Lying in His Cot with His Dead Mother and Sister


Anthony Burgess

At age one, lying in his cot, his mother, Elizabeth, and his sister, Muriel, lay dead beside him, both victims of the Spanish flu pandemic. His maternal aunt and later his stepmother raised him. He detested his stepmother and included a caricature of her in Inside Mr. Enderby quartet of novels.

Learning about an author’s background is one of the reasons that I believe it is valuable to read biographies and autobiographies of successful people. We can gain much by understanding their challenges and methods of overcoming sometimes seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

One of these people is author, Anthony Burgess. He had always attracted acclaim and notoriety in roughly equal measure, perhaps from his traumatic childhood. He was a British novelist, critic and composer. He was also a librettist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, travel writer, broadcaster, translator, linguist and educationalist.

Anthony Burgess was born John Burgess Wilson on February 25, 1917 in a small house in Harpurhey, Manchester in northwest England. His father, Joseph Wilson, had a variety of jobs including an army corporal, a bookkeeper, encyclopedia salesperson, butcher and part-time pianist. His mother was a musician and dancer. He described his father as “a mostly absent drunk who called himself a father.” His father died of flu in 1938.

During his lifetime, Burgess had a knack for annoying people and, therefore, frequently criticized for writing too much. In a 1972 interview reprinted in the Paris Review, he said, “I’ve been annoyed less by sneers at my alleged overproduction than by the imputation that to write much means to write badly. I’ve always written with great care and even some slowness. I’ve just put in rather more hours a day at the task than some writers seem able to.”

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