long-done events. What I needed, of course, was a drink.
  • Ah, well, if they wanted their adultery, what did it matter to me? I hadn’t much room to talk, anyway, with my five-pound prostitutes who did a bunk and the Japanese girls who cost far less and didn’t do a bunk and whatever I was likely to pick up in Colombo.
  • ‘You are admitting, then, to frivolity of attitude to important global problems?’
  • ‘…Your little feuilleton…recording…my crude nabob’s philistinism…’
  • Mr Raj had been purely Orientally and fancifully complimentary (‘So great a man, his lingam as long and thick as a tree, the father of whole villages’).
  • ‘…The senior Mr Denham’s,’ he said, with deadly Eastern realism, ‘will perhaps only be better in the grave.
  • ‘I come here to your beautiful country -’ Mr Raj saw through the window bare branches, coil after coil of dirty clouds, washing on neighbour lines, forlorn pecking birds, a distant brace of gasometers. ‘- your beautiful country, I say,’ he said defiantly. ‘…So far I have had mixed career. Fights and insults, complete lack of sexual sustenance - most necessary to men in prime of life - and inability to find accommodation commensurate with social position and academic attainments...’
  • ‘They’ll be in all our houses,’ I said, ‘blackies of all colours, before the century’s over. The new world belongs to Asia.
  • Singapura means lion-city; prehistoric, myopic, Sanskrit-speaking visitors having spotted a mangy tiger or two in the mangroves. Sly Malays sometimes call it Singa pura-pura, which means ‘pretending to be a lion’….It is a profoundly provincial town pretending to be a metropolis.
  • …jumped-up commercials pretending, too late, to be the ruling class..
  • ‘I knew im, she knew im, e knew im, we all knew im.’ After this paradigm, which impressed his hearers, he paused. ‘E was a customer ere. Not perhaps one of the best customers. Not like Roger Alliwell ere oo drinks whisky to the tune of near one bottle a day, which is good for the ouse and, as far as we can see, does imself no arm. But e was a customer, loyal to the ouse, regular in attendance, and that’s all we ask of any man or woman for that matter. Well, now e’s gone. We’re sorry e’s gone. You’re sorry e’s gone. I’m sorry e’s gone. And we can’t say much more than that. Now the question is: is e gone to a better place? I don’t know the answer to that, nor do you, nor does she. Perhaps e knows,’ said Ted, shrugging towards the vicar, ‘because it’s is job to know. But the rest of us don’t know. Right. But I say this. E done is best for all. Never a ard word come out of that man’s art. Right. Well loved e was and for all is faults we would love im still, if e was still alive. But e’s dead now and we wish im all the best in is new destination. And I can’t say no fairer than that.’
  • That night we visited various places where well-shaped and scented, though completely naked, Japanese girls came to sit on male knees.
  • …surely that sneered-at suburban life was more stable than this shadow life…in a country where no involvement was possible…better than the sordid dalliance that soothed me after work?
  • After all, what bit of money I’ve made has been made among mosquitoes and sand-flies, snakes in the bedroom, long monotonous damp heat, boredom, exasperation with native clerks. Who are these sweet stay-at-homes, sweet well-contents, to try and suck it out of me and feel aggrieved if they can’t have it?
  • Love seems inevitable, necessary, as normal and as easy a process as respiration.
  • The greater part of the time I spent, when I talked at all, talking to men. I liked to take luncheon in some pub or other, sitting on a high stool at the snack-counter, barons of beef, hams, salads and dishes of pickle spread before me, the server in his tall white cap carving with skill. Other male eaters would be wedged against me, champing over newspapers, and there were a peculiar animal content in being among warm silent men, raising glasses in smacking silent toasts to themselves, the automatic ‘ah’ after the draught, the forkful of red beef and mustard pickle. Sitting with my gin or whisky afterwards I would often manage to get into conversation with some lonely man or other – usually an exile like myself – and the talk would be about the world, air-routes and shipping-lines, drinking-places thousands of miles away. Then I felt happy, felt I had come home, because home to people like me is not a place but all places, all places except the one we happen to be in at the moment.
  • The dog looked up through its hairy yashmak and farted.
  • Outside, the main doors behind him, he was hit full in the chest by autumn. The doggy wind leapt about him and nipped; leaves skirred along the pavement, the scrape of the ferrules of sticks; melancholy, that tetrasyllable, sat on a plinth in the middle of the square. English autumn, and the whistling tiny souls of the dead round the war memorial.
  • The window opened gently and a still Autumn night entered cat-like. Edwin smelt freedom and London autumn – decay, smoke, cold, motor oil.
  • He walked down the side street to a wide thoroughfare of shop-windows and offices. This, he assumed, was one of the main arteries of London, a city he did not know very well. There were sodium street-lights, lights in windows. Occasional cars sped by. There was even an airline bus crammed with yawning passengers. Edwin saw himself reflected in a window full of tape-recorders.
  • The London office of the International Council for University Development was in Queen Street. Edwin hesitated outside, adjusting his cap, tightening the knot of his tie, smoothing his pyjama collar. The portals, a naked sculptural group above them emblematic of the Tutorial System, were designed to intimidate. The doors were all glass and hence appeared to be ever-open; this again must be emblematic of something.
  • Edwin, so much himself a sham, felt a sort of kinship with the sham pleasures of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street as they travelled painfully towards Soho.
  • ‘But you like her, don’t you?’ asked Howarth. ‘You like Mrs Connor?’ For himself, thought Howarth, he did not particularly like Mrs Connor. He desired Mrs Connor, however.
  • Howarth began to see that, however much it was against one’s will and convictions, sides had to be taken, the dreary corrupt world of politics had to be entered by the good and dispassionate, to protect and avenge the weak. But one always entered too late.
  • There was a silence. Outside, and most unfortunately, a boy could be heard calling to another boy: ‘Piss off, Cowie.’ Stern looks were fixed on Woolton.
  • The Antipods…were always ready to burst.
  • There were…smiles of encouragement for Lydgate, and some smiles of sweet pity as well, as for the only leper present.
  • …for thy huggest thy bolster, which men call a Dutch wife in some parts.
  • Lydgate opened the sort of letter…”My dear husband I very good…I come in flying ship…we be very happy…love.” It was as satisfactory a letter as he had ever received from a woman.
  • "All right,” said Rowlandson. He began shakily to count out notes. Near-broken, he was still an Englishman; he would not bargain.
  • …all heroes and heroines trying to approximate, through barriers of pigmentation, to the Hebraico-Caucasian norm of Hollywood
  • From ancient drains and sewers of the language (maritime inns and brothels…), from scrawls in the catacombs…whoremasters’ chapbooks…the vocabulary of tavern brawls
  • …no European whore’s mock-respectability.
  • …the sin of gluttony, also the sin of lecherous intent toward an honourable and high-placed matron….But more sin is to come, and that sin a double one, namely of lechery in act, perhaps venial in the young but by no means to be condoned, and of adultery, which Saint John saith shall be punished by fire for the act and brimstone for the stink of the ordure of the partners in that sin….She is but a heathen….With the instinct of her kind she knoweth the best and most secret places for lechery….thou are bent on sin, the act of darkness….On her breath is no honey but the smell of strong drink, the potent mingling of barley and juniper in deadly ferment….One man is from the Antipodes but, contrary to the superstition of the vulgar, he is like other men….It is he who seeth the cabin where thy lust worketh itself out, he remembereth lewd advice of the charioteer of Cathay….approacheth on tiptoe the sound of beastly gratification….Lust croucheth now above in the rooftree, his wings fearfully foldeth….But in his rage he spareth not her, calling her Jezebel and harlot….
  • Disgusting, ridiculous, when other people did it.
  • …he had to admit to a faint admiration (faint as angostura colouring gin and water)
  • …workmen who wanted (a) the white man out…,(c) sinecures
  • “…Just you bloody hypocrites with your four wives and your ten thousand houris in heaven?…”
  • …Novello should be extremely grateful that his innubile daughter was being taken off his hands by a Tasca.
  • “…My name…is Mahalingam….is Sanskrit for ‘large or great or mighty generative organ’ - this, of course, having more a religious (through associations of religion and fertility) significance than an anatomical one. Though anatomically and…socially the name has not proved inept.
  • … ‘I’ve only one hobby, and that is my wife.’
  • I suppose the only real reason for travelling is to learn that all people are the same.
  • England become a feeble-lighted Moon of America…
Common criminals...can best be dealt with on a purely curative basis. Kill the criminal reflex, that’s all.
Main article: A Clockwork Orange
  • 'What's it going to be then, eh?'
  • There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry. The Korova Milkbar was a milk-plus mesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like, things changing so skorry these days, and everybody very quick to forget, newspapers not being read much neither.
  • There was no real need...of crasting any more pretty polly to tolchock some old veck in an alley and viddy him swim in his blood while we counted the takings and divided by four, nor to do the ultra-violent on some shivering starry grey-haired ptitsa in a shop and go smecking off with the till’s guts.
  • That’s what it’s going to be then, brothers, as I come to the like end of this tale. You have been everywhere with your little droog Alex, suffering with him, and you have viddied some of the most grahzny bratchnies old Bog ever made, all on to your old droog Alex. And all it was was that I was young. But now as I end this story, brothers, I am not young, not no longer, oh no. Alex like groweth up, oh yes.
  • Pete held his rookers and Georgie sort of hooked his rot wide open for him and Dim yanked out his false zoobies, upper and lower. He threw these down on the pavement and then I treated them to the old boot-crush, though they were hard bastards like. . . . The old veck began to make sort of chumbling shooms — “wuf waf wof” — so Georgie let go of holding his goobers apart and just let him have one in the toothless rot with his ringy fist, and that made the old veck start moaning a lot then, then out comes the blood, my brothers, real beautiful.
  • They saw themselves, you could see, as real grown-up devotchkas already, what with the old hipswing when they saw your Faithful Narrator, brothers, and padded groodies and red all ploshed on their goobers....They viddied themselves as real sophistoes....They had the same ideas or lack of, and the same colour hair — a like dyed strawy. Well, they would grow up real today....No school this afterlunch, but education certain, Alex as teacher.
  • '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.'
  • But where I itty now, O my brothers, is all on my oddy knocky, where you cannot go. Tomorrow is all like sweet flowers and the turning vonny earth and the stars and the old Luna up there and your old droog Alex all on his oddy knocky seeking like a mate. And all that cal. A terrible grahzny vonny world, really, O my brothers. And so farewell from your little droog. And to all others in this story profound shooms of lip music brrrrr. And they can kiss my sharries. But you, O my brothers, remember sometimes thy little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal.
  • Now we were the very good malchicks, smiling good evensong to one and all, though these wrinkled old lighters started to get all shook, their veiny old rookers all trembling round their glasses, and making the suds spill on the table. 'Leave us be, lads,' said one of them, her face all mappy with being a thousand years old, 'we’re only poor old women.'
  • 'Prison religion'...
  • Oh, it was gorgeosity and yumyumyum. When it came to the Scherzo I could viddy myself very clear running and running on like very light and mysterious nogas, carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cut-throat britva. And there was the slow movement and the lovely last singing movement still to come. I was cured all right.
  • 'My darling one....I shall be thinking of you while you are away and hope you will remember to wrap up warm when you go out at night.'
  • There was Your Humble Narrator Alex coming home from work to a good hot plate of dinner, and there was this ptitsa all welcoming and greeting like loving....I had this sudden very strong idea that if I walked into the room next to this room where the fire was burning away and my hot dinner laid on the table, there I should find what I really wanted....For in that other room in a cot was laying gurgling goo goo goo my son....I knew what was happening, O my brothers. I was like growing up.
