Anthony Burgess in 1986
|Born||John Burgess Wilson
25 February 1917
Harpurhey, Lancashire, England, United Kingdom
|Died||22 November 1993
St John's Wood, London, England
|Pen name||Anthony Burgess, John Burgess Wilson, Joseph Kell|
|Occupation||Novelist, critic, composer, librettist, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, travel writer, broadcaster, translator, linguist, educationalist|
|Alma mater||Victoria University of Manchester|
|Genre||Historical fiction, philosophical novel, dystopian fiction, satire, spy fiction, horror, biography, literary criticism, travel literature, autobiography|
|Subject||exile, colonialism, Islam, faith, lust, marriage, evil, alcoholism, homosexuality, linguistics, pornography|
|Notable awards||- Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres distinction of France
- Monégasque Commandeur de Merite Culturel (Monaco)
- Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
- honorary degrees from St Andrews, Birmingham and Manchester universities
|Spouse||Llewela (Lynne) Isherwood Jones (1942-1968, her death)
Liana Macellari (1968-1993, his death)
|Children||Paolo Andrea (1964-2002)|
John Anthony Burgess Wilson, FRSL (; 25 February 1917 - 22 November 1993) - who published under the pen name Anthony Burgess - was an English writer and composer. From relatively modest beginnings in a Catholic family in Manchester, he eventually became one of the best known English literary figures of the latter half of the twentieth century.
Although Burgess was predominantly a comic writer, his dystopian satire A Clockwork Orange remains his best known novel. In 1971 it was adapted into a highly controversial film by Stanley Kubrick, which Burgess said was chiefly responsible for the popularity of the book. Burgess produced numerous other novels, including the Enderby quartet, and Earthly Powers, regarded by most critics as his greatest novel. He wrote librettos and screenplays, including for the 1977 TV mini-series Jesus of Nazareth. He worked as a literary critic for several publications, including The Observer and The Guardian, and wrote studies of classic writers, notably James Joyce. A versatile linguist, Burgess lectured in phonetics, and translated Cyrano de Bergerac, Oedipus Rex and the opera Carmen, among others.
Burgess also composed over 250 musical works; he sometimes claimed to consider himself as much a composer as an author, although he enjoyed considerably more success in writing.
Burgess was born at 91 Carisbrook Street in Harpurhey, a suburb of Manchester, to Catholic parents (his mother was a convert), Joseph and Elizabeth Wilson. He described his background as lower middle class; growing up during the Great Depression, his parents, who were shopkeepers, were fairly well off, as the demand for their tobacco and alcohol wares remained constant. He was known in childhood as Jack, Little Jack, and Johnny Eagle. At his confirmation, the name Anthony was added and he became John Anthony Burgess Wilson. He began using the pen name Anthony Burgess upon the publication of his 1956 novel Time for a Tiger.
His mother Elizabeth (née Burgess) died at the age of 30 at home on 19 November 1918, during the 1918 flu pandemic. The causes listed on her death certificate were influenza, acute pneumonia, and cardiac failure. His sister Muriel had died four days earlier on 15 November from influenza, broncho-pneumonia, and cardiac failure, aged eight. Burgess believed he was resented by his father, Joseph Wilson, for having survived, when his mother and sister did not.
After the death of his mother, Burgess was raised by his maternal aunt, Ann Bromley, in Crumpsall with her two daughters. During this time, Burgess's father worked as a bookkeeper for a beef market by day, and in the evening played piano at a public house in Miles Platting. After his father married the landlady of this pub, Margaret Dwyer, in 1922, Burgess was raised by his father and stepmother. By 1924 the couple had established a tobacconist and off-licence business with four properties. On 18 April 1938, Joseph Wilson died from cardiac failure, pleurisy, and influenza at the age of 55, leaving no inheritance despite his apparent business success.[why?] Burgess' stepmother died of a heart attack in 1940.
