Language English Nadsat
Originally published 1962
Country United Kingdom
Cover artist Barry Trengrove
Playwright Anthony Burgess
|Media type Print (hardback & paperback) & audio book (cassette, CD)|
Pages 192 pages (hardback edition) & 176 pages (paperback edition)
Characters Alex, Deltoid, Dim, Pete, Georgie
Genres Science Fiction, Satire, Utopian and dystopian fiction
Awards Prometheus Hall of Fame Award
Adaptations A Clockwork Orange (1971), Vinyl (1965)
A Clockwork Orange is a dystopian novel by Anthony Burgess published in 1962. Set in a near future English society featuring a subculture of extreme youth violence, the teenage protagonist, Alex, narrates his violent exploits and his experiences with state authorities intent on reforming him. The book is partially written in a Russian-influenced argot called "Nadsat". According to Burgess it was a jeu d'esprit written in just three weeks.
- Part 1 Alexs world
- Part 2 The Ludovico Technique
- Part 3 After prison
- Omission of the final chapter
- Use of slang
- Banning and censorship history in the US
- Writers appraisal
- Awards and nominations and rankings
- Release details
In 2005, A Clockwork Orange was included on Time magazine's list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923, and it was named by Modern Library and its readers as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. The original manuscript of the book has been located at McMaster University's William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada since the institution purchased the documents in 1971.
Part 1: Alex's world
Alex is a 15-year-old living in near-future dystopian England who leads his gang on a night of opportunistic, random "ultra-violence". Alex's friends ("droogs" in the novel's Anglo-Russian slang, 'Nadsat') are Dim, a slow-witted bruiser who is the gang's muscle; Georgie, an ambitious second-in-command; and Pete, who mostly plays along as the droogs indulge their taste for ultra-violence. Characterised as a sociopath and a hardened juvenile delinquent, Alex also displays intelligence, quick wit, and a predilection for classical music; he is particularly fond of Beethoven, referred to as "Lovely Ludwig Van".
The novella begins with the droogs sitting in their favourite hangout, the Korova Milk Bar, and drinking "milk-plus"—a beverage consisting of milk laced with the customer's drug of choice—to prepare for a night of mayhem. They assault a scholar walking home from the public library; rob a store, leaving the owner and his wife bloodied and unconscious; beat up a beggar; then scuffle with a rival gang. Joyriding through the countryside in a stolen car, they break into an isolated cottage and terrorise the young couple living there, beating the husband and raping his wife. In a metafictional touch, the husband is a writer working on a manuscript called "A Clockwork Orange", and Alex contemptuously reads out a paragraph that states the novel's main theme before shredding the manuscript. Back at the Korova, Alex strikes Dim for his crude response to a woman's singing of an operatic passage, and strains within the gang become apparent. At home in his parents' futuristic flat, Alex plays classical music at top volume, which he describes as giving him orgasmic bliss before falling asleep.
Alex coyly feigns illness to his parents to stay out of school the next day. Following an unexpected visit from P.R. Deltoid, his "post-corrective adviser", Alex visits a record store, where he meets two pre-teen girls. He invites them back to the flat, where he drugs and rapes them. The next morning, Alex finds his droogs in a mutinous mood, waiting downstairs in the torn-up and graffitied lobby. Georgie challenges Alex for leadership of the gang, demanding that they pull a "man-sized" job. Alex quells the rebellion by slashing Dim's hand and fighting with Georgie, then in a show of generosity takes them to a bar, where Alex insists on following through on Georgie's idea to burgle the home of a wealthy old woman. Alex breaks in and knocks the woman unconscious, but when he opens the door to let the others in, Dim strikes him in payback for the earlier fight. The gang abandons Alex on the front step to be arrested by the police; while in their custody, he learns that the woman has died from her injuries.
