The Earthly Powers manuscript
The most recent addition to the Burgess Foundation’s archive is a complete typescript of Earthly Powers, found in the London offices of Artellus Ltd, the literary agency which represented Burgess from the early 1980s. After the novel had been published, Burgess gave the typescript to his then agent, Gabriele Pantucci, who has kindly agreed to deposit it at the Foundation.
When we opened the large envelope which had held the typescript for more than 25 years, we discovered six coloured folders, each containing approximately 100 pages of typescript.
A first examination of these papers has revealed a good deal of previously unknown information about the book, particularly relating to its title. Burgess’s original title for his novel about a fictional pope and a novelist resembling Somerset Maugham seems to have been ‘The Affairs of Men’. This was then changed to ‘The Instruments of Darkness’, a quotation from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. After that, he decided to call it ‘The Prince of the Powers of the Air’ – a misremembered line from the Bible (actually a reference to the devil in the Epistle to the Ephesians, 2:2) – which, presumably after having looked it up, he later corrected to ‘The Prince of the Power of the Air’.
It is clear from this finished typescript that, at the point when Burgess completed the novel and delivered it to his agent, it was still known as ‘The Prince of the Power of the Air’. By the time the publishing contracts were drawn up, the book was being referred to as ‘Infinite Power’ and ‘Ultimate Power’.
The decision to publish in English under the title Earthly Powers was reached only a few weeks before publication in 1980. In French, the book is known as Les Puissances des Ténèbres (The Powers of Shadows); in German, Der Fürst der Phantome (The Prince of Phantoms); in Italian, Gli Strumenti delle Tenebre (The Instruments of Darkness); and in Swedish, Jordiska Makter (Underground Powers).
One other discovery from the typescript is that the name of the main character has been altered (in Burgess’s handwriting) to Kenneth Marchal Toomey at a very late stage of composition. In earlier drafts he was known as Kenneth Markham Toomey, a name which is much closer to Maugham – with whose life Toomey shares a number of characteristics, including his high reputation as a playwright and his interest in colonial Malaya.
It may be that Burgess decided that he wanted to prevent readers from making the too-easy identification between Toomey and Maugham. Or it is possible that he was worried about offending his friend and fellow novelist Robin Maugham, the less famous nephew of Somerset Maugham, whom Burgess and his first wife had met and befriended when they were on holiday in Tangier in November 1963.
Whatever the truth of it may be, there can be no doubt that Burgess as a reader was fascinated by Maugham. He wrote Maugham’s obituary for the Listener in 1965 and prepared an edition of Maugham’s Malaysian Stories for publication by Heinemann Asia in Kuala Lumpur in 1969. His private library contains numerous copies of novels, plays and short stories by Maugham, as well as biographical books by Frederic Raphael, Ted Morgan and Robert Calder. And when Burgess was asked about the mother he never knew by Anthony Clare (during his In the Psychiatrist’s Chair radio interview in 1988), he replied that he remembered nothing at all about her, but he imagined that she had probably resembled the barmaid Rosie Driffield from Somerset Maugham’s famous novel, Cakes and Ale.