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Anthony Burgess was born on the 25th February, 1917, in Harpurhey, Manchester, as John Anthony Burgess Wilson, the son of Joseph, a bookie and Elizabeth, a dancer from the Ardwick Empire. Tragically his mother and sister both were killed by Spanish flu whilst he was still a a baby.
Young John attended Bishop Bilsborrow Primary School in Moss Side where he was taught by nuns (he later gave up Catholicism), before going to Xavarian College. He later attended Manchester University where he was to meet Llewla Isherwood Jones, whom he was to marry in 1940 before serving six years in the army during the Second World War. He eventually became an education officer in Malaysia and Brunei and was able to speak nine languages!
After collapsing in a Malaysian classroom in 1959, Anthony Burgess, was transported back to England where he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and was given one year to live. He began writing novels to secure posthumous royalties for Llewla. Under the pseudonym of 'Joesph Kell', he wrote "One Hand Clapping" (1961) and "Inside Mr.Enderby" (1963) as well as novels under his own name, including "The Wanting Seed", "The Doctor Is Sick", "The Worm" and "The Ring". As the books were released, his health improved, proving the medical diagnosis to be incorrect, however the young author decided to stick with new chosen career.
In 1962 he released his most famous book, the controversial "A Clockwork Orange". Inspired during World War II when, his wife was brutually assaulted in Gibralter, losing their unborn child. Anthony blaimed this incident on her later poor health and suicide attempts and actually recreated the incident within the book, which follows Alex, a British teenage hooligan who is jailed by the police. He volunteers to be a guinea pig for a new aversion therapy and, cured of his violent ways, he is released however becomes rejected by his friends and relatives. Eventually nearly dying, he becomes a major embarrassment for the government, who arrange to reverse his therapy.
Despite the tragic influence behind the book, Anthony Burgess details that it is better to choose to be evil, than to be forced to be good. The book delivers this message so powerfully and overwhelmingly, that it leaves the reader in a state of awe and profound musing for some time after the book is read. It has been hailed as one of the most important pieces of literature in the 20th Century.
The novel was later made into two disturbing films; "Vinyl", Andy Warhol's loose interpretation in 1965 was bettered by the infamous 1971 Stanley Kubrick movie, "A Clockwork Orange", where violent moments were accompanied by jolly music. A pivotal moment in Kubrick's film shows Alex and his gang breaking into an author's home: the book the author is writing (called "A Clockwork Orange") is a plea against the use of aversion therapy, on the grounds that it turns people into Clockwork Oranges (Ourang is Malay for "Man").
Suffering from poor health, Llewla eventually died in 1968. Anthony later married Liliana Macellari, an Italian translator, and moved with their son, Andrea, to Malta, where they lived for two years. Claiming that the British public ignored him because he was a Roman Catholic Northerner, Anthony also later lived in Monaco.
In most of his writings, Anthony Burgess was clearly less concerned with science than with his own form of speculative social anthropology. His characters are well-defined but essentially artificial, meant to propel his thoughtful social theories and populate some wryly chilling suppositions about the direction modern life might be taking. (His "Wanting Seed" novel connects the contraceptive pill with an idea of a futuristic government encouraging homosexuality as a means of controlling the population).
To those who admire him, Anthony Burgess is a unique and brilliant wordsmith, a man who loves and knows language so well that he can twist and reinvent it for his own purposes ("Nothing Like The Sun" conjures up fictional stories of Shakespeare's love life). If you are amused by pure wordplay and don't mind keeping a dictionary handy when you read...you'll enjoy this Mancunian author.
Anthony Burgess was a heavy smoker which contributed to his death from lung cancer in 1993, aged 76. He will be remembered as Manchester's finest author!
RECOMMENDED READING BY Pride Of Manchester: "Little Wilson And Big God" - Anthony Burgess's first autobiography covering his life in Manchester upto his first book in 1959.
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