Part 2: The Ludovico Technique
Alex is convicted of murder and sentenced to 14 years in prison (Pete visiting one day informed him that Georgie has been killed). Two years into his term, he has obtained a job in one of the prison chapels playing religious music on the stereo to accompany the Sunday religious services. The chaplain mistakes Alex's Bible studies for stirrings of faith; in reality, Alex is only reading Scripture for the violent passages. After his fellow cellmates blame him for beating a troublesome cellmate to death, he is chosen to undergo an experimental behaviour-modification treatment called the Ludovico Technique in exchange for having the remainder of his sentence commuted. The technique is a form of aversion therapy, in which Alex is injected with nausea-inducing drugs while watching graphically violent films, eventually conditioning him to become severely ill at the mere thought of violence. As an unintended consequence, the soundtrack to one of the films, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, renders Alex unable to enjoy his beloved classical music as before.
The effectiveness of the technique is demonstrated to a group of VIPs, who watch as Alex collapses before a bully and abases himself before a scantily-clad young woman whose presence has aroused his predatory sexual inclinations. Although the prison chaplain accuses the state of stripping Alex of free will, the government officials on the scene are pleased with the results and Alex is released from prison.
Part 3: After prison
Alex returns to his parents' flat, only to find that they are renting his room to a lodger. Now homeless, he wanders the streets and enters a public library, hoping to learn of a painless method for committing suicide. The old scholar whom Alex had assaulted in Part 1 finds him and beats him, with the help of several friends. Two policemen come to Alex's rescue, but turn out to be Dim and Billyboy, a former rival gang leader. They take Alex outside of town, brutalise him, and abandon him there. Alex collapses at the door of an isolated cottage, realising too late that it is the one he and his droogs invaded in Part 1. The writer, F. Alexander, still lives here, but his wife has since died of injuries she sustained in the gang-rape. He does not recognise Alex, but gives him shelter and questions him about the conditioning he has undergone. Alexander and his colleagues, all highly critical of the government, plan to use Alex as a symbol of state brutality and thus prevent the incumbent government from being re-elected. Alex inadvertently reveals that he was the ringleader of the home invasion; he is removed from the cottage and locked in an upper-story bedroom as a relentless barrage of classical music plays over speakers. He attempts suicide by leaping from the window.
Alex wakes up in a hospital, where he is courted by government officials anxious to counter the bad publicity created by his suicide attempt. With Alexander placed in a mental institution, Alex is offered a well-paying job if he agrees to side with the government. A round of tests reveals that his old violent impulses have returned, indicating that the hospital doctors have undone the effects of his conditioning. As photographers snap pictures, Alex daydreams of orgiastic violence and reflects, "I was cured all right."
In the final chapter, Alex finds himself halfheartedly preparing for yet another night of crime with a new gang (Lenn, Rick, Bully). After a chance encounter with Pete, who has reformed and married, Alex finds himself taking less and less pleasure in acts of senseless violence. He begins contemplating giving up crime himself to become a productive member of society and start a family of his own, while reflecting on the notion that his own children will be just as destructive as he has been, if not more so.
Omission of the final chapter
The book has three parts, each with seven chapters. Burgess has stated that the total of 21 chapters was an intentional nod to the age of 21 being recognised as a milestone in human maturation. The 21st chapter was omitted from the editions published in the United States prior to 1986. In the introduction to the updated American text (these newer editions include the missing 21st chapter), Burgess explains that when he first brought the book to an American publisher, he was told that U.S. audiences would never go for the final chapter, in which Alex sees the error of his ways, decides he has lost all energy for and thrill from violence and resolves to turn his life around (a moment of metanoia).
At the American publisher's insistence, Burgess allowed their editors to cut the redeeming final chapter from the U.S. version, so that the tale would end on a darker note, with Alex succumbing to his violent, reckless nature—an ending which the publisher insisted would be "more realistic" and appealing to a U.S. audience. The film adaptation, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is based on the American edition of the book (which Burgess considered to be "badly flawed"). Kubrick called Chapter 21 "an extra chapter" and claimed that he had not read the original version until he had virtually finished the screenplay, and that he had never given serious consideration to using it. In Kubrick's opinion—as in the opinion of other readers, including the original American editor—the final chapter was unconvincing and inconsistent with the book.