  • [Youth] is only being in a way like it might be an animal. No, it is not just like being an animal so much as being like one of these malenky toys you viddy being sold in the streets, like little chellovecks made out of tin and with a spring inside and then a winding handle on the outside and you wind it up grrr grrr grrr and off it itties, like walking, O my brothers. But it itties in a straight line and bangs straight into things bang bang and it cannot help what it is doing. Being young is like being like one of these malenky machines.
  • My son, my son. When I had my son I would explain all that to him when he was starry enough to like understand. But then I knew he would not understand or would not want to understand at all and would do all the veshches [things] I had done...and I would not be able to really stop him. And nor would he be able to stop his own son, brothers. And so it would itty on to like the end of the world.
  • It's sapiens to be homo.
  • 'Brutality!' cried Tristam. The class was at last interested. 'Beatings-up. Secret police. Torture in brightly lighted cellars. Condemnation without trial. Finger-nails pulled out with pincers. The rack. The cold-water treatment. The gouging out of eyes. The firing squad in the cold dawn. And all this because of disappointment. The Interphase.'
  • ‘…I prefer to think of [young women] less as human beings than as pimply parcels of televisual reflexes.’
  • ‘So she was Greek, was she?’ said Sir Benjamin. ‘Well, well. I suppose the new vice laws are driving some of them out of Soho. Driving them down here,’ he said, as though a whole new world were opening up. ‘Well.’
  • ‘She is a goddess,’ said Ambrose, drunkenly and stoutly. ‘…And she wants me. She’s the pursuer…She’s the epitome of woman, not,’ he said, ‘not a second-hand bundle of coy erogeneity draped,’ he said, ‘in an all-too-diaphanous robe,’ he said, ‘of pudeur.’
  • ‘…today’s…newspapers…full of…diminishing exports, the unkillable widening grin of the pullulating East, the expanding machine of the almighty infallible State….He himself could only turn to the past, but he heard that it was already possible to change the past, bringing the past perpetually up to date, a perpetual jackal fawning on the present, a malleable witness with no qualms about perjury. He knew that the armies were on the march, the Tannoys blaring, the collective mind – tool of oligarchy – being fashioned under the anaesthetic of the catchphrase and the mass entertainment...’
  • It was all a matter of a Goddess – dark, hidden, deadly, horribly desirable.
  • There he lieth, tossing in the guilt of his lewdness, the primal lecher, neglectful of his duties to a fair wife but all too ready to plunge his sizzling steel into the slaking black mud of a base Indian.
  • I am near the end of the wine, sweet lords and lovely ladies, but out there the big wine is being poured – thin, slow, grey. Never more shall I taste the oncoming of this particular darkness. But I shall not be sorry to go. I am not seduced by the dainty lusts, clothed in cold green and clean linen, of an English spring. If you plunge into that dark there you will emerge at length into a raging sun and all the fabled islands of my East. And that is what I shall be doing tonight, off like a bird. I see you have your pennies ready, ladies. Twitch not, hop not about nor writhe so: I shall not be long now.
  • The West is eveningland, the East morningland.
  • …my two chronic diseases of gluttony and satyriasis…
  • ‘This damnable sex, boys - ah, you do well to writhe in your beds at the very mention of the word. All the evil of our modern times springs from unholy lust, the act of the dog and the bitch on the bouncing bed, limbs going like traction engines, the divine gift of articulate speech diminished to squeals and groans and pantings. It is terrible, terrible, an abomination before God and His Holy Mother. Lust is the fount of all other of the deadly sins, leading to pride of the flesh, covetousness of the flesh, anger in the thwarting of desire, gluttony to feed the spent body to be at it again, envy of the sexual prowess and sexual success of others, sloth to admit enervating day-dreams of lust. Only in the married state, by God’s holy grace, is it sanctified, for then it becomes the means of begetting fresh souls for the peopling of the Kingdom of Heaven.’
  • …the cold deflation of crapula…
  • …British louts with guitars and emetic little songs…infantile screamers…
  • ‘…Women I do not much care for myself - I prefer little Greek shepherd-boys…’
  • ‘…you read mostly menus and the moles on whores’ bellies….’
  • …satyromaniacal…
  • …enjoyed Dravidian transports.
  • "The scientific approach to life is not necessarily appropriate to states of visceral anguish."
  • In the name of Allah the all-powerful, all-merciful, all-knowing, know that it is by his holy will that we come to free the peoples of the Nile from their immemorial and most cruel bondage to the Turks and the Mamelukes, free men of Frankistan bringing freedom, respecting Islam and the tenets of the holy prophet, may his name be praised and the holy name of Allah most high exalted for ever more.
  • The disembarkation was a fucking shambles and we only took Alexandria as quick as we did to get a fucking drink somewhere, because we were near dead with the thirst....The town was full of a lot of half-starved blacks, near-blacks you could call them, in filthy rags, raising their hands to the bloody burning heavens when they saw us come in, shouting Allah Allah and so on. Some old bints with veils on gave us fucking filthy water to drink, but filthy or not it was like elation and ecstasy and so on. There was hardly a solitary fucking thing worth having in the whole town, all half-starved goats and so on, and talk about the fucking heat and the smell. Anyway, what they called sheiks came and gave him the keys, and the officers did all right with like knives and scimitars with jewels on, but then we had to move on to Damanhur and Rahmaniya and so on, near dropping with the fucking heat....
  • ...The fucking heat and the flies and scorpions and all this fucking sand....These fucking great swarms of black flies had plenty to drink, which was the sweat on our necks and faces. In a way you could see that a man could laugh at the extremes of the misery of it, stumbling through all this white sand like hot snow, the dried shit in our breeches, and knowing we were marching on on on on only to get cut to pieces with fucking axes and scimitars at the end of it....Once or twice we came to villages, but they were all empty or full of dead that the Bedouin had left to the flies and the ants, and the wells had been filled in with stones....and the only sound was the buzzing of those fucking great black flies....and the sun was like a great round arse shitting fire.
  • They could hardly believe it, the retreating arses of all that Mameluke or Turkish cavalry, heathen anyway, crying heathen words as they cantered off in gunsnioke and dust-clouds, dropping spears and jewels and good Birmingham pistols. And soon it was water water water, a world of blessed water, the muddy stinking welcoming mother Nile near Rahmaniya.
  • Defiling their shadows, infidels, accursed of Allah, with fingernails that are foot-long daggers, with mouths agape like cauldrons full of teeth on the boil, with eyes all fire, shaitans possessed of Iblis, clanking into their wars all linked, like slaves, with iron chains. Murad Bey, the huge, the single-blowed ox-beheader, saw without too much surprise mild-looking pale men dressed in blue, holding guns, drawn up in squares six deep as though in some massed dance depictive of orchard walls. At the corners of the squares were heavy giins and gunners. There did not seem to be many horsemen. Murad said a prayer within, raised his scimitar to heaven and yelled a fierce and holy word. The word was taken up, many thousandfold, and in a kind of gloved thunder the Mamelukes threw themselves on to the infidel right and nearly broke it. But the squares healed themselves at once, and the cavalry of the faithful crashed in three avenging prongs along the fire-spitting avenues between the walls. A great gun uttered earthquake language at them from within a square, and, rearing and cursing the curses of the archangels of Islam on to the uncircumcized, they wheeled and swung towards their protective village of Embabeh. There they encountered certain of the blue-clad infidel horde on the flat roofs of the houses, coughing musket-fire at them. But then disaster sang along their lines from the rear as shell after shell crunched and the Mamelukes roared in panic and burden to the screams of their terrified mounts, to whose ears these noises were new. Their rear dissolving, their retreat cut off, most sought the only way, that of the river. They plunged in, horseless, seeking to swim across to join the inactive horde of Ibrahim, waiting for .action that could now never come. Murad Bey, with such of his horsemen as were left, yelped off inland to Gizeh.
  • 'Like a great big meaty stew,' Gallimard of the 32nd kept saying. In the sauce-coloured Nile blown corpses floated gently seaward, to be fished out with bent bayonets. There were good pickings here, since each Mameluke carried his gold about him. On the shore lay ornate pommels, daggers, pistols, all encrusted with pearl and jewels, worth a fucking fortune....he started to harpoon out a sogged and bloated dreaming Mameluke or Turk or whatever he was. 'Poor bugger's in paradise now, drinking sherbet, poor bugger.'
  • a ship, clean and trim on a dirty sea of pox and camel-dung.
  • Legrand scratched his cheek with one of Conté's lead pencils and started to Koranize: I say unto you that you have been brought low by kings who lie with houris on the fat sofas of Stamboul and by those that were once among you and came from lands of the sunset, men pale but warlike, to steal your camels and women and snatch the bread from your teeth, in no wise to raise you high among the peoples of the earth. Meanwhile the C-in-C got on with other things - gunpowder factory, street-lighting, Paris-style café, accommodation for laundresses, a balloon demonstration.
  • Imams and muftis and kathis sat here on cushions, turbaned elders who had risen above the squalor of the flesh. The heat was tamed by wide-eyed boys with feathery fans. One of the muftis much admired one of these boys, and he stroked his buttocks with a gentle hand. The smell of the holy was wafted towards entering Bonaparte, who said with care:
  • 'Salam aleikum.'
  • 'We believe in Allah, we take the Koran as a sacred book. In our land we broke the power of infidel Rum, in his own land we struck down her Sultan whom men called the Pope, in Malta we slew the Knights, sworn enemies of Islam. Inform your people that we are sent by Allah to geld the evil Turk and raise high the people of the Nile.'
  • 'How can slaves be sent by Allah? You all have hairless faces, the mark of the bondman.'
  • 'You drink wine, you have foreskins. These things have been observed.'
  • 'It was not seemly to raise your flags on the minarets.'
  • 'As for your circumcisions, the chief modin can arrange all. Your wine must return to the earth, whence the grape came. Haram.'
  • 'Yes yes yes, later. For now I would ask you to proclaim next Friday from the mimbar in the masjid that the French are protectors of the faith and friends of the Prophet.'
  • The Turks would do anything with a captured screaming infidel body - make it chew its own penis, thrust the testicles up the anus, saw the noseless earless head off with slow delicacy.
  • And then there were the sick to be transported back to Cairo (where already the holy war might have spread like the bubonic and smiling beards above gelder’s knives be waiting at the gates), and how in the name of filthy castrating Allah did you march men back through the Sinai who couldn’t even sit a mule? He reviewed the sweating patients in gloom, all distorted with bubos…
  • There must always be somebody. However young or insignificant. There has to be somebody who comes from nowhere to say what others are too foolish or too frightened to say.
  • ‘The lure of Egypt, gentlemen, and the greater exotic lure of the lands beyond. The East – does not our way lie there? Europe shall, after tomorrow, be wholly ours. We do not wish America or Africa, shapeless savage continents with no future. But ah, the East. India, China, fabulous Japan. And, of course,’ with a fierce savagery replacing the mystic look, ‘we have the mission of striking at the enemy of mankind in that very East where he has so precarious a toehold –’
  • The important thing is to get yourself born. You’re entitled to that. But you’re not entitled to life. Because if you were entitled to life, then the life would have to be quantified. How many years? Seventy? Sixty? Shakespeare was dead at fifty-two. Keats was dead at twenty-six. Thomas Chatterton at seventeen.
  • 'But what happens when you die?' 'You’re finished with,' Enderby said promptly. 'Done for. And even if you weren’t – well, you die then, gasp your last, then you’re sort of wandering, free of body. You wander around and then you come in contact with a sort of big thing. What is this big thing? God, if you like.'
  • 'Everything off. I want to see you in your horrific potbellied hairy filthy nakedness.'
  • 'We're in control, and we have what we want!'

