Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Anthony Burgess, the unsung pioneer of LGBT lit

For Anthony Burgess' centenary this year, the biographer of the author of A Clockwork Orange revealed a side of Burgess I'd never heard of. Conventional wisdom holds Iris Murdoch the first English writer to portray LGBT characters as 'normal' in A Fairly Honourable Defeat (1970).

Answering an online reader's question, Andrew Biswell responded:
There are gay and lesbian characters in all of his novels from A Vision of Battlements (written in 1952). This caused at least one of his London publishers to assume that he was gay. Christopher Ricks pointed out in his review of Honey for the Bears (1963) that Burgess was 'subversive' because he presented gay people and lifestyles without making any apology for them. Of course Toomey in Earthly Powers is plagued by guilt, but he is also a man of his time, living in the long shadow of the Oscar Wilde trial. His very public coming-out is a moment of drama and triumph. 
The last novel Burgess published before his death was A Dead Man in Deptford, in which he presents Christopher Marlowe as a cheerful sodomite who is also the author of certain Shakespeare plays. I think Burgess was fascinated by questions of sexuality in all of his published work. He enjoyed the company of gay people throughout his life, especially when he was in the Army during WW2, although he was very much married to both of his wives.

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