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Fire of Words
The Aesthetics of Anthony Burgess
Jim Clarke
The Aesthetics
of Anthony Burgess
Fire of Words
Jim Clarke
School of Humanities
Coventry University
Coventry, UK
ISBN 978-3-319-66410-1 ISBN 978-3-319-66411-8 (eBook)
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-66411-8
Library of Congress Control Number: 2017951546
© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2017
This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the
Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights
of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction
on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and
retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology
now known or hereafter developed.
The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this
publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are
exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use.
The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and
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Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, express or implied,
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maps and institutional affiliations.
Cover credit: Anthony Burgess mural by TankPetrol; model, Gemma from the Manchester
Fire School; photograph by Jim Clarke
Printed on acid-free paper
This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by Springer Nature
The registered company is Springer International Publishing AG
The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland
This book is dedicated to my daughter Marianne Kehoe Clarke, who
grew to adulthood during the time I have been researching this work,
to the memory of my father Jim Clarke who always supported it, and to
the memory of my sister Roisin Clarke, who tragically died before I ever
commenced it.
This book has been long in the gestation, and hence possesses many
midwives. In this regard, thanks is due to Professor Emerita Edna
Longley of Queen’s University Belfast and to Professor Emeritus Brian
Cosgrove of NUI Maynooth for guiding this work in its earliest incarnations. However, I owe a special gratitude to Professor Eve Patten of
Trinity College Dublin who assiduously shepherded this work to its conclusion and was instrumental in vastly expanding its remit.
Additionally, I am thankful for the help and encouragement I have
received from the staff of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation
in Manchester, who threw open their archives to me. This work might
never have reached completion without the financial assistance provided
by the Foundation in the form of their bursary award, for which I am
immeasurably grateful. Thanks are also due to the staff and librarians
affiliated to the Anthony Burgess Centre in Angers, France.
I also wish to acknowledge the many discussions about Anthony
Burgess I have enjoyed with other Burgess scholars, whose insights and
research often informed my own thinking, especially Professor Andrew
Biswell of Manchester Metropolitan University, the late Dr. Alan
Roughley, Rob Spence, Yves Buelens, Dr. Nuria Belastegui, Professor
Emeritus Ben Forkner and Dr. Graham Woodroffe of the Université
d’Angers, Dr. Jonathan Mann, Chris Thurley, Will Carr, Dr. Alan
Shockley, Professor Paul Phillips and Dr. Matt Whittle. I also wish to
thank Dr. Katherine Adamson and Dr. Anthony Levings for kindly sharing their own doctoral theses on Burgess with me.
viii Acknowledgements
I would like to express an especial gratitude to Anthony Miller,
whose inspirational conversations, research assistance and proofreading
have benefited this work immeasurably. Similarly, thanks is due to Chris
Lowry for answering my questions on musicology and providing translations into and out of German.
I might never have had the courage to return to academia after a long
absence were it not for the encouragement and mentorship offered by
Professor Emeritus Tom Moylan of the University of Limerick, Dr. Ron
Callan of University College Dublin and Senator David Norris.
I wish to acknowledge my colleagues and students at Trinity College
Dublin, especially Dr. Anne Markey who taught me how to be an educator, and my colleagues and students at Saor Ollscoil na hÉireann,
especially Dr. Mairead ní Chiosóig, for allowing a rookie to teach their
literature classes. A special gratitude is due to my colleagues and students
at Coventry University, from whom I have derived enormous inspiration
and encouragement in my research. In this regard, I would especially
like to thank Dr. Benet Vincent, Tim Kelly, Dr. Emma Heywood, Dr.
Tim Nisbet, Professor Hilary Nesi, Dr. Joe Morrissey, Dr. Simon Smith,
Dr. Chloe Harrison, Alyson Morris, Ana Salvi, James Henry, David
Ridley, Andrew Preshous, Bob Wilkinson and Laurent Binet. Thanks
are also due to my colleagues on the Ponying the Slovos project into
the language of A Clockwork Orange, Dr. Sofia Malamatidou, Dr. Gaby
Saldanha, Professor Emeritus Pat Corness, and Dr. Marion Winter.
I am grateful for the assistance I have received from the staff of various libraries, including the Linenhall Library Belfast, Trinity College
Dublin Library, the John Paul II Library at NUI Maynooth, the
National Library of Ireland, the British Library and the library of
Coventry University. A similar debt is due to my editors and the staff at
Palgrave Macmillan.
I owe an unpayable debt to my family and friends, especially Deirdre
Clarke, David Messom, John Lawler and Sean Mailey, without whose
support this work could never have been completed.
Finally, I wish to pay tribute to the immortal memory of Anthony
Burgess, whose monumental achievements in literature inspired this
Jim Clarke
2 Double Vision: The Manicheism of Anthony
Burgess and Its Aesthetic Analogue23
3 All a Matter of a Goddess: The Dionysian Mode
in Burgessian Artistic Creativity75
4 Conflict and Confluence: The Trajectory from
Dionysian to Apollonian125
5 Nowhere but the Fire of Words: The Apollonian
Mode in Burgess’s Fiction175
ABBABurgess, Anthony, ABBA ABBA (London: Faber and Faber,
ACOBurgess, Anthony, A Clockwork Orange (London: Heinemann,
AggelerAggeler, Geoffrey, Anthony Burgess: The Artist as Novelist
(Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1979)
AOIBurgess, Anthony, Any Old Iron (London: Vintage, 1992; 1st
pub. Hutchinson, London, 1989)
BattlementsBurgess, Anthony, A Vision of Battlements (New York: W. W.
Norton and Co., 1965)
BloomBloom, Harold, ed., Anthony Burgess: Modern Critical Views
(New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 1987)
BRWBurgess, Anthony, Beard’s Roman Women: A Novel (London:
Hutchinson, 1977)
CoaleCoale, Samuel, Anthony Burgess (New York: Frederick Ungar,
ConsolationsMorris, Robert K., The Consolations of Ambiguity (Columbia,
MO: University of Missouri Press, 1971)
ConversationsIngersoll, Earl G. and Ingersoll, Mary C., eds., Conversations
with Anthony Burgess (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press,
CopyBurgess, Anthony, Urgent Copy: Literary Studies (London:
Jonathan Cape, 1968)
Dead ManBurgess, Anthony, A Dead Man in Deptford (London:
Hutchinson, 1993)
DeVitisDeVitis, A. A., Anthony Burgess (New York: Twayne, 1972)
xii Abbreviations
EnderbyBurgess, Anthony, Enderby (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982
[repr. Inside Mr Enderby, 1963; Enderby Outside, 1968; The
Clockwork Testament, 1974])
EOTWNBurgess, Anthony, The End of the World News (London:
Heinemann, 1982, repr. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983)
EPBurgess, Anthony, Earthly Powers (1980, repr.
Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981)
HeroesCarlyle, Thomas, On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in
History (London: James Fraser, 1841)
HomageBurgess, Anthony, Homage to QWERT YUIOP: Selected
Journalism 1978–1985 (London: Hutchinson, 1986)
LWBGBurgess, Anthony, Little Wilson and Big God: Being the
First Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess (London:
Heinemann, 1987)
MFBurgess, Anthony, MF (London: Jonathan Cape, 1971; repr.
Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973)
Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 27 no. 3, Autumn 1981.
MozartBurgess, Anthony, Mozart and the Wolf Gang (London:
Hutchinson, 1991, repr. London: Vintage, 1992)
ModernityRoughley, Alan, ed., Anthony Burgess and Modernity
(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008)
NLTSBurgess, Anthony, Nothing Like The Sun (London: Vintage,
1982, 1st pub. 1964)
NSBurgess, Anthony, Napoleon Symphony: A Novel in Four
Movements (London: Jonathan Cape, 1974)
PortraitsVernadakis, Emmanuel and Woodroffe, Graham, eds., Portraits
of the Artist in A Clockwork Orange (Angers: Presses de
l'Université d'Angers, 2003)
Real LifeBiswell, Andrew, The Real Life of Anthony Burgess (London:
Picador, 2005)
ReflectionsRobinson, David, Reflections (London: Secker and Warburg,
RingBurgess, Anthony, The Worm and the Ring (London:
Heinemann, revised ed. 1970, orig. pub. 1961)
SonnetsBurgess, Anthony, Revolutionary Sonnets and other poems,
Jackson, Kevin, ed. (Manchester: Carcanet, 2002)
SPPaglia, Camille, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from
Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (New Haven, CN: Yale University
Press, 1990, repr. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992)
TMAMBurgess, Anthony, This Man and Music (London: Hutchinson,
TNNBurgess, Anthony, The Novel Now (London: Faber and Faber,
1968, repr. 1971)
TPPBurgess, Anthony, The Pianoplayers (London: Arrow Books,
1987; 1st pub. Hutchinson, 1986)
TrilogyBurgess, Anthony, The Malayan Trilogy (London: Minerva,
1996 [repr. Time for a Tiger, London: Heinemann, 1956; The
Enemy in the Blanket, London: Heinemann, 1958 and The Beds
in the East, London: Heinemann, 1959])
TTLévi-Strauss, Claude, Tristes Tropiques, trans. John Russell
(New York: Criterion Books, 1961)
TWSBurgess, Anthony, The Wanting Seed (London: Heinemann,
1962, repr. New York: Ballantine, 1964/1970)
VenusBurgess, Anthony, The Eve of Saint Venus (London: Sidgwick
and Jackson, 1964, repr. London: Arena, 1987)
WGGraves, Robert, The White Goddess (1948), ed. Lindop, Grevel
(Manchester: Carcanet, 1997)
YHYTBurgess, Anthony, You’ve Had Your Time: Being the
Second Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess (London:
Heinemann, 1990, repr. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991)
YoungYoung, Julian, Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)
Burgess’s Legacy
In death as in life Anthony Burgess has proved difficult to locate in terms
of his relevance or importance within English fiction. He was an avowedly experimental novelist who nevertheless garnered significant popular sales for his novels and worked extensively in the collaborative fields
of popular television and cinema. He espoused conservative politics, the
aesthetics of modernism and aspects of Roman Catholicism during an era
when all three were largely unfashionable, and yet found his opinion was
sought by many prominent European newspapers on current affairs. He
is known globally as the author of a single slim novella, yet wrote 33
novels, and almost as many non-fiction books. From outside academia,
he produced volumes of literary criticism and pursued a career as a novelist who composed music, describing himself as a composer who wrote
novels. He was an exile who wrote about England and an Englishman
who wrote about the collapse of the British Empire, leavened by a protopostcolonial perspective. He was unashamedly highbrow, yet habitually
appeared on chat shows. He was simultaneously a reviewer, performer,
editor, poet, dramatist, composer, journalist, educator and fiction writer.
Critics attempting to survey the extent of his achievement are forced to
encompass a range of literary forms, from poetry to cinema script, by
way of literary criticism, translations of foreign works, drama, libretti, linguistics texts, coffee-table books on tea or sleeping, and his own prolific output of diverse fiction, ranging from slender, esoteric novellas to
© The Author(s) 2017
J. Clarke, The Aesthetics of Anthony Burgess,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-66411-8_1
2 J. Clarke
heavyweight blockbusters. Two decades after his death new work continues to be unearthed from his archives, in such volume as to provoke one
biographer to muse “[m]y God, did this man never sleep?”1
Burgess’s journalistic work for the press included a long-running current affairs column in Italian for the Milan-based newspaper Corriere
della Sera and regular reviewing slots with The Spectator and The
Observer, not to mention a bewildering array of occasional articles for a
myriad publications, including semi-regular writing for The Independent,
The New York Times, The Times Literary Supplement, The Irish Press, The
Irish Times, Il Giornale and Svenska Dagbladet published over a career
that spanned five decades. This promiscuous output was not restricted to
periodicals, either. As Andrew Biswell has noted (Real Life, 392):
An appreciation of Burgess’s full achievement must take in the large body
of writing (and talking) that he did in areas other than the novel, including book reviews, cultural criticism, interviews, and his work for television,
radio and film. He was one of the first literary writers who was also a television critic, performer and script writer.
Burgess’s book-length non-fiction also demonstrates the breadth of his
interests and achievement. In his oeuvre, critical studies of James Joyce,
D.H. Lawrence and Ernest Hemingway nestle next to coffee-table books
about New York, tea drinking or the history of beds. He penned four
reader’s guides to literature in English and two linguistic studies of the
language. He wrote two books on his relationship with his primary
artistic love, music, and his shorter prose (mainly essays and reviews)
has been represented by three collections. He translated European fiction and French and Greek drama, wrote two children’s novellas, edited
James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, generated two volumes of autobiography,
and one each of poetry and short stories.
Burgess’s seeming omnipresence in all forms of print was often to
provoke comment from his less productive contemporaries. Aside from
the dinner party jibes (“How’s the monthly novel coming along?”),
Burgess found his erudition and prolificity to be the subject of sneering
dismissal in reviews of his work. The implicit accusation of such reviews,
that quality could not cohabit with quantity, rankled with Burgess, and
1 “Researchers find 20 unpublished Anthony Burgess stories”, Stephen Bates, The
Guardian, 11th May 2011; retrieved from
may/11/unpublished-anthony-burgess-stories-manchester, 18th April 2012.
he often raged against the “costive” output of writers like E.M. Forster
as a literary heresy inspired by the Bloomsbury set. In one such broadside (Mozart, 145), Burgess freely admitted working for money, and
allied his prodigality with that of Mozart against “Bloomsbury gentility”:
The market is served but also God. Mozart wrote for money, which E.M.
Forster did not have to do: the latter’s scant production is appropriate to a rentier
as Mozart’s fecundity is right both for a serious craftsman and a breadwinner.
Ultimately artists must be judged not merely by excellence but by bulk or variety.
It may be that his virtuosity and prodigality have precluded Burgess’s work
from receiving the attention it deserves. His novels must vie for attention with his music, his journalism, his academic ability and, not least, his
media presence. The fame that followed Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation
of A Clockwork Orange was, for Burgess, somewhat of a poisoned chalice
since this association with one single novella has overshadowed consideration of his more substantial fictional efforts. Equally, he embraced the roles
that followed the notoriety with gusto, settling into a routine of lecturing, journalism and chat show appearances that not only interfered with
the work of producing fiction but also served to associate Burgess in the
public’s eye as an entertainer and commentator as much as a novelist. Yet
his natural fecundity did generate regular and fastidious work, inspired by
a wide-ranging imagination and, for the novelist William Boyd, this variety
and scope of Burgess’s work is his defining characteristic:
What seemed to me to be extraordinary about Anthony is that the whole
body of work represents the man, and to say that Earthly Powers is the
masterpiece, or the Enderby trilogy is what he’ll be remembered by, is in
a way to ignore this prodigious fecundity and prodigious invention that
never seemed to dry out. I mean, one was in awe of it.2
The Critical Response
Boyd’s premise implies that Burgess’s work ought to be read in its
entirety for his vision to be comprehended, but such is the diversity and
sheer scale of Burgess’s output that it renders the likelihood of any unifying theory about his fiction implausible. Certain broad trends, including
2 The Burgess Variations, episode one, dir. David Thompson, BBC, first aired 27
December 1999.
4 J. Clarke
a thematic interest in Roman Catholicism and a tendency to revel in
the English language, have long since been identified by reviewers and
critics, nevertheless, seeking to link so many various fictions theoretically, and correlate them with his substantial non-fiction output, some of
which is contradictory, remains at best daunting. Such a unifying theory
did indeed emerge from Burgess’s earliest generation of critics and has
remained largely unchallenged to date. However, this theologically constructed argument was initially generated by Burgess himself, and the
early dominance of Burgess’s own voice in critical responses to his work
provides an additional complication to constructing a viable unifying critical perspective on Burgess’s importance or achievement. Any attempt to
theorise about Burgess’s fiction in toto or even pars pro toto must engage
with this argument, but engagement need not mean blind acceptance.
The notorious episode of Burgess’s sacking from the Yorkshire Post
for reviewing his own novel, which had been published under a different
pseudonym, Joseph Kell, functions as more than mere picaresque talkshow
anecdote. It is indicative of Burgess’s habitual desire to explain his work
and guide critical responses to it. Despite being a reviewer and critic, many
of Burgess’s secondary writings reveal an irritation at reviews of his novels
that, to his mind, ignored or missed the most important underlying elements of his fiction. In an effort to have his books understood in what he
considered a proper context, Burgess developed the habit of answering his
critics in essays, reviews, non-fiction works and his autobiography. These
responses, though partisan, offer a unique perspective on his fiction. They
function, in a sense, as a window into the creative workshop.
The caveat is that Burgess usually only stepped into explain his own
work when riled sufficiently. In later life, with his reputation assured,
Burgess felt less and less need to respond to critics that he felt had missed
the point of his fiction. An examination of his two volumes of autobiography reveals that he generally only read the British reviews of his novels,
occasionally augmented by reference to interesting or perceptive reviewers
in the United States. Since Burgess felt that his work was at best misunderstood, at worst wilfully ignored, in Britain, many of his attempts to explain
his own novels result merely in a defensive refutation of caustic British
reviews. While analysing the response to his early novel The Right to an
Answer (YHYT, 22), Burgess made a plaintive cry for help from reviewers3:
Do reviewers ever consider that novelists are desperate for help, that they
are anxious to be told where they go wrong and what they can do to put
things right, and that, before they achieve the dignity of solus reviews and
academic dissertations, they have to rely on those lordly summations in the
weekly press?
Whether Anthony Burgess fulfilled such a pedagogic role in his own
reviewing is a matter for debate, though his reputation as a sympathetic
or ‘soft’ reviewer is borne out by the large range of books whose latest
editions still continue to bear his recommendation.4 However, Burgess
demonstrably felt his novels were often unfairly reviewed or misunderstood, especially in Britain. The scale of his public response to such criticism varied, depending on how important he perceived the work to be. In
interviews, essays and non-fiction works, he returned again and again to
explain his intentions in writing particular novels, especially Nothing Like
The Sun, Napoleon Symphony, MF and, inevitably, A Clockwork Orange.