Burgess has said of his largely solitary childhood: "I was either distractedly persecuted or ignored. I was one despised.... Ragged boys in gangs would pounce on the well-dressed like myself." He attended St. Edmund's Elementary School before moving on to Bishop Bilsborrow Memorial Elementary School, both Catholic schools, in Moss Side. He later reflected: "When I went to school I was able to read. At the Manchester elementary school I attended, most of the children could not read, so I was ... a little apart, rather different from the rest." Good grades resulted in a place at Xaverian College (1928-37). As a young child he did not care about music, until he heard on his home-built radio "a quite incredible flute solo", which he characterised as "sinuous, exotic, erotic," and became spellbound. Eight minutes later the announcer told him he had been listening to Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune by Claude Debussy. He referred to this as a "psychedelic moment ... a recognition of verbally inexpressible spiritual realities." When Burgess announced to his family that he wanted to be a composer, they objected as "there was no money in it." Music was not taught at his school, but at about age 14 he taught himself to play the piano. Burgess had originally hoped to study music at university, but the music department at the Victoria University of Manchester turned down his application because of poor grades in physics. So instead he studied English language and literature there between 1937 and 1940, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts. His thesis concerned Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, and he graduated with an upper second-class honours, which he found disappointing. When grading one of Burgess's term papers, the historian A. J. P. Taylor, wrote: "Bright ideas insufficient to conceal lack of knowledge."
Burgess met Llewela "Lynne" Isherwood Jones at the University where she was studying economics, politics and modern history, graduating in 1942 with an upper second-class. She reportedly claimed to be a distant relative of Christopher Isherwood, although the Lewis and Biswell biographies dispute this. Burgess and Jones were married on 22 January 1942.
Burgess spent six weeks in 1940 as an army recruit in Eskbank before becoming a Nursing Orderly Class 3 in the Royal Army Medical Corps. During his service he was unpopular and was involved in incidents such as knocking off a corporal's cap and polishing the floor of a corridor to make people slip. In 1941 Burgess was pursued by military police of the British Armed Forces for desertion after overstaying his leave from Morpeth military base with his future bride Lynne. In 1942 he asked to be transferred to the Army Educational Corps and despite his loathing of authority he was promoted to sergeant. During the blackout his pregnant wife Lynne was beaten and robbed by four American deserters and perhaps as a result she lost the child. Burgess, stationed at the time in Gibraltar, was denied leave to see her.
At his stationing in Gibraltar, which he later wrote about in A Vision of Battlements, he worked as a training college lecturer in speech and drama, teaching alongside Ann McGlinn in German, French and Spanish. McGlinn's communist ideology would have a major influence on his later novel A Clockwork Orange. Burgess played a key role in "The British Way and Purpose" programme, designed to reintroduce members of the forces to the peacetime socialism of the post-war years in Britain. He was an instructor for the Central Advisory Council for Forces Education of the Ministry of Education. Burgess' flair for languages was noticed by army intelligence and he took part in debriefings of Dutch expatriates and Free French who found refuge in Gibraltar during the war. In the neighbouring Spanish town of La Línea de la Concepción he was arrested for insulting General Franco but released from custody shortly after the incident.
Burgess left the army in 1946 with the rank of sergeant-major and was for the next four years a lecturer in speech and drama at the Mid-West School of Education near Wolverhampton and at the Bamber Bridge Emergency Teacher Training College near Preston. Burgess taught in the extramural department of Birmingham University (1946-50).
In late 1950 he began working as a secondary school teacher at Banbury Grammar School (now Banbury School) teaching English literature. In addition to his teaching duties he supervised sports and ran the school's drama society. He organised a number of amateur theatrical events in his spare time. These involved local people and students and included productions of T. S. Eliot's Sweeney Agonistes. Reports from his former students and colleagues indicate that he cared deeply about teaching.
With financial assistance provided by Lynne's father the couple were able to put a down payment on a cottage in the village of Adderbury, close to Banbury. He named the cottage "Little Gidding" after one of Eliot's Four Quartets. Burgess cut his journalistic teeth in Adderbury, writing several articles for the local newspaper, the Banbury Guardian.