1985 (1978)

  • ...a victim of bad medicine, bad air, bad food, farcical education, a despicable popular culture.
  • ...who will show us God now? The Christians? Christianity was abolished by the Second Vatican Council. The Jews? They worship a bloody tribal deity....Then I saw how Islam contained everything and yet was as simple and sharp and bright as a sword. I had dreamt of no Islamic revolution in Britain but rather of a slow conversion, helped by an Islamic infiltration...
  • The Christian ecumenical movement will have reached its limit, meaning that Catholicism will have turned into Protestantism and Protestantism into agnosticism....But Islam will not have lost any of its rigour....Supernature abhors a supervacuum. With the death of institutional Christianity will come the spread of Islam.
  • It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.
  • I lay a little while, naked, mottled, sallow, emaciated, smoking a cigarette that should have been postcoital but was not.
  • ...To the mother hubbard girl, whose name seemed to be Janie: ‘It becomes you, it does really, that chunk of filthy butter muslin, but then you’re the sort of girl who could get away with anything, even having one tit bigger than the other.’ He did a comic oenophil act with the bottle of Marsovin...
  • the bar, he treated me and all around us to a loud recapitulation, based loosely on the visas and entry permits in his passport, of the more scandalous elements of our life together. ‘New York, dear, and that pissyarsed publisher of yours who tried to stop me going to the fistfuck party, dangerous he said, lethal, stupid sod. Toronto, that was where we had that little whatsit at the same time, remember, lovely kind of henna colour, half Indian, half French, not an ounce of bloody Anglosaxon blood remember.’ He got drunk very rapidly on undiluted Pernod. ‘The man on the Washington Post who once had it off with a ghost. At the...
  • "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."
  • Carlo looked as at the world of fallen man on the endless suburbs that passed for a city, an eatery in the likeness of a Sphinx (enter between its forepaws), another, for jumbo malts so thick you can't suck 'em through a straw, in the form of an elephant crouched as at the bidding of its mahout, gimcrack temples of various faiths, attap roofs of nutburger stands with Corinthian columns, loans loans loans, stores crammed with cutprice radios, a doughnuttery, homes like Swiss chalets, like Bavarian castles, miniature Blenheims, Strawberry Hills, Taj Mahals, a bank in the form of a tiny ocean liner, dusty trees on the boulevards (datepalm, orange, oleander), bars with neon bottles endlessly pouring, colleges for stuntmen, beauticians, morticians, degrees in drummajoretteship.
  • ...Carlo delivered what began as a panegyric and ended as an anathema....His brother...regarded by the stupid and the wicked as a sort of imbecilic weakness, an infantile inability to come to terms with the sophisticated world of affairs. Because he was just he was to be seen as a quixotic madman, because he was virtuous he was to be taken for a eunuch, because he was magnanimous he was to be gulled and derided.... ‘There are many here today in this great modern temple of the Lord who have come not out of the piety of friendship or respect but following sickening forms of hypocritical convention, and among these are some that are soiled, bemerded, stinking with wealth amassed unjustly, wealth made out of torture and murder and the exploitation of human frailty, a precarious wealth as insubstantial as fairy gold, demon gold rather, that will crumble into dust at the dawn of the recovery of sanity and virtue by a great nation temporarily demented, an angelic land to its immigrants that is now set upon by the devils of greed, stupidity and madness...’
  • And now, as so often happened, my brain in a fever took over the datum of the dream and enriched and expanded it. Norman Douglas spoke pedantically on behalf of the buggers. `We have this right, you see, to shove it up. On a road to Capri I found a postman who had fallen off his bicycle, you see, unconscious, somewhat concussed. He lay in exactly the right position. I buggered him with athletic swiftness: he would come to and feel none the worse.’ The Home Secretary nodded sympathetically while the rain wept on to him in Old Palace Yard. `I mean, minors. I mean, there’d be little in it for us if you restricted the act to consenting males over, say, eighteen. Boys are so pliable, so exquisitely sodomizable. You do see that, don’t you, old man?’ The Home Secretary nodded as if to say: Of course, old public-school man myself, old boy. I saw a lot of known faces, Pearson, Tyrwit, Lewis, Charlton, James, all most reasonable, claiming the legal right to maul and suck and bugger. I put myself in the gathering and said, also most reasonable, that it was nothing to do with the law: you were still left with the ethics and theology of the thing. What we had a right to desire was love, and nothing hindered that right. Oh nonsense, he’s such a bore. As for theology, isn’t there that apocryphal book of the Bible in which heterosexuality is represented as the primal curse?
  • When we arrived at New York I went, straight after clearing customs, to the Algonquin Hotel. I would not claim as of right a room in my own flat, since Hortense must now regard it as hers. After a couple of whisky sours in the Blue Bar I walked up Fifth Avenue. The September heat was intense and the air was all woollen shirts aboil. The town was full of jumbo steaks and ice cream, the shops pleaded that we buy useless gadgets. This was not Europe. This was very far from being Europe. Victory in Europe and Asia confirmed the excellence of the American way of life. Strong appetite and inviolable health. The afternoon sun was higher here than in any town of Europe, forced upwards by the skyscrapers. The place was rife with life.
  • made an applauded entrance. He was no man to improvise a word or two of greeting; he had typewritten sheets.... He spoke of the cinema as the popular voice of the state...those products, themselves a means of cleansing the world film market through their purity and excellence of the regrettable decadent ordures excreted by international Jewry....
  • I had felt sick before and had been saved by Sekt. Now I was beginning to feel sick of the Sekt. I would, I knew, shortly have to vomit.... I started gently to move towards one of the open windows. The aims of the artistic policy enunciated by the National Chamber of Film might, said Goebbels, be expressed under seven headings. Oh Christ. First, the articulation of the sense of racial pride, which might, without reprehensible arrogance, be construed as a just sense of racial superiority. Just, I thought, moving towards the breath of the autumn dark, like the Jews, just like the. This signified, Goebbels went on, not narrow German chauvinism but a pride in being of the great original Aryan race, once master of the heartland and to be so again. The Aryan destiny was enshrined in the immemorial Aryan myths, preserved without doubt in their purest form in the ancient tongue of the heartland. Second. But at this point I had made the open window. With relief the Sekt that seethed within me bore itself mouthward on waves of reverse peristalsis. Below me a great flag with a swastika on flapped gently in the night breeze of autumn. It did not now lift my heart; it was not my heart that was lifting. I gave it, with gargoyling mouth, a litre or so of undigested Sekt. And then some strings of spittle. It was not, perhaps, as good as pissing on the flag, but, in retrospect, it takes on a mild quality of emblematic defiance...
  • Grimaldi and a sixteen-year-old girl still at Hollywood High. He was a good journalist but he was going to die soon. At fifty he was on a bottle and a half of Californian brandy a day and four packs of Lucky Strike. His clothes smelt as though they were seeped in tobacco juice. His white forlock was stained with it...
  • "And now," Herod calmly said, "You can kill all the new-born....Kill them all....take your men and let your men take their swords. Make sure they're sharp. To Bethlehem. Hack. Lunge. Chop. Kill."
  • "Easier, lad, with those soft small bodies....Nothing to it. They're just soft squashy things."
  • I take my title from the name the Jews have traditionally given the Roman Empire. You may expect to meet all manner of wickedness in what follows - pork-eating, lechery, adultery, bigamy, sodomy, bestiality, the most ingenious varieties of cruelty, assassination, the worship of false gods and the sin of being uncircumcised.
  • ‘You served here how long, Cornelius?’
    ‘Long enough to learn about what they believe. Not long enough to learn to speak their language well enough to get their confidence. Not long enough to learn how to read their books. Now I’ve three years before retirement and a measure of spare time for getting down to it.’
    ‘This, you know,’ Marcellus said, ‘is all wrong. You’re not here to get their confidence or read their books. They’re a colonized people. We’re here to give orders.
    ‘They’d rather die than obey some of the Roman orders. Besides, it’s laid down that their religion is inviolate...’
  • God, say some philosophers, manifests himself in the sublunary world in particular beauties, truths and acts of benevolence; properly, the values should be conjoined to shadow their identity in the godhead, but this happens so infrequently that one must suppose divinity condones a kind of diabolic fracture or else, and perhaps my book is already giving some hint of this, he demonstrates his ineffable freedom through contriving at times a wanton inconsistency. If this is so, we need not wonder at Messalina’s failure to match her beauty with a love of truth and goodness. She was a chronic liar and she was thoroughly bad. But her beauty, we are told, was a miracle. The symmetry of her body obeyed all the golden rules of the mystical architects, her skin was without even the most minuscule flaw and it glowed as though gold had been inlaid behind translucent ivory, her breasts were full and yet pertly disdained earth’s pull, the nipples nearly always erect, and visibly so beneath her byssinos, as in a state of perpetual sexual excitation, the areolas delicately pigmented to a kind of russet. The sight of her weaving bare white arms was enough, it is said, to make a man grit his teeth with desire to be encircled by them; the smooth plain of her back, tapering to slenderness only to expand lusciously to the opulence of her perfect buttocks, demanded unending caresses.
  • ‘....There was a good deal of drunkenness - … There was lechery, nakedness. It was a warm afternoon,’ he added, as if to excuse the nakedness....
    ‘I saw the ceremony between the Empress and Gaius Silius and I assumed it was all a game. There was a great deal of laughter and little solemnity. Then the marriage or mock marriage was .... consummated at once and in public. And, in sympathy as it were, the other guests - A great mass of naked bodies. Men and women. Fornication for them. There were boys there too, Ganymedes. ....
    ‘And when does Gaius Silius think he can strike the blow that will secure him the imperial c -’
    I do not think,’ Narcissus said, ‘that Gaius Silius has such an ambition. He is a weak man besotted by the erotic, no more.’
  • ...whereas the vices of Messalina were in themselves venial, being mostly a passion for sensual gratification which subordinated all things to its encompassing, Agrippina lived solely for power, frightening enough in a man but terrifying in a woman....she would sleep with anyone, though not for physical pleasure, only for political advantage. She was cursed or blessed with a certain sexual coldness, knowing as much as a temple prostitute about the arousing of male passion and the procurement of its ecstatic release but keeping herself aloof, despite an occasional simulation of desire and the odd false orgiastic shudder and scream of fulfilment, from a process she found distressingly bestial when it was not frankly comic.


