This is a selection of material published in journals and online. The main subject is Anthony Burgess, but other topics are covered as well.

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50 Years Of A Clockwork Orange

A paper given at the Manchester conference of 2012.
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To me, and to Burgess, A Clockwork Orange does not represent the pinnacle of his achievement, and I will try to explore the paradox of how a minor work became the major focus for Burgess studies over the last fifty years.

There’s another 50 year anniversary this year—the Rolling Stones celebrate that landmark. When a film of A Clockwork Orange was first envisaged, the part of Alex was earmarked for Mick Jagger, the leader of the Stones, with the other members of the group as the droogs. At the time, I suppose this made sense – the Stones were seen in popular culture as symbols of youthful rebellion, and were often associated with violence either through their songs, Street Fighting Man, for instance, or by events at concerts, such as the slaying of a crowd member at Altamont. That all seems a very long time ago, and the symbol of youthful rebellion is now Sir Michael Jagger, pillar of the establishment, and the Stones have become little more than the best Rolling Stones tribute band in the world.

The popular media of the time saw the Rolling Stones as anarchic challengers of the status quo, and as Burgess himself suggests in “Juice from A Clockwork Orange”, it was a figure much like Jagger that he saw in his mind’s eye when he created Alex: “somebody with the physical appearance and mercurial temperament of Jagger” The Daily Mirror saw the Stones as threats to the English way of life, describing them as “The dirtiest group in Britain.” Another editorial asked the presumably rhetorical question “Would You Let Your Daughter Go With A Rolling Stone?”

As for A Clockwork Orange, as we all know and bear witness today, the novel has developed a life outside of its context as one of Burgess’s terminal year texts, written quickly to provide an income for his wife after his imminent—but in the end, much delayed—death. And of course, the extra-textual life is owed almost entirely to Stanley Kubrick’s film version of forty years ago.

Introduction to Landfall by Nevil Shute for Valancourt Books

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Nevil Shute is probably best known for being the author of two novels that were turned into successful films. A Town Like Alice concerns the return to Malaya after the war of a former English female POW, and the rekindling of a romance with a man with whom she had been incarcerated. She uses an inheritance to bring prosperity to a remote town in the Northern Territories of Australia. In contrast, On the Beach is an apocalyptic vision of a post-nuclear world, where the inhabitants of Australia (where Shute had emigrated after the Second World War) await their fate as deadly radiation approaches from the northern hemisphere. The novel, which appeared at the height of the Cold War in 1957, remains a powerfully bleak commentary on the catastrophic possibility of mankind’s self-inflicted oblivion. Both of these novels come from the final phase of Shute’s career, and are not entirely typical of his output.

Shute produced twenty-four novels and an autobiography in a writing career that began in a flurry of rejections, with an eventual first publication in 1926, and ended with his death in 1960. Trained as an aeronautical engineer, Shute deployed his knowledge of aircraft in many of his novels. The technical aspects of engineering, on the face of it not the most promising material for fiction, are handled adroitly by the author, and often play an integral part in the narrative. In the initial phase of his career, his work was perhaps derivative: the shade of John Buchan can be discerned behind So Disdained (1927) his second novel, which culminates in a chase into fascist Italy, and Lonely Road (1932), an espionage thriller in which a middle-aged misfit manages to thwart a right-wing conspiracy to seize political control of Britain. As Shute’s career continued, he developed a distinctive narrative style, in which the lives of his characters were often defined by their interaction with technology, usually related to aircraft.

Anthony Burgess: Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess—entry for The Literary Encyclopaedia

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Earthly Powers was published in 1980, and marked a new stage in Burgess’s work. His major novels of the 1970s had been characterised by experimentation: from MF to Napoleon Symphony to Abba Abba, the impulse throughout the decade had been towards relatively brief novels with complex structures, often based on external sources: in MF, the work of Lévi-Strauss on Native American myth; in Napoleon Symphony on Beethoven’s Eroica symphony; and on an imagined meeting between Keats and Belli in Abba Abba. These novels were the most obviously experimental of this phase of Burgess’s career, and they contrast sharply with the relatively conventional Earthly Powers, which ranks second only to A Clockwork Orange in the amount of attention it has received. This novel too, uses external sources, but they are major public events – the first and second world wars, the holocaust, the Jonestown massacre. Burgess interweaves his fictional characters’ lives with those of the literary and artistic elite of the twentieth century and uses the historical framework as a backdrop both for the first person account of the life of his central character, Kenneth Toomey, and also as a way of grounding Toomey’s discursive ruminations on the nature of good and evil in a tangible reality.

