Anthony Burgess and A Clockwork Orange

Imagine existing in a world run by sadistic and insane street gangs who reek havoc on innocent civilians, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Anthony Burgess created this world through his novel, A Clockwork Orange. Anthony Burgess was born in 1917 and died in 1963. A lot of social changes occurred during this period of time, such as: the roaring twenties, prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and many more. Burgess not only lived through those changes, but also helped influences some social changes in literature and music. Anthony Burgess was a jack-of-all-trades throughout his 76-year-old life. He was a novelist, composer, children’s book writer, play writer, essayist, critic, and poet. Burgess is most famously known for his controversial novel, A Clockwork Orange. Anthony Burgess pushed the boundaries of what the “norm” was throughout his lifetime.

John Anthony Burgess was born on February 25, 1917, in Manchester, England. He was born to Catholic parents (mom died early). Anthony’s mother died when he was only two years old from an illness, so he was brought up and raised by his aunt. A few years later when his father remarried, his stepmother primarily raised Burgess. Anthony’s father was not around much and frankly didn’t care much for Anthony. Burgess’s upbringing was rough and somewhat traumatizing, which reflect in some of his works, including the novel, A Clockwork Orange. Burgess married at a young age and had only one child, Paolo Andrea Burgess. In a review article about Anthony Burges, Thomas Horan said, “As Burgess acknowledged, he was a neglectful parent, too preoccupied with his writing and composing to take much notice of the high-spirited urchin who often ran naked through the house and the neighborhood.” He studied English at Xavierian College and Manchester University where he found his love for teaching and literature. Burgess also served in the British army during World War II as the musical director of a special services unit. He was also an education officer in Malaya and Brunel, where he studied nine languages and wrote several novels. “In 1954 he became a senior lecturer in English at Teachers Training College, Khata Baru. There he found his true vocation.”, said journalist Colin Covert in one of his reviews of Anthony Burgess.

William Shakespeare primarily inspired Burgess’s writing and the great composer, Ludwig van Beethoven, was the main inspiration for his musical career. Anthony loved to travel to different countries and study their language and culters, which he incorporated into his many works. He was greatly influenced by James Joyce, a 20th century Irish novelist and poet, to write his first novel, A Vision of Battlement. Traveling and teaching English around the world, particularly Malaya ad Brunel, influenced the way he wrote. His experiences in World War II, and his day-to-day life observing the street gangs around the world, influenced what he wrote about. Collin Burrow, of the London Review of Books, once described Burgess as a, “1960’s sideboard writer. His range was improbable.”

The genres of Burgess’s works were historical fiction, philosophical, satire, epics, spy fiction, horror, travel literature, biography, and autobiography. Burgess’s vision has been described as “bleak and pessimistic” but his work has also been described as “comic and satiric.” His main themes were exile, colonialism, faith, lust, marriage, evil, alcoholism, homosexuality, linguistics, and pornography. Burgess’s major subjects of writing focus primarily on social issues, and the corruptness of humanity. He also challenges the government on laws and how government officials can be easily corrupted.

Anthony Burgess is most famously known for his controversial novel, A Clockwork Orange, written in 1962. Petri Liukkonen once reviewed the novel:

A Clockwork Orange, a sci-fi fable, made him famous as a satirical novelist. This work was born from the growth of teenage gangs and the universal application of B.F. Skinners behavior theories. The title is a metphor for ‘an organic endity, full of juice and sweetness and agreeable odor’, being turned into an automation. The central question is a philosophical one: is an “evil” human being with free will preferable to a “good” citizen without it.

The book is told from the first person point of view. The novel also features Burgess’s invented language called “nadsat”, which is comprised of a mixture of distorted English and Russian slang. The book is about a teen named Alex who lives an “ultra-violent” life where he and his friends, called “droogs”, are controlled by drugs and hallucinogenic milk. Alex and the droogs engage in acts of violence such as rape and murder. In the end of the book he changes his ways and wants to turn away from his life of crime and decides he is ready to start a family and be a dad. The style of A Clockwork Orange has been described as “a kind of dystopian bildungsroman”. The primary theme of the novel is about a futuristic society ruled by violent gangs and incompetent, corrupted government officials. There was even a movie based off the novel. Stanley Kubick’s movie, made in 1971, was even more graphic and shocking than the book, possibly one of the most controversial movies ever made. Colin Covert wrote a review of the movie, which he said, “adapting Anthony Burgess’s sci-fi novel about free will, social control, and redemption, Kubrick created an assaultive, operatic essay depicting the dehumanizing of criminal violence.” The movie apparently was so shocking to its early viewers that they had a hard time deciding what they were watching. The film raised questions about humanity that are still asked today, and have yet to be answered.

“…A Clockwork Orange is a brilliant mixture of horror and farce, calling Burgess’s use of language an ‘extraordinary technical feat’,” said Julian Mitchell of the New York Times. In my opinion, Anthony Burgess is a brilliant writer and teacher. His wide range of literature and different things he was able to accomplish throughout his life was very impressive. I do believe that his novel A Clockwork Orange is a warning to humanity of what we are capable of. It is a learning tool for us. John Anthony Burgess died on November 22, 1993 (age 76) in St. John’s Wood, London, England. Burgess has had a big influence on the writing of his time and writing today. He changed the way people perceive violence and drugs and the minds of the criminally insane. He also brought up some very powerful questions about society, humanity, the battle between evil and good, and the corrupt governments throughout his career. Anthony Burgess did a lot of things throughout his 76-year-old life, but he is most famously known for his controversial novel, A Clockwork Orange.

Works Cited

Burrow, Colin. “Not Quite Nasty.” London Review of Books. LRB Ltd (1997-2004), Nov. 2005. Web. 1 Jan. 2014.

Covert, Colin. “Anthony Burgess.” Hutchinson’s Biography Datbase 2011: 1. Ebscohost.com. Web. 8 Jan. 2014.

Criticism, Contemporary Literary, and Carolyn Riley. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Detroit: Gale Research, 1973. Print.

Horan, Thomas. “A Clockwork Counterpoint: The Music and Literature of Anthony Burgess.” Academic Search Premier. Studies in the Novel, Apr. 2011. Web. 8 Jan. 2014. .

Liukkonen, Petri. “Anthony Burgess.” Anthony Burgess. Ari Pesonen, 2008. Web. 22 Jan. 2014.

“Movie Spotlight: “A Clockwork Orange”” Review. Newspaper Source Plus (2013): 1-2. Ebscohost.com. Web. 8 Jan. 2014.

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