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Readers are plentiful; thinkers are rare. – Anthony Burgess

John Anthony Burgess Wilson (February 25, 1917 – November 22, 1993) was an English writer who is perhaps best remembered for his dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange. Stanley Kubrick adapted the novel into a film, starring Malcolm McDowell as Alex, which considerably influenced the popularity of the book. Other notable works by Burgess include Earthly Powers and the Enderby quartet. He was also a longtime literary critic for The Observer and The Guardian, as well as an accomplished musician and linguist who composed over 250 musical works, including three symphonies.

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After suffering the loss of his mother and sister to influenza and other illnesses, Burgess had a rather solitary childhood, of which he said: "I was either distractedly persecuted or ignored. I was one despised ... Ragged boys in gangs would pounce on the well-dressed like myself."

Burgess recalls that he cared little about music until he heard a particular flute solo on his home-built radio. Burgess described the solo as "sinuous, exotic, erotic," and found out that he had been listening to Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune by Claude Debussy. After this "psychedelic moment ... a recognition of verbally inexpressible spiritual realities," Burgess decided he wanted to study music, but his grades were lacking, and he turned to English language and literature instead.

After a few years in the military, Burgess embarked on a long career of teaching. In 1954, he joined the British Colonial Service as a teacher and education officer, stationed in Malaya. Burgess became fluent in Malay and published his first novels, which became known as The Malayan Trilogy.

Next, Burgess took a post in Brunei, where he wrote Devil of A State. After he collapsed while teaching in a classroom in Brunei, Burgess was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and made to leave the country. At home in London, Burgess underwent testing which found no illness. He later said that his dismissal was likely, "I think possibly for political reasons that were disguised as clinical reasons."

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Burgess spent two years in the United States, teaching at Princeton and then the City College of New York. He became close friends with fellow author Joseph Heller, who also taught at City College. Burgess went on to teach creative writing at Columbia, as well as other universities throughout the country. He eventually moved to Monaco in 1976, and cofounded the Princess Grace Irish Library in 1984.

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A Clockwork Orange was published in 1962 and remains the author's most well-known work. The novel was inspired by a harrowing series of events during the blackout in London during WWII. Burgess' wife Lynne was robbed, assaulted, and raped by Army deserters and she subsequently miscarried their child. Burgess wrote the novel as an examination of free will and morality.

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Burgess would continue to write until he died. Other works included Nothing Like the Sun, Beard's Roman Women, Napoleon Symphony, and Any Old Iron. Burgess was the co-writer for the TV series Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. His also produced a number of film treatments including Attila, The Black Prince, and Cyrus the Great.

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Tuesday, 25 February 2014
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