In particular, Burgess sought to explain an idiosyncratic and somewhat obscure philosophical position that formed his Weltanschauung and
underpinned much of his fiction. He first laid out this vision in an essay
for the Times Literary Supplement5 but he had previously discussed it in
interviews and essays and it had featured overtly in a number of his novels, dating back to his earliest, A Vision of Battlements. He termed this
vision, somewhat inaccurately, Manicheism. In Burgessian Manicheism,
fundamental reality is dualistic, composed of good and evil at perpetual war. However, he often reduced the components of good and evil
to simple oppositional constructs, shorn of their moral elements, as
abstract as x and y. In other contexts, Burgess applied this fundamental duality of existence to humanity, and described two opposing views
on human potential, which he ascribed to two early Christian scholars,
Saint Augustine of Hippo and the heretical British theologian Pelagius.
This opposition focused primarily on the contradiction between human
perfectibility and the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, a theme that
permeates many of Burgess’s novels, including A Clockwork Orange and
Earthly Powers. Yet he also utilised these terms to describe a wider opposition between positivism and pessimism.
4 Andrew Biswell (Real Life, 310–311) notes that Burgess had a habit of “talking up the
reputations of literary friends” in his reviews.
5 “The Manicheans”, Anthony Burgess, in Times Literary Supplement, 3 March 1966, pp.
6 J. Clarke
Burgess’s Manicheism generates a number of critical difficulties therefore, since its definition continually shifts and changes, and because its
component terms are inaccurately described historically. As one scholar
wrote, “Burgess’s use of the word ‘Manichean’ to define the nature
of the Ultimate Reality that provides the transcendent ‘Pattern’ for
all things is a convenient label to attach to any dualistic theology, philosophy or metaphysic”.6 When one considers Burgess’s plethora of
depictions of artists and the artistic process, his Manicheism becomes
additionally problematic, since his theological terminology is an inappropriate lexis for the analysis of aesthetics.
The Critical Lineage
Burgess’s substantial output has undoubtedly inhibited attempts by critics to come to terms with his literary achievement. Nevertheless, from an
early juncture in his career, his work attracted the attention of a steady
trickle of mostly American critics, for whom his importance remains predominantly that of a novelist. In recent years, centres to study his work
have been created in his home town of Manchester and at the Université
d’Angers in France, both built around significant donations of Burgess’s
personal papers and books contributed by his widow.7 As a result, a
growing corpus of critical work is emerging from both centres. Prior to
their foundation, for many years such Burgessian scholarship as existed
emanated primarily from the United States, where Burgess had inspired a
small number of critical works during his four years as a visiting lecturer
in the 1970s. Book-length considerations of Burgess emerged sporadically from America following that period, ranging from the early reviews
of his fiction by Robert K. Morris and A.A. DeVitis to the more considered studies written by critics such as John Stinson, Samuel Coale and
Geoffrey Aggeler. Harold Bloom edited a collection of critical essays on
Burgess as part of his Modern Literature series, while Aggeler edited a
similar volume. While partially limited in value (all these books appeared
before 1991, and therefore none include appraisals of his final novels or
posthumously published work), these works provide a primary resource
for any critic wishing to consider Burgess’s fiction.
6 Anthony Burgess’s Mythopoeic Imagination: A Study of Selected Novels (1956–1968),
Kenyon Lewis Wagner, Doctoral Thesis, Texas Tech University, 1974, p. 59.
7 A third archive exists at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin.
The bibliographies of Anthony Burgess compiled by Jeutonne Brewer
and Paul Boytinck reveal the extent of this early criticism on Burgess.
Carol M. Dix’s early pamphlet and Martina Ghosh-Schellhorn’s published revision of her doctoral thesis provide the only non-American
critical perspectives of Burgess longer than a magazine or newspaper
article, or a few pages of text in a critical review of contemporary fiction, to appear prior to Burgess’s death in 1993. In the United States,
however, Burgess criticism quickly generated book-length studies by
a number of academic critics. The earliest of these works is Robert K.
Morris’s The Consolations of Ambiguity: An essay on the novels of Anthony
Burgess, which appeared in 1971, the same year as the Dix pamphlet.
A.A. DeVitis’s Anthony Burgess (1972) was followed by studies by
Richard Mathews (1978), Geoffrey Aggeler (1979) and Samuel Coale
(1981). John J. Stinson wrote a revised text on Burgess for Twayne
in 1991 to update and replace the DeVitis text. In 1981 the academic
review Modern Fiction Studies dedicated its autumn issue to a consideration of Burgess’s work. This included essays by Stinson, Coale and
Aggeler. Geoffrey Aggeler’s edited volume of essays was issued in 1986
and Harold Bloom’s volume in 1987.
There is a significant overlap of critical perspectives within this body of
critical work, despite the variety of authors and the disparity in dates of
publication. Many of the essays in the Bloom volume, for example, had
either appeared in the Modern Fiction Studies edition, or had been written by one of Burgess’s major critics, or both. The single-author studies,
as is to be expected, cite each other as authorities. All cite Burgess himself, either directly through interviews, or by echoing themes introduced
by Burgess in reviews and non-fiction works such as This Man and Music
and Urgent Copy, and they all specifically repeat Burgess’s Manichean
critical framework.
It is clear that the high water mark of this early Burgess criticism in
the United States followed the period between 1969 and 1973 when
Burgess worked as a visiting professor at the University of North
Carolina, Columbia University and the City University of New York, as
well as engaging in lecture tours of North America. Most of these earliest
critics were active and admitted admirers of their subject, and Burgess’s
own opinions are present in these works largely unchallenged, often in
the form of personal interviews with, and letters to, the authors. The
scale of Burgess’s input to critical works about him is not a constant,
however. When Burgess met his critics, his involvement ranged from
8 J. Clarke
the brief pub meeting to clarify facts to the decades-long friendship he
enjoyed with Professor Ben Forkner, which ultimately led to the posthumous foundation of a research centre in Burgess’s honour.8
There are inevitable differences in critical approach in these works,
but the most striking aspect is how homogenous they can be. Crucially,
they all accept Burgess’s proferred (and preferred) critical framework of
Manicheism. Robert K. Morris’s slight but perceptive The Consolations
of Ambiguity presents itself as an analysis of how Burgess depicts the
human condition, “the immediate collision of private ideas and personal
visions against a collective that is not always sympathetic, but potentially (when not actually) hostile” (3). Like many of the critics who later
showed an interest in Burgess, Morris openly acknowledges his “partiality for Burgess’s works and [his] increased susceptibility to his vision”;
that he is, in fact, “writing about an author he admires” (6). Overt admiration for Burgess as man and as author permeates all the book-length
criticism on Anthony Burgess that emanated from the United States in
the 1970s and 1980s. Negative critical opinion about Burgess’s work was
to be found elsewhere, in the realm of book reviews and literary articles
in newspapers and popular magazines.
A.A. DeVitis’s text divides itself into chronological periods, within
which he makes a case for thematic continuity. Hence, texts as diverse
as A Vision of Battlements and Devil of a State are considered alongside The Malayan Trilogy, on the basis that they share the milieu of
an Englishman abroad. Richard Mathews’s monograph also follows
Burgess’s fictions in chronological order. He posits a “metaphor of the
clockwork universe” as “a useful touchstone for considering the ten novels” (3) that make up the focus of his text. However, Mathews’s remit
does not extend past this set of novels that were completed by the early
1960s, fifteen years before the emergence of his own critical work.
Geoffrey Aggeler, Samuel Coale and John J. Stinson are the most
prolific of this first wave of Burgess’s critics, and all three published fulllength critical works based in part on published essays and articles about
Burgess’s work. Aggeler’s text pursues and enlarges issues raised by
DeVitis, and offers much useful analysis of some core issues in Burgess
8 “Finally, my thanks to Anthony Burgess for clearing up some biographical questions in
the Ratskeller of the Nittany Lion Inn and talking with his usual fine candour” (Boytinck,
studies, such as the debate between the Pelagian and Augustinian
impulses and Burgess’s treatment of artist-protagonists. Coale follows
the, by now well-trodden, path of a chronological division of the oeuvre
defined by theme. However, his treatment of Burgess’s use of language
and mythology is a valuable resource, as is the substantial volume of
interview material he includes.
Stinson’s text, which was published by Twayne in 1991 to supplant the decades-old work in the same critical series by A.A. DeVitis,
possesses two factors that raise its critical worth higher than the other
texts mentioned. Stinson is the only one of Burgess’s early critics to
have drawn particular attention to factors such as his use of history as an
“imagined past” and the Promethean lineage of Burgess’s artist-creators,
analyses that have undoubtedly influenced later Burgess scholars.
Hence we can speak of an early tradition of Burgess criticism, a series
of American texts that marry a high standard of exegesis to philosophical and structural insights largely provided by the subject himself. One
need not doubt the validity of these critical works simply because they
often come to similar conclusions, nor because they tend to take similar
critical approaches to the same novel. Anthony Burgess was fortunate in
attracting a high calibre of critics to his work. One of the challenges that
faced a new generation of Burgess critics involved what relationship they
intended to forge with this existing body of critical work.
The need to question the standpoints of Burgess’s American critics
derives from the fact that they wrote before Burgess’s death. After his
death in 1993, with his life’s work complete, a fuller and more accurate
assessment could be made as to Burgess’s importance as a fiction writer
by a new generation of critics. Later works, such as Mozart and the Wolf
Gang (1991), A Dead Man in Deptford (1993) and Byrne (1995) consciously draw on and repurpose elements of Burgess’s earlier fiction, casting those previous texts in a new light.
Since Burgess’s death a second wave of scholarship, largely based in
Britain and Europe, has emerged. The creation of the Anthony Burgess
Centre at the Université d’Angers in 1998 quickly led to a series of
critical newsletters and symposia papers which challenged the previous,
mostly American, critical approach to Burgess’s output. The emergence,
after lengthy periods of research, of two biographies that in very different
ways cast light on Burgess’s own life provided further scope to reconsider and re-evaluate many of the long-unquestioned critical assumptions
about Burgess’s achievement, artistic vision and legacy. Fundamentally,
10 J. Clarke
the evidence that Burgess fabulated much of his personal history in interviews and his non-fiction writings has led many critics, including his
biographer Roger Lewis, his long-standing editor Deborah Rogers and
the author Craig Brown, to conclude that Burgess continually conflated
fact and fantasy.9, 10
However, neither biography challenges the theoretical framework set
up by Burgess and perpetuated by his American critics in the same way
that they challenge the facts of Burgess’s life as he depicted them. This
is perhaps not the purpose of a biography in any case. Lewis’s work is an
idiosyncratic text that focuses on his personal relationship with Burgess,
while it does contain elements of literary criticism these are piecemeal
and subordinated to an overt tone of hostility expressed by author
towards subject. The biography by Andrew Biswell is a significantly more
sober text which focuses primarily on the life rather than the works.
Biswell describes Burgess’s Manichean dichotomy as “his obsession
and his hallmark in his later novels”, while acknowledging that it was
“implicit” from A Vision of Battlements onwards. For Biswell, Burgess’s
opposition of Augustinianism and Pelagianism is “the engine which
drives Burgess’s mature imagination; it gave him a set of home-made
theological spectacles with which to view history and politics” (106).
Following the foundation of the two research centres in Angers and
Manchester, a steady stream of conferences has helped to inspire the
flow of Burgessian research. Conferences at Angers have generated collections of essays themed around A Clockwork Orange, Burgess’s autobiographies, his Elizabethan novels and his relationship with France. The
Anthony Burgess Centre at Angers also published seven editions of an
online newsletter between 1999 and 2004, they featured some academic
literary criticism among reminiscences, reviews and general Burgessiana.
Beyond Angers, there have been volumes of essays on the interrelations
of Burgess’s literature and his music edited by Marc Jeannin, and two
9 “With his sexuality, I think, as with everything else, the distinction between life and
fantasy was completely blurred […] I think an awful lot of him was self-invented. If you
have that sort of fertile mind, maybe self-invention is the most satisfactory way of being.”
Deborah Rogers in Real Life, 306.
10 “Burgess—histrionic, loquacious, with deep voice and furrowed brow, often putting
the emphasis on unexpected words—behaved just like a slightly hammy actor playing the
part of Anthony Burgess.” from “Don’t Laugh: Comedians and Novelists”, in The Tony
Years, Craig Brown, London, Ebury Press, 2006, p. 176.
book-length studies of Burgess’s music by the musicologists Paul Phillips
and Alan Shockley.11 The International Anthony Burgess Foundation at
Manchester has fulfilled more of an archival role, but has hosted a number of conferences since June 2012, mostly on A Clockwork Orange. The
foundation’s first director Alan Roughley edited a volume of essays on
Burgess and modernity in 2008, which considered the fraught question
of locating Burgess within either modernism or postmodernism.
The most recent generation of Burgess critics have had the benefit
of considering his work in its entirety and of accessing archival material
that was not available to previous Burgess scholars. However, to date,
there has been no significant analysis that has questioned Burgess’s
proferred critical framework, which he termed Manicheism, composed of Augustinianism and Pelagianism. These terms sprang naturally
to Burgess from his Catholic education and the reading that he had
amassed, but they require significant glossing to be rendered illuminating
to the reader who lacks such a body of knowledge. Burgess’s (mis)appropriation of terms such as Manicheism, Pelagianism or Augustinianism has
been accepted by his critics without sufficient attention being paid to the
problems raised by translating archaic theological concepts into a modern literary and aesthetic context.
Challenging ‘Manicheism’
The primary reason for questioning Burgess’s theological framework is because its definition is not consistent throughout his work.
Furthermore, Burgess’s use of the term Manicheism is problematic
because it deviates so violently from the historical religious belief the
term signifies. Even interpreted as a literary critical term, Burgess’s usage
is at best idiosyncratic. While his understanding of the opposition of the
theologies of Augustine and Pelagius is largely sound, and though this
opposition has played an overt thematic role in a number of his fictions,
these theological constructs are inappropriate to describe his aesthetics.
Burgess’s aesthetics have attracted less critical comment than might have
been expected, perhaps due to the broad sweep of his fiction, which precludes easy summation, and because his themes, in particular his explorations of the nature of evil and the role of free will, have tended to
11 Paul Phillips, A Clockwork Counterpoint: The Music and Literature of Anthony
Burgess, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010.
12 J. Clarke
dominate critical analyses of his work. Burgess’s aesthetics, however, are
also thematic. Themes of artistic creation play a central role in his novels, which feature a predominance of artist protagonists. From the first
novel he wrote in 1949, A Vision of Battlements, to his posthumous verse
novel Byrne in 1995, musicians, painters and especially writers proliferate
as protagonists.
In addition to historically verifiable artist protagonists, such as
Shakespeare, Marlowe or Keats, Burgess’s novels abound in fictional artists. The poet F.X. Enderby alone appears in four of Burgess’s most popular novels, and the writer Kenneth Toomey is the subject and narrator
of Burgess’s most substantial work, Earthly Powers. Other novels that do
not feature an artist protagonist are often mediated via an artist narrator. Azor and his son Sadoc, self-confessed fiction writers, present themselves as the putative authors of Burgess’s two novels based on the New
Testament, Man of Nazareth and Kingdom of the Wicked. In novels without an artist-protagonist or artist-narrator, the creative urge is still often
present, sometimes as a thwarted impulse (such as Victor Crabbe’s juvenile poetry or Fenella Crabbe’s failed attempts to write in The Malayan
Trilogy) or as the focus of rationality (such as the writer F. Alexander in
A Clockwork Orange).
Notably, some of Burgess’s artists appear divinely or supernaturally
inspired, while others do not. This is most evident in the overt depiction
of a Muse, which occurs in various forms across Burgess’s fiction from
as early as The Eve of Saint Venus. This distinction suggests a dual aesthetic at work in Burgess—two forms of artistic expression, one requiring
divine inspiration and the other not—which in turn is consistent with the
dualistic world view with which Burgess affiliated.
Art, especially music but also writing, fulfils a redemptive role in many
of Burgess’s fictions, or comes associated with redemptive moments or
motives, but again this takes multiple forms. It is best illustrated in A
Clockwork Orange, wherein writing is associated with the civilised and
humane qualities of the author F. Alexander, while music is the catalyst
for moments of rare transcendence beyond the mire of quotidian bestiality for the narrator delinquent Alex. Such a distinction again relates
quite closely to the dualistic world view offered by Burgess, in which a
Pelagian doctrine of human perfectibility is opposed by an Augustinian
doctrine of human damnation requiring external (specifically divine or
supernatural) agency to be redeemed.
The extent to which Burgess mined his own life for material cannot be underestimated either. The autobiographical elements in his
writings extend far beyond the two volumes of “confessions” that
emerged towards the end of his career. The experiences of protagonists in The Right to an Answer, Beard’s Roman Women, Honey for the
Bears, The Clockwork Testament and The Doctor is Sick all closely mirror
episodes from the author’s own colourful existence. Other novels, such
as The Malayan Trilogy, Devil of a State, The Worm and the Ring, The
Pianoplayers, Any Old Iron and One Hand Clapping, evoke environments that Burgess once inhabited and real people with whom he had
Burgess’s authorial voice is also identifiable in other fictions, including 1985 and Mozart and the Wolf Gang, in an editorial or curatorial
role, and it is notable that in both fictions this voice is bifurcated into
a duologue, again expressing a fundamental binarism at work. Within
the context of confabulation identified by Burgess’s biographers and
associates, there appears to be a spectrum of reality functioning across
Burgess’s fiction, from those in which little or no autobiographical material is present, via those in which Burgessian avatars appear in ancillary or
narratorial roles, to instances of simple fictionalising of real life events,
through to the ultimate fictionalising of his own autobiography, in print
and in person.
