Anthony Burgess (BUR-juhs), christened John Burgess Wilson (Anthony was his confirmation name), was born on February 25, 1917, in Manchester, England, to Joseph and Elizabeth Burgess Wilson. In early 1919, an influenza epidemic killed Burgess’s mother and his only sibling, a sister. In 1922, Burgess’s father remarried. Anthony Burgess faulted his stepmother, Maggie Dwyer, with “an emotional coldness” that he believed marred his work and that many of the female characters in his novels exhibit.
Burgess attended a Catholic elementary school and received two scholarships to the Catholic preparatory school, Xaverian College, where he flourished, both artistically and intellectually. Though he attended Catholic schools, by sixteen he had rejected the Catholic church and its teachings; Catholicism remains, however, a recurrent subject in his fiction. Because he failed a physics course, Burgess was unable to enroll in music studies as he had wished, but he received his bachelor of arts, with honors, in English language and literature from the University of Manchester in June, 1940.
In October, 1940, Burgess joined the army, serving first in the Army Medical Corps, then in the Army Educational Corps. In January, 1942, he married Llewela Isherwood Jones, a Welsh economics student at the University of Manchester and a cousin of writer Christopher Isherwood. Throughout their long marriage, Llewela, or Lynne, as Burgess called her, was unfaithful, engaging in numerous casual affairs. This behavior, and Burgess’s attitude toward it, undoubtedly contributed to the portrayals of faithless wives and the misogynism that appear in his fiction.
In 1944, while Burgess was stationed in Gibraltar, he received word that Llewela had been assaulted, according to her by American soldiers, resulting in her miscarriage and in physicians’ orders that she never become pregnant again. Somewhat simplistically, Burgess blamed this attack for Llewela’s increasing alcoholism and for her death, of cirrhosis of the liver, twenty-four years later. This attack was transformed into the attack on the...
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