A Clockwork Orange | Interview by Anthony Burgess with Carol Dix

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of A Clockwork Orange.
This section contains 1,077 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Interview by Anthony Burgess with Carol Dix

Interview by Anthony Burgess with Carol Dix

SOURCE: An interview with Anthony Burgess, in Transatlantic Review, Nos. 42 and 43, Spring-Summer, 1972, pp. 183-91.

In the following excerpt, Burgess discusses the novel and film versions of A Clockwork Orange.

Anthony Burgess is one of England's most talented, scholarly and entertaining contemporary writers. He is 54 now, and has been writing for only twelve years. In that time he has published eighteen novels, six critical works, and one language primer; as well as a mountain of freelance journalism, reviewing, lecturing, TV scripting and screen playwrighting. In 1965, he left England to live in Malta, disgusted with tax laws that made it impossible for a writer to live by his trade.

Maybe something to do with the constant flow of his writing, but he has never become very popular in England (in fact it's impossible to find all his books in any one library and only two or three are in print in the bookshops). But in January, Stanley Kubrick's film of Burgess's novel A Clockwork Orange opened in London with an enormous amount of publicity, which may well bring Burgess into the universities and bookshops in England as he is in the States.

I met Burgess and his wife at Claridges, where they were staying in unaccustomed luxury at Warner Brothers' expense. His presence hardly caused a ripple in the tidal wave of publicity going on around A Clockwork Orange and its strange dialect 'Nadsat' which Burgess invented for the novel. He is not very impressed with public opinion in his own country, nor, as he sees it, their anti-intellectualism.

[Dix]: Are you surprised that A Clockwork Orange is the first of all your novels to have been filmed?

[Burgess]: No. The English have never liked it, but it has always been popular in America. It started off in the underground there, along with Tolkein's Lord of the Rings and has now been taken up in the universities. Things go like that. What begins in the underground ends up in the high school. They study it in literature courses along with Catcher in the Rye. A Wanting Seed is also popular in America; they often include that in sociology courses. Yet I went into a bookshop in London yesterday and I couldn't even buy a copy of Clockwork Orange for myself to read. It's even an underground book in Russia, you know. It's printed there on underground presses.

You went to Russia in 1961. Did this have any connection with A Clockwork Orange? Did it influence the dialect at all? People have seen traces of Romany, rhyming slang and Russian in it.

Ten years ago, I was writing it in England and trying to find the sort of dialect to use. It wasn't viable to use the existing dialect as it would soon be out of date. Then I went to Leningrad to gather material for Honey for the Bears, and I found they were having problems with teen-agers too. So I combined the dialects.

What about Kubrick's film version? How do you feel about it?

I think it's a good film, and it's not often an author says that about an adaptation. Kubrick loves British authors and books. Look at the films he has done—Dr. Strangelove and Red Alert—by British authors. He is immensely well read and a great chess player and interested in codes. He has a capacity for creating relationships without knowing it—like in 2001, where the name of HAL was associated with IBM. He was totally unaware of it.

Do you feel it's catching the public imagination now because teenage violence is becoming more commonplace?

I was shocked last night when I read it again (the first time for ten years), to realise that when I wrote it in 1961, how very different the world was. Not even pop groups existed then. Top of the Pops for August 1961 was Lonnie Donnegan's My Old Man's a Dustman. There are some horrible prophecies in the book, but England was already on the way to becoming a police state. Youth violence isn't only a thing of today, you know, we'd already had the Teddy Boys in 1953, and the Mods and Rockers existed in 1961. The Beatles hadn't even come onto the scene though.

Is that what the book is about, violence, its causes and effects?

The violence in the book is really more to show what the State can do with it. I'm more scared of the possibility of the individual being cured under the State; of people being made to be good; of evil being rationalised out of existence.

"You have no power of choice any longer. You are committed to socially acceptable acts: a little machine capable only of good"—as they say to Alex?

Yes.

Do you realise that Alex and his 'droogs' are very similar to today's skinheads? Is this direct prophecy on your part?

In as much as Kubrick sticks to their manner of dress from the book, yes. But the film could be said to be a bit libellous in that sense, because it has been set in London today. It wasn't written like that, just something in the future. The policemen, for instance, look a bit too much like Belfast policemen, I think.

Why does the film stop short and leave out the last chapter of the novel?

That's because the American edition of the book is different from the British edition, which has the extra chapter. Now the new British edition also has the last chapter omitted. When I wrote it, originally, I put in a chapter at the end where Alex was maturing; he was growing up and seeing violence as part of adolescence. He wanted to be a married man and have a child. He sees the world going round like an orange. But when they were going to publish it in America, they said 'we're tougher over here' and thought the ending too soft for their readers. If it was me now, faced with the decision I'd say no. I still believe in my ending.

Do you think the film will bring you the popular success in England that you've always missed out on as a writer?

I doubt it. England is the funniest country in the world. It's a philistine country; the only country where a man of letters is actively looked down on; where it's a matter of pride that the Royal family love only horses and money. Still the stupidity of the English as a whole, has [been] and will be, I suppose, their salvation.

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This section contains 1,077 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Interview by Anthony Burgess with Carol Dix
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