The interaction between these three elements—Burgess’s vision of
fundamental duality, his focus on the process of artistic creation and the
function of being an artist, and his reliance on autobiographical material—is the subject of this book. In attempting a coherent synthesis of
these elements, an aesthetic analogue of Burgess’s theological duality is
needed to account for the focus on artistic creation within his work. The
aesthetic and cultural dichotomy of Apollo and Dionysus, which was first
defined by Friedrich Nietzsche in his first book, The Birth of Tragedy,
offers one such dualistic analogue in the field of aesthetic philosophy.
However, Nietzsche restricted his argument to the somewhat unrelated
fields of Attican drama and the music of Richard Wagner. Therefore, a
strict Nietzschean reading of this dichotomy cannot be applied to the
work of Anthony Burgess.
Since the publication of The Birth of Tragedy, however, other cultural
critics have borrowed and adapted the Nietzschean framework to their
own ends, expanding it to encompass a much wider field of artistic and
14 J. Clarke
cultural subjects in fields as varied as psychoanalysis and political commentary. There has been an extensive expansion of Nietzsche’s core idea
within the German philosophical tradition, where the dialectic of Apollo
and Dionysus has been the subject of significant studies by Heidegger,
Habermas and Sloterdijk.12, 13, 14 Heidegger’s work forms only a small
part of a panoramic analysis of Nietzsche’s entire philosophy, whereas
Habermas’s examination of the dialectic forms part of an attempt to
relocate Nietzsche’s work within debates surrounding postmodernism.
Sloterdijk, who garnered a reputation as a somewhat controversial commentator on Nietzsche, dedicated an entire monograph to The Birth of
Tragedy, in which he sought to recast Nietzsche’s text as a performative
event, wherein Nietzsche sought to depict life as an aesthetic condition.
While all these interpretations indicate the potential of expanding the
remit of Nietzsche’s dialectic, they share a tendency to view the dialectic
within primarily cultural arenas rather than the limiting topos of applied
Nietzsche’s dialectic has also been influential within the French philosophical tradition, with poststructuralists such as Michel Foucault, Gilles
Deleuze and Jacques Derrida all offering critiques or commentaries on
Apollo and Dionysus.15, 16 Again, these are primarily commentaries
upon Nietzsche’s own work which seek to apply those critiques to more
expansive ends. Foucault’s attempt in Folie et Déraison to depict insanity
without circumscribing it within a rationalised critique co-opts this dialectic in its attempt to elide those boundaries. Derrida in turn critiqued
Foucault’s interpretation of Nietzsche more than Nietzsche’s work itself.
Deleuze offered a different approach, depicting The Birth of Tragedy
as the commencement of a lineage within Nietzsche’s thinking that progressed from the dialectic of Apollo and Dionysus to a complementary relationship between the mythic figures of Dionysus and Ariadne, alongside
an opposition of Dionysus to Christianity (“the Crucified”). While significantly influential within various philosophical fields, this French tradition, as
12 In his four volume study of Nietzsche, especially volume 1, The Will to Power as Art
(1979, originally written in German, 1936–1940 and published 1961).
13 In The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (1987, orig. pub. in German as Der
Philosophische Diskurs der Moderne: Zwülfe Vorlesungen, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1985).
14 In Thinker on Stage: Nietzsche’s Materialism (1989).
15 In Folie et Déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (1961).
16 In Nietzsche and Philosophy (1986, orig. pub. as Nietzsche et la philosophie, 1962).
with its German counterpart, does not seek to expand Nietzsche’s dialectic
outward from its core topic to a wider application to art.
In America, the dialectic of Apollo and Dionysus has attracted the
attention of cultural commentators such as Ayn Rand and Camille Paglia.
Rand applied the dialectic imaginatively to the cultural schisms opening
up in the late 1960s in the United States.17 The most significant adaptation of Nietzsche’s Apollo–Dionysus dichotomy within the field of applied
aesthetics is Camille Paglia’s study of Western culture since prehistory,
Sexual Personae (1990). Paglia grafts a proto-feminism onto the concept
of Dionysus, which she argues is really a masculinised version of goddess
worship adapted into the patriarchal era of history. By contrast, Paglia’s
interpretation of Apollo is firmly masculine, thus creating a gender dichotomy that lies above the original Nietzschean aesthetic opposition.
However, her genderised adaptation of Nietzsche’s terminology widens the remit of art which can be considered in light of this dualism.
Paglia’s text encompasses works of art (primarily literary) from, as the
subtitle of her study indicates, the bust of Nefertiti to the poems of Emily
Dickinson, and her reformulation of the opposition also permits application to later works. Paglia’s position is that the persona of Dionysus is
itself an Apollonian subversion of the original archetypal feminine within
the male hegemony of the ancient Greek world. To some degree she is
supported in this interpretation by Helene Deutsch’s pioneering reapplication of the dialectic into the realm of psychoanalysis in which she states
that Dionysus “appears as a great social revolutionary – the first feminist
in the history of mankind – in order to help enslaved women” (27).
Paglia’s assertion of the fundamental femininity underpinning the
Dionysus archetype is also legitimised by the existence of the Bacchic
rites, which were restricted in the ancient world to women only, and
supported by seminal analysts of Graeco-Roman culture and mythology
such as Walter Otto, whose own study of the Dionysus myth assumed an
underlying feminine principle at work:
This feminine world (of Dionysus) is confronted by the radically different
masculine world of Apollo. In this world not the life mystery of blood and
the powers of earth but the clarity and the breath of the mind hold sway.
However, the Apollonic world cannot exist without the other. This is why
it has never denied it recognition. (142)
17 “Apollo and Dionysus” (1969), in The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution
16 J. Clarke
Burgess was familiar with Sexual Personae, and reviewed it favourably on
publication in 1990. He was also familiar with the work of Nietzsche,
though he showed little interest in it.18 The remnants of his libraries now
archived in Manchester include a volume of Ronald Hayman’s Nietzsche:
A Critical Life, two volumes of Thus Spoke Zarathustra in French and
German, and an Italian edition of Dawn, which may have belonged
to his Italian wife Liana. An additional collection of Burgess’s books
archived in Angers contains an Italian translation of Nietzsche’s Untimely
Meditations. Again, this may belong to Liana, though Burgess did speak
and read Italian and once wrote about enjoying Orwell translated into
that language. He was specifically aware of Nietzsche’s dialectic from The
Birth of Tragedy, yet made only one overt reference to it in his entire
body of work, a sideline comment in a 1982 travelogue on Stockholm.19
There is therefore little or no evidence that Burgess wrote under the
direct influence of either Nietzsche or Paglia. Clearly, Paglia’s work was
published only towards the very end of Burgess’s life, while Nietzsche’s
influence over Burgess’s work is at best indirect, via the influence he bore
on the high Modernists which Burgess held in such esteem. Instead, I
suggest that Nietzsche’s dichotomy of Apollo and Dionysus, as adapted
by Paglia, offers a useful aesthetic analogue for the theological dichotomy Burgess had promoted.
The introduction of this duality into the realm of Burgess’s aesthetics
illuminates one particular trope of his depiction of the artistic process.
Nietzsche and Paglia both describe two opposed forms of artistic sentiment and expression. Burgess, curiously, does likewise, populating his fictions with rivals to his artist protagonists. He opposes Shakespeare with
Robert Greene, Marlowe with Thomas Kyd and Keats with the Roman
dialect poet Giuseppe Belli. His fictional poet Enderby is opposed by the
poetaster Rawcliffe, while Kenneth Toomey in Earthly Powers has as a
lifelong rival his one-time lover Val Wrigley. Ronald Beard is challenged
18 In an interview with Samuel Coale he once perceptively described Bergson and
Nietzsche as the antecedents of George Bernard Shaw in an aside. See Conversations, 126.
The only mention of Nietzsche in Burgess’s fiction appears in his final work, the posthumous Byrne, where Nietzsche is one of the luminaries in the EU’s Strasbourg-based House
of Euroculture, from which Shakespeare has been excluded. Visitors to the House are
greeted with a recording which states “‘Cogito ergo sum’ or ‘God is dead.’” (Byrne, 111).
19 “There are no raucous pubs as in London (which must count, for the Swedes, as a very
southern city, a positive Naples). On the other hand there is a highly sequestered drink
problem, the consequence of having the Dionysian element in all human nature suppressed
by the Apollonian state.” “Going North”, (One Man’s Chorus, 1998, p. 22).
by his wife’s former husband, P.R. Pathan in his eponymous novel. This
trope of rivalry or opposition among writers has an analogue in some
of Burgess’s more didactic experimental texts. The first (non-fiction)
section of his homage to Orwell, 1985, is interspersed with duologues
performed by unnamed entities that seem to express the opinions of
Burgess himself, and are not distinguished from sections written in direct
prose, which are apparently intended to be read as the authorial voice. In
Mozart and the Wolf Gang, when the technique is reprised, the debaters
are overtly named Anthony and Burgess.
This is one of many points where Burgess’s artistic duality elides with
two other elements: his use of creative or fictional biography as a genre;
and his reliance on autobiographical material as subject matter. In addition to Mozart, Burgess fictionalised the lives of Moses, Jesus Christ,
Sigmund Freud, Attila the Hun, Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe,
Napoleon and John Keats, and populated these and other novels with
hundreds more historical characters, only rarely pseudonymously.20
Burgess’s extensive usage of the lives of actual people as subject matter
has been addressed in part by at least one doctoral thesis.21 His rewriting
of history orbits around these famous lives, and is in its own way as radical an historical revision as the postmodernist anti-histories of Thomas
Pynchon or Don DeLillo. The cypher of the factual Shakespeare’s biography is fleshed out by Burgess through a vivid focus on his allegedly
colourful sex life. Burgess’s Freud is a man who can barely communicate,
while by contrast his Attila is a verbose intellectual. The blunt facts of
Napoleon’s battles are mediated through a hallucinogenic kaleidoscope
of narrative and typographical technique. This interaction reaches one
apotheosis in Earthly Powers, where a fictional protagonist, the novelist
Kenneth Toomey, proceeds through the twentieth century encountering
dozens of famous, historically verifiable personages, from James Joyce to
Heinrich Himmler, not unlike a Zelig or a Forrest Gump.
The central argument of Roger Lewis’s biography is that Burgess
only ever wrote about himself. All his heroes, even in his non-fictional
biographies and literary studies, are, according to Lewis, simply proxies
for Burgess, as if he sought to aggrandise himself by way of borrowed
20 A rare example of a pseudonymous character is the aspirant intellectual rock star Yod
Crewsy, a thinly veiled John Lennon, from Enderby Outside.
21 The Public Personage as Protagonist in the Novels of Anthony Burgess, Anthony Levings,
doctoral thesis, University of Kent at Canterbury, 2007.
18 J. Clarke
plumage.22 There is no doubt that Burgess drew heavily on his own
experiences in some of his novels, as I have already detailed. However,
Lewis debunks his own argument by astutely noting how Burgess inculcates himself into his narratives about real people as narrator or ancillary
Why, the epigraph to that novel [MF] quotes the First Folio stage direction of Much Ado About Nothing, which marks the entry of ‘Jacke Wilson’,
who played Balthazar and sang to the ladies to sigh no more. When Miles
Faber – M.F. – wakes from a nightmare, his watch has stopped at 19.17,
the year of the birth of John Wilson. The End of the World News presupposed that Burgess had died; the text was purportedly edited by John B.
Wilson, B.A. (Manc.). And in Abba Abba, Keats and his acquaintance, the
Italian poet Guiseppe Giacchino Belli, unravel a family tree that connects
Romantic Italy with the Wilsons in Manchester. (46–47)
To this list can be added the ‘Mr. Burgess’ who narrates Nothing Like
The Sun, and the ‘Jacke Wilson’ who narrates A Dead Man in Deptford,
and a number of others. Additionally, Burgess does populate many of
his fictions, often in thin disguise, as the protagonist. Edwin Spindrift,
Paul Hussey, Ronald Beard and Enderby all live through reworked versions of events from Burgess’s own life. However, in those novels
where Burgess’s protagonists are actual people of historical veracity, the
Burgessian avatar is commonly relegated to an ancillary role. Such insertions of the author into their own texts have become a noted hallmark of
postmodernist fiction, and this series of proxy Burgesses populating his
fictions in bit-part roles or narrating them from a distance looks forward
to the more overt forms of authorial insertion practised by later writers,
such as Paul Theroux and Martin Amis, who were demonstrably influenced by Burgess. This postmodern complication of the traditional perception of Burgess as a late modernist has been acknowledged by Aude
Haffen, one of a number of critics to locate Burgess in a liminal space
between modernism and postmodernism:
Mediated through a gang of semi-fictitious personae, Burgess’s imaginary
life-writing both purges and revives a cultural canon mummified into a
22 “As with many of Burgess’s biographical opuscules (Hemingway, Keats, Orwell,
Shakespeare, and Joyce of course), the actual subject is Burgess himself, and the mood can
be a bit swaggering and self-congratulatory, too.” (Lewis, 9).
quasi-mythical tradition. His humanistic urge to follow in the footsteps of
the great men of the past clashes with his obtrusive personal presence and
idiosyncratic thematic prism – romantic sympathy clashes with both the
postmodern hypersubjectivism and the modernist order-imposing, mythopoetic aesthetics.23
The Meaning of Burgessian Aesthetics
I use the terms artistic and aesthetic herein interchangeably. This convergence contradicts a school of thought, typified by critics like Peter Kivy,
which seeks to distinguish between a narrow conception of the aesthetic
and a wider understanding of that which is relevant to art. The reason
for jettisoning this distinction is because this book seeks to explore the
depiction of artistic creation rather than the perception of it. The term
aesthetic itself admittedly derives from the Greek αἰσθητικός, meaning
that which is sensitive to being perceived. It is a relatively modern notion
in English, having arrived as a calque from the Latinate coinage constructed initially by the German philosopher and aesthetician Alexander
Gottlieb Baumgarten in his seminal 1750 work Aesthetica.24 Baumgarten
used the notion of aesthetics to describe how art may be appreciated,
and introduced the desirability of beauty into philosophical aesthetics.
Later German thinkers, especially Kant, Schiller and Hegel, explored the
interrelationship between this notion of beauty and its correlation with
truth, whether considered subjectively or objectively. The idea or practice
of aesthetics predates its existence as a critical or philosophical term, and
can be traced back at least as far as Plato.
There is no space for a full consideration of the history of aesthetics
here, and such would not be pertinent in any case, since aesthetics, conceived as the philosophical consideration of art, has historically been an
examination of the perception and reception of art, rather than an examination of its generation. The latter has primarily been of interest within
psychological and psychoanalytical arenas rather than that of literary criticism. The relative paucity of literary works dealing with the subject of
artistic creation, and a concomitant lack of a critical tradition considering
23 “Anthony Burgess’s fictional biographies: romantic sympathy, tradition-oriented modernism, postmodern vampirism?”, Aude Haffen in Roughley, Modernity, 132.
24 As late as 1735, according to Peter Kivy: Once-Told Tales, Peter Kivy, Wiley-Blackwell,
Chichester, 2011, p. 12.
20 J. Clarke
such work, has informed the idea of addressing terms such as aesthetic
from outside existing critical traditions. However, it is important to note
two developments in aesthetics criticism that are pertinent. These are the
development of the idea of art as a separatist, autotelic construct, which
is valuable only on its own terms, and the subsequent reaction to that
development, which downgraded and relocated art within a wider understanding of culture.
The first of these can be considered one of the founding elements
of high modernism, and is generally considered to have emerged as a
response to morally didactic or utilitarian notions of the purpose of art in
the nineteenth century. Théophile Gautier’s “L’art pour l’art” sloganeering neatly summarises this move towards, not only experimental but
also elitist, formulations of artistic expression.25 This provoked an inevitable reaction not only from the religious, who considered the purpose
of art to be the glorification of God, and hence morally didactic, but also
from Marxist and post-Marxist thinkers who, as Sabrina Achilles notes,
“denigrated ‘aesthetics’ as idealist, bourgeois, escapist, defeatist, nihilistic
and ultimately fascist” (xii). Such reactions to the autotelic trope within
modernism remain current among Marxist thinkers, with critics like
Terry Eagleton casting it as an abandonment by art of its responsibility
to wield political and ethical influence within the public sphere.26 This
school of thought led in the twentieth century to what Andrew Milner
has referred to as the “sociological turn” away from literary studies and
towards what is now known as cultural studies. Milner characterised this
critical shift as one in which aesthetic discourse became “merely one
discourse of value amongst many others, for example sports or cuisine”
It would be overly simplistic to describe the sociological turn in
aesthetics as postmodernist. Antimodernist might be more accurate.
Nevertheless, in the ongoing debate about locating Anthony Burgess in
relation to the modernist/postmodernist divide, it is clear that Burgess
allied himself strongly to the more modernist autotelic position. His
notion of “Class 1” and “Class 2” fiction, which is explained in both
Ninety Nine Novels and This Man and Music, provides one of Burgess’s
many binary distinctions, this time located within the realm of literary
25 Théophile Gautier, Preface, Mademoiselle de Maupin, trans. Helen Constantine,
London: Penguin, 2005.
