Anthony Burgess


in this section


At fifteen, Burgess experienced a religious crisis after reading James Joyce's A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, the powerful hellfire sermon leading him to be 'hurled back into conformity'. Perhaps it did not last, though Burgess's enthusiasm for the work of Joyce persisted throughout his literary and musical career.


Burgess matriculated at the University of Manchester in October. Failing to gain a place in the music department, Burgess read English Literature, and spent his time studying Marlowe and Shakespeare, writing poetry, performing in the drama society, and pursuing female students. His contempories remembered him as self-consciously theatrical, noisily erudite, and wearing a large floppy hat.


Joseph Wilson, Burgess's father, died on 18 April.

'How much bloody longer?' groangasped my father. And then: 'What does bloody God think he's bloody playing at?' It was thought that he ought to have the priest again, but he said he would prefer a pint of draught Bass. Then he told me to be good to my mother, meaning my stepmother, and expired horribly. I had seen death in films, but it had always been noiseless and hygenic. This was gross and loud. All knelt exccept me, who knew my Ulysses too well. All remained kneeling for the collapse of the excretory system and the filling of the room with a stench that had to be termed diabolic. Perhaps the Cathars were right and the flesh and the devil were one.' Little Wilson and Big God (1987)