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 would go on to follow Burgess around, galvanising his reputation as a internationally renowned figure. His celebrity was reinforced by his willingness to appear on television chat shows, such as Wogan, Parkinson, and America’s The Dick Cavett Show, often with a bawdy anecdote or two. 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.

However, Burgess also actively returned to his text in various different ways up to the end of his life, reassessing it in articles, adapting it for the stage and writing a novel based on its conversion into a film.

Over half a century on, 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 novel a key counter-cultural text that is constantly referred to in subsequent 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 recent 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, while the Rolling Stones wrote the sleeve-notes to one of their albums in Nadsat.

Dressing as droogs, especially in costumes inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s film, still remains a popular pursuit. A number of musicians have dressed in the signature bowler hat and Dr Martens for their live performances. David Bowie, Guns n’ Roses, Blur, Usher and Kylie Minogue have all succumbed, while countless university students have perhaps misunderstood the context of the novel by enthusiastically, not to say provocatively, dressing as droogs for Halloween.

In the world of film and television, Bart Simpson, the archetypal juvenile delinquent, frequently quotes Alex in cod-Cockney, has dressed up droogish garb, and has been subjected to variants of Ludovico’s 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 is featured in a diary he kept during the filming. And not to miss out on the opportunity for screen violence, Quentin Tarantino claims that Reservoir Dogs’s infamous scene juxtaposing ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’ by Stealer’s Wheel and a severed ear was inspired by similar contrasts in Kubrick’s film adaptation.

The novel has also had a huge literary impact, with novelists 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 shape later generations of writers. The book itself has never been out of print, and is in translation all over the world.  In 2012, the novel gained a new lease of life with the publication of A Clockwork Orange: The Restored Edition which reinstating Burgess’s original text, and includes a selection of interviews, articles, reviews and other previously unpublished material. Alongside this publication, was the release of the interactive app for iPad, which contains video, music, and audio readings that sync to the text of the novel among other treasures from the archive at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. These publications coincided with the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of one of the most influential literary works of the twentieth century.