  • Sit like a fool then, crassly emptying
    Glass after wineglass in some foul tavern,
    Watching the night and its candles gutter,
    Snoring at sunrise.
    In England now the wind blows high
    And clouds brush rudely at the sky;
    The blood runs thinly through my frame,
    I half-caress the hearthstone’s flame,
    Oppressed by autumn’s desolate cry.
    Then homesick for the south am I,
    For where the lucky swallows fly,
    But each warm land is just a name
    In England now.
    The luckless workers I espy
    With chins dipped low and collars high,
    Walk into winter, do not blame
    The shifting globe. A gust of shame
    Represses my unmanly sigh
    In England now.
    • English Literature: A Survey for Students.
  • Oh, love, love, love —
    Love on a hilltop high,
    Love against a cloudless sky,
    Love where the scene is
    Painted by a million stars,
    Love with martinis
    In the cabarets and bars.
    Oh, love, love, love...
    • Beds in the East.
  • Find a cosy table
    Inside a restaurant,
    Somewhere formidable
    Where you’ll be très contents.
    Let your lady fair know
    That she is all you see,
    Prime her with a Pernod
    Or three.
    Watch her crack a lobster
    And strip it to the buff,
    Rough as when a mobster
    Gets tough.
    Keep the wine cascading
    And you’ll ensure
    Une petite spécialité called l’amour....
    • Earthly Powers.
  • A heavy task, but there was light relief
    In the Germanic ambience, boisterous, brash,
    Torchlit parades and pogroms, guttural grief
    In emigration queues, the smash and crash
    Of pawnshop windows by insentient beef
    In uniform, the gush of beer, the splash
    Of schnapps, the joy of being drunk and Aryan,
    Though Hitler was a teetotalitarian.
    Human pain meant
    But little in the Gulf War's visual grammar, a
    Big feast of death to feed the cinecamera
    • Byrne