Rob Spence on The Malayan Trilogy

An interview on BFM Radio with Umapagan Ampikaipakan

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Introduction to An Old Captivity by Nevil Shute for Valancourt Books

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Shute’s prolific output as a writer was intimately connected to his profession as an aeronautical engineer. Most of his twenty-four novels feature pilots and aircraft, so An Old Captivity is typical, and the very detailed account in the novel of flight procedures, and the sheer hard graft of flying in the days before auto-pilots and GPS navigation systems, is clearly based on Shute’s extensive expertise, as demonstrated in his epic post-war flight.

Unlike the other Shute novel published in 1940, Landfall, which deals with contemporary wartime events, An Old Captivity is set very precisely in a six-month period in 1933, and no mention of the forthcoming war is made. In fact, a meticulous attention to external detail is one of the characteristics of the novel, which, for the main part of its length sets out to describe the journey by single-engined cabin seaplane from Southampton to Greenland of Donald Ross, the main protagonist, and the Lockwoods, father and daughter, for the purpose of conducting an aerial photographic survey of a Viking settlement.

Burgess’s Manchester, Manchester’s Burgess

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My interest in Burgess stems from a shared Mancunian background. My childhood, like Burgess’s, was spent in North Manchester, albeit forty years later. My earliest memories are of the shop on Rochdale Road where my mother worked, opposite Carisbrook Street, where Burgess had been born in 1917, and where his mother and sister died in the post war flu epidemic. My family had some faint recollections of the Wilson household, especially of Bertha, the maid who is memorably described in Little Wilson and Big God descending naked down the “noble staircase” of the Golden Eagle public house. My route to school took me past Moston Cemetery where Burgess supposed he would be buried alongside his forbears – he is not, and Andrew Biswell’s recent research has shown that none of his family rest in that most Catholic of Manchester resting places. Since my schooldays, I have lived at various locations in Manchester, including Victoria Park, hard by Xaverian College, and like Burgess, I am proud to hold a degree from Manchester University. My interest, then, is a personal as well as a professional one. I was delighted, as a teenager, to discover that the author of A Clockwork Orange was a fellow Mancunian. Even then, the bleak high-rise cityscape of Burgess’s dystopia seemed more reminiscent of the post war flats of Collyhurst than the Stalinist architecture it is generally taken to evoke.

“Mr Burgess’s latest failure”: the reception of Napoleon Symphony

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When Anthony Burgess died in 1993, the obituary columns which followed were unanimous in their praise. It was clear from the words of critics such as Malcolm Bradbury, D.J. Enright, David Lodge and Peter Ackroyd that the man whose death they marked was a major figure in the literature of our time, the producer of a significant corpus of work, a writer who might be ranked with the foremost novelists of his generation.

The uniformly approving tone of the obituaries concealed, however, an uncomfortable fact, one which Bradbury hints at in his notice: Burgess’s reputation was never particularly high in the country of his birth, suffering vicissitudes almost from the moment his work was first published.

Ford and Lewis: The Attraction Of Opposites

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Modernists, in general, did not go to war. That the cataclysmic events of the First World War were reflected in the work of Eliot, Woolf, Pound and other key modernists is no surprise—but Woolf’s portrait of the shell-shocked veteran Septimus Smith, in Mrs Dalloway, Eliot’s account of existential post-war despair in The Waste Land, or Pound’s lament for a lost generation in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, were not based on direct experience of battle. For genuine Modernist responses to the war, rooted in the blood and mud of the battlefield, we need to turn to the work of two contrasting figures, Wyndham Lewis and Ford Madox Ford. Lewis enlisted as an artillery officer, and saw action on the Western Front, where he nearly died from trench fever, and was also the subject of bombardment by Zeppelin. Ford, still known as Hueffer at the time, was sent to France aged 41, and suffered concussion following an explosion at Bécordel-Bécourt in July 1916. Their shared experience of the dangers of war offered them membership of a club that was closed to a good many other contemporary writers, and it is as least possible that it might have engendered some mutual respect. This essay aims to explore the commonalities in their respective approaches to their wartime experiences.