In 1954, Burgess joined the British Colonial Service as a teacher and education officer in Malaya, initially stationed at Kuala Kangsar in Perak, in what were then known as the Federated Malay States. Here he taught at the Malay College (now Malay College Kuala Kangsar - MCKK), modeled on English public school lines. In addition to his teaching duties, he was a housemaster in charge of students of the preparatory school, who were housed at a Victorian mansion known as "King's Pavilion". A variety of the music he wrote there was influenced by the country, notably Sinfoni Melayu for orchestra and brass band, which included cries of Merdeka (independence) from the audience. No score, however, is extant.
Burgess and his wife had occupied a noisy apartment where privacy was minimal, and this caused resentment. Following a dispute with the Malay College's principal about this, Burgess was reposted to the Malay Teachers' Training College at Kota Bharu, Kelantan.[better source needed] Burgess attained fluency in Malay, spoken and written, achieving distinction in the examinations in the language set by the Colonial Office. He was rewarded with a salary increase for his proficiency in the language.
He devoted some of his free time in Malaya to creative writing "as a sort of gentlemanly hobby, because I knew there wasn't any money in it," and published his first novels: Time for a Tiger, The Enemy in the Blanket and Beds in the East. These became known as The Malayan Trilogy and were later published in one volume as The Long Day Wanes.
After a brief period of leave in Britain during 1958, Burgess took up a further Eastern post, this time at the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin College in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei. Brunei had been a British protectorate since 1888, and was not to achieve independence until 1984. In the sultanate, Burgess sketched the novel that, when it was published in 1961, was to be entitled Devil of a State and, although it dealt with Brunei, for libel reasons the action had to be transposed to an imaginary East African territory similar to Zanzibar, named Dunia. In his autobiography Little Wilson and Big God (1987) Burgess wrote:
"This novel was, is, about Brunei, which was renamed Naraka, Malay-Sanskrit for 'hell.' Little invention was needed to contrive a large cast of unbelievable characters and a number of interwoven plots. Though completed in 1958, the work was not published until 1961, for what it was worth it was made a choice of the book society. Heinemann, my publisher, was doubtful about publishing it: it might be libellous. I had to change the setting from Brunei to an East African one. Heinemann was right to be timorous. In early 1958, The Enemy in the Blanket appeared and at once provoked a libel suit."
About this time Burgess collapsed in a Brunei classroom while teaching history and was diagnosed as having an inoperable brain tumour. Burgess was given just a year to live, prompting him to write several novels to get money to provide for his widow. He gave a different account, however, to Jeremy Isaacs in a Face to Face interview on the BBC The Late Show (21 March 1989). He said "Looking back now I see that I was driven out of the Colonial Service. I think possibly for political reasons that were disguised as clinical reasons." He alluded to this in an interview with Don Swaim, explaining that his wife Lynne had said something "obscene" to the British Queen's consort, the Duke of Edinburgh, during an official visit, and the colonial authorities turned against him. He had already earned their displeasure, he told Swaim, by writing articles in the newspaper in support of the revolutionary opposition party the Parti Rakyat Brunei, and for his friendship with its leader Dr. Azahari. Burgess' biographers attribute the incident to the author's notorious mythomania. Geoffrey Grigson writes,
He was, however, suffering from the effects of prolonged heavy drinking (and associated poor nutrition), of the often oppressive south-east Asian climate, of chronic constipation, and of overwork and professional disappointment. As he put it, the scions of the sultans and of the élite in Brunei "did not wish to be taught", because the free-flowing abundance of oil guaranteed their income and privileged status. He may also have wished for a pretext to abandon teaching and get going full-time as a writer, having made a late start.
Burgess was invalided home in 1959 and relieved of his position in Brunei. He spent some time in the neurological ward of a London hospital (see The Doctor is Sick) where he underwent cerebral tests that found no illness. On discharge, benefiting from a sum of money which Lynne Burgess had inherited from her father, together with their savings built up over six years in the East, he decided to become a full-time writer. The couple lived first in an apartment in Hove, near Brighton. They later moved to a semi-detached house called "Applegarth" in Etchingham, approximately a mile from the Jacobean house where Rudyard Kipling had lived in Burwash, and one mile from the Robertsbridge home of Malcolm Muggeridge. Upon the death of Burgess's father-in-law, the couple used their inheritance to decamp to a terraced town house in Chiswick. This provided convenient access to the White City BBC television studios where he later became a frequent guest. During these years Burgess became a regular drinking partner of the novelist William S. Burroughs. Their meetings took place in London and Tangiers.