English Literature: A Survey for Students (1958, revised 1974)

  • ...The subjects we study at school can be divided roughly into two groups—the sciences and the arts. The sciences include mathematics, geography, chemistry, physics, and so on. Among the arts are drawing, painting, modelling, needlework, drama, music, literature. The purpose of education is to fit us for life in a civilised community, and it seems to follow from the subjects we study that the two most important things in civilised life are Art and Science.
  • Is this really true? If we take an average day in the life of the average man we seem to see very little evidence of concern with the sciences and the arts. The average man gets up, goes to work, eats his meals, reads the newspapers, watches television, goes to the cinema, goes to bed, sleeps, wakes up, starts all over again. Unless we happen to be professional scientists, laboratory experiments and formulae have ceased to have any meaning for most of us; unless we happen to be poets or painters or musicians—or teachers of literature, painting, and music—the arts seem to us to be only the concern of schoolchildren. And yet people have said, and people still say, that the great glories of our civilisation are the scientists and artists. Ancient Greece is remembered because of mathematicians like Euclid and Pythagoras, because of poets like Homer and dramatists like Sophocles. In two thousand years all our generals and politicians may be forgotten, but Einstein and Madame Curie and Bernard Shaw and Stravinsky will keep the memory of our age alive.
  • Why then are the arts and sciences important? I suppose with the sciences we could say that the answer is obvious: we have radium, penicillin, television and recorded sound, motor-cars and aircraft, air-conditioning and central heating. But these achievements have never been the primary intention of science; they are a sort of by-product, the things that emerge only when the scientist has performed his main task. That task is simply stated: to be curious, to keep on asking the question 'Why?' and not to be satisfied till an answer has been found. The scientist is curious about the universe: he wants to know why water boils at one temperature and freezes at another; why cheese is different from chalk; why one person behaves differently from another. Not only 'Why?' but ‘What?' What is salt made of? What are the stars? What is the constitution of all matter? The answers to these questions do not necessarily malke our lives any easier. The answer to one question—'Can the atom be split?' - has made our lives somewhat harder. But the questions have to be asked. It is man's job to be curious; it is man's job to try to find out the truth about the world about us, to answer the big question 'What is the world really like?'
  • 'The truth about the world about us.' 'Truth' is a word used in many different ways - 'You’re not telling the truth.' 'The truth about conditions in Russia.' 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty.' I want to use it here in the sense of what lies behind and outward show. me hasten to explain by giving an example. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. That is what we see; that is the ‘outward show'. In the past the outward show was regarded as the truth. But then a scientist came along to question it and then to announce that the truth was quite different from the appearance: the truth was that the earth revolved and the sun remained still -the outward show was telling a lie. The curious thing about scientific truths like this is that they often seem so useless. It makes no difference to the average man whether the sun moves or the earth moves. He still has to rise at dawn and stop work at dusk. But because a thing is useless it does not mean that it is valueless. Scientists still think it worthwhile to pursue truth. They do not expect that laws of gravitation and relativity are going to make much difference to everyday life, but they think it is a valuable activity to ask their eternal questions about the universe. And so we say that truth - the thing they are looking for—is a value.
  • ...1660 virtually starts a new era - an era in which the old land-owning class sinks and the new middle-class rises, an era too in which the English character seems to have become subtly changed. A sense of guilt seems to permeate all pleasure, and this has continued to the present day....the many living monuments to Puritan rule....the Englishman’s peculiar restraint - the coldness that repels so many Africans and Asians, an unwillingness to ‘let oneself go’.
  • the Restoration period, feeling and imagination were mistrusted: feeling implied strong convictions, and strong convictions had produced a Civil War and the harsh rule of the Commonwealth; imagination suggested the mad, the wild, the uncouth, the fanatical. It was best to live a calm civilised life governed by reason. Such a life is best lived in the town, and the town is the true centre of culture; the country estates are impoverished, and little of interest is going on there; the country itself is barbaric.
  • The story of English literature, viewed aesthetically, is one thing; the story of English writers is quite another. The price of contributing to the greatest literature the world has ever seen is often struggle and penury: art is still too often its own reward. It is salutary sometimes to think of the early deaths of Keats, Shelley, Byron, Chatterton, Dylan Thomas, of the Grub Street struggles of Dr. Johnson, the despair of Gissing and Francis Thompson. That so many writers have been prepared to accept a kind of martyrdom is the best tribute that flesh can pay to the living spirit of man as expressed in his literature. One cannot doubt that the martyrdom will continue to be gladly embraced. To some of us, the wresting of beauty out of language is the only thing in the world that matters.

Here Comes Everybody: An Introduction to James Joyce for the Ordinary Reader (1965)


Also published as Re Joyce.

  • Every grain of experience is food for the greedy growing soul of the artist.
  • If you reject family - which a mother holds together - as well as the ties of Church and State, is there anything left for you?
  • If the world is to be improved it must be by the exercise of individual charity.
  • Men are influenced by big loud empty words, styes which swell the eyelids and impede vision of the truth.
  • The church stands that it may be battered, but the fists that batter know their own impotence.

The Novel Now: A Student's Guide to Contemporary Fiction (1967)

  • We can no longer expect the one big book, the single achievement, to be an author's claim to posterity's regard. We shall be more inclined to assess the stature of a novelist by his ability to create what the French call an oeuvre, to present fragments of an individual vision in book after book, to build, if not a War and Peace or Ulysses, at least a shelf.

"Novel, The"


In Encyclopedia Britannica (1970)

  • [Graham Greene’s] ability to encapsulate the essence of an exotic setting in a single book is exemplified in The Heart of the Matter (1948); his contemporary Evelyn Waugh stated that the West Africa of that book replaced the true remembered West Africa of his own experience.
  • I myself was, for nearly six years, in such close touch with the Malay language that it affected my English and still affects my thinking. When I wrote a novel called A Clockwork Orange, no European reader saw that the Malay word for "man" – orang – was contained in the title (Malay students of English invariably write "orang squash"...

Also published as But Do Blondes Prefer Gentlemen?