26 See the “True Illusions: Friedrich Nietzsche” chapter of The Ideology of the Aesthetic,
Terry Eagleton, Wiley-Blackwell, London, 1990.
aesthetics. According to Burgess literary fiction may be divided into two
classes depending on the use of language. “In Class 1 fiction,” he writes
(TMAM, 156), “language is a zero quantity, transparent, unseductive,
the harmonics of connotation and ambiguity thoroughly damped. The
structure has no meaning outside the actions of the plot which sustain
it, or which it sustains.” Such novels, he asserts, function “better as films
than as verbal constructs”. By contrast, “In Class 2 fiction … the opacity of language is exploited, structure may have a significance apart from
mere plot, and adaptation to a visual medium invariably conveys little of
the essence of the work. If Class 1 fiction is close to film, Class 2 fiction
is close to music.” This locates Burgess neatly within the modernist project, as explicated by Walter Pater, to direct all art towards the condition
of music, in which form becomes content. Peter Kivy has noted that “the
distinction between the aesthetic properties of artworks and their other
art-relevant properties is just the good-old distinction between form and
content, more precisely put” (48). However, it becomes less meaningful
to make this distinction between the strictly aesthetic and other art-relevant qualities in the high modernist context where they seek to approach
convergence. Given Burgess’s high modernist distinction between Class
1 and Class 2 fiction, and his clear loyalty to practising the latter, adhering to a strict distinction between the aesthetic and the art-relevant
becomes less crucial.
The second seismic shift in aesthetic criticism also justifies this usage.
Post-Marxist considerations of artworks as primarily cultural artefacts
functioning within a widened notion of a cultural sphere have generated
a series of new approaches to the act of literary criticism. It approaches
a truism to state, as Peter Kivy does, that “in addition to its narrative
content, a novel may also possess philosophical content, psychological
content, religious content, political content, and so on”, yet Kivy queries
whether such content can be legitimately considered “in our appreciation
of artworks qua artworks” (49). Kivy’s attempt to establish an aesthetics
that can function outside the cultural studies framework is admirable, but
in its own way is no less diminishing than the cultural studies approach,
which seeks to represent literature as simply another form of discourse,
valued in terms of its cultural connectivity in a similar manner to sports
or cuisine.
In Burgess’s works the modernist urge to merge form with content
renders non-narrative elements of his fiction subordinate to his aesthetic
purpose. Additionally, where his content features artists and the act of
22 J. Clarke
artistic creation, and especially where these elements become his fiction’s most significant content, the psychological, political and religious
content is subsequently rendered art-relevant, or aesthetic. The postBarthesian shift away from notions of authoriality is disrupted by fiction
which overtly insists upon artistic creation as its theme. Burgess’s fiction
demands a critical response that acknowledges Deleuze and Guattari’s
notion that “[t]here is no difference between what a book talks about
and how it is made (4)”. In other words, it requires an understanding
of the aesthetic that examines both artistic creation and reader response.
Hence my conflation of the artistic and the aesthetic in examining
Burgess’s fiction.
Double Vision: The Manicheism of Anthony
Burgess and Its Aesthetic Analogue
For ultimately, it is very doubtful whether any novel, however trivial, can possess any
vitality without an implied set of values derived from religion…Fiction can do little
more than suggest that the world is bigger than it looks and that it is in order to seek
a pattern in it. If it persuades us to meditate on life, it is fulfilling a sort of
religious purpose.
(“The Manicheans”, Anthony Burgess, The Times Literary Supplement
3340, 3 March 1966, p. 154)
Burgess’s Religious Background
In 1966, Anthony Burgess wrote a substantial article for the Times
Literary Supplement in which he laid out his conception of the relationship between fiction and the religious experience. The article, entitled
“The Manicheans”, expanded Burgess’s core understanding that “ultimately, it is doubtful whether any novel, however trivial, can possess any
vitality without an implied set of values derived from religion” (154).
Burgess’s religious framework of reference was Roman Catholicism, a
faith he was born into and educated within. So extensive was his knowledge of Roman Catholicism that the Italian newspaper Corriere della
Sera commissioned many articles from him commenting on Vatican
I take my title from an essay by Jean Kennard which places Burgess’s fiction in
the context of a response to existentialist philosophy.
© The Author(s) 2017
J. Clarke, The Aesthetics of Anthony Burgess,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-66411-8_2
24 J. Clarke
developments, and he regularly wrote on religious themes, primarily Roman Catholicism, for a wide range of publications. His formative
cultural framework inevitably influenced his fiction writing. Catholicism
provided Burgess with many of his protagonists and most of his major
themes. He acknowledged his theological inheritance and predisposition
in a 1971 interview with Thomas Churchill when he admitted “what I
write looks like Catholic writing” (Conversations, 12).
However, as Thomas Woodman notes: “Anthony Burgess is [a]
… problematic case since he is not a Christian believer, yet claims that
he has always written from a Catholic perspective.”1 By the time of
his undergraduate career at Manchester University, Burgess was a selfdescribed “renegade Catholic who mocked at Hell but was still secretly
scared of it” (Copy, 279). In adulthood he described Catholicism as a
“solar fertility creed”, but his adolescent apostasy from the mother
church was a drawn out and agonised affair, as it was for James Joyce
before him.2,3 The intellectual imperative to deny inherited doctrines was
complicated by his notions of familial and regional loyalty and identity.
Raised a ‘Cat-lick’ rather than a ‘Proddy Dog’, in the slang of his childhood, Burgess felt alienated from the Anglican cultural mainstream of
England from an early age.4
Burgess’s Catholic roots connected him to three interlinked traditions, all located outside the mainstream of English letters. His
Catholicism was a primarily a regional identity. Redolent of Ireland and
Lancashire recusants, Catholicism in Britain from the time of the Penal
Laws until the twentieth century was primarily practised by immigrant
or working-class communities located for the most part in the North of
England. Recognising the source of the sustained Catholic presence in
the region, Burgess acknowledged that he was “probably three-fourths
1 Faithful Fictions: The Catholic Novel in British Literature, Thomas Woodman, Open
University Press, Milton Keynes, 1991, p. xi.
2 “Thomas Robert Malthus 1766–1834”, Anthony Burgess, in The Horizon Book of
Makers of Modern Thought, intr. Bruce Mazlich, American Heritage Publishing, New York,
1972, p. 267.
3 Harold Bloom, contrasting Anthony Burgess’s relationship with James Joyce to that of
Samuel Beckett, noted that “Burgess has a more limited ambition, and enters into no agon
with Joyce, however loving. Toward Joyce, he is the thankful receiver or good son” (Bloom, 1).
4 See
LWBG, 29.
Irish and one-fourth something else, whatever that is” (Coale, 2).
Culturally, being a Catholic placed Burgess outside the history of mainstream English Literature from John Bale onwards, but, equally, connected him to the tradition of art and civilisation that flourished on the
European continent, especially in Mediterranean countries. His long
exile in Mediterranean Europe, including four years in Rome itself, may
be seen as a sort of homecoming. It is perhaps the tension between his
sense of exile and his ease in other cultures that differentiates Burgess’s
novels from those of the two other English Catholic writers with whom
he is most often compared, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh.5
Burgess’s cultural Catholicism was ruptured by his adolescent apostasy, however. This had inevitable painful consequences for his sense
of personal identity. To turn his back on the Roman Catholic faith was
effectively to refute his recusant cultural origins:
I have a portrait of an ancestor who lost his land to the Crown because he
was a Catholic; there is a tradition of an earlier ancestor who lost his life.
The family suffered, apparently, so that I could achieve apostasy; an ironical end to the fight for freedom of worship. I am far from happy about this
situation, but nobody can actively will loss of faith.6
The pain caused by leaving the Church stayed with Burgess throughout
his life, and he remained obsessed by its behaviour and beliefs. His later
engagement with Roman Catholicism, especially following the Second
Vatican Council, often closely resembled the criticism offered from conservative quarters within the Church. He even considered a return to
Catholicism, despite lacking the “spark of faith”. However, the Church
of his youth was no more, and he found the reforms of Vatican II impossible to tolerate on an aesthetic level. The turning of the altar was “like
a butcher’s shop”, priests were wearing “flamboyant neckties”, and the
ecclesiastical music of Handel and Purcell had been replaced by excerpts
from Godspell (MFS, 439). These “vulgarities”, which he attributed to
5 “It’s all right if you’re a Catholic convert like Graham Greene or Evelyn Waugh,” he
once explained. “You can have the best of both worlds, but if you’re a cradle Catholic with
Irish blood, then you’re automatically a renegade to the outside.” (MFS, 436).
6 “On Being a Lapsed Catholic”, Anthony Burgess, in Triumph, vol. 2, no. 2, February
1967, p. 31.
26 J. Clarke
the influence of John XXIII, inhibited any possibility of Burgess returning to Catholicism:
I tried to get back in [to the Catholic Church] … and just at that moment
the Pope came up with a new absurdity and I had to turn my back again.7
His Old Testament conception of God the Father, distant and vengeful, inspired the title for his first volume of autobiography, Little Wilson
and Big God. If God was envisaged as a “vindictive invisibility”, Burgess
was later to rationalise, perhaps He took no direct interest in the lives
of his creatures on Earth.8 Equally, He might be the wrong God. This
idea became increasingly prevalent in Burgess’s fiction after the Second
Vatican Council, which proposed a God of love inconsistent with the
dark and mysterious deity familiar from his childhood. Burgess summarised his theological trajectory in the following terms:
I was brought up a Catholic, became an Agnostic, flirted with Islam and
now hold a position which may be termed Manichee—I believe the wrong
God is temporarily ruling the world and that the true God has gone under.
(DeVitis, 15)
Burgess’s childhood intuition of an evil God was centred on a fear of
hell, a Dantesque vision of flames and torture into which the damned
were to be cast without hope of salvation. The third chapter of James
Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which Burgess evoked
in his “Silence, Exile and Cunning” essay for The Listener, accurately
depicts the nature of how the doctrine was presented to Catholic secondary school children in Britain and Ireland at the end of the nineteenth
century and start of the twentieth, and reading this chapter inspired
Burgess to return briefly to the Church during his adolescence:
The effect of the book was to put me in the position of Stephen Dedalus
himself, who’s horrified by the sermon on hell. I was so horrified that I
was scared back into the Church. I swore I’d never read Joyce again, which
was really very ironical. (MFS, 437)
7 “Anthony Burgess: Pushing On”, interview with Walter Clemons, New York Times Book
Review, 29 November 1970, p. 2.
8 The God I Want, ed. James Alexander Hugh Mitchell, Constable, London, 1967, p. 57.
Burgess’s later career as a writer is heavily indebted to the influence of
Joyce. He became the author of two critical book-length works on Joyce
and once edited Finnegans Wake.9’10 His first experience of affinity with
Joyce, however, was in the arena of faith rather than art. Towards the
end of his life, Burgess’s definition of his childhood faith remained coloured by this Joycean vision of hell:
It’s not about glory and about eternal rest, it is about going to hell and
burning in eternal fires. I think with later generations this no longer
applies. But with my generation certainly it did, and with James Joyce’s
generation before.11
Burgess remained intrigued by any creed that emulated the austere
Augustinian beliefs of his childhood. He briefly flirted with converting
to Islam during his time as a colonial officer in Malaya, as it evoked for
him the “puritanical element” which he felt existed in the “Anglo-Irish
brand” of Catholicism of his youth (MFS, 436). Burgess was never interested in converting to any form of Protestantism, which he airily dismissed, following Joyce, as an illogical absurdity. Similarly, despite living
in the East and exposing himself to all manner of Oriental beliefs, he felt
unmoved by other major religions:
I’ve never had any feeling for Buddhism at all. Never had any feeling for
Hinduism. I cannot go along with the Californian Vedantists. I cannot go
along with Hinduism at all, nor with Buddhism. But I can go along with
Islam, because it’s pretty close to us. (MFS, 438)
The version of Islam that Burgess encountered in Malaya, which he
considered “gentle and permissive” (LWBG, 407), was destined to be
the object of a flirtation only. It married the attractiveness of a familiar
austerity to a laxness in practice caused by its forced interaction with
9 Burgess, Anthony, Here Comes Everybody: An Introduction to James Joyce for the
Ordinary Reader, London: Faber and Faber, 1965.
10 Burgess, Anthony, Joysprick: An Introduction to the Language of James Joyce (London:
1973; repr. New York: Harvest and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975.
11 Writers Revealed, ed. Rosemary Hartill, BBC (London: Peter Bedrick Books, 1989)
p. 16.
28 J. Clarke
other religions in the melting-pot of Malaya.12 Though “charming”
when placed alongside “Shintoism and Buddhism and Christianity and
atheism and what you will”, the “monolithic” aspect of Islam became
“repulsive” to Burgess (MFS, 439). Initially attractive, primarily because
Burgess hoped that “if I worshipped Allah the God of the Catholics
would leave me alone” (LWBG, 408), the reality of converting to Islam
raised issues that both Burgess and his character Hardman found unacceptable. Although Islam features prominently in The Malayan Trilogy,
Devil of a State and 1985, and forms part of the cultural background in
Napoleon Symphony and Earthly Powers, his rejection of Islam was based
primarily on a criticism of what he perceived as hypocrisy among Islamic
authorities, which is depicted in both The Enemy in the Blanket and 1985.
However, by the time of the Iranian fatwah against Salman Rushdie
in 1989, his opinion had hardened further to the point where he condemned what he called “Islam’s gangster tactics” in The Independent
newspaper.13 Later again, in Byrne, Burgess depicts Islam as a faceless
terror campaign. A fuller consideration of Burgess’s interaction and ultimate rejection of Islam can be found in Ralph Harrington’s essay, “‘The
Old Enemy’: Anthony Burgess and Islam”.14
Despite his theological predisposition, Burgess was insistent that religious fiction was an undesirable diminution of the purpose of fiction. In
“The Manicheans”, Burgess questions whether “the novel is an unredeemably profane form, and that saints can’t belong there”, but concludes that they “can, so long as they are willing to be sinners first” (154).
This goes some way to explaining the particularly rational depiction of
Christ in Burgess’s two novels, Man of Nazareth and The Kingdom of the
12 The character of Rupert Hardman in The Enemy in the Blanket may be Burgess’s depiction of this brief infatuation with Islam. Hardman converts to Islam in order to marry a
rich widow who will pay his debts. He enters the religion, though not the marriage, as
a token gesture, but soon finds that his new wife, ‘Che Normah, intends to make him
hold fast to the rules of Mohammed. His fascination with the exoticism of his new faith
soon gives way to the reality of the austerity of pious Muslim behaviour. He is forbidden
to drink, eat pork or associate with his former friend, a Catholic priest. When Hardman
accompanies his newly pregnant wife on a pilgrimage to Mecca, the full impact of his conversion sinks in, and he escapes from both the marriage and the religion.’
13 “Islam’s
Gangster Tactics”, Anthony Burgess, The Independent, 16 February 1989, p. 27.
Old Enemy’: Anthony Burgess and Islam”, Ralph Harrington, 2008. http:// Accessed 10 September 2012.
14 “‘The
Wicked. Burgess worked on two television mini-series about the origins of
Christianity for Franco Zeffirelli (Jesus of Nazareth and A.D.) and adapted
his research material for fictional purposes. Unlike the television projects,
Burgess had no religious advisers to keep him on the path of orthodoxy
while creating his novels, and hence they differ quite radically, despite
being written by the same author from the same research.
The dual role of the Christ figure, as both god and man, provided
Burgess with a binary paradigm, yet the opposition of perfect divinity
and fallen man within the same entity has presented many artists with
difficulty. How may one depict both adequately and simultaneously?
Burgess’s depiction of Christ evades this conundrum by presenting a
very human Christ, mediated through the narration of a sceptical fictional author who shares Burgess’s own conception of a duoversal reality.
Azor, the Greek narrator of Man of Nazareth, expresses his understanding of reality in terms reminiscent of Heraclitus or Anaximander:
[T]he world is a two-fold creation; indeed I have never yet met any man
who would deny it. The stability of living things, and even of man-made,
seems to depend on the conflicting of opposites … In the universe of the
spirit, at least as it appears to us in the Mediterranean lands, the twofold
nature is held to be seen in the unresolved conflict between good and evil,
though these are no more easily to be defined as to their true respective
essences than are right and left, or light and darkness, since the one can
only be understood in terms of the other. (6)
Burgess’s Jesus is primarily human rather than divine, as the novel’s title
suggests. The narrative depicts a Christ who argues, drinks and even
marries. Meditations on the nature of divinity, such as those that can be
found in Graham Greene’s fiction and which one might expect to find
in a novel about the life of Christ, are strikingly absent. The presence of
the divine is restricted to a brief intervention by an invisible quiddity, the
disembodied voice present at Christ’s baptism, praising the Son in whom
He is well pleased.
By creating a human rather than a divine Jesus, Burgess finds himself
in keeping with the trend of Christological depiction in late twentiethcentury literature. Jim Crace’s 1997 novel Quarantine attempts to understand Christ’s forty-day fast in the desert from an atheist’s perspective.
His Jesus is little more than a “man in the mood to divine grand meanings in the simplest acts” (128). Yet Crace is a lifelong atheist, exploring
the origins of Christ’s mission in a world without God. Norman Mailer,
30 J. Clarke
a novelist who, like Burgess, expressed interest in the Manichean paradigm, attempted to fictionalise the life of Christ in his thirtieth novel, The
Gospel According to the Son. His book also depicts a predominantly human
Christ, and largely follows the narrative of the synoptic gospels. The most
noteworthy aspect of this novel is its use of anachronism—Judas is presented as a proto-socialist and Capernaum as the homosexual hang-out
of the ancient Middle East. Nikos Karantzakis’s The Last Temptation of
Christ (1953; first English translation 1960) similarly focuses on the mystery of Christ the man and, like Crace’s novel, functions as an answer
to a “What-if?” question. Karantzakis is the only one of these writers to
address the issue of Christ’s divinity, when he tempts his Christ with life
as a normal man. The ultimate rejection of this destiny is presented as the
real reason for Christ’s acceptance of the passion. The passion is necessary
because it affirms his divinity.