A sea voyage the couple took with the Baltic Line from Tilbury to Leningrad in June 1961 resulted in the novel Honey for the Bears. He wrote in his autobiographical You've Had Your Time (1990), that in re-learning Russian at this time, he found inspiration for the Russian-based slang Nadsat that he created for A Clockwork Orange, going on to note "I would resist to the limit any publisher's demand that a glossary be provided."[Notes 1]
Liliana Macellari, an Italian translator twelve years younger than Burgess, came across his novels Inside Mr. Enderby and A Clockwork Orange, while writing about English fiction. The two first met in 1963 over lunch in Chiswick and began an affair. In 1964, Liana gave birth to Burgess' son, Paolo Andrea. The affair was hidden from Burgess's now-alcoholic wife, whom he refused to leave for fear of offending his cousin (by Burgess's stepmother, Margaret Dwyer Wilson), George Dwyer, then the Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds.
Lynne Burgess died from cirrhosis of the liver, on 20 March 1968. Six months later, in September 1968, Burgess married Liana, acknowledging her four-year-old boy as his own, although the birth certificate listed Roy Halliday, Liana's former partner, as the father. Paolo Andrea (also known as Andrew Burgess Wilson) died in London in 2002, aged 37. Liana died in 2007.
Burgess was a Conservative (though, as he clarified in an interview with The Paris Review, his political views could be considered "a kind of anarchism" since his ideal of a "Catholic Jacobite imperial monarch" wasn't practicable), a (lapsed) Catholic and Monarchist, harbouring a distaste for all republics. He believed that socialism for the most part was "ridiculous" but did "concede that socialized medicine is a priority in any civilized country today." To avoid the 90% tax the family would have incurred because of their high income, they left Britain and toured Europe in a Bedford Dormobile motor-home. During their travels through France and across the Alps, Burgess wrote in the back of the van as Liana drove. In this period, he wrote novels and produced film scripts for Lew Grade and Franco Zeffirelli. His first place of residence after leaving England was Lija, Malta (1968-70). The negative reaction from a lecture that Burgess delivered to an audience of Catholic priests in Malta precipitated a move by the couple to Italy. The Burgesses maintained a flat in Rome, a country house in Bracciano, and a property in Montalbuccio. On hearing rumours of a mafia plot to kidnap Paolo-Andrea while the family was staying in Rome, Burgess decided to move to Monaco in 1975. Burgess was also motivated to move to the tax haven of Monaco as the country did not levy income tax and widows were exempt from death duties, a form of taxation on their husband's estates.
Burgess lived for two years in the United States, working as a visiting professor at Princeton University with the creative writing program (1970) and as a distinguished professor at the City College of New York (1972). At City College he was a close colleague and friend of Joseph Heller. He went on to teach creative writing at Columbia University and was writer-in-residence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1969) and at the University at Buffalo (1976). He lectured on the novel at the University of Iowa in 1975. Eventually he settled in Monaco in 1976, where he was active in the local community, becoming a co-founder in 1984 of the Princess Grace Irish Library, a centre for Irish cultural studies.
Although Burgess lived not far from Graham Greene, whose house was in Antibes, Greene became aggrieved shortly before his death by comments in newspaper articles by Burgess, and broke off all contact.Gore Vidal revealed in his 2006 memoir Point to Point Navigation that Greene disapproved of Burgess's appearance on various European television stations to discuss his (Burgess') books. Vidal recounts that Greene apparently regarded a willingness to appear on television as something that ought to be beneath a writer's dignity. "He talks about his books", Vidal quotes an exasperated Greene as saying.