  • [Stendhal] was small, ugly and obsessed by physical beauty in others, and he spent most of his time in salons and opera houses, pursuing aristocratic hostesses and singers. After the fall of Napoleon, he retired to Italy, adopted his pseudonym and began to write. He was a sexual freebooter who “found a notion of obtaining happiness from a virtuous woman wholly inconceivable”. At 59, unmarried, syphilitic and obscure, he dropped dead in a Paris street.
    • "Homage to QWERT YUIOP".
  • The British arrived with no intention of conquest: the East India Company had set up trading posts on the western seaboard, and its officers were called on by the native sultans to help with the putting down of rapacious river barons. The parallel with India is exact, and Stamford Raffles is a perfect analogue of Robert Clive. First came trade, then the amateur protective army, finally the flag....
  • Maugham was a mere visitor and did not have to take any language examinations; a civil servant like myself was forced to reach degree level in Malay....
  • All that the Malays can do is run the police force and the army.... They are not fitted even to the lowlier mechanical skills, such as car maintenance. They are essentially a people who have been pulled out of the kampongs into the towns, and the town in Malaysia seems essentially a Chinese creation....
  • There is a profound middle-class nostalgia for the days of British protection....
  • Penang is a paradise, and east coast Kelantan has beautiful Malay women who walk proudly ahead of their husbands and scorn Koranic purdah....
  • With such exquisite women there is little need for aphrodisiacs....
  • Chickaks or geckos chirp on the walls....
  • Somerset Maugham refers more than once to the pleasure of the Malayan morning - papaya and eggs and bacon and strong British tea taken while the air is cool and the sun awaits its sudden thrust into the green land....
  • (Singapore) is not even a place where a white man is permitted to go to pieces....
    • "Tanah Melayu".
  • The Residents knew what they wanted of their Malayan Civil Service cadets as early as 1883: "What we require out here are young public school men - Cheltenham, for preference - who have failed conspicuously at all bookwork and examinations in proportion as they have excelled at sports." As Resident of Perak, Swettenham “kept an eye out for men who would do credit to both the civil service and the state cricket team, which one sporting official judged as the equal of a good English county team.” Oliver Marks, who performed brilliantly for a visiting Ceylon eleven, was at once urged to come and work for the Perak government....
  • Some young men could not afford to marry or were statutorily forbidden to do so, and then their visits to Japanese brothels engendered guilt as well as VD. The official attitude to taking brown mistresses was always ambivalent. It let the side down, but a sleeping dictionary was the only way to learn the language. Mr Butcher is good on all this, and he gives such tables as one headed ‘Ethnicity of Women from whom European Men Treated at the Sultan Street Clinic Contracted Venereal Disease, 1927-1931.’ The girls of Siam were the great infectresses, but the Malays came a close second. The Japanese, who had regular medical inspections and lived in brothels cleaner than hotels, were down with the Eurasians to 0.4% in 1931. This damnable sex, by no means to be tamed by quinine or cricket. Guilt guilt guilt....
  • A white woman tipsy at the club, discoursing sexual needs unsatisfied by an overworked and debilitated husband, was a great topic of scandal in the bazaar. It was a man’s world, and a realistic planter or government officer should have been content with beery sodality and the odd session with a geisha or perempuan jahat. But these men had been to decent schools and were romantic. It was the same in Burma, as Orwell reminds us. The French suffered less.
  • Whether the French were better colonists than the British is an academic question, but at least such Frenchmen as were planting in Malaya (Pierre Boulle, for instance, and Henri Fauconnier) were kept sane by their own culture and some of them (those two, anyway) produced memorable novels based on their Malayan experiences. The British were mostly philistines, and they left behind a heritage of philistinism. Kampung culture is dying, and a metropolitan culture of art galleries and orchestras seems unlikely to arise. What there is, and flourishing too, is a materialist consumerism that is threatened from the north by the communists and from the west by the militant Islam of the ayatollahs. Mr Butcher’s book deals with a race of people who may well be surveyed in terms of anthropological generalities. There was no room for the brilliant or the eccentric. British Malaya was created by courageous and suffering mediocrities. The building of Singapore in 1819 was a rather different affair.
    • "White Men Sweating" - review of The British in Malaya 1880-1941: The Social History of a European Community in Colonial South-East Asia, by John G. Butcher.
  • ...the jeaned and rucksacked young I see on Continental trains or thumbing rides on motorways are not in search of the exotic. They are seeking confirmation that their own kind exists everywhere and denies the racial and cultural variety that used to be one of the joys of the world. If they want the exotic at all it is in the form of what they know well in their own lands through regular, though usually illegal, importation....
  • If one does not wish to be dissatisfied with one’s lot at home, one ought to go where the flies and the stinks are, which means the Middle East. This is also a good way of reconciling oneself to one’s laws and police force and the probity of one’s magistrates. The really great British travellers, like Charles M. Doughty for instance, to say nothing of ‘Eothen’ Kinglake, always went East, but not too far East. When you get to Southeast Asia you find no dirt or flies but the suspicion that you are in a tropical paradise, and then you go to pieces. It is essential, when travelling, to feel that you belong to a superior civilization, and the lands of the Arabs lavishly grant opportunities to nourish this conviction....
  • What we used to think of as exotic can now only be found in countries that cannot afford Americanization. Meaning no home comforts, peppers, unleavened bread. It is a kind thing to take one’s bit of tourist money there, to the deserving, and not put it in the hands of the disdainful Nicois or Cannois. If you can get into a country which is politically oppressed, that too is a good thing for the natives, for you are bringing a breath of freedom. Increasingly, perhaps, one ought to be travelling for the benefit of those who cannot afford or are not permitted to travel. We all belong to one another now, and no foreign country ought to be merely a sideshow....
    • "Thoughts on Travel".
  • ...the snarling, whining, pampered, analphabetic humanoids of Hollywood emerge as garbage irrelevantly gilded with adventitious photogeneity.
    • "Schmuck".
  • Southwark, where the whores or Winchester geese displayed their breasts at the windows of the trugging houses. They were called Winchester geese because the Bishop of Winchester controlled the property there and had done so since about 110. Traditional Christianity has never seen much wrong in episcopal brothel-keeping. St Augustine said: ‘Suppress prostitution and capricious lusts will overthrow society.’ St Thomas Aquinas went further: ‘Prostitution in the towns is like the cesspool in the palace; take away the cesspool and the palace will become an unclean and evil smelling-place.’
    • "What Shakespeare Smelt".
  • Tertiary syphilis, as my readers will not need reminding perhaps, comes, when it comes at all, about ten years after the initial infection. About two thirds of syphilitics miss it, especially if they are women or coloured. It is believed, though without solid evidence, that it attacks the sedentary more than the active. This means that writers and composers, granted that primary lesion, are prone to it.
  • Paresis, as it is generally called in preference to the old GPI or general paralysis of the insane, is characterized by symptoms of bewildering variety, confirming the description of syphilis as the Great Imitator or, because of this very wealth of its ultimate manifestations, the Aristocrat of Diseases. Paresis involves a meningoencephalitis which marks its onset by personality changes, mild at first but growing steadily worse. There is irritability, failure of memory and judgement, insomnia, slovenliness, aggression, confusion, delusion, manic depression, epileptiform convulsion, slurred speech, incontinence, emaciation, sensational psychosis, finally death. The act of careless bohemian love, anonymous, quick and uncondomized, is proved not to have been worth the trouble or money.....
  • Dr Williams’s book is about a number of nineteenth-century French writers who caught syphilis and probably died of paresis. They are Baudelaire, Jules de Goncourt, Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant and Daudet. A similar book could probably be written about nineteenth-century British writers, including such unlikely victims of syphilis as John Keats and Edward Lear. People were not so frightened of the disease as we are. Few physicians saw the connection between cerebral degeneration and the primary chancre: when the secondary stage of the infection had healed, it was generally assumed that everything was over and lightning would not strike the tree again. This was Baudelaire’s belief. One could even rejoice at picking up the pox: it was not merely an inoculation; it advertised one’s virility to the world....
  • Williams’s starting point is the immense pessimism of nineteenth-century men of letters....One can explain this pessimism to some extent in terms of various social and political failures, especially in France....But Dr Williams would rather look at the physically examinable, and he finds in the author’s disease the roots of what his book cover calls, with an admirable eye on the market, the horror of life....
  • The most sensational of all the sick literary lives was that of Maupassant, who died mad at forty-three and whose hatred of God, man and nature - manifested in literary productions which give us immense pleasure: how is that to be explained? - spring from a kind of mother fixation as well as a terror of the cold. He was a bull of a man much given to boats and riparian dalliance, but he had bad circulation. He had other things too, including a Chinese-style priapism which enabled him to copulate, usually in public, six times in a row, the secret being his failure to detumesce. This, of course, like acne and the common cold, can be a symptom of tertiary syphilis, which Maupassant certainly had.
  • ...Daudet differs from the hate-filled Baudelaire and Maupassant in being gentle to fellow-sufferers from the disease of life. Syphilis in him did not engender misanthropy.
    • "A Pox on Literature" - review of The Horror of Life by Roger L. Williams.
  • Writers are not, by nature, respectable: their function is to be subversive.
  • The great gift of the southern lands to our civilisation is the simple right to sit at an outside cafe table and look at things.
  • To be left alone is the most precious thing one can ask of the modern world.
    • "The Ball is Free to Roll"

Flame Into Being: The Life and Work of D. H. Lawrence (1985)

  • In Lady Chatterley’s Lover we meet the ancient honest word fuck. Lawrence believed that it could be cleansed of its centuries of accumulated filth and stalk nakedly through his pages like Connie and Mellors themselves, standing for an act of love which had been too long swaddled in euphemisms. There are many people who cherish the fallacy of a golden age of Anglo-Saxon candour in which lovers invited each other to fuck or be fucked….This was never so. The word has always been taboo. You will find no Anglo-Saxon document which contains it. True, it is old, cognate with the German ficken, but it stands for a brutal act unsuitable for the marriage bed. It connotes impersonality and aggression. When Dr Johnson said that drinking and fucking were the only things worth doing…he was referring to getting drunk and going to brothels. A man can fuck a whore but, unless his wife is a whore, he cannot fuck his wife….fuck is a…dysphemism….there is no love in it. Lawrence made an aesthetic rather than a moral gaffe….
  • We know what goes on in the act of love, and those of us who are writers despair of ever finding verbal equivalents for the pain and pleasure of excitation fulfilled in what Rabelais’s translator Urquhart called ‘venerean ecstasy’. A mechanical description of the act tells us nothing, any more than a scientifically accurate account of mastication will convey the flavour of roast duck.
  • An Egyptian priest....plays up the mystery of language to enhance his own power.
  • Languages never stand still. Modern spelling crystallises lost pronunciations: the visual never quite catches up with the aural.
  • The British…used to regard foreigners as either a comic turn or a sexual menace. To learn a European language…was, at best, to seek to acquire a sort of girls’-finishing-school ornament, at worst, to capitulate feebly to the enemy.
  • It is generally felt that the educated man or woman should be able to read Dante, Goethe, Baudelaire, Lorca in the original - with, anyway, the crutch of a translation.
  • ‘Ass’ for ‘arse’ does not seem to represent a willingness, on British lines, to make the word arhotic; rather it is a puritanical substitution which forces a real ass to become a donkey or burro.
  • Any kind of discourse which has a flavour of the British ruling class, so powerful is ancestral memory, must be strenuously avoided.
  • ...Australian English may be thought of as a kind of fossilised Cockney of the Dickensian era.
  • The consciousness in [Australia and New Zealand] of the elevation of a substandard dialect into a national tongue has been responsible for a mixture of attitudes to citizens of the mother country - inferiority, defiance, contempt. A blending of the first two may be responsible for the upward intonation pattern of answers, more appropriate to questions….slang is of its nature defiant. It is also demotic….But the ruling class of Australia is itself demotic.
  • …slang…the home-made language of the ruled, not the rulers, the acted upon, the used, the used up. It is demotic poetry emerging in flashes of ironic insight.
  • If Shakespeare required a word and had not met it in civilised discourse, he unhesitatingly made it up.
  • Pornography….the reader panting, eventually masturbating
  • Journalism may not dare too much. It can be gently humorous and ironic, very lightly touched by idiosyncrasy, but it must not repel readers by digging too deeply. This is especially true of its approach to language: the conventions are not questioned. The questioning of linguistic conventions is one of the main duties of what we call literature.
  • All art preserves mysteries which aesthetic philosophers tackle in vain.



