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Digital Subscriptions > Writing Magazine > February 2017 > ANTHONY BURGESS


On the centenary of his birth, Tony Rossiter examines a writer who produced one of the twentieth century’s most original and controversial novels

The style and technique of

‘I wish people would think of me as a musician who writes novels, instead of a novelist who writes music on the side,’ he once said. His fondest dream was recognition as a composer – an ambition realised posthumously with his inclusion in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

Anthony Burgess was almost forty when he wrote his first novel, but once he got going there was no stopping him. His prolific output included more than thirty novels, 25 works of non-fiction and two volumes of autobiography. He was also a respected and prolific critic, as well as a playwright, screenwriter, essayist, travel writer and translator (to say nothing of his substantial output as a composer). But he’s remembered, above all, for his dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange (1962).

How he began John Anthony Burgess Wilson was born into a Catholic family in Manchester. He wanted to study music, but his application to the music department of the Victoria University of Manchester was turned down because of poor grades in physics. Instead, he studied English language and literature. In 1942 he joined the Army Education Corps. Stationed in Gibraltar, he was a lecturer in speech and drama – work which he continued when he left the Army in 1946. He then taught for four years at Banbury Grammar School before joining the Colonial Service as an education officer and teacher. Posted to Malaya in 1954, he began to devote some of his free time to creative writing. This resulted in the publication of his first novels, Time for a Tiger (1956), The Enemy in the Blanket (1958) and Beds in the East (1959). These became known as the Malayan Trilogy and were later published in one volume as The Long Day Wanes. Burgess’s life was always one of the main sources of his fiction.

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