During this time, Burgess spent much time at his chalet two kilometres outside Lugano, Switzerland.
Burgess wrote: "I shall die somewhere in the Mediterranean lands, with an inaccurate obituary in the Nice-Matin, unmourned, soon forgotten." In fact he died in the country of his birth. He returned to Twickenham, an outer suburb of London, where he owned a house, to await death. Burgess died on 22 November 1993 from lung cancer, at the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth in London. His ashes were inurned at the Monaco Cemetery. The epitaph on Burgess's marble memorial stone, reads: "Abba Abba". The phrase has several connotations. It means "Father, father" in Aramaic, Arabic, Hebrew and other Semitic languages. It is Burgess's initials forwards and backwards; part of the rhyme scheme for the Petrarchan sonnet; and the title of Burgess's 22nd novel, concerning the death of Keats. Eulogies at his memorial service at St Paul's, Covent Garden, London in 1994 were delivered by the journalist Auberon Waugh and the novelist William Boyd.The Times obituary heralded the author as "a great moralist." His estate was worth $3 million, and left a large European property portfolio of houses and apartments.
An accomplished musician, Burgess composed regularly throughout his life, and once said, "I wish people would think of me as a musician who writes novels, instead of a novelist who writes music on the side." Several of his pieces were broadcast during his lifetime on BBC Radio. His Symphony No. 3 in C was premiered by the University of Iowa orchestra in Iowa City in 1975. Burgess described his Sinfoni Melayu as an attempt to "combine the musical elements of the country into a synthetic language which called on native drums and xylophones." The structure of Napoleon Symphony: A Novel in Four Movements (1974) was modelled on Beethoven's Eroica symphony, while Mozart and the Wolf Gang (1991) mirrors the sound and rhythm of Mozartian composition, among other things attempting a fictional representation of Symphony No.40. Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 features prominently in A Clockwork Orange (and in Stanley Kubrick's film version of the novel). Many of his unpublished compositions are listed in This Man and Music. He wrote a good deal of music for recorder as his son played the instrument. Several of his pieces for recorder and piano including the Sonata No. 1, Sonatina and "Tre Pezzetti" have been included on a major CD release from recorder player John Turner and pianist Harvey Davies; the double album also includes related music from 15 other composers and is titled Anthony Burgess - The Man and his Music (Metier records, release September 2013).
Burgess produced a translation of Bizet's Carmen which was performed by the English National Opera, and wrote for the 1973 Broadway musical Cyrano, using his own adaptation of the original Rostand play as his basis. He created Blooms of Dublin in 1982, an operetta based on James Joyce's Ulysses (televised for the BBC) and wrote a libretto for Weber's Oberon, performed by the Glasgow-based Scottish Opera.
On the BBC's Desert Island Discs radio programme in 1966, Burgess chose as his favourite music Purcell's "Rejoice in the Lord Alway"; Bach's Goldberg Variations No. 13; Elgar's Symphony No. 1 in A-flat major; Wagner's "Walter's Trial Song" from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; Debussy's "Fêtes" from Nocturnes; Lambert's The Rio Grande; Walton's Symphony No. 1 in B-flat minor; and Vaughan Williams' On Wenlock Edge.
"Burgess's linguistic training", wrote Raymond Chapman and Tom McArthur in The Oxford Companion to the English Language, "is shown in dialogue enriched by distinctive pronunciations and the niceties of register." During his years in Malaya, and after he had mastered Jawi, the Arabic script adapted for Malay, Burgess taught himself the Persian language, after which he produced a translation of Eliot's The Waste Land into Persian (unpublished). He worked on an anthology of the best of English literature translated into Malay, which failed to achieve publication. Burgess's published translations include two different versions of Cyrano de Bergerac,Oedipus the King and Carmen.
