Anthony Burgess

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Burgess, Anthony (Vol. 1)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 490

Burgess, Anthony 1917–

Burgess is a British novelist and critic, best known for A Clockwork Orange and, more recently, MF. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Anthony Burgess … plays the secret-agent game of "being a good technician, superb at languages, agile, light-fingered, cool." But behind these ambiguous gifts, sentence by sentence, there stands revealed the man who wrote them, an extraordinary and attractive character whose like has been seldom seen.

William H. Pritchard, "The Burgess Memorandum," in Partisan Review, Spring, 1967, pp. 319-23.

Anthony Burgess isn't Irish, but he could be. He writes with the lilt, and a good deal of the blarney, and the roving eye for earthly detail…. Joyce has been the lion in the modern novelist's path, but Burgess, whom nothing much intimidates, meets him eye to eye: a fellow musician (Burgess was trained as a composer), a linguist, a renegade Catholic, a cultural aristocrat from the back streets and pubs of a hard city. He shares Joyce's true sense of the pith and pitch of the spoken language, his uncommon touch for the common life of a man, a family, a community, that creates a thick social atmosphere in which characters move and breathe, rather than just a background against which they stand. Finally, there are strong affinities in point of view: a sympathetic attitude toward men, tempered by the Catholic awareness of human presumption, and emerging as comedy.

Theodore Solotaroff, "The Busy Hand of Burgess" (1968), in his The Red Hot Vacuum and Other Pieces on the Writing of the Sixties, Atheneum, 1970, pp. 269-75.

Though Burgess's fiction ranges in technique from Dickensian realism to Orwellian fable and Nabokovian fantasy and in subject from the failure of Empire to the character of the poetic Muse, most of his novels have the dialectic of opposites at their core. Such preoccupation goes beyond the traditional concept of narrative conflict, for in Burgess's novels dialectic is itself a central theme as well as a method. Whether social or metaphysical, an emphasis is on balance and the interchange of opposites, closer to Hegel than to rhetorical handbooks explaining how to write a novel. Burgess's dialectic is not, however, static; he develops his interest in opposites per se in various terms and forms….

In novel after novel Burgess plays off culture against culture, character against character, value against explanation for this choice of technique may lie in value for both aesthetic and conceptual ends. The literary influence (Burgess greatly admires Joyce, has obviously read Marx), in publishing history (his rate of production may necessitate writing to a handy opposition), or in aesthetic principle (he defines art as the "representation of the Ultimate, under its aspect of unity, formal harmony, Brunoian reconciliation of opposites"). Whatever the explanation, Burgess's dialectic has not yet reached its completion, the total synthesis of value, character, and technique.

Thomas LeClair, "Essential Opposition: The Novels of Anthony Burgess," in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, Vol. XII, No. 3, 1971, pp. 77-94.

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