Burgess’s televisual Christ veers closer to orthodoxy than his fictional
counterpart in Man of Nazareth. The latter marries, has sex, drinks and
rages, while the former follows closely the path set out in the gospels.
For the television series, Burgess was forced to create a syncretic Christ
acceptable to the widest possible television audience. “There are the theologians, professional and amateur, to satisfy,” Burgess explained. “There
is the need to reconcile a myriad sectarian images of Christ (including, in
this post-Johannine age, the Jews if not the Arabs)… Theological advisers were ten a penny, all seeking commemoration in the credits. I said I
would trade them all for an adviser in carpentry.” (Homage, 37)
This familiarity with the basic realities of life in Christ’s time is the
most memorable aspect of Man of Nazareth. Though Burgess promised Christ the man to the press conference which launched the Jesus of
Nazareth project, he was careful not to stray too far from the Western
canonical image of Christ as miracle worker and Son of God. In the
“preliminary novel” that Burgess created by way of preparing to write
the script however, Burgess indulged himself in depicting the version of
Christ that he, rather than the army of theological advisers, wished to see
on the screen. Burgess knew that his paymasters
would not have been pleased by my presenting Christ as a married man.
That he was married, though briefly, entering on his mission a somewhat
embittered widower, seemed to me very likely: a state of bachelorhood
lasting into the late twenties would have been unusual in a tight Jewish
community. If there was a marriage feast at Cana, it may well have been
Jesus’s own. (YHYT, 306)
The wedding at Cana illustrates the difference between Burgess’s own
fictional depiction of Christ and the Christ he created for television. In
Man of Nazareth the wedding is indeed Christ’s own marriage. In Jesus
of Nazareth, the episode does not even appear. It is Man of Nazareth
that is truly “a highly realistic evocation of the Roman Palestine that
produced [Christ], with sweat, dirt, humanity, Jesus the Man” (YHYT,
303), not the television series that followed. The sense of Christ’s divinity present in Lew Grade’s production is noticeably lacking in Burgess’s
solo effort. If, in Man of Nazareth, Burgess successfully represented
“what I had wanted on the screen”, then his own conception of Christ
posits the same distant and abstract (or absent) deity that permeates
his other work. One might almost interpret such a human Christ as
Pelagian, offering us exemplum rather than salvation through grace. “Of
the revolutionary nature of his programme and its feasibility, given hard
work and self-denial, I became more convinced than ever I had been
when I was a good son of the Church,” revealed Burgess in a later article
(Homage, 38).
As with Alex in A Clockwork Orange, the Jesus of Man of Nazareth is
pitted against the power of the state. The dualism in this novel is not that
between divine and human, but between individual and state. Burgess’s
Pelagian, human, revolutionary messiah is contrasted with the oppressive authoritarian bodies of the political Roman and ecclesiastical Jewish
states. This renders the text curiously unreligious in theme for a novel
about Christ, less so even than Crace’s atheistic but meditative narrative in Quarantine. Burgess’s fiction does not engage with religious revelation, though he does equate art with religious transcendence and the
practices of both ascetism and narcotic euphoria as a potential route to
perceiving what he terms “the Ultimate Reality”. He states:
I suppose the very concept of a “religious novel” could exist only in an era
of unbelief… when we call a writer a religious novelist we are implying a
falsification, a looking at life from an unnaturally narrow angle (deliberately and perhaps coldly chosen), or a perverse pleasure in brooding on
points of doctrine.15
15 “The Manicheans”, Anthony Burgess, The Times Literary Supplement 3340, 3 March
1966, p. 154.
32 J. Clarke
Although Burgess was immersed in cultural Catholicism from an early
age, and remained well informed about the church’s doctrines, activities, politics and theology for the rest of his life, he was estranged
from it intellectually. If there is a distinction between him and writers
like Greene or Waugh, it is not due to their conversions so much as it
is due to him having left the Church while they had moved towards it.
Burgess’s unorthodox Weltanschauung is undoubtedly theological in
origin, and has its roots in early Christianity, but it is not recognisably
Roman Catholicism.
Burgess’s Theological World View
Burgess habitually described his world view as “Manichean”, by which
he meant that “Ultimate Reality” is the binary duoverse described by
Azor and not the traditional omnipotent God of monotheist revelation. Even singularities such as beauty or art are for Burgess a transient
accommodation of opposing principles: “Art is concerned with beauty,
a value which we take as a representation of the Ultimate, under its
aspect of unity, formal harmony, Brunonian reconciliation of opposites.”16 Burgess was familiar with the work of Giordano Bruno from
his extensive research into James Joyce, who drew extensively upon
Bruno’s metaphysics in both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. In Here Comes
Everybody, Burgess glosses Ulysses as a “Blakean Prophetic Book based on
… Swedenborgian revelation of reality”, and highlights the Blakean element of Finnegans Wake, subordinating these mystic elements to what
he perceived as Joyce’s engagement with “Bruno (‘the Nolan’)” (79).
In Joysprick, Burgess addresses the more extensive Brunonian component
of Finnegans Wake, citing “the doctrine of Giordano Bruno of Nola—
called ‘The Nolan’ by Joyce in earlier writings—to the effect that all
opposites, in a divinely governed universe, must cancel each other out”
The doctrine Burgess refers to is Bruno’s notion of coincidentia
oppositorum, or the coincidence of opposites, which was drawn substantially from the theology of Nicholas of Cusa, a fifteenth-century
German cardinal who proposed, in De Visione Dei (1453), a cosmology
16 “The Manicheans”, Anthony Burgess, The Times Literary Supplement 3340, 3 March
1966, p. 153.
of an infinite godhead within which all finite binary opposites were reconciled. However, this notion that reality is ultimately composed of the
unity of opposites is one of the oldest in Western philosophical thought.
The pre-Socratic philosopher Anaximander suggested that binary opposition in flux, emerging from the infinite, was the fundamental state of
reality. His thinking was pursued and amended by the monist Heraclitus,
whose theory of eternal flux encompassed the notion that the existence of any thing or situation is dependent upon at least two opposing
Bruno’s binarism is in the tradition of Nicholas of Cusa, which ultimately descends from Heraclitus, but Burgess’s espoused Manicheism
is less Brunonian than deriving ultimately from Anaximander, in that it
posits an eternal war between binary opposites rather than any kind of
Hegelian synthesis within an infinite godhead.18 When applied to the art
of fiction, this fundamental war of opposites suggests for Burgess that
“there is something in the novelist’s vocation which predisposes him to a
kind of Manicheeism. What the religious novelist often seems to be saying is that evil is a kind of good, since it is an aspect of Ultimate Reality;
though what he is really saying is that evil is more interesting to write
about than good.”19
By parsing this binarism within the confines of cultural Catholicism,
Burgess sought to define an internal tension based on the opposing
doctrines of two early Church theologians, St Augustine of Hippo and
17 Anaximander’s philosophy exists in only a single fragment preserved in the writings of
the Neo-Platonic scholar Simplicius. Its brevity and obliquity has led to significant disputes
down the centuries over exactly what Anaximander meant. However, there is a consensus
that a distinction exists between his concept of the apeiron as a realm of possibility from
which reality emerges, and Heraclitus’s notion that flux is bound within the infinite logos, a
rational ordering of reality evocative of the mind of God.
18 I am deliberately restricting consideration of the lineage of Burgess’s binary
Weltanschauung to Western thought, despite significant and influential analogues existing in Eastern theology and philosophy, notably Taoism, Zoroastrianism and Vaishnavist
Hinduism. While Burgess encountered some of these modes of thinking while working in
the Far East, he is on record as being unmoved by them philosophically. Longxi Zhang’s
comparative study The Tao and the Logos: Literary Hermeneutics East and West (London,
Duke University Press, 1992) contains a comprehensive examination of the overlap and
contrasts between the two traditions.
19 “The Manicheans”, Anthony Burgess, The Times Literary Supplement 3340, 3 March
1966, p. 154.
34 J. Clarke
the British monk Pelagius. Within this Catholic or Christian framework, Burgess focused on a theological debate that had raged within the
early Christian Church as an analogy for the themes that he attempted
to explore within his fiction. That debate provided Burgess with a set
of terms that he and his earliest critics would later use to describe these
aspects of his work.
Burgess once wrote that “the novels I’ve written are really Medieval
Catholic in thinking”,20 but his fiction owes little more to Aquinas
and the Schoolmen than an occasional tendency towards didacticism. Equally, he has insisted that “there’s not a great deal of theology
in them [his novels]” (Conversations, 91), though this is demonstrably
not the case. Burgess’s fiction lacks the Roman Catholic orthodoxy of
Cardinal Newman or Robert Hugh Benson, and similarly his novels
veer away from the doctrinal concerns of Graham Greene or the cultural Catholicism expressed in Evelyn Waugh’s works.21 However,
the underpinning theological component in Burgess’s work is not
Medieval Catholicism but the debate over Original Sin held between
Saint Augustine and the British heretic Pelagius. For Burgess, Roman
Catholicism was about punishment and the Augustinian doctrine of
man’s fallen nature. He found that this given of orthodox Catholicism
clashed with his own innate sense of the primacy of human free will,
closely analogous to Pelagius’s doctrine of Man’s perfectibility. In other
words, since Man’s freedom of choice between good and evil seemed
to be curtailed by the Augustinian notion that we are born damned, in
need of salvation via divine grace, Burgess constructed a personal religious position that accommodated both Augustine and Pelagius, which
he termed Manicheism.
The term Manicheism derives from the name of its first exponent, the post-Christian prophet Mani. Robin Lane Fox states that
“Mani was the son of Iranian parents and was born in April 216 in
southern Mesopotamia, a region which was then under Parthian
20 “Interview with Anthony Burgess”, John Cullinan, The Paris Review Interviews, 4th
series, ed. George Plimpton, New York, 1978, p. 345.
21 In 1971, he told Thomas Churchill, “I will not allow Catholicism to go over to the
converts and I will not allow the Protestants to attack it… Now people like Greene and
Waugh are converts, they’re not real Catholics. They’re just using Catholicism to further
private ends of their own. I think Greene wanted this, but mainly he wanted evil, and
Waugh did it because he wanted an endless aristocracy.” (Conversations, 12–13).
rule”.22 Obviously a member of a literate aristocracy, Mani grew up
among a sect of strict baptists who “honoured Christ and Elchesai,
the ‘post-Christian’ prophet, a counterpart of Hermas, whose books
had appeared in Mesopotamia in the early Second century”. Granted
a vision of his “heavenly twin”, Mani preached a theology based on
the opposition of matter, considered to be evil, and spirit, the creation of a benevolent Father-Creator. Human existence was, in Mani’s
conception, the product of particles of heavenly light ensnared in
“base matter”, or flesh, created by the Prince of Darkness for that
very purpose. An ascetic life, involving strict vegetarianism and the
avoidance of procreation, would release the particles of light from
their material shackles and return them to the kingdom of Heaven.
Devout Manicheans expressed through their piety a “deep urge to flee
the world”, since their anti-materialist existence abhorred marriage,
sex, owning property and work.23 Only those sparks of divine light
encased in the corruption of flesh could ultimately be saved, and only
then by the pursuance of such a rigorous and pessimistic existence.
The religion as Mani preached it lasted until the sixth century CE,
when severe persecution in both the Western and Eastern churches
largely succeeded in suppressing it. But though the creed itself may
have receded into history, its name remained current, as Samuel Lieu
The term Manichaean was used by church leaders to stigmatise the
teachings of a number of Christian heretics such as the Messalians, the
Paulicians, and the Bogomils in Byzantium and the Paterenes and the
Cathars or Albigensians in the west who had in common the view that the
human body is intrinsically evil and therefore cannot be the creation of a
good God.24
After its suppression Manicheism continued to be influential over
Christian thinking via the work of Augustine on mankind’s fallen status.
22 Pagans and Christians: In the Mediterranean World from the Second Century AD to the
Conversion of Constantine, Robin Lane Fox, Viking, London, 1986, p. 564.
23 Mani and Manichaeism, George Widengren, trans. Charles Kessler, Weidenfeld &
Nicolson, London, 1965, p. 62.
24 Manichaeism in the Later Roman Empire and Medieval China, Samuel Lieu,
Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1985, p. 6.
36 J. Clarke
The two ideas are very similar, and this is probably due to the fact that
Augustine, prior to his conversion to Catholic Christianity in August 386
CE, had himself been a Manichean. Both philosophies agree on mankind’s fundamentally sinful status, but Augustine introduces the novel
concept of original sin. This allowed Augustine to attribute all creation
to God, and to source evil within man’s own free will. Augustine’s explanation has been the dominant Christian position on the issue of evil ever
since. Burgess was aware of the proximity of historical Manicheism to
Augustine’s doctrine, since he held a stated position between the two:
I’m only a Manichee in the widest sense of believing that duality is the ultimate reality; the original sin bit is not really a contradiction, though it does
lead one on to depressingly French heresies, like Graham Greene’s own
Jansenism, as well as Albigensianism (Joan of Arc’s religion), Catharism,
and so on.25,26
It is worth examining Augustine’s conversion as it casts light on one
of Burgess’s major themes; the argument for and against Original Sin.
Augustine’s sense of evil and his emphasis on the need for penitence and
the grace of God have their origins in his early interest in Manicheism.
The famous episode in his Confessions, when Augustine expresses his
heartfelt sorrow at having stolen an apple from a neighbour’s orchard as
a child decades previously, is often cited as an example of the extremity
of Augustine’s sense of evil and sin at work. B.R. Rees has examined how
Augustine’s early Manicheism may have had an influence on his later
No doubt it [Manicheism] had first appealed to him [Augustine] because
of its dualism of good and evil, which corresponded to his experience as
a young man, tugged this way and that by bodily desires and repugnance
to the actions to which they led him. Evil seemed to him at that time, as
25 Writing on Zoe Oldenbourg’s novel Destiny of Fire, a historical drama dealing with the
persecution of the Albigensians, Burgess, in very Manichean terms, defines them as “a sect
which, seeing the universe as a continuous struggle between God and the Devil, not as a
beneficent creation merely pricked by evil, was accused of devil-worship by the powers of
orthodoxy” in “History and Myth”, The Novel Now, new ed., Anthony Burgess, London,
1971, p. 137.
26 “Interview with Anthony Burgess”, John Cullinan, The Paris Review Interviews, 4th
Series, ed. George Plimpton, New York, 1978, p. 347.
it did to the Manichees, to be a powerful force dragging him down to the
depths of degradation, in other words, to be the root of all sin.27
Augustine’s maxim “By grace are we saved through faith” came about as
a result of his Pauline conversion to Christianity. As he read deeply into
Paul’s epistles, he began to formulate his doctrine of grace and theory of
Original Sin. “Hitherto these two ideas had developed quite independently,” believed Rees, “insofar as they could be said to have developed
at all; now [Augustine] was to elaborate and combine them in one great
intellectual system, identifying the origin and true nature of sin and indicating the only remedy for it, that amplior medicina, that grace which
was infinitely more potent than the evil with which man was infected.”28
Pelagius was not the first to question what seemed to be Augustine’s
invention of a pessimistic doctrine, that man was born tainted by the
evil of his primal forefather. However, the names of many early theologians who opposed Augustine’s interpretation of Adam’s sin as the
source of death and human failing, such as Celestius and Theodorus
of Mopsuestia, have faded back into the late antiquity from which they
Pelagius’s prolific writings and wide travelling in order to proselytise his beliefs obtained for him a higher profile than other theologians.
He also appeared before Popes and synods to get the blessing of orthodoxy for his doctrine. Seen as the most fervent critique of the doctrine
of Original Sin, the heresy of human perfectibility without divine grace
became indelibly associated with Pelagius. In his famous commentary
on St Paul, Pelagius denied the primitive state in paradise and Original
Sin, and insisted on the naturalness of concupiscence and the death of
the body.29 He further ascribed the actual existence and universality of
sin to Adam’s primal rejection of God’s will, which introduced to mankind an imperfect mode of behaviour. The value of Christ’s redemption
was, according to Pelagius, limited mainly to instruction (doctrina) and
example (exemplum), which Christ intended as a counterweight against
Adam’s wicked example. Pelagius’s view of man was not of a perfect
27 Pelagius:
A Reluctant Heretic, B.R. Rees, Boydell Press, Bury St Edmunds, 1988, p. 15.
pp. 31–32.
29 “Insaniunt, qui de Adam per traducem asserunt ad nos venire peccatum”, in
Commentarii in epistolas S. Pauli, XXX, 678, written before 412 CE.
28 Iibid.,
38 J. Clarke
being corrupted by the sin of Adam, but of one who began to sin as a
child, by consciously emulating the sins of its elders. Man’s will had not
been corrupted by Adam’s sin, but by bad example and bad habits.
Pelagius placed special emphasis on man’s power to save himself, on
the fact that he was in fact responsible to do so by exercising his free
will. Cleverly, this was the same argument that Augustine had deployed
against the Manicheans following his conversion to Christianity. Pelagius
adapted this earlier argument of Augustine’s to support his own position. The controversy came to centre on two contrasting interpretations of grace and free will. Each side appeared to its opponents to place
excessive emphasis on one of these elements at the expense of the other.
However, Pelagius’s policy of indulging in semantic retractions in the
face of inquisition eventually came undone, and he was excommunicated
and condemned as a heretic in 417 CE.
