Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange is Anthony Burgess’s most famous novel and its impact on literary, musical and visual culture has been extensive. The novel is concerned with the conflict between the individual and the state, the punishment of young criminals, and the possibility or otherwise of redemption. The linguistic originality of the book, and the moral questions it raises, are as relevant now as they ever were.

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The Legacy of A Clockwork Orange:

A Clockwork Orange confirmed Anthony Burgess’s reputation as a internationally renowned figure. His celebrity was reinforced by his willingness to appear on television talk shows, such as Wogan, Parkinson, and The Dick Cavett Show. Journalists would not stop asking him to comment on A Clockwork Orange, and he often obliged, even while bemoaning the fact that they were not as interested in his other novels. Towards the end of his life, he sometimes said that he wished he had never written the novel, although he continued to write introductions to new editions and involved himself in various theatrical adaptations, including A Clockwork Orange: A Play With Music and A Clockwork Orange 2004, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Theatre in 1990.

Nearly 60 years after the book was first published, it is hard to overstate the significance of Burgess’s novel in terms of its impact on popular culture. A Clockwork Orange anticipated both the hedonistic, liberal sixties and the violent, disillusioned seventies. These elements combine to make the book and its film adaptations a key counter-cultural work, which is often quoted from and referred to in popular art-forms. Burgess himself was not a lover of popular music, but numerous bands have taken their names from his writing: The Clockwork Oranges, Heaven 17 (also a fictional band in the novel), Moloko, and The Devotchkas. There have also been many songs inspired by the novel, including ‘Ultraviolence’ by New Order, ‘Horrorshow’ by the Libertines and Sepultura’s album A-Lex. The drummer of the Sex Pistols claimed that he had only read two books — a biography of the Kray Twins and A Clockwork Orange. The manager of the Rolling Stones wrote the sleeve-notes to one of their albums in a version of Nadsat.

Dressing as droogs, especially in costumes inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s film, remains a popular pursuit. A number of musicians have dressed in the signature bowler hat and Dr Martens boots for their videos and live performances. David Bowie, Guns n’ Roses, Blur, Usher, Madonna and Kylie Minogue have all worn costumes inspired by the film, while Halloween party-goers are often to be seen dressing up as droogs.

In the world of film and television, Bart Simpson, the archetypal juvenile delinquent, frequently quotes Alex in cod-Cockney, has dressed up in droogish clothes, and has been subjected to variants of the Ludovico Technique in The Simpsons.  Eric Cartman of South Park has suffered similar treatment. Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight was inspired, in part, by A Clockwork Orange, which features in a diary he kept during the filming. Quentin Tarantino has claimed that the famous scene in Reservoir Dogs, juxtaposing ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’ with the cutting-off  of an ear, was inspired by similar contrasts in Kubrick’s film adaptation.

The novel has also had a wide literary impact, with writers such as Martin Amis, J.G. Ballard, William Boyd and A.S. Byatt acknowledging its importance. Burgess’s philosophical ambition, mixture of the comic and the shocking, and linguistic inventiveness have helped to shape later generations of writers. The book itself has never been out of print since 1962, and is available in translation all over the world. Recent years have seen the publication of A Clockwork Orange: The Restored Edition, which presents a new text edited from Burgess’s manuscripts and includes a selection of interviews, essays, articles and reviews. In 2012 Random House Digital released a Clockwork Orange app for iPad, which contains video, music, and audio readings which are synchonised to the text of the novel. The app also presents editorial correspondence and other rare material from the archives of the publisher and the Anthony Burgess Foundation.

The novel has become an international best-seller, and new translations continue to appear around the world, most recently in Turkish, Chinese and Armenian. There have been more than 300 stage productions of A Clockwork Orange: A Play With Music, which continues to find new audiences, along with the classic Kubrick film.