Anthony Burgess

English: A production photo from Brad Mays' mu...
English: A production photo from Brad Mays’ multi-media stage production of “A Clockwork Orange,” by Anthony Burgess, performed in Los Angeles in 2003. The photograph was commissioned by photographer Peter Zuehlke, and depicts Vanessa Claire Smith in her award-winning, gender bending portrayal of Alex. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anthony Burgess (1917-94) was a British author. His most famous work is A Clockwork Orange (1962), a tale he reportedly whipped up in a few weeks to make some money. It’s a grisly and at times horrific story of Alex, a gang leader of a group of depraved thugs in an equally (although more subtly) depraved society.

While the original version of the book contained a 21st chapter with an optimistic ending, Burgess’ publisher only wanted 20 chapters. So the unsettling, open-ended conclusion that many of us know wasn’t Burgess’ initial intention.

In Stanley Kubrick‘s film adaptation (1971), which follows the 20 chapter version of the book, Alex is eventually abandoned and arrested after his gang of buddies become corrupt Bobbies.

Reprogrammed through image-association techniques¹ to detest sex and violence, Alex’s favorite composer, Ludwig Van Beethoven, is on the reprogramming soundtrack while he’s being “fixed.” After his treatment, not only antisocial images but also his favorite Beethoven music make him feel violently ill.

Alex ends up in the home of the bourgeois intellectual whom Alex and his mates had previously maimed while raping his wife (she later died from the violence).

The intellectual, now in a wheelchair, gets his revenge. He tortures Alex by playing nonstop Beethoven music. Alex then attempts suicide, is rescued by the authorities, all of which makes him a celebrity as local politicians see a photo op in appearing sympathetic to his plight.

Cover of "A Clockwork Orange"
Cover of A Clockwork Orange

Alex sees the opportunity too. He smiles and shakes everyone’s hand. He becomes a star and is duly rewarded for ‘playing the game.’

From a sociological perspective, the movie explores several themes. Perhaps, most obviously, A Clockwork Orange illustrates the idea that criminal justice systems often favor the rich and powerful at the expense of the struggling poor. Sadly, the rape scene in the novel and film was based on the real life rape of Burgess’ wife by four GI deserters during a blackout. Burgess was in the military himself at the time, stationed in Gibraltar. His wife possibly lost her unborn child as a result of the violence.

The plot of the book is similar but more complicated than the film and, as noted, originally had a 21st chapter. See for a summary.

Burgess wrote many less commercially successful novels, to include The End of the World News (1982). He apparently didn’t like to plan his stories too much, feeling that excessive outlines ruined the creative process. So he wrote a page at a time, pausing after each to think about the next.

Burgess was also an accomplished musician and composer. His works were broadcast on BBC and performed in America.


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