Church history, perhaps more than most history, is written by the
victor, since the stigma of heresy attached to unorthodox doctrines
have tended to invite their vigorous suppression. Although M.R. James
described Pelagius’s writings as “the earliest extant work of a British
author”, his two major treatises, On Nature and On Free Will, are now
lost.30 Many spurious documents have hence been attributed to Pelagius
and his followers, while their own accredited views tend to be filtered
through the pens of their opponents, including Augustine’s. The original and complete Pelagian position is now irretrievable, and the adjective Pelagian has been utilised by Church fathers to anathematise a wide
variety of unorthodox beliefs, some of which bear little resemblance to
authentic Pelagianism. Our modern understanding of the doctrine of
Pelagius is therefore tainted by the deliberate misunderstandings of fifteen centuries.
Curiously, the debasement of this dispute over time has actually functioned to place greater difference between the positions of
Augustinianism and Pelagianism than originally existed. Indeed, contemporary Christians, seeing the influence of Manicheism upon the views of
Augustine and of the Stoics on both, and considering how Pelagius had
turned Augustine’s anti-Manichean arguments against their own author,
might have had difficulty in distinguishing between the three positions.
30 The Cambridge History of English Literature I, M.R. James, Cambridge University
Press, Cambridge, 1908, p. 65.
P.R.L. Brown has convincingly argued that “for a sensitive man of the
fifth century, Manicheism, Pelagianism and the views of Augustine were
not as widely separated as we would now see them: they would have
appeared as points along the same great circle of problems raised by the
Christian religion”.31 When Anthony Burgess referred to Augustine and
Pelagius, it is to this amplification of the historical controversy that he
English Catholics, even converts, are tempted by more heresies than are
the children of Mediterranean baroque Christianity. The greatest temptation is provided by the British heresiarch Pelagius, a monk who denied
original sin, doubted the need of divine grace to achieve salvation, and
thought that man could attain some kind of perfection by his own efforts.
(Copy, 20)
Burgess effectively flattened and simplified Brown’s argument that
Pelagianism and the doctrine of Augustine were related early Christian
positions differentiated primarily by emphasis and nuance. For Burgess,
the historical debates between Pelagius and Augustine are transformed
into a polarity, with Pelagius’s position misrepresented as a fundamentalist version of free will and human perfectibility, in contrast with an
almost fatalistic doctrine of damnation due to Original Sin which he
attributes to Augustine. These elements permeate many of Burgess’s fictions, most overtly in the novels The Wanting Seed and The Clockwork
Testament. In the former, these theological positions are transformed
into the oscillating philosophies of a dystopic future state. In the latter,
the clerics themselves debate the issue of human perfectibility in a hallucinatory film treatment envisioned by the novel’s protagonist Enderby.
Burgess believed that the “terms Pelagian and Augustinian, though
theological, are useful in describing the poles of man’s belief as to his
own nature” (1985, 55). Yet critics such as Geoffrey Aggeler have struggled to explain the reason behind Burgess’s use of antiquated, theologically centred terminology. Liberalism and conservatism are adequate
descriptions of The Wanting Seed’s Pelphase and Gusphase, as they summarily describe what are essentially political ideologies in recognisably
political terms. The attempt to transpose theological terminology on to
31 Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, P.R.L. Brown, London, Faber, 1967, revised ed.,
University of California Press, Berkeley, 2000, p. 373.
40 J. Clarke
political ideology inevitably raises anomalies, such as the role of God.
“In secularising these views of man,” acknowledges Burgess, “we tend
to forget about sin and concentrate on what is good for society and what
is not” (1985, 56). For such an analogy to be useful, it is essential to
remove from Pelagianism the concept of God, and from Augustinianism
the concept of sin, significantly distorting the original meaning of both.
This is the scenario depicted in The Wanting Seed. Burgess’s novel sets
out to demonstrate that both the liberal and the conservative positions,
depicted in ill-fitting theological terms, are ultimately unsustainable.
Man’s true nature, he implies, is complete only when it encompasses
both in an eternal waltz of thesis, antithesis and volatile synthesis, such
as that described by Tristram in the novel. Burgess’s Manicheism is an
oscillating flux of opposites in which the debate may only resolve itself in
order to commence a new cycle of opposition. As he writes in 1985:
We are all both Pelagian and Augustinian, either in cyclical phases, or,
through a kind of doublethink, at one and the same time… It sometimes
seems that the political life of a free community moves in the following
cycle: a Pelagian belief in progress produces a kind of liberal regime that
wavers when men are seen not to be perfectible and fail to live up to the
liberal image; the regime collapses and is succeeded by an authoritarianism
in which men are made to be good; men are seen not to be so bad as the
Augustinian philosophy teaches; the way is open for liberalism to return.
In The Clockwork Testament, the third instalment of the Enderby quadrilogy, the debate between Augustine and Pelagius is literalised as a television
drama watched by the poet-protagonist. Presented in the form of a film
script, the drama unfolds in Enderby’s hallucinating mind. Having suffered
two heart attacks earlier in the day, Enderby is wracked by the thought that
mortality will rob him of the opportunity to draft an epic poem on the
theme of Pelagius’s encounter with Augustine. The drama that unfolds is
dreamt by Enderby, who relates to it as both author and viewer.32
32 There is an obvious echo of Joyce’s Nighttown in the drama of Pelagius and Augustine
that closes A Clockwork Testament. Just as Nighttown is (largely) the emanation of Bloom’s
subconscious, so the drama of Pelagius and Augustine is the product of Enderby’s. Both
texts share the written theatre script format and feature the apocalyptic appearance of the
end of the world. Whereas Joyce’s End of the World (Ulysses, Garland, New York, 1984,
In Enderby’s vision Pelagius appears as a rational man, citing “sweet
reason” rather than divine grace as the key to Man’s redemption.33
Augustine, by contrast, is wracked by guilt, begging God’s help to save
him from his human love of sin. Burgess’s (or Enderby’s) Pelagius denies
that Christ’s sacrifice “in Godflesh” is anything other than exemplum:
PELAGIUS: Ah no, he came to show us the way. To teach us love. Be ye
perfect, he said. He taught us that we are perfectible. That what you call
evil is no more than ignorance of the way. (The Clockwork Testament, 472)
The debate, tantalisingly but inevitably, remains unresolved. The television drama is suddenly interrupted by an advertisement break (“A
WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR”). The sponsor’s word is, like the
thunderwords in Finnegans Wake, a marker that denotes death and the
end of an historical cycle. On this occasion, the death is Enderby’s. His
attempt to resolve the Pelagian/Augustinian dilemma, no less than the
cumulative effects of the ulcer-inducing stew that he eats at every meal,
provokes his death.
Burgess intended The Clockwork Testament as a final comment
on the scandal surrounding the film version of A Clockwork Orange.
Enderby’s treatment for a meditative film on Gerard Manley Hopkins’s
The Wreck of the Deutschland is distorted by the director into a violent
orgy of bloodletting and rape. By concluding the book with this debate
between Pelagius and Augustine in the writer-protagonist’s mind,
Burgess seeks to reinforce his intended meaning of A Clockwork Orange
pp. 413–414) is a surreal and comic figure, a drunken Scot seeking a partner for a dance,
Burgess utilises the motif to a much more literal effect. In Enderby’s dream-drama, Rome
is being sacked by the Goths, bringing the Roman era of history to a close. On the metanarrative plane, Enderby’s world is also coming to an end, as the drama is interrupted by an
earthquake and lightning which signify Enderby’s death from cardiac arrest, the lightning
being a Joycean reference to the thunderwords which mark the closing of historical eras in
Finnegans Wake.
33 Pelagius’s appeal to reason as the panacea of man’s ills echoes that of Socrates, as
depicted by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy. For Nietzsche, Socrates represented the
paragon of Apollonian thinking. Hence parallels may be drawn between Pelagianism (as
imagined by Burgess) and Nietzschean Apollonianism. These parallels, and the corollary
relationship between Burgess’s Augustinianism and the impulse Nietzsche described as
Dionysian, are addressed later in this chapter.
42 J. Clarke
as a meditation on the issue of free will. Pelagius’s statement that evil
is “ignorance of the way” compacts the philosophy of the state system
that attempts to impose good on Alex, the protagonist of A Clockwork
Orange, by way of mind control.
It is demonstrable that the way Burgess uses these terms differ radically from their original historical referents. His simplification of
Augustine’s many doctrines and writings to a single pessimistic insistence
on Original Sin does much damage to Augustine’s vision. His attempts
to secularise Augustine’s argument also function as a radical reimagining
of Augustine’s doctrinal works. While there is a degree of historical support for his positioning Augustine and Pelagius in discursive opposition,
his simplification of their arguments in order to polarise them is a significant deviation from the actual level of distinction between their respective theologies.
Further, the fact that Pelagius’s own writings are mostly irretrievable
and must be interpreted through the prism of his opponents raises significant questions as to what exactly can be attributed to him. There is
little doubt that he was a proponent of Christ as exemplum, and advocated free will as a route to grace, opposing the doctrine of Original Sin
as Burgess suggests. However, the close proximity of both these doctrinal positions to historical Manicheism does not legitimate Burgess’s
recasting of them as two halves of a binary whole called “Manicheism”.
Even within the remit of theology, Burgess’s use of all of these terms is
highly problematic, and doubly so when (mis)applied to the arena of his
aesthetics. Nevertheless, Burgess’s critics largely accepted this structure
The Critical Reception of Burgess’s Theological
Burgess’s novels are imbued with themes derived from this dialectic of Augustine and Pelagius which examine the relationship between
man and his putative creator, the role of evil in human existence, and
the extent of human free will. These themes, explored in many ingenious ways in different novels, form the core of Burgess’s fictive vision,
and the conclusions that can be drawn from them amount to no less
than Burgess’s own world view. Since the publication of his 1966 article
“The Manicheans”, it has become commonplace for his critics to use his
own suggested theological terminology to describe his work. With their
substantially inaccurate theological referents, however, these terms—
Manichean, Augustinian and Pelagian—are not innately suited for use in
literary criticism without a significant degree of explication.
Manicheism as a modern cosmogony has become almost entirely
divorced from the historical religion or heresy, and commonly (and erroneously) refers to a simple opposition of good and evil as being equipotent and eternally at war. However, Manicheism may also refer to a
literary critical device that facilitates the setting up of oppositions within
a text. Within the American tradition the critic Samuel Coale has identified Nathaniel Hawthorne as initiating this motif, and his book In
Hawthorne’s Shadow tracks its lineage to the work of modern authors
such as Norman Mailer and John Updike. However, Coale is also an
extensive critic of Burgess and he may have borrowed this construction from Burgess himself. Manicheism has also been used to designate
a variant of Jansenism in the work of Catholic authors such as Graham
Greene. Finally, there is Burgess’s own Manicheism, a term he has used
to define his personal theological position, which often draws heavily on
the Roman Catholic opposition of Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin
to Pelagius’s heretical view of man as perfectible. Each of these manifestations of the word carries a unique though related meaning, and
Burgess’s frequent use of the term only becomes clear when his fiction
is considered in relation to these other Manicheisms. Both Burgess and
Coale struggle to decouple their analytical use of the term from its theological referents.
Problematically, Burgess’s self-definition as a Manichean was not consistent throughout his career. It functioned as a way of distancing himself
from post-Vatican II Catholicism, which, despite his apostasy, he found
personally offensive.34 Similarly, the dualism inherent in his understanding of Manicheism permitted him to incorporate conflict into his fiction.
By 1972 the “Brunonian reconciliation of opposites”, of which he had
written in 1966, had broadened into a vaguer notion of Manicheism as
an analogue for dualism. He told John Cullinan,
34 “I go mad at the various changes of the Church very much from the Catholic angle. I
hate this ecumenical business and I hate the use of liturgical changes and the use of the vernacular. I loathe it but who am I to loathe it? I’ve no real stake in the Church at all now.”
(Conversations, 13).
44 J. Clarke
Novels are about conflicts. The novelist’s world is one of essential oppositions of character, aspiration and so on. I’m only a Manichee in the widest
sense of believing that duality is the ultimate reality (Conversations, 64)
This clarifies the conclusion expressed by Hillier in Tremor of Intent
when he states “We need new terms. God and Notgod. Salvation and
damnation of equal dignity, the two sides of the coin of ultimate reality”
(218). By 1978 Burgess’s theological perspective had dissolved into an
entirely structuralist position. He told John Cullinan,
Structuralism is the scientific confirmation of a certain theological conviction—that life is binary, that this is a duoverse and so on. What I mean is
that the notion of essential opposition—not God/Devil but just x/y—is
the fundamental one, and this is a kind of purely structuralist view.35
By 1980 Burgess had gravitated towards incorporating an almost gnostic
concept of the demiurge into his personal theology. He seemed to be on
the brink of finally abandoning the dualism that had driven his beliefs
and his fiction when he wrote:
Perhaps it is too easy to think in terms of a perpetual war going on
between God and the Devil: the universe is not sustained by so simplistic
a dichotomy. Perhaps God, if he exists, is beyond good and evil, and is
merely an ultimate power to whom human morality is of no interest. He is
on nobody’s side.36
However, by the time of his second volume of autobiography in 1990
Burgess had returned to a conception of the binary universe, albeit with
a new pessimistic twist. Writing about Earthly Powers, in which a dying
child who is miraculously saved goes on to commit mass murder, Burgess
proposes not the idea that God and the devil are the same entity, nor
a conflict between co-eternal opposites, nor that God stands aloof from
this universe, but the suggestion that God has become his opposite:
35 “Interview with Anthony Burgess”, John Cullinan, The Paris Review Interviews, 4th
Series, ed. George Plimpton, New York, 1978, p. 354.
36 “The Genesis of ‘Earthly Powers’”, Anthony Burgess, Washington Post, Book World
section, 23 November 1980, p. 13.
God, permitting the miracle, clearly intended its beneficiary to perform an
act of great evil… What curious game is God playing? If God is also the
devil, the prince of the powers of the air, then it is as likely that evil will
come out of good as the other way round. Perhaps more so. If our century is to be explained at all, it is in terms of God becoming his opposite.
(YHYT, 356)
This Protean nature of Burgess’s understanding and usage of Manicheism
has misled many of his critics into simplistic definitions, predicated on a
single stage of Burgess’s development of the concept, or on his throwaway comments about Manicheism in articles and interviews. While the
first generation of Burgess scholars tended to follow Burgess’s own lead
on the subject, later critics have either avoided the matter or else have
failed to develop Burgess’s expressed Manicheism beyond the confines
and definitions set by the author himself.
The mishandling of Burgess’s theology commenced with the first
critical publication on Burgess’s fiction. In 1971 Carol M. Dix failed to
mention Manicheism at all in her brief monograph, referring to it erroneously as “some new belief” (21). Robert K. Morris’s more substantial work from the same year demonstrates the initial critical difficulty
in coming to an understanding of Burgess’s obscure theological terminology. Morris fundamentally struggles with, or evades, any attempt to
construct a meaningful definition of Burgess’s Manicheism. For him,
Burgess’s Manicheism can connote anything from a contrast between
Christian and classical literature to a duality of opposites or the conflation of morality with psychoanalysis.
This confusion continues in A.A. DeVitis’s 1972 analysis of Burgess.
He refers to “the religious element” and “the religious import of
the theme” in Honey for the Bears, identified as the theme of ambiguous polarity between “East and West”, or “[t]he argument on
Manichaeanism” (139). This “argument”, as DeVitis delineates it,
amounts to a fundamental “contest” of “Manichaean ‘great duality’” in
which evil inhabits “neutrals” who “fail to engage” (166). To the extent
that DeVitis attributes a theological component to this duality, he defines
it as “man’s struggle between the ‘perfection of spirit’ and ‘the mire of
evil’. Many of Burgess’s characters are failed or despondent Catholics
and are fully aware of the ‘heresy’ that tempts them” (96). DeVitis’s
understanding of Burgess’s Manicheism veers from a surface analysis of
46 J. Clarke
Tremor of Intent to a clumsy grafting of simplified historical Manichean
ideas on to Burgess’s work.
Richard Mathews’s slender 1978 monograph The Clockwork Universe of
Anthony Burgess is the first critical text on Burgess to define Manicheism
accurately. He describes it as “the doctrine, regarded as heresy by the
Catholic church, that life is a constant conflict between light and dark,
spirit and matter, with matter being seen as dark and evil” (12). Mathews
is also aware of the composite nature of historical Manicheism, “composed as it is of Gnostic Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and various other elements”, but makes no attempt to incorporate these nuances
and influences into his analysis of Burgess’s work or world view other
than to suggest “it is a fascinating background for the internationalism
Burgess deals with”. He describes A Clockwork Orange as “Manichean”
without clarifying what he means, but does acknowledge the “rather
obscure attributes of Pelagianism and Augustinianism” in The Wanting
Seed (46).
Geoffrey Aggeler is the first critic to identify the structuralist element
in Burgess’s Manicheism, which extends his Weltanschauung beyond the
merely theological into a fundamental condition of binarism. In Anthony
Burgess: The Artist as Novelist, Aggeler notes:
To an extent, he subscribes to the Manichean heresy, although he agrees
with the Church that it should be condemned as heresy. He shares the
Manichean belief that there is a perpetual conflict between two forces that
dominates the affairs of the universe, and whether the forces can be accurately labelled “good” and “evil” is by no means certain. They might as
reasonably be designated by terms such as “right” and “left”, or “x” and
“y”, or even “hot” and “cold”. (28)
Aggeler’s analysis weakens when he addresses the political ramifications
of Burgess’s Manicheism. Aggeler describes how “so many of the conflicts in his novels are between Pelagian liberals and Augustinian conservatives. By the use of these terms, Burgess intends to remind us of the
ultimate origins of much of the so-called liberalism and conservatism in
Western thinking” (158). This origin is open to significant dispute, however. Political conservatism and liberalism as social philosophies are commonly dated to the political climate of post-Restoration Enlightenment
England, while the ethicist Benjamin Wiker has traced the opposition
back to Aristotle’s Politics, in which Aristotle distinguished his political
perspective from those of the Sophists and Epicureans. Aggeler suggests that we “set aside, or at least look beyond, the narrowly theological
aspects” (161) of this debate, but can only offer two further theological disputes as the intellectual lineage of the conflict between Pelagius
and Augustine.37 His list of Augustinian and Pelagian worthies, intended
to illuminate Burgess’s theological terminology in more familiar philosophical terms, reads as little more than a who’s who of conservative and
liberal thinkers respectively.38 Aggeler notes apologetically that “[t]he
validity of these classifications depends of course upon a willingness to
view the debate in terms of its social and political as well as its religious
implications”—in other words, on Burgess’s idiosyncratic terms.
