Burgess, Anthony (Vol. 8)

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Burgess, Anthony 1917–

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Burgess is an English novelist, editor, translator, essayist, composer, and critic whose inventive use of language and unique with are displayed in such works as A Clockwork Orange. Admittedly influenced by James Joyce, Burgess has endeavored to explicate his genius in Here Comes Everybody: An Introduction to James Joyce for the Ordinary Reader. He was born John Anthony Burgess Wilson and has published under the pseudonym of Joseph Kell. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 4, 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Anchored to asexuality by stepmother fantasies and an excretion fetish, committed poet and vulnerable recluse, Enderby, the corpulent, flatulent, likeable anti-hero, was a major character created by Anthony Burgess in that year of writing five novels, 1959, which doctors said would be his last. Inside Mr Enderby appeared in 1963 and the sequel, Enderby Outside, in 1968. Now the trilogy is completed with a book in which Enderby, though nominally relegated to the subtitle, fights what seems to be Burgess's biggest ever battle on the last day of his, Enderby's life. For since we left Enderby in Tangiers, Burgess's A Clockwork Orange has been made into a film by Stanley Kubrick and subsequent real-life alleged imitations of the activities of Alex and his droogs have been labelled Artist Answerable and laid at Burgess's door. In a newspaper interview at the time, he promised that his new book would reply.

It has. The Clockwork Testament is a brilliant and very funny book. In it Burgess has sustained that novelistic ability to which he referred generally in The Novel Now 'to create what the French call an oeuvre, to present fragments of an individual vision in book after book, to build, if not a War and Peace or Ulysses, at least a shelf' as well as 'fusing the comic and tragic in a fresh image of man'. The wider issue of the artist's responsibility has prompted him to cook a virtuoso cadenza, allusively presenting ingredients from the opus larder as Artist's Credentials—taste and judge. Enderby has written a filmscript based on Gerald Manley Hopkins's poem The Wreck of the Deutschland, the film company have had re-write men lace it with flashbacks and up the tempo, and now the media are asking Enderby what he intends to do about a case of nun-slaughter in Ashton-under-Lyme where they are banning Hopkins from the bookshops. 'Me? I'm not going to do anything. Ask the buggers who made the film. They'll say what I say—that once you start admitting that a work of art can cause people to start committing crimes, then you're lost. Nothing's safe. Not even Shakespeare. Not even the Bible.' And to the television company inviting him for the chat-show: 'I see. I see. Always blame art, eh? Not original sin but art.'

Burgess has cooked with original sin before but, then as now, cannily. He does not believe in doctrinaire novels: in The Novel Now he has said that the deeper issues in his books 'are not my concern; they are strictly for the commentators.' In the same work he warns of the danger of moving the novel 'too far out of the sphere of enjoyment: any work of art must be compromise between what the writer can give and what the reader can take'.

It is difficult to say whether Burgess has been limited by his credo: he has been helped by what he calls the comic propensity which he cannot overcome, and by a technique with character, situation and even language which echoes cartoonist Gerald Scarfe's approach to a subject, taking each physical feature and pushing it as far as it will go. Burgess meets our need 'to be reminded of human insufficiency, to be told stories of anti-heroes' with creations like Enderby, guarding against mere exaggeration of anti-heroic fantasy by never overstepping the mark of credibility in his projections of contemporary society. Enderby, on the strength of his film-script and his...

(The entire section contains 2373 words.)

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