George Mackay Brown in Facts on File Companion to British Poetry 1900 to the Present

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To understand George Mackay Brown’s art, the reader must appreciate its deep rootedness in the poet’s place of birth. Orkney looms large in all of his writings, its lore, language, history, and myth, providing Brown with most of the material he used in his 50 years as a professional writer. Brown was born and lived all his life in Stromness, a small town on Mainland, the larg- est of the Orkney Islands, situated off the northern coast of Scotland. Except for his student years at New- battle Abbey and Edinburgh University, as a protégé of EDWIN MUIR, Brown rarely left Orkney. He returned time and again to the matter of Orkney as inspiration for his work, often evoking its Viking heritage and the influence of the mysterious Neolithic settlers who pre- dated the Norsemen. The other abiding influence on his work is his Roman Catholicism—he converted at the age of 40, after years of reflection.

Jane Rogers—entry for The Literary Encyclopaedia

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Jane Rogers was born in 1952 in London, the daughter of academic parents whose frequent moves led to her living by turn in London, Birmingham, Oxford, Copenhagen and New York. She read English at Cambridge and after graduating she qualified as a teacher at Leicester University. She began a career as an English teacher in secondary schools and further education, and also in a children’s home and a mental hospital. She became a full time writer when her first child was born, which coincided with the publication of Separate Tracks (1983). She is married to the playwright Mike Harris, and lives in Manchester, England. She has worked as a Writing Fellow on university and college creative writing courses in the north of England.

Jane Rogers established her reputation as a writer who deals uncompromisingly with raw emotions through the publication of her first two novels, Separate Tracks and Her Living Image (1984). These novels drew on her background as a secondary school teacher and mental health worker, but in later works she moved away from the contemporary scene, setting Mr Wroe’s Virgins (1991) in early nineteenth century Lancashire, and Promised Lands (1995) partly in eighteenth century Australia. Her most recently published novel, Island (2000), returns to a contemporary setting, and to some of the themes of her early work.

Joyce and Burgess

Paper given at the International James Joyce Foundation conference, Utrecht, 2014

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This paper arises out of a desire to draw some comparisons and correspondences between the ways that Joyce and Burgess responded to popular culture in their works, and to suggest how important the growth of mass entertainment was in shaping their representation of the modern world. In doing so, I am conscious that I shall perhaps be talking more about Burgess than about Joyce, but I hope that Joyceans will find the connection between the writers illuminating. The critical literature on Joyce, as we all know, is massive, and there is plenty on his use of popular culture – so I will be referring to some, I hope instructive parallels, but looking mainly at how Burgess encounters the phenomenon. As my colleagues have suggested, Burgess was more than an admirer of Joyce – a small part of that massive critical bibliography comprises Burgess’s two books on Joyce – Here Comes Everybody, to my view probably the best general introduction to Joyce, and Joysprick, his examination of Joyce’s language – not to mention the labour of love that resulted in A Shorter Finnegans Wake.[/extract]

Louis De Bernières—entry for The Literary Encyclopaedia

Louis De Bernieres: entry for The Literary Encyclopaedia

“This lump of minor art”: Napoleon Symphony and the travestying of France

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Read extractWhen Anthony Burgess travelled with his new wife Liana in their Bedford Dormobile—a very British vehicle—to the south of France in the summer of 1968, the journey was marked by a series of accidents that seemed to belong to a previous age. Burgess’s account of their progress is reminiscent in its splenetic disgust of the eighteenth-century novelist Tobias Smollett, whose Travels through France and Italy represents the origin of the familiar figure of the Brit abroad. Smollett travelled for his health, Burgess to escape the ruinously high level of income tax which he was obliged to pay under Britain’s Labour government. Burgess, of course, had written the previous year about the Englishman’s encounter with France in his introduction to the coffee-table volume The Grand Tour, in which he fails to mention Smollett. Perhaps he saw something of himself in the earlier writer. Both travellers were eloquent in their description of the French.

Anthony Burgess: Nothing Like The Sun—entry for The Literary Encyclopaedia

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The Originality of The Monk by Matthew Lewis

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The narrative tone of Matthew Lewis’s The Monk is uneven: at times, it seems to recall the stern moralizing of an eighteenth century sermon, and at times, as its detractors have constantly noted, it seems to luxuriate in the very excesses it affects to condemn. The accusation of hypocrisy is not, of course, an unusual one in the eighteenth century, when the newly-emergent novel form was attracting the same kind of censure which the seventeenth-century Puritans directed at Shakespeare’s playhouse. What gives the claim some momentum in Lewis’s case lies in the circumstances of its production. In this essay, a brief survey of the influences on Lewis will be attempted in an effort to decide whether The Monk is an original and important literary document of the late eighteenth century, or if it represents merely an opportunistic cashing-in on a contemporary literary fashion.[/extract]