Samuel Coale dedicates an entire chapter of his 1981 study Anthony
Burgess to the issue of “A Manichean Duoverse”. Astutely, he notes that
Burgess’s lists of opposites form “part of the Western Christian’s outlook on the world” (55), and create “a dynamic dialectic” (55) wherein
opposites “interpenetrate one another … not to the point of ultimate
synthesis, but to the point of continuing, unresolved conflict” (55). For
Coale, Burgess’s Manicheism amounts to “an essentially conservative
Catholic eschatology”. While he acknowledges Burgess’s “structuralist”
love for dialectical materialism is aesthetic rather than moral, he does not
attribute the same structuralist attraction to Burgess’s theological-troped
Weltanschauung. For Coale, Burgess’s “essentially comic view of existence” (175) lacks the pessimism of historical Manicheism. He diverges
from other critics, and from Burgess himself, by treating the issues of
Manicheism and Pelagius versus Augustine separately, as thematic constructs. Coale parses the latter as “the same conflict between free will and
Original Sin that has appeared in nearly all of Burgess’s novels” (175).
Coale’s text marks the beginning of the long process of diverging from
the perspective offered by Burgess himself.
Martina Ghosh-Schellhorn’s published doctoral thesis Anthony
Burgess: A Study in Character (1986) addresses “the philosophical basis
37 “[T]he fourteenth-century clash between Bradwardine and Ockham and the conflict
three centuries later between the Jansenists and the Jesuits” (Aggeler, 161).
38 “Outstanding Augustinian spokesmen include Luther, Calvin, Jansen, Pascal, Racine,
Hobbes, Swift, and Edmund Burke. Some of the more notable Pelagians are Shaftesbury,
Corneille, Hume, Rousseau, Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Marx, Hegel, John Stuart Mill,
Edward Bellamy, and most of the major English and German romantic poets.” (Aggeler,
48 J. Clarke
of Burgess’s characterisation” in a way which almost entirely accepts
Burgess’s own idiosyncratic perspective on the meaning of Manicheism,
and its components Pelagianism and Augustinianism. However, she
does note the vagaries of this critical definition and offers a useful
departure point in considering Burgess’s Manicheism as a response to
Burgess’s interpretation of the underlying philosophy of Manicheism is
extremely personal, and often eclectic. He is neither the Manichee that
DeVitis and Coale claim him to be, nor an Augustinian in the true sense of
the word. The philosophy behind his novels is a mixture of both, together
with a touch of twentieth century existentialism. (44)
Ghosh-Schellhorn’s argument has much merit. Burgess used the term
Manicheism eclectically, as a shorthand for his own evolving belief in a
binary cosmogony. This cosmogony often depicts a fractured world in
which each faction is co-equal and co-eternal. The opposition Burgess
sets up is not merely moralistic, a simple good/evil divide, but ultimately
abstract, the contrast of x with y, an eternally shifting, all-permeating
flux. Burgess posits a universe at war with itself, a constantly fluctuating
battle between two forces (whose only real definition is in opposition to
each other), which serves no purpose other than to fuel another clash,
a further cycle of thesis–antithesis–unstable synthesis. This response to
the angst of the generation in which he grew up, the existential vacuum
of human purpose delineated by writers like Camus, Sartre and Beckett,
posits an eternally shifting opposition as the core tenet of reality, as Jean
Kennard noted:
Burgess is directly answering Sartre’s and Camus’s notion that there is no
essential pattern in the universe and that the relationship between man and
his universe is therefore irrational.39
Yet even this is a simplification of the processes involved in the development of Burgess’s double vision. As a prolific reader, an accomplished
linguist and a constant traveller for much of his life, Burgess encountered
and was influenced by a myriad religions, philosophies, mythologies and
39 “Anthony Burgess: Double Vision”, Jean Kennard, in Anthony Burgess: Modern
Critical Views, ed. Harold Bloom, Chelsea House, New York, 1987, p. 64.
cosmogonies. Burgess’s Manicheism, then, is complex, the sum total of
these influences. These diverse components are merged and manipulated by Burgess to create a genuinely original and modern understanding of man’s place in the universe. Esther Petix has best summarised the
ingredients that Burgess manipulated to create his response to existential
He has drawn upon Eastern and Western philosophies, concocting a novel
brew of Eastern dualism, heretical Manicheanism, Pelagian/Augustinianism,
the cultural mythologies of ancient civilisations, the philosophy of
Heraclitus, the implicit teachings of the Taoists, the Hegelian dialectic.
The impact of Burgess’s metaphysics, however, is not so much the clever
jigsaw effect of a master eclectic; rather, it is that out of this syncretism
Burgess has presented a serious allegory of the contemporary malaise,
which has been diagnosed by all recent Existential and nihilistic thinking.
(Bloom, 91)
If Burgess’s fiction represented a positive response to existentialist
thought, it is a cautious one. The vindictive invisible deity of his Roman
Catholic youth still haunted his work. Burgess’s dualistic construction
allowed him the hope that the “right” God exists, and has merely gone
under or become his own opposite, but such a cosmogony does not necessarily place mankind in any less absurd a position than that expressed
by existentialism. Burgess offered free will, the Pelagian belief that
through exercising correct choice man can improve and perfect his existence, only to counter that optimism with the doctrine of Augustine, that
man perennially disappoints and requires the salvation or intervention of
a higher power. Identifying Heraclitean flux as fundamental reality does
not resolve the challenges of existentialism except by rendering them
potentially ludic, nor does it provide a useful model by which Burgess’s
aesthetics can be examined.
Later critics have not substantially deviated from this early adoption
of the author’s own theological frame but instead have sought to problematise its simplistic binary elements. In Portraits of the Artists in A
Clockwork Orange, few of the critics address the underlying Manichean
paradigm. Emmanuel Aretoulakis suggests intriguingly that the “exclusion of the dichotomy ‘good–evil’ from the ethical system of Alex” in A
Clockwork Orange “aestheticizes his thought by blurring any pure categories of good and evil” (Portraits, 42). He parses this as an example
50 J. Clarke
of Lyotardian deconstruction of the good–evil paradigm, as expressed in
Postmodern Fables. To Aretoulakis, Alex’s violence is infused with a theatrical unreality that blurs the distinction “from the beautiful to the horrific, from purity to a Holocaust” (Portraits, 48).
Although occasional attempts have been made to examine Burgess’s
Manicheism critically, and both Aggeler and Petix have attempted to elucidate it in the arenas of political philosophy and existentialism respectively, there has been no substantial examination of how Burgess’s
theological duality might apply in terms of the aesthetics of his fiction.
Manicheism as Literary Critical Term
Burgess is not unique in utilising the term Manicheism to describe a particular artistic vision. Samuel Coale has delineated an American tradition
of literary Manicheism running from Nathaniel Hawthorne, through
writers like Herman Melville, to Burgess’s near contemporaries John
Updike and Norman Mailer, and beyond to postmodernist fabulists like
Thomas Pynchon. Coale posits a continuity of fictive vision based on
polarities, underpinned by a dark, almost nihilistic sense of dread:
To the Manichean mind the world remains a prison, created in a demonic
cosmos by someone other than God, some Demiurge or evil Jehovah
sprung from the hosts of darkness. In that prison man languishes, a prisoner of his own flesh and desires. He often seems possessed by others, by
some dark fate not of his making, and whatever spirit lingers and flickers
within him, it can only view itself as violently separated from all that surrounds it.40
Hawthorne found a Christian vision in Puritanism that came close
to historical Manicheism, a cosmogony that acknowledged the role
and power of evil almost to the same extent that it acknowledged
the power of grace and God. He imbued his fictions with a series of
radical polarities, the inner world versus the outer, the real versus the
supernatural, which always resolve into ever more intricate polarities
and disunities. Coale suggests that a “notion of irreconcilable conflict,
of insoluble contradictions and polarization at the center of things,
40 In Hawthorne’s Shadow, Samuel Coale, Kentucky University Press, Lexington, 1985,
p. 4.
underlies Hawthorne’s Manichean vision”.41 This analysis is not entirely
original; it is at least partly present in D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic
American Literature (1923). Nor is Coale alone in associating Melville’s
Calvinism with Manicheism. Kingsley Widmer noted how “Melville’s art
in Benito Cereno testifies to our enslaving Manicheanism”42 and Joyce
Carol Oates identified a “perhaps feigned Manichean dualism”43 in The
Confidence-Man. Bruce Franklin posits that Melville’s Manicheistic conclusions from Calvinism were inevitable because:
Most of the mythologists read by Melville tended to conceive of the periodic avatars of these conflicting principles in Manichean terms, comparing
them most often to Ormuzd and Ahriman of the Zoroastrians and Osiris
and Typhon of the Egyptians.44
In the twentieth century some American novelists began, like Burgess,
to adopt the term Manicheism overtly to describe their fictive vision.
Norman Mailer, who does not share Burgess’s interest in Catholicism,
has nevertheless echoed his Manichean diminution of God from ultimate
being to one aspect of a binary cosmic battle:
God … is not all-powerful; He exists as a warring element in a divided universe, and we are part of—perhaps the most important part—of His great
For Mailer, Manicheism denotes the clash of oppositions that underpins his fiction. Mailer’s “rigidly Manichean categories—self and
society, instinct and consciousness, sex and stasis, the primitive and
the civilised—permeate that constant battle” between God and his
41 Ibid.,
p. 5.
Ways of Nihilism: A Study of Herman Melville’s Short Novels, Kingsley Widmer,
California State Colleges, Los Angeles, 1970, p. 75.
43 “Melville and the Tragedy of Nihilism”, Joyce Carol Oates, in Texas Studies in
Literature and Language 4, 1962, pp. 11–29.
44 The Wake of the Gods: Melville’s Mythology, H. Bruce Franklin, Stanford U.P., Palo Alto,
CA, 1963, p. 180.
45 “Hip, Hell and the Navigator”, in Advertisements for Myself, Norman Mailer, Putnam,
New York, 1959, p. 351.
42 The
52 J. Clarke
opposite, according to Samuel Coale.46 “Conflict,” for Mailer, “is
vision.” This conflict is played out on a human stage in Mailer’s fiction, however. Mailer’s heroes encounter the clash of opposites within
an almost existential absence of divine presence. Stanley Gutman has
accurately described this process as Mailer’s “man-centred revival of
John Updike has also expressed a very human sense of dualism.
However, unlike the paradigm of clashing opposites presented by
Burgess and Mailer, Updike favours an understanding of Manicheism
that is more in keeping with the tenets of Mani’s historical doctrine. If,
as Updike has claimed, to be human “is to be in a situation of tension,
is to be in a dialectical situation,”48 that tension is as Mani conceived
it, between flesh and soul, between materiality and spirituality, between
man’s animality and his self-awareness:
Manicheanism, denying the Christian doctrines of the Divine Creation
and the Incarnation, radically opposes the realms of spirit and matter. The
material world is evil. Man is a spirit imprisoned in the darkness of the
flesh. Women are Devil’s lures designed to draw souls down into bodies;
on the other hand, each man aspires toward a female Form of Light, who
is his own true spirit, resident in Heaven, aloof from the Hell of matter…
an Eternal Feminine that preexisted material creation.49
For Updike, Manicheism represents the opposition of spirit with the
material world. Tensions between these two impulses exist within every
human being, and any sense of stasis or calm in human existence may
be best understood as an equilibrium, poised to erupt into conflict
at any moment. Mailer’s Manicheism emphasises the conflict rather
than the equilibrium. As in Updike’s work, the conflict in Mailer’s fiction is played out on the human level of existence, expressed in terms of
46 In Hawthorne’s Shadow, Samuel Coale, Kentucky University Press, Lexington, 1985,
p. 24.
47 Mankind in Barbary: The Individual and Society in the novels of Norman Mailer,
Stanley J. Gutman, University Press of New England, Hanover, NH, 1975, p. 79.
48 John Updike and the Three Great Secret Things: Sex, Religion and Art, George W. Hunt,
W.B. Erdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1980, p. 126.
49 “More Love in the Western World: Love Declared by Denis de Rougemont”, in
Assorted Prose, John Updike, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1965, pp. 284–285.
the experiences of humanity, shorn of the supernatural to be found in
Coale’s efforts to delineate an American tradition of literary
Manicheism are convincing, but they do not construct a lineage into
which Burgess can easily be fitted. The ultimate reality of Burgess’s
Manicheism is not Hawthorne’s Puritan pessimism nor Melville’s
dark Calvinism, nor the tension between spirit and matter depicted by
Updike, nor even Mailer’s man-centred conflicts. To the extent that
Burgess’s Manicheism is consistent throughout his work, it is the simple polarity of opposition. Everything for Burgess, even God, exists in
opposed duality.
When Anthony Burgess refers to his own Manicheism he uses the
name of the historical heresy as a shorthand to connote his own mutable
conception of the binary and polarised quality of reality, just as he uses
the tropes of Augustine and Pelagius to signify his particular obsession
with the intellectual contradiction between free will and Original Sin.
There are degrees of overlap with the tradition outlined by Coale, but
Burgess’s more protean conception of duoversality distances his work
from the more coherent and consistent application of the term as a literary critical framework in the American context, rendering Coale’s work
on the generation of such a frame inapplicable to Burgess.
The Need for an Aesthetic Analogue
Burgess’s use of the term Manicheism to describe his world view is
demonstrably inaccurate on a purely historical understanding, and his
own personal definitions have proved to be inconsistent. Most often,
Burgess’s conception of Manicheism designates merely the omnipresence of a metaphysical dichotomy or dualism within the text. This dualist structure is complex and fluid throughout Burgess’s work, and hence
the chosen terminology of the author is often unhelpful in aiding the
reader to establish the core attributes of the twinned impulses he usually
ascribes to Pelagius and Augustine.
In A Vision of Battlements, the protagonist Richard Ennis “becomes”
a Manichean, but this, it is quickly clarified, means simply that he identifies “essential opposition” everywhere, the “eternal stalemate” of
X versus Y. In Honey for the Bears, Europe is described as being “all
Manichees”, but again this references simple divisions and opposites—
good and evil, male and female, gay and straight, east and west. In The
54 J. Clarke
Wanting Seed, Burgess identifies the components of a politically conceived duoverse, and calls them Augustinianism and Pelagianism.
This opposition recurs as a theme in Burgess’s work in The Clockwork
Testament, and less overtly in novels like A Clockwork Orange or Earthly
Powers. Yet clearly the theological terms do not adequately describe
the philosophical positions being presented. Aggeler suggests that in
The Wanting Seed and A Clockwork Orange, where these positions are
embodied in rival political movements, the vying forces ought to be
more accurately called Hobbesian and Rousseauvian (34). Insofar as
Burgess’s chosen terminology illuminates the politico-philosophical spectrum, Aggeler’s proffered alternatives make much more sense, though
there is little of the Social Contract in the dystopic Pelphase in The
Wanting Seed. In such contexts, there seems little reason to avoid using
the established political terms of conservatism and liberalism.
Augustinianism in Burgess’s work likewise bears little relation to the
City of God. Rather, Burgess’s use of the term is defined by his understanding of Augustine as the most prominent opponent of Pelagius’s
heretical doctrine of human perfectibility. In novels like Earthly Powers,
Burgess remains close to this theological opposition. Carlo Campanati’s
blind faith in the perfectible potential of all humanity is exhibited by
his attempt to transform a Nazi into a caring, tolerant human being.
This is contrasted with Kenneth Toomey, whose position as a homosexual Catholic has led him to a belief in his own inevitable damnation.
Elsewhere, Burgess uses the terms more loosely. While Original Sin
plays a thematic role in the Enderby novels and A Clockwork Orange,
the opposition depicted is moral and only partly theological in nature.50
In The Wanting Seed, Burgess extends this dichotomy into the arena of
political science. He utilises the term Augustinianism to designate dominance of the state, often martial or conservative, over the individual.
Pelagianism, by virtue of its core value of human perfectibility, is distorted by Burgess into a loose analogue for socialism.
Problems arise in works that neither overtly address this debate nor
even reference it, however. In the majority of Burgess’s novels, there is
no mention of Augustine or Pelagius, nor does the debate over Original
Sin versus free will and human perfectibility significantly arise. Often,
50 Enderby’s long narrative poem, The Pet Beast, is a meditation on the inherence of
Original Sin beneath man’s civilised exterior.
they are fictions about the act of artistic creation itself, featuring as their
protagonists professional writers or practitioners of other art forms. In
depicting the application of binarism to the processes of artistic creativity, rather than those of morality or politics, Burgess brings his duoversal
philosophy into the sphere of aesthetics.
The examination of what makes an artist create art, or how art comes
about, is a prominent theme in Burgess’s work. A substantial number of
his fictional protagonists are artists, beginning with the would-be composer Richard Ennis in his first novel, A Vision of Battlements written in
1948, and ending with Byrne, the eponymous hero of his final written
work. While a minority of Burgess’s artist-protagonists are musical, such
as Ennis and Byrne (who seems pathologically capable in all art forms),
most are writers to either an amateur or a professional degree. Victor
Crabbe, the colonial officer in The Malayan Trilogy is a former poet,
Enderby practises poetry and drama, and Kenneth Toomey and Ronald
Beard, like Burgess himself, are journeymen writers, able in all formats,
but preferring the novel.
