Literary Birthday – 25 February – Anthony Burgess

Anthony Burgess was born 25 February 1917, and died 22 November 1993.


  1. We can destroy what we have written, but we cannot unwrite it.
  2. If you write fiction you are, in a sense, corrupted. There’s a tremendous corruptibility for the fiction writer because you’re dealing mainly with sex and violence. These remain the basic themes, they’re the basic themes of Shakespeare whether you like it or not.
  3. To devastate is easier and more spectacular than to create.
  4. Every grain of experience is food for the greedy, growing soul of the artist.
  5. To some of us, the wresting of beauty out of language is the only thing in the world that matters.
  6. Violence among young people is an aspect of their desire to create. They don’t know how to use their energy creatively so they do the opposite and destroy.
  7. Language exists less to record the actual than to liberate the imagination.
  8. There is a satisfactory boniness about grammar which the flesh of sheer vocabulary requires before it can become a vertebrate and walk the earth.
  9. In a story you had to find a reason, but real life gets on very well without even Freudian motivations.
  10. The trouble began with Forster. After him it was considered ungentlemanly to write more than five or six novels.
  11. To write is to become disinterested. There is a certain renunciation in art.
  12. There is, in fact, not much point in writing a novel unless you can show the possibility of moral transformation, or an increase in wisdom, operating in your chief character or characters.
  13. There is only one kind of immorality in fiction, and that is when you write badly.
  14. English is a curiously expressive language. Womb, room, tomb. It sums up living in three words.

Burgess on the fate of the English language:

‘English has a strange knack of doing well for itself, however much the old guard booms about threats to purity, the dangers of pollution. English did well out of the Danish and Norman invaders; it will continue to profit from the strange loan-forms and coinages of the mixed populations that—in both England and America—represent the new ethnological order. Whatever form of English ultimately prevails—the British or the American variety—it will still be a great and rich and perpetually growing language, the most catholic medium of communication that the world has ever seen.
Language survives everything—corruption, misuse, ignorance, ineptitude. Linking man to man in the dark, it brought man out of the dark. It is the human glory which antecedes all others. It merits not only our homage but our constant and intelligent study.’ ~ Language Made Plain by Anthony Burgess 

Anthony Burgess was an English writer. His dystopian satire, A Clockwork Orange remains his best known book. Other novels include the Enderby quartet, and  Earthly Powers. He was also a literary critic for The Observer and The Guardian. An accomplished musician and linguist, Burgess composed over 250 musical works, and translated, among other works, CarmenCyrano de Bergerac, and Oedipus the King.

 by Amanda Patterson

Posted on: 25th February 2013