Introduction to The Raker by Andrew Sinclair for Valancourt Books

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Read extractAndrew Sinclair is a genuine man of letters, of a type that is increasingly rare these days. His privileged background (Eton and Cambridge) led to a varied career encompassing film-making (he directed Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the classic film of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood) , biographies, social histories, and an impressively diverse series of novels. He did his National Service as an Ensign in the Coldstream Guards from 1953-55, an experience that provided him with the material for his darkly comic novel, The Breaking of Bumbo, which featured the first in a long line of misfit male protagonists in his work. In his later fiction, Sinclair increasingly turned to the myth and legend, most notably in the three linked novels Gog (1967), Magog (1972) and King Ludd (1988), collectively known as ‘The Albion Triptych.’ A Fellow in American Studies of five universities, Cambridge and Harvard, Columbia and Stanford and University College London, he has produced major accounts of Jack London and John Ford and even Che Guevara. His work frequently blurs the lines between fact, fiction, and analysis, perhaps most spectacularly in The Facts in the Case of E.A. Poe (1979).

The Raker is Sinclair’s fifth novel, and offers on one level a realistic account of the life of Adam Quince, newspaper obituarist at an unnamed London daily, but on another, a phantasmagoric, gothic vision of a city of death, inhabited not just by those caught up in the drudgery of modern urban life, but by the ghosts of their predecessors. Quince’s life of tedium, partially relieved only by the bullying of his boss Noyes and the embraces of his ageing mistress Lottie, is measured out by the index cards of the dead and the dying which he monitors in his basement office “morgue.” Sinclair evokes the cynicism and brutality of newspaper life by demonstrating how an obituary submitted by the friend of a controversial political activist is rewritten by Quince and Noyes until the bland platitudes of the original are transformed into a damning ad hominem attack.

What takes Quince’s life into another dimension is his chance encounter with the enigmatic John Purefoy, whose obsession with death and its representation is overwhelming. The two become engaged in a tug-of-war over an actress, Nada Templeton, with whom Quince becomes obsessed. She is near death when she is introduced, a condition that excites Purefoy and simultaneously repels and attracts Quince. Purefoy is ‘The Raker’, named after the men charged with keeping the streets clean during the plague epidemic in London in 1665. Purefoy explains the nickname by quoting by heart a passage from Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, where the author himself cites the ordinance of the Mayor for the maintenance of cleanliness in the streets: “That the sweeping and filth of houses be daily carried away by the rakers, and that the raker shall give notice of his coming by the blowing of a horn, as hitherto hath been done.” Interestingly, this is the only reference in Defoe’s work to the raker, so Purefoy has taken on the mantle of an insignificant figure, in keeping with his nihilistic philosophy. Indeed, Purefoy’s maddening impulse to erase himself from life appears, paradoxically, to be his raison d’être.[/extract]

“The Secret Theatre of our Society”: The Spy as Outsider in Burgess

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Read extractThe reader, especially one who had followed Burgess’s career to this almost terminal point—A Dead Man in Deptford was the last book in the Burgess canon to be published in his lifetime—might reflect on his decision to revisit the compelling subject of his university days. Like Shakespeare in Nothing Like the Sun, Burgess uses an anniversary as the impetus for his work. Just as the quartercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth in 1964 occasioned his fictional ‘WS’, so the quatercentenary of Marlowe’s death in 1993 occasions his treatment of Shakespeare’s contemporary. But Marlowe, as Burgess acknowledges, lives, in the literary sense, in Shakespeare’s shadow; and this is a useful, if obvious metaphor for the shadowy dealings that Burgess addresses in the later novel.

“To show modernity its face in an honest glass”—Lewis as self-conscious innovator.

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The reason for the negative reaction, then, to the first appearance of Blast is that it has ‘dared to show modernity its face in an honest glass.’ That phrase might be applied to the wide range of work on display in Blast 2, particularly Lewis’s. The contents page of the War number is dominated by Lewis’s name. There are nineteen written items , not including the editorial, and three “designs” by Lewis altogether, so roughly half of the publication can be attributed to him. The work is varied and provocative, and captures a moment in Lewis’s development where he was, I would contend, becoming the central figure in a vortex of artistic experiment, arguably expedited by the condition of war, with all the upheaval that entailed to the leading figures in the movement.