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February Author Birthday — Anthony Burgess

I sometimes wonder when writing these birthday posts if it is odd to highlight birthday of an author who is no longer living. Normally I do try to focus on the living, but looking at late February this month, I couldn’t help but be drawn to writing about the late Anthony Burgess.

Burgess was born in Manchester, England on February 25, 1917. The author’s name was actually John Burgess Wilson, but he chose to primarily write under a pseudonym, thus Anthony Burgess was born. He studied English Literature at the University of Manchester, and held various teaching positions including an assignment as an English instructor for the British Colonial Service in Southeast Asia. A key event in Burgess’ life as a writer took place in 1960 when he was misdiagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor that he was told would kill him. Burgess began writing full time in hopes that the proceeds from this work would provide for his wife after his death. Thirty-four years, countless text books, essays, scripts, musical scores, literary masterpieces later, Burgess died in 1993 of lung cancer.

Anthony Burgess was best known for his disturbingly ultra-violent dystopian classic A Clockwork Orange, which was made into the controversial film of the same name by Stanley Kubrick. A wikipedia article on Burgess indicates that the author himself saw A Clockwork Orange as “one of his lesser works”. Another work of note by Burgess is Earthly Powers: which UK publisher Vintage recently summarized: “Kenneth Toomey is an eminent novelist of dubious talent; Don Carlo Campanati is a man of God, a shrewd manipulator who rises through the Vatican to become the architect of church revolution and a candidate for sainthood. These two men are linked not only by family ties but by a common understanding of mankind’s frailties. In this epic masterpiece, Anthony Burgess plumbs the depths of the essence of power and the lengths men will go for it.”

Burgess not only wrote fiction, he was an avid nonfiction writer as well including critical and biographical works on Shakespeare and DH Lawrence. Those interested in Burgess’ own opinions might be interested in his own essays, as in One Man’s Chorus. Dedicated fans may find 99 novels : the best in English since 1939 : a personal choice of interest for its insight into the authors opinions on writers and writing.

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