Joseph Conrad

  • Well before James Joyce, Conrad was forging a vocabulary for the contemporary soul. This book grants us another opportunity to brood over a notable literary martyrdom. [review in the London Independent newspaper of Joseph Conrad: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers][specific citation needed]

D.H. Lawrence

  • In a sense [Lawrence] is the patron saint of all writers who have never had an Oxford or Cambridge education who are somewhat despised by those who have. ['The Rage of D.H. Lawrence', The South Bank Show (TV), 1985][specific citation needed]

T.S. Eliot

  • I had always had grave doubts about Eliot's taste and, indeed, intelligence. [T.S. Eliot Memorial Lecture, broadcast on BBC Radio 3, 1980]

W. Somerset Maugham

  • He stayed in no one place very long, but he usually managed to absorb something of the atmosphere of each town, village or rubber estate he visited, and he always made quick contact with the local residents. These residents were invariably Europeans - planters, colonial officials, businessmen, or just men living in exile to escape from trouble or sadness at home - and there is little evidence that Maugham gained, or wished to gain, any direct knowledge of the lives and customs of the native peoples of the East. This must be disappointing to present-day Malay and Indian and Chinese and Eurasian readers of his stories, but we have to remember that (apart from the fact that Maugham had no time to learn Malay or Chinese or Tamil) the Western attitude to the Far East was very different in Maugham's time from what it is today. [Introduction to Maugham's Malaysian Stories (1969)]

Doris Lessing

  • I am late with the new Doris Lessing [The Golden Notebook]. I make no apology: it has taken me a long time to read (568 pages of close print) and at the end of it all I feel cheated. This talented writer has attempted an experiment which has failed, essayed a scale which is beyond her....This is a book of revolt – political, social, sexual. Anna [the heroine] became a Communist in South Africa, seeing in Communism a "moral energy" not to be found in other creeds or in the long-entrenched privileged class. Anna is also concerned with being a "free woman" – rebelling against traditional male dominance – and with achieving maximal erotic fulfilment....There is no doubt about the great moral virtues here – intelligence, honesty, integrity – but it is the aesthetic virtues that seem to be lacking. The characters do not really interest us: when we have dialogue it is strangely unnatural … Mrs Lessing’s old singleness of vision, her strength as a writer, is not to be found here. [Review in the English provincial newspaper the Yorkshire Post, 1962][specific citation needed]

Edward Heath

  • There's no doubt that there is a homosexual mafia. Indeed, we had a homosexual Prime Minister, Edward Heath. He's been very clever about it. He's been known to accost little boys. It may have been hushed up. [Remark quoted in Roger Lewis, Anthony Burgess (2002), p. 184]


  • Evidently, there is a political element in the attack on The Satanic Verses which has killed and injured good if obstreperous Muslims in Islamabad, though it may be dangerously blasphemous to suggest it. The Ayatollah Khomeini is probably within his self-elected rights in calling for the assassination of Salman Rushdie, or of anyone else for that matter, on his own holy ground. To order outraged sons of the Prophet to kill him, and the directors of Penguin Books, on British soil is tantamount to a jihad. It is a declaration of war on citizens of a free country, and as such it is a political act. It has to be countered by an equally forthright, if less murderous, declaration of defiance....I do not think that even our British Muslims will be eager to read that great vindication of free speech, which is John Milton’s Areopagitica. Oliver Cromwell’s Republic proposed muzzling the press, and Milton replied by saying, in effect, that the truth must declare itself by battling with falsehood in the dust and heat....I gain the impression that few of the protesting Muslims in Britain know directly what they are protesting against. Their Imams have told them that Mr Rushdie has published a blasphemous book and must be punished. They respond with sheeplike docility and wolflike aggression. They forgot what Nazis did to books … they shame a free country by denying free expression through the vindictive agency of bonfires....If they do not like secular society, they must fly to the arms of the Ayatollah or some other self-righteous guardian of strict Islamic morality. ['Islam's Gangster Tactics', in the London Independent newspaper, 1989][specific citation needed]

Pop Music

  • I remember an old proverb. It says that youth thinks itself wise just as drunk men think themselves sober. Youth is not wise! Youth knows nothing about life! Youth knows nothing about anything except for massive cliches which for the most part through the media of pop songs are just foisted on them by middle-age entrepreneurs and exploiters who should know better. When we start thinking that pop music is close to God, then we'll think pop music is aesthetically better than it is. And it's only the aesthetic value of pop music that we're really concerned. I mean the only way we can judge Wagner or Beethoven or any other composer is aesthetically. We don't regard Wagner or Beethoven nor Shakespeare or Milton as great teachers. When we start claiming for Lennon or McCartney or Maharishi or any other of these pop prophets the ability to transport us to a region where God becomes manifest then I see red. We're satisfied with our little long playing record, ten pop numbers or thereabouts a side. This is great art, we've been told this by the great pundits of our age. And in consequence why should we bother to learn? There's nothing more delightful than to be told: "You don't have to learn, my boy. There's nothing in it. Modern art? There's nothing in it." When you're told these things you sit down with a sigh of relief: "Thank God I don't have to learn, I don't have to travel, I don't have to exert myself in the slightest. I am what I am. Youth is youth. Pop is pop. There's no need to progress. There's no need to do anything. Let us sit down, smoke our marijuana (an admirable thing in itself but not the end of anything), let us listen to our records and life has become a single moment. And the single moment is eternity. We're with God. Finis!


  • At various universities, I've seen black men who are treated very indulgently, over-indulgently. They are allowed to do what they want, take what they want, drop what they want. I met one young man in Philadelphia, a young black, who wanted to learn music. But he wouldn't learn music from whites because it was 'tainted' music. Well, this is bloody ridiculous...[remark made in 1971, cited in Roger Lewis, Anthony Burgess (2002), p. 152]