A Clockwork Orange was written in Hove, then a senescent seaside town. Burgess had arrived back in Britain after his stint abroad to see that much had changed. A youth culture had grown, including coffee bars, pop music and teenage gangs. England was gripped by fears over juvenile delinquency. Burgess claimed that the novel's inspiration was his first wife Lynne's beating by a gang of drunk American servicemen stationed in England during World War II. She subsequently miscarried. In its investigation of free will, the book's target is ostensibly the concept of behaviourism, pioneered by such figures as B. F. Skinner.
Burgess later stated that he wrote the book in three weeks.
Burgess gave three possible origins for the title:
In his essay, "Clockwork Oranges", Burgess asserts that "this title would be appropriate for a story about the application of Pavlovian or mechanical laws to an organism which, like a fruit, was capable of colour and sweetness." This title alludes to the protagonist's negative emotional responses to feelings of evil which prevent the exercise of his free will subsequent to the administration of the Ludovico Technique. To induce this conditioning, Alex is forced to watch scenes of violence on a screen that are systematically paired with negative physical stimulation. The negative physical stimulation takes the form of nausea and "feelings of terror", which are caused by an emetic medicine administered just before the presentation of the films.
Use of slang
The book, narrated by Alex, contains many words in a slang argot which Burgess invented for the book, called Nadsat. It is a mix of modified Slavic words, rhyming slang, derived Russian (like baboochka), and words invented by Burgess himself. For instance, these terms have the following meanings in Nadsat: droog = friend; korova = cow; gulliver ("golova") = head; malchick or malchickiwick = boy; soomka = sack or bag; Bog = God; khorosho ("horroshow") = good; prestoopnick = criminal; rooka ("rooker") = hand; cal = crap; veck ("chelloveck") = man or guy; litso = face; malenky = little; and so on. Compare Polari.
One of Alex's doctors explains the language to a colleague as "odd bits of old rhyming slang; a bit of gypsy talk, too. But most of the roots are Slav propaganda. Subliminal penetration." Some words are not derived from anything, but merely easy to guess, e.g. "in-out, in-out" or "the old in-out" means sexual intercourse. Cutter, however, means "money", because "cutter" rhymes with "bread-and-butter"; this is rhyming slang, which is intended to be impenetrable to outsiders (especially eavesdropping policemen). Additionally, slang like appypolly loggy ("apology") seems to derive from school boy slang. This reflects Alex's age of 15.
In the first edition of the book, no key was provided, and the reader was left to interpret the meaning from the context. In his appendix to the restored edition, Burgess explained that the slang would keep the book from seeming dated, and served to muffle "the raw response of pornography" from the acts of violence.
The term "ultraviolence", referring to excessive or unjustified violence, was coined by Burgess in the book, which includes the phrase "do the ultra-violent". The term's association with aesthetic violence has led to its use in the media.
Banning and censorship history in the US
In 1976, A Clockwork Orange was removed from an Aurora, Colorado high school because of "objectionable language". A year later in 1977 it was removed from high school classrooms in Westport, Massachusetts over similar concerns with "objectionable" language. In 1982, it was removed from two Anniston, Alabama libraries, later to be reinstated on a restricted basis. Also, in 1973 a bookseller was arrested for selling the novel. Charges were later dropped. However, each of these instances came after the release of Stanley Kubrick's popular 1971 film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, itself the subject of much controversy.