Burgess's interest in language was reflected in the invented, Anglo-Russian teen slang of A Clockwork Orange (Nadsat), and in the movie Quest for Fire (1981), for which he invented a prehistoric language (Ulam) for the characters. His interest is reflected in his characters. In The Doctor is Sick, Dr Edwin Spindrift is a lecturer in linguistics who escapes from a hospital ward which is peopled, as the critic Saul Maloff put it in a review, with "brain cases who happily exemplify varieties of English speech." Burgess, who had lectured on phonetics at the University of Birmingham in the late 1940s, investigates the field of linguistics in Language Made Plain and A Mouthful of Air.
The depth of Burgess's multilingual proficiency came under discussion in Roger Lewis's 2002 biography. Lewis claimed that during production in Malaysia of the BBC documentary A Kind of Failure (1982), Burgess's supposedly fluent Malay was not understood by waitresses at a restaurant where they were filming. It was claimed that the documentary's director deliberately kept these moments intact in the film to expose Burgess's linguistic pretensions. A letter from David Wallace that appeared in the magazine of the London Independent on Sunday newspaper on 25 November 2002 shed light on the affair. Wallace's letter read, in part:
... the tale was inaccurate. It tells of Burgess, the great linguist, "bellowing Malay at a succession of Malayan waitresses" but "unable to make himself understood". The source of this tale was a 20-year-old BBC documentary ... [The suggestion was] that the director left the scene in, in order to poke fun at the great author. Not so, and I can be sure, as I was that director ... The story as seen on television made it clear that Burgess knew that these waitresses were not Malay. It was a Chinese restaurant and Burgess's point was that the ethnic Chinese had little time for the government-enforced national language, Bahasa Malaysia [i.e. Malay]. Burgess may well have had an accent, but he did speak the language; it was the girls in question who did not.
Lewis may not have been fully aware of the fact that a quarter of Malaysia's population is made up of Hokkien- and Cantonese-speaking Chinese. However, Malay had been installed as the National Language with the passing of the Language Act of 1967. By 1982 all national primary and secondary schools in Malaysia would have been teaching with Bahasa Melayu as a base language (see Harold Crouch, Government and Society in Malaysia, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1996).
His Malayan trilogy The Long Day Wanes was Burgess's first published fiction. Its three books are Time for a Tiger, The Enemy in the Blanket and Beds in the East. Devil of a State is a follow-on to the trilogy, set in a fictionalized version of Brunei. It was Burgess's ambition to become "the true fictional expert on Malaya." In these works, Burgess was working in the tradition established by Kipling for British India, and Conrad and Maugham for Southeast Asia. Burgess operated more in the mode of Orwell, who had a good command of Urdu and Burmese (necessary for Orwell's work as a police officer) and Kipling, who spoke Hindi (having learnt it as a child). Like many of his fellow English expatriates in Asia, Burgess had excellent spoken and written command of his operative language(s), both as a novelist and speaker, including Malay.
Burgess's repatriate years (c. 1960-69) produced Enderby and The Right to an Answer, which touches on the theme of death and dying, and One Hand Clapping, a satire on the vacuity of popular culture. The Worm and the Ring (1961) had to be withdrawn from circulation under the threat of libel action from one of Burgess's former colleagues, a school secretary.
His dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange was published in 1962. It was inspired initially by an incident during the Second World War in which his wife Lynne was robbed, assaulted and violated by deserters from the US Army in London during the blackout. The event may have contributed to her subsequent miscarriage. The book was an examination of free will and morality. The young anti-hero, Alex, captured after a short career of violence and mayhem, undergoes a course of aversion therapy treatment to curb his violent tendencies. This results in making him defenceless against other people and unable to enjoy some of his favourite music that, besides violence, had been an intense pleasure for him. In the non-fiction book Flame into Being (1985) Burgess described A Clockwork Orange as "a jeu d'esprit knocked off for money in three weeks, it became known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence." He added "the film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about, and the misunderstanding will pursue me till I die." Near the time of publication the final chapter was cut from the American edition of the book. Burgess had written A Clockwork Orange with twenty-one chapters, meaning to match the age of majority. "21 is the symbol of human maturity, or used to be, since at 21 you got to vote and assumed adult responsibility," Burgess wrote in a foreword for a 1986 edition. Needing money and thinking that the publisher was "being charitable in accepting the work at all," Burgess accepted the deal and allowed A Clockwork Orange to be published in the US with the twenty-first chapter omitted. Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange was based on the American edition, and thus helped to perpetuate the loss of the last chapter.