Quotes about Anthony Burgess


The writer

  • [A] creation of Kubrick....a lesser English novelist until Kubrick came along with that film....the book was more or less forgotten until Kubrick made the film....Thanks to the film [Burgess was] transformed into a personality.
  • Nothing like the sun and the Enderby books prove that Burgess is as clever as he seems. His utopian satires, of which 1985 is yet another, mainly just seem clever. At a generous estimate there are half a dozen ideas in each of them.
    • Clive James in the New York Review of Books, 1978.
  • Burgess' chief themes...a Catholic sense of sin and a social sense of disaster, a fascination with the polymathic and polyglot artist and the strange and often gross and unbidden sources of art. Nor had Burgess taught languages or studied Joyce for nothing, though where Joyce sought the final consolation of form he sought those of prolixity; he was also a very effective literary critic, obsessed with language and punning....was happy to describe himself as a craftsman and not an aesthetician of writing; he is a Joycean without the formalism or indeed the restraint....inventive of linguistic and technical discovery; Burgess is a great postmodern storehouse of contemporary writing, opening the modern plurality of languages, discourses and codes for our use.
    • The Modern British Novel, 1993.
  • Though in life Anthony Burgess was amiable, generous and far less self-loving than most writers, I have been disturbed, in the last few years, to read in the press that he did not think himself sufficiently admired by the literary world. It is true, of course, that he had the good fortune not to be hit, as it were, by the Swedes, but surely he was much admired and appreciated by the appreciated and admired.
  • Polyglot, polymath and mythomane.
    • The Times of London, 13 December 1997.
  • The whole of English Lit. at the moment is being written by Anthony Burgess. He reviews all new books except those by himself, and these latter include such jeux d'esprit as A Shorter Finnegans Wake and so on. Do you know him? He must be a kind of Batman of contemporary letters. I hope he doesn't take to poetry.
  • …something of an anomalous figure in the republic of letters. His…masters were Sterne, Joyce, and Waugh….
  • So Anthony Burgess, contrary to popular mythology, was not after all a literary genius, a novelist of world-encompassing ambition, an essayist who assessed literary reputations with the final-word gravitas of a Recording Angel; nor was he a polymath and polyglot as we'd thought, a synthesiser of all mythologies, a walking compendium of modern thought, philosophy and theology, phrase and fable, a cigar-puffing, apoplectic Dr Johnson de nos jours, a monumental figure about whom it was said when he died in 1993, that (as Thackeray said about Swift) 'thinking of him is like thinking of an empire falling'. Nope, we were all wide of the mark. Don't you hate it when you get these things completely wrong?....Seen through [Lewis's] eyes, Burgess was a mendacious, drunken, impotent, vain, emotionless, puffed-up, talentless clown who neglected his first wife as she spiralled fatally into alcoholism, who lived abroad to avoid paying tax, and nursed a sentimental chip on his shoulder about not being sufficiently respected by the British establishment. ...In the presence of a genuinely great man, something odd happens to you - you feel older and wiser, worldlier and cleverer, and pleased with yourself just for being in his company. ...He was the sort of man who made you feel like cheering just because he existed, and there's nobody remotely like him around today. There are, unfortunately, more than enough Roger Lewises.
  • Burgess had been a schoolteacher (like William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies) and evidently sensed a stirring of revolt among the youth of his country and elsewhere in the West, a revolt with which—as a deeply unconventional man who felt himself to be an outsider however wealthy or famous he became, and who drank deep at the well of resentment as well as of spirituous liquors—he felt some sympathy and might even have helped in a small way to foment. And yet, as a man who was also deeply steeped in literary culture and tradition, he understood the importance of the shift of cultural authority from the old to the young and was very far from sanguine about its effects. He thought that the shift would lead to a hell on earth and the destruction of all that he valued. ...Burgess intuited with almost prophetic acuity both the nature and characteristics of youth culture when left to its own devices, and the kind of society that might result when that culture became predominant.
  • He has buttressed his disenchantment with modern society by the use of every type of modernist technique, ranging from science fiction through the more or less conventional novel (such as Nothing Like The Sun...) to savage satire (Honey For The Bears). ... [H]e rejects the notion of the meaningless of life which seems to be put forward by novelists such as Beckett, and has...a religious nature; but as he looks about him he sees nothing but nihilism and rot.
  • He has become the most prolific as well as most gifted and versatile novelist of his generation. Not one member of it approaches his fluency, energy, inventiveness, effrontery. ...For sheer intelligence, learning, inventiveness, imaginative capacity, writer's professional cunning - no English novelist comes near him.
    • Martin Seymour-Smith Who's Who in Twentieth Century Literature (1976)

The man

  • He was a splendid chap. Everyone was fond of him...All his grandiose ways are an act. He was a sensitive man, John...It makes me angry to see him on television or in the paper, roaring away as Anthony Burgess, coarsening himself, travestying himself...denigrating his past and the man he was.
  • Although he was 76, I always thought of him as an unusually brilliant, angst-ridden young man who was destined to become a close friend as soon as he had resolved life's problems to the extent of settling in London and allowing those of us who loved him to burn incense at his feet.
  • I think we had all established that Burgess was not altogether a good egg.
  • Liar, liar, pants on fire....the man was a liar....To be true means to be grounded at your core, and Burgess never was....The habitual bending of the truth for ulterior motives had important consequences for Burgess's art. Cavalier liars think that anything will do. The idea of revising something to make it more true never occurs to him. Yet this inner truth is the essence of great art....Burgess told me that fecundity as a writer was a parallel of erotic freeing-up and that careful writers were not sexual people. He was clearly boasting that what made him a prolific author also made him a great lay. Not so....Burgess thought he was Cervantes, but in fact he is Don Quixote. There is no Burgess book that gives the impression you are reading something entirely grown-up. That a book might be brooded over or lived was alien to him. Instead he gluttonised on nicotine, booze and stimulants....He was not at all vindictive - how rare in the literary world! His kindness and warmth, which showed in his face as well as his conduct, were doubtless among the reasons Graham Greene disliked him (Greene was unnerved by spontaneous personalities; only he was allowed to be spontaneous)....what Burgess put up with from his first wife makes him a enthusiastic Burgess was with the inner-city kids he taught in New York, endlessly patient with their rudeness and fatuity. Burgess was a cranky charmer who could sound off on anything to fabulous effect - and he wasn't a bully in conversation....He was a terrific journalist. Couldn't write a dreary column to save his life.
    • Duncan Fallowell in the Sunday Telegraph (London), 30 October 2005.
  • Burgess worked all day, chain-smoking small cigars and producing 1,000 words a day at a large architect’s table - a word processor for his journalism, a typewriter for the fiction...
    ...went home, did the kitchen, spring-cleaned the flat, wrote two book reviews, a flute concerto and a film treatment, knocked off his gardening column for Pravda, phoned in his surfing page to the Sydney Morning Herald, and then test-drove a kidney dialysis machine for El Pais before settling down to some serious work.
  • [W]hen I first heard of him (we have never met) [Burgess] was vaguely spoken of as bisexual, never as a thoroughgoing queer.
  • About the eroticism of Anthony Burgess, it is interesting to notice that we never find ‘penetrative Eros’ either in twosome, threesome or a roomful of people. Anthony is, more than reticent, endowed with what used to be called ‘Christian modesty’ (which is also, Muslim, Jewish Orthodox Fundamentalism and Hindu, be it said). The grosser form of the sexual act is, very effectively, either - and this is more often the case - suggested by sequences of rhythmical images, as in Tremor of Intent when Miss Devi’s seduces Rupert Hillier in his ship cabine and her initial seduction followed by his response are evoked in a splendidly rhythmical crescendo (I’ve heard him read the pages aloud during a lecture given in Oklahoma or Denver), or, funnily and matter-of-factly, in a foreign language, as when, in a case of rape brought by Malay assistant against a small Chinese shopkeeper, her employer, while the prosecution goes on about "had he done this and he done that, and had there been any attempt to, shall we say, force his attention on her, and had he perhaps been importunate in demanding her favours"… The interpreter, having listened very patiently, just asks the girl, ‘Sudah masok?’ and she replies, quick as a flash, ‘Sudah.’
    • from Anthony Burgess's Honey for the Bears: A Running Commentary.
  • Burgess's tarty charlatanry was central to his genius.
  • What...remains of Burgess's colossal output? The its heart, we find just a handful of books: the Malayan Trilogy, the Enderby novels, A Clockwork Orange, and Earthly Powers. These are lasting and significant. The career, on the other hand, is not inspiring, poisoned by paranoia, bombast and an accumulation of lies so corrosive that down as something rusty and sadly disposable.
    • Robert McCrum in the Observer (London) newspaper, 6 November 2005.
  • Anthony Burgess’s gusto and exuberance springs from his brilliant bum.
    • final sentence of letter to Philip Larkin, 5 December 1980, reproduced on page 906 of The Letters of Kingsley Amis, ed. Zachary Leader, HarperCollins 2000
    • Kingsley Amis.
  • Nearly 40 years ago, on the ferry from Liverpool to Dublin, I hurled one of Burgess's Enderby novels into the Irish Sea, unable to bear another word. I have thought of him ever since as a pretentious windbag, a buttonholing bore whose writing had energy but no vitality.



The Malayan trilogy

  • [D]elightful, comic, linguistically opening step in the extraordinarily rich, inventive and experimental career that was to come.
    • Malcolm Bradbury, The Modern British Novel, 1993
  • He has never done better than in his opening trilogy about Malaya...
    • Martin Seymour-Smith, Novels and Novelists, 1980.

A Clockwork Orange

  • ...can be read as an ‘answer’ to…Mailer’s The White Negro (1957) and other works of that period recommending crime and ... murder as expressions of existential freedom. ...Mailer recommended that whites emulate ... traits that ... were producing ... the black 'underclass'. In A Clockwork Orange, the young thugs are scarcely existential heroes. The surrounding society does not provide the norms which, internalized, allow for civilization. In the underclass foreseen in A Clockwork Orange, Mr Mailer’s sentimental dream has become our own nightmare.
  • One cannot condemn a novel of 150 pages for failing to answer some of the most difficult and puzzling questions of human existence, but one can praise it for raising them in a peculiarly profound manner and forcing us to think about them.

the Enderby cycle

  • [T]he post-Joycean artist as lecher-poet, obsessed with death, language and his own insides.
    • Malcolm Bradbury, The Modern British Novel, 1993.

The Land Where The Ice Cream Grows

  • Franky, it's a fucking farrago.
    • Roger Lewis in Anthony Burgess: A Life, 2002.

Earthly Powers

  • [H]ighly ambitious work...continuing power....vast novel...told over eighty-one chapters by an eighty-one-year-old pederast Catholic writer-narrator...summed up the literary, social and moral history of the century with comic richness as well as encyclopedic knowingness.
    • Malcolm Bradbury, The Modern British Novel, 1993
  • [T]he parody is so much better than anything that W. Somerset Maugham ever wrote himself.
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