A Clockwork Orange at The International Anthony Burgess Foundation

Would it surprise you that most of what you think you know about A Clockwork Orange is probably wrong? Stanley Kubrick’s self-imposed ban on UK screenings of his film adaption coupled with Burgess’ own ambivalence toward the different endings of the novel ensured that a powerful mystique built up around the text. It’s also important to recognise that Anthony Burgess was a man prone to exaggeration and theatricality–pressed for his opinions on A Clockwork Orange throughout his career, he said different things at different times, for different reasons and in different ways.

Rumours swirled around A Clockwork Orange: that Burgess made millions from Kubrick’s film but hated it, that Mick Jagger was originally cast as Alex, even that Andy Warhol owned the rights. One of the most persistent stories was that Burgess didn’t even like either the film or the novel—that he wrote it for money in just three weeks and that it was a minor book of his that wasn’t much worth reading.

At the next BookTalk we’ll be meeting Andrew Biswell, author of The Real Life of Anthony Burgess and director of The International Anthony Burgess Foundation. On their website you can find a treasure trove of lively material about Burgess’ life and works, including, of course, A Clockwork Orange.

A good place to start is Episode 5 of their podcast which covers the background of A Clockwork Orange. Beginning with Burgess’ interest in dystopian fiction and the philosophic doctrines of St Augustine and the monk Pelagius, it goes on to discuss the genesis of Nadsat, the context of Burgess’s commentary on free will and the different verions of the text. It also covers Burgess’ own musical adaptation of A Clockwork Orange and includes generous musical interludes.

We’ve also been enjoying the Burgess Foundation’s Clockwork Controversies series of short articles. These attempt to clear up, or at least unpick the origins of some of the myths surrounding A Clockwork Orange. You can find the full series here: https://www.anthonyburgess.org/tag/clockwork-controversies/ but one of the most interesting concerns the question of how the novel ended up with two very different endings which Burgess completely failed to choose between. You can find two sets of spoilers and the story behind them here:

We’ll be discussing A Clockwork Orange with Andrew Biswell together with Cardiff University’s Bill Bell and Christine L. Gengaro from Los Angeles City College on Thursday 10 February. You can find out more and book your free place at this online event via Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/cardiff-booktalk-a-clockwork-orange-registration-224572912627?aff=ebdsoporgprofile

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