In Martin Seymour-Smith's Novels and Novelists: A Guide to the World of Fiction, Burgess related that he would often prepare a synopsis with a name-list before beginning a project. Seymour-Smith wrote: "Burgess believes overplanning is fatal to creativity and regards his unconscious mind and the act of writing itself as indispensable guides. He does not produce a draft of a whole novel but prefers to get one page finished before he goes on to the next, which involves a good deal of revision and correction."
Nothing Like the Sun is a fictional recreation of Shakespeare's love-life and an examination of the supposedly partly syphilitic sources of the bard's imaginative vision. The novel, which drew on Edgar I. Fripp's 1938 biography Shakespeare, Man and artist, won critical acclaim and placed Burgess among the first rank novelists of his generation. M/F (1971) was listed by the writer himself as one of the works of which he was most proud. Beard's Roman Women was revealing on a personal level, dealing with the death of his first wife, his bereavement, and the affair that led to his second marriage. In Napoleon Symphony, Burgess brought Bonaparte to life by shaping the novel's structure to Beethoven's Eroica symphony. The novel contains a portrait of an Arab and Muslim society under occupation by a Christian western power (Egypt by Catholic France). In the 1980s, religious themes began to feature heavily (The Kingdom of the Wicked, Man of Nazareth, Earthly Powers). Though Burgess lapsed from Catholicism early in his youth, the influence of the Catholic "training" and worldview remained strong in his work all his life. This is notable in the discussion of free will in A Clockwork Orange, and in the apocalyptic vision of devastating changes in the Catholic Church - due to what can be understood as Satanic influence - in Earthly Powers (1980).
Burgess kept working through his final illness and was writing on his deathbed. The late novel Any Old Iron is a generational saga of two families, one Russian-Welsh, the other Jewish, encompassing the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the early years of the State of Israel, and the rediscovery of Excalibur. A Dead Man in Deptford, about Christopher Marlowe, is a companion novel to Nothing Like the Sun. The verse novel Byrne was published posthumously.
Burgess started his career as a critic. His English Literature, A Survey for Students, was aimed at newcomers to the subject. He followed this with The Novel To-day (Longmans, 1963) and The Novel Now: A Student's Guide to Contemporary Fiction (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1967). He wrote the Joyce studies Here Comes Everybody: An Introduction to James Joyce for the Ordinary Reader (also published as Re Joyce) and Joysprick: An Introduction to the Language of James Joyce. Also published was A Shorter 'Finnegans Wake,' Burgess's abridgement. His 1970 Encyclopædia Britannica entry on the novel (under "Novel, the") is regarded as a classic of the genre.[by whom?] Burgess wrote full-length critical studies of William Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway and D. H. Lawrence, as well as Ninety-nine Novels: The Best in English since 1939.
Burgess wrote the screenplays for Moses the Lawgiver (Gianfranco De Bosio 1974), Jesus of Nazareth (Franco Zeffirelli 1977), and A.D. (Stuart Cooper, 1985). Burgess was co-writer of the script for the TV series Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson (1980). The film treatments he produced include Amundsen, Attila, The Black Prince, Cyrus the Great, Dawn Chorus, The Dirty Tricks of Bertoldo, Eternal Life, Onassis, Puma, Samson and Delilah, Schreber, The Sexual Habits of the English Middle Class, Shah, That Man Freud and Uncle Ludwig. Burgess devised a Stone Age language for La Guerre du Feu (Quest for Fire; Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1981).
Burgess wrote many unpublished scripts, including Will! or The Bawdy Bard about Shakespeare, based on the novel Nothing Like The Sun. Encouraged by the success of Tremor of Intent (a parody of James Bond adventures), Burgess wrote a screenplay for The Spy Who Loved Me, also rejected, although the huge submarine silo seen in the finished film was reportedly Burgess's inspiration.