In 1985, Burgess published Flame into Being: The Life and Work of D. H. Lawrence, and while discussing Lady Chatterley's Lover in his biography, Burgess compared that novel's notoriety with A Clockwork Orange: "We all suffer from the popular desire to make the known notorious. The book I am best known for, or only known for, is a novel I am prepared to repudiate: written a quarter of a century ago, a jeu d'esprit knocked off for money in three weeks, it became known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence. The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about, and the misunderstanding will pursue me until I die. I should not have written the book because of this danger of misinterpretation, and the same may be said of Lawrence and Lady Chatterley's Lover." Burgess has also dismissed A Clockwork Orange as "too didactic to be artistic".
Awards and nominations and rankings
A Clockwork Orange was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language books from 1923 to 2005.
The best known adaptation of the novella to other forms is the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange by Stanley Kubrick, starring Malcolm McDowell as Alex.
A 1965 film by Andy Warhol entitled Vinyl was an adaptation of Burgess' novel.
In 1987 Burgess published a stage play titled A Clockwork Orange: A Play with Music. The play includes songs, written by Burgess, that are inspired by Beethoven and Nadsat slang.
In 1988, a German adaptation of A Clockwork Orange at the intimate theatre of Bad Godesberg featured a musical score by the German punk rock band Die Toten Hosen which, combined with orchestral clips of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and "other dirty melodies" (so stated by the subtitle), was released on the album Ein kleines bisschen Horrorschau. The track Hier kommt Alex became one of the band's signature songs.
In February 1990, another musical version was produced at the Barbican Theatre in London by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Titled A Clockwork Orange: 2004, it received mostly negative reviews, with John Peter of The Sunday Times of London calling it "only an intellectual Rocky Horror Show", and John Gross of The Sunday Telegraph calling it "a clockwork lemon". Even Burgess himself, who wrote the script based on his novel, was disappointed. According to The Evening Standard, he called the score, written by Bono and The Edge of the rock group U2, "neo-wallpaper." Burgess had originally worked alongside the director of the production, Ron Daniels, and envisioned a musical score that was entirely classical. Unhappy with the decision to abandon that score, he heavily criticised the band's experimental mix of hip hop, liturgical and gothic music. Lise Hand of The Irish Independent reported The Edge as saying that Burgess' original conception was "a score written by a novelist rather than a songwriter". Calling it "meaningless glitz", Jane Edwardes of 20/20 Magazine said that watching this production was "like being invited to an expensive French Restaurant – and being served with a Big Mac."
In 1994, Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater put on a production of A Clockwork Orange directed by Terry Kinney. The American premiere of novelist Anthony Burgess' own adaptation of his A Clockwork Orange starred K. Todd Freeman as Alex. In 2001, UNI Theatre (Mississauga, Ontario) presented the Canadian premiere of the play under the direction of Terry Costa.
In 2002, Godlight Theatre Company presented the New York Premiere adaptation of A Clockwork Orange at Manhattan Theatre Source. The production went on to play at the SoHo Playhouse (2002), Ensemble Studio Theatre (2004), 59E59 Theaters (2005) and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (2005). While at Edinburgh, the production received rave reviews from the press while playing to sold-out audiences. The production was directed by Godlight's Artistic Director, Joe Tantalo.
In 2003, Los Angeles director Brad Mays and the ARK Theatre Company staged a multi-media adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, which was named "Pick Of The Week" by the LA Weekly and nominated for three of the 2004 LA Weekly Theater Awards: Direction, Revival Production (of a 20th-century work), and Leading Female Performance. Vanessa Claire Smith won Best Actress for her gender-bending portrayal of Alex, the music-loving teenage sociopath. This production utilised three separate video streams outputted to seven onstage video monitors – six 19-inch and one 40-inch. In order to preserve the first-person narrative of the book, a pre-recorded video stream of Alex, "your humble narrator", was projected onto the 40-inch monitor, thereby freeing the onstage character during passages which would have been awkward or impossible to sustain in the breaking of the fourth wall.
An adaptation of the work, based on the original novel, the film and Burgess' own stage version, was performed by The SiLo Theatre in Auckland, New Zealand in early 2007.