The phenomenon of the writer-protagonist in Burgess’s work intersects with another of his predominant motifs, the fictional biography. Burgess fictionalised the lives of Napoleon, Attila the Hun, Leon
Trotsky, Sigmund Freud, Moses and Jesus Christ, but was inevitably
drawn to recreate the lives of famous writers. Shying away from his greatest influence, James Joyce, who makes only a brief cameo in Earthly
Powers, Burgess generated fictions from the lives of Keats, Shakespeare
and Marlowe. His slender Keats novella, ABBA ABBA, concerns itself
with the final year of the Londoner’s life in Rome, and focuses on his
imagined interaction with the Roman dialect sonneteer, Giuseppe Belli.
In Nothing Like the Sun and A Dead Man in Deptford Burgess attempts
to re-imagine the creativity of these Elizabethan dramatists throughout their careers, from their earliest adolescent experiments with writing through to the moment of death. In Nothing Like the Sun, Burgess
offers a vision of Shakespeare held in thraldom to his vocation and the
squalid animality of existence by a Muse figure. In A Dead Man in
Deptford, Marlowe’s artistic impulse is determined by his intent to supersede human nature. Will’s art is goddess-inspired; Kit’s art forms part of
his Promethean attempt to replace God with a world shaped by himself.
These opposing impulses of art and reality stretch Burgess’s theological
terminology beyond breaking point. It seems at best tangential to refer
56 J. Clarke
to Will as Augustinian, and Kit Marlowe as Pelagian. Burgess developed
these terms outside the realm of aesthetics, and their application to the
question of artistic creativity requires them to travel a considerable intellectual distance from the original early Christian concepts.
In order to frame Burgess’s dichotomy within aesthetics, it is necessary to dispense with his chosen terminology. In the context of an aesthetic opposition, neither Pelagius and Augustine nor Original Sin and
human perfectibility come close to describing the differing methods of
artistic creativity being contrasted in many Burgess novels. It is essential to find a new terminology of opposition that functions within the
aesthetic realm, a terminology that may be mapped on to Burgess’s
opposition of Augustinianism and Pelagianism while retaining particular
relevance to the issue of artistic creativity.
The Nietzschean Dialectic
One such analogue is the dialectic popularised by the German philosopher
Friedrich Nietzsche, who described opposed impulses of an artistic duality with the Hellenic terms, Apollonian and Dionysian. In his first work,
The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music (1871–1872), Nietzsche
introduced the concept of art as the product of a clash and collaboration
between two impulses, which he named after the Greek gods Apollo and
Dionysus. It is important to note that Nietzsche never engaged meaningfully with the theological dichotomy that prepossessed Burgess. As
Julian Young states, “Nietzsche suggests that free will is nothing more
than a piece of bad propaganda, a fiction invented by priests in order to
be able to make us feel sinful” (267). Similarly, his frequent references to
Original Sin are used, as Martin Henry notes, “obliquely or backhandedly, in order to turn the tables on Christianity”.51 In Human, All-toohuman, Nietzsche dismissed the doctrine as “untrue”,52 and elsewhere
51 “Original Sin: A Flawed Inheritance”, Martin Henry, Irish Theological Quarterly, 65
(1), 2000, pp. 2–3.
52 “[C]onsider … that none of the propositions over which they were then contending in
Regensburg—neither that of original sin, nor that of redemption by proxy, nor that of justification by faith—is in any way true or has anything whatever to do with truth, that they
are now all recognized as undiscussable:—and yet on their account the world was set in
flames, that is to say on account of opinions to which nothing real corresponds”, Human,
All-too-human, vol. 2, pt. 1, Friedrich Nietzsche, trans. R.J. Hollingdale, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, 1986, p. 270.
used it as a term of abuse to refer to, inter alia, Christianity, theology in
general, and a lack of enjoyment in human existence. Similarly, Burgess at
no point in his extensive output referred to Nietzsche except in the most
passing manner. He did not examine Nietzsche’s philosophy of Apollo
and Dionysus, though it is clear he was aware of it. There is no obvious
direct analogue between Nietzsche’s opposition as set out in The Birth of
Tragedy and Burgess’s pseudo-Manichean dualism. Yet the Nietzschean
terminology is preferable to the author’s own for a series of reasons.
Both writers were fluid in their understanding of the dichotomies they
described, but Nietzsche’s terminology possesses the benefit of greater historical accuracy and much wider critical acceptance.53 Nietzsche’s terms
have been augmented and adapted by subsequent critics, justifying a certain flexibility of emphasis. This adaptive critical literature, including such
expansive texts as Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae, has explored avenues
within Nietzsche’s dichotomy, especially in the consideration of non-classical literature, which were left undeveloped by The Birth of Tragedy. These
explorations offer further insights into the opposition inherent in Burgess’s
novels than those supplied solely by Nietzsche’s version of the paradigm.
Nietzsche’s application of duality to the arena of aesthetics has been
an enduring one, and it offers a useful aesthetic analogue to Burgess’s
duality when considering Burgess’s treatment of artists and artistic creation. Scholars have argued that Nietzsche did not originate this opposition, drawing his ideas from the poet Friedrich Hölderlin54, the art
historian Johann Winckelman and his own tutors.55 Nevertheless, it
is the Nietzschean version of this radical dichotomy which has become
53 See The Origin and Early Form of Greek Tragedy, Gerald F. Else, Harvard University
Press, Cambridge MA, 1965, for a wider discussion about Nietzsche’s accuracy in describing Greek culture and art.
54 “Nietzsche analyses Greek art in terms of a celebrated duality which … was probably
inspired by the ‘favourite poet’ of his schooldays, Friedrich Hölderlin: the duality between
the ‘Apollonian’ and the ‘Dionysian’. He distinguishes two principal types of Greek art, the
Apollonian art of, above all, Homer, and the Dionysian art of Greek tragedy, of Aeschylus
and Sophocles.” (Young, 125).
55 Hans Reiss believes that Nietzsche’s polar terms—Apollonian and Dionysian—for the
nature of art and reality had actually been developed by a previous generation of classicists
who, in influencing Nietzsche, may have found their conceptualisation appropriated and
expanded by the younger academic: “Earlier scholars, such as F.G. Welcker and Friedrich
Wilhelm Ritschl, his own teacher, had used them, but Nietzsche put them in the very centre of his argument and dramatised them with great skill.” The Writer’s Task from Nietzsche
to Brecht, Hans Reiss, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 1978, p. 19.
58 J. Clarke
seminal. Both the German and French philosophical legacies arising from
Nietzsche’s earliest text expand its remit implicitly or explicitly to address
contemporary cultural concerns.56 Yet Nietzsche’s stated topic in The
Birth of Tragedy was the production of art itself, specifically the generation of the tragic mode arising from the collision and conflation of two
opposing routes to art, which he associated with Dionysus and Apollo.
It was not Nietzsche’s intention to construct a radical aesthetic for
art in The Birth of Tragedy. As Michael Tanner notes, this dichotomy of
Apollo and Dionysus was only one of a number of key elements which
drove the text. “Nietzsche had three major concerns (at least) going on
in tandem”, according to Tanner, “a political-cultural one, a claim to
be worked out about the nature of metaphysics, and a consideration of
a specific phenomenon in the history of art”.57 It is this latter concern,
evoked by Nietzsche in his opening line, which can be considered as an
aesthetic analogue for Burgess’s Manicheism.58
Nietzsche shared Burgess’s sense of a duoverse in flux and conflict.
However, he differed from Burgess in actively welcoming this as a gauge
of the health of society, whereas Burgess’s more pessimistic perspective
often veers towards a yearning for impossible unity or synthesis or a concern that the “wrong” aspect is dominant in the conflict.59 According to
Julian Young,
56 The
German philosophical tradition of Heidegger, Habermas and Sloterdijk, and the
French poststructuralist tradition of Bataille, Lyotard, Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze, and
other cultural commentators including Theodore Adorno, Ayn Rand and Camille Paglia,
have all sought to adapt Nietzsche’s dialectic to different, but more expansive aesthetic ends.
57 The Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche, trans. Shaun Whiteside, ed. and introduction
by Michael Tanner, London, 1993, p. ix.
58 “We shall have gained much for the science of aesthetics when we have succeeded in
perceiving directly, and not only through logical reasoning, that Art derives its continuous
development from the duality of the Apolline and the Dionysiac”, The Birth of Tragedy,
trans. Shaun Whiteside, p. 9.
59 “The thing we’re most aware of in life is division, the conflict of opposites—good, evil;
black, white; rich, poor—and so on. We don’t like to live in the middle of this conflict (it’s
rather like trying to picnic in the centre of a football field) and we rush eagerly to any saint
or pundit or prophet who will convince us that all this conflict is really so much illusion,
Nietzsche’s insight, then, an insight which some might regard as tragic, is
that a healthy society exists always in a state of dynamic tension. More or
less open and more or less acute tension between the forces of reform and
reaction does not represent a temporary, social malfunction but is, rather,
an essential condition of communal health. (329)
In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche evokes the epitome of a great culture founded upon the bedrock of great art, which he identified in preSocratic Greece. The underlying strength of this culture was due to the
relationship between the primordial tribal impulse and the emergence of
individualism and order, which he saw in both Greek drama and society. Nietzsche used the mythological figures of Dionysus and Apollo to
represent these two elements. Though Nietzsche was to refine and, in
part, refute his earliest doctrine, he never entirely abandoned it. He distinguishes the impulses as follows:
I see Apollo as the transfiguring genius of the principium individuationis
through which alone the redemption in illusion is truly to be obtained;
while by the mystical triumphant cry of Dionysus the spell of individuation
is broken, and the way lies open to the Mothers of Being, to the innermost
heart of things.60
So the Apollonian may be considered as the impulse that leads us to
believe that each man is in fact an island, an illusion supported by an
act of will, an impulse which, as in Burgess’s Any Old Iron, can result
in a fatalistic solipsism. The Dionysian, on the other hand, becomes
the impulse that compels us to the visceral revelation that we are part
of a body of humanity, visceral because it emerges at moments of
that behind it all exists a great shining ultimate unity which is eternal and real. The trouble
is that this ultimate unity, whether it be God or the Classless Society, is always presented as
being a long way off or away or above. I like my pie here and now. That’s why I trust the
artist more than the Marxist or the theologian. That’s why I regard the artist’s trade as not
merely the most honourable but also the most holy.” (Copy, 265–266).
60 The Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche, trans. and ed. by Walter Kaufman, Vintage,
New York, 1967, pp. 99–100.
60 J. Clarke
intoxication, such as while drugged, during sex, under divine inspiration,
or while engaged in group euphoria which involves all of these elements,
such as the Bacchic rites:
[The Dionysian impulse is] most immediately understandable to us in
the analogy of intoxication. Under the influence of the narcotic potion
hymned by all primitive men and peoples, or in the powerful approach of
spring, joyfully penetrating the whole of nature, those Dionysiac urges are
The theory propounded by Nietzsche is that Attican drama originated
from the communal celebrations of the Bacchic rituals, sublimated by
the introduction of the chorus, a narrator intersecting the worlds of the
drama and the spectator, interpreting the one and representing the other.
The chorus, while Dionysian in nature, introduced an Apollonian principium individuationis into the art form of dramatic tragedy, perfected
in the eyes of Nietzsche by dramatists like Sophocles and Aeschylus.
Nietzsche ascribes the downfall of this art form to the overly Apollonian
influence of Socratism on Euripides, which led to a fatal imbalance in
the synthesis of Dionysian and Apollonian elements within the form. He
argues that this imbalance has informed Western culture ever since. Reiss
glosses the two prerequisite elements as follows:
For Nietzsche, great Greek tragedy … combines these elements or forces
to which the Greeks had given the names of two Gods, Apollo and
Dionysus. Apollo, the god of measure and harmony, symbolises the principle of individuation, while Dionysus, the God of ecstasy, stands for the
dissolution of individuality in the original unity of all life. In other words,
Apollo is the power that gives form to the inchoate, primordial, irrational
forces that Dionysus represents, and art will only be great when both elements completely coalesce. (19)
In The Birth of Tragedy, Greek drama dies by suicide, or rather, it is killed
by one of its own. The last dramatist of the Greek golden age, according
61 The
Birth of Tragedy, trans. Shaun Whiteside, p. 17.
to Nietzsche’s thesis, was Euripides, who became dissatisfied with the
legacy of his forebears, specifically Sophocles and Aeschylus, because he
did not fully understand their work. Nietzsche posits that Euripides set
out to create a new art, but succeeded in writing not for the people but
for two spectators only.
The first of these is Euripides himself, as thinker or critic of his art
rather than creative artist. The other is Socrates. Aesthetic Socratism,
according to Nietzsche, came to dominate Euripides’s drama. Socrates,
for Nietzsche, was the paragon of rationality who believed that human
evolution was predicated on the development of intellectual knowledge.
However science, even in the primitive form of the Socratic method,
is not the ground on which to build art, and so Greek tragedy became
impoverished of its Dionysian roots, and died.
Paglia’s Expansion of the Dialectic
The most comprehensive (and controversial) expansion of Nietzsche’s
duoversal origin for artistic creativity has been Camille Paglia’s Sexual
Personae, which examines the development of this dichotomy across a
vast historical period within culture, primarily visual art and literature.
Her most significant deviation from Nietzsche is on the basis of gender,
for she reads Dionysus as an Apollonian masculine cover for the prehistoric Earth-mother deity whose worship was prevalent in early Europe,
as the prevalence of Sheela-na-gigs and Venus of Willendorf-type statuary in the archeological record reveals. Hence, the Dionysian impulse
becomes representative of the primordial feminine, in which case Paglia
often substitutes the term chthonic. She sets out her thesis as follows:
Dionysus is identification, Apollo objectification. Dionysus is the empathetic, the sympathetic emotion transporting us into other people, other
places and other times. Apollo is the hard, cold separatism of western personality and categorical thought. (SP, 96)
This posits an expansion of Nietzsche’s dialectic which he himself
might have approved. Indeed, in Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche’s conception of the Dionysian seems to accept the grafting of genderisation
on to his dichotomy. Paglia also widens the remit of the Apollonian
62 J. Clarke
impulse to encompass the “separatism of western personality” that
extends from Nietzsche’s chorus figure to include an entire tradition of
Western individualism. She traces this wider Apollonianism backwards
from Proust’s subjective perspective, via Voltaire’s primacy of reason
and the Cartesian assertion that thinking begets the status of existence,
all the way to Plato’s knowledge of knowledge and Aristotle’s insistence
that it is the faculty for self-consciousness that permits the experience of
This tradition of Western thought, which Paglia seeks to define
as Apollonian, focuses on the primacy of the ego as the defining component of being, while incorporating the fragmentation of society
and the development of the scientific method. If the Apollonian, for
Paglia, is the principle towards human perfectibility, it is also, of necessity, an individualist escape from the group intoxication expressed by
Dionysianism, which Paglia sees as inspired by the chthonic ur-goddess
of prehistory. For Paglia, the Apollonian is the cold, individualist eye of
rational man, anxiety-driven, isolated, but aspiring to a greatness that
requires the grace of no god. G. Wilson Knight clarifies this meaning
of the Apollonian impulse in the context of aesthetic creativity: “The
Apollonian is the created ideal, forms of visionary beauty that can be
seen, sight rather than sound, intellectually clear to us” (268). For one
Nietzschean critic, the image of Apollo presented in The Birth of Tragedy
can be considered as the divine representation of the individualist vision,
a suggestion of the ego as God which Burgess’s Kit Marlowe endorses in
A Dead Man in Deptford.63
For Paglia, an inherent and dormant paganism is always threatening
to explode over the topography of Western culture like a lava flow. From
62 “[I]f one who sees is conscious that he sees, one who hears that he hears, one who
walks that he walks, and similarly for all the other human activities there is a faculty that
is conscious of their exercise, so that whenever we perceive, we are conscious that we perceive, and whenever we think, we are conscious that we think, and to be conscious that we
are perceiving or thinking is to be conscious that we exist (for existence, as we saw, is senseperception or thought).” The Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle, Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol.
19, trans. H. Rackham, London, 1934, 1170a.
63 “We might even describe Apollo as the glorious divine image of the principium individuationis”, writes Michael Tanner in his introduction to Shaun Whiteside’s translation of
The Birth of Tragedy, p. 16.
subterranean, chthonic origins, it wells up through the group mind, the
homo gestalt, via the intoxication of emotions and, jolted by the great
Earth-mother goddess of prehistory, artists are inspired to explore a
long-latent Dionysian impulse. Paglia replaces the post-Olympian masculine construct of Dionysus with the pre-Olympian Great Mother
deity, setting up a gender opposition between the Apollonian and the
The introduction of Paglia’s recalibration of the Dionysian as chthonic
and fundamentally feminine raises a significant problem in the context of Burgess however. Although Paglia’s introduction of the Great
Mother deity allows the form of the Muse figure in Burgess’s work to
be explained as a Dionysian avatar, it also generates an historical opposition between the Augustinian and Paglian conceptions of the Dionysian
which requires a resolution. Writing about the followers of Cybele, a
Phrygian Great Mother deity, in 415 CE, Augustine refers to her rites
as “obscene”, “shameful”, “filthy”, “the mad and abominable revelry
of effeminates and mutilated men”. He proclaims: “If this is purification, what is pollution? The Great Mother has surpassed all her sons, not
in greatness of deity, but of crime.” The deity herself is described as a
“monster”, exceeding even Jupiter in abomination:
He, with all his seductions of women, only disgraced heaven with one
Ganymede; she, with so many avowed and public effeminates, has both
defiled the earth and outraged heaven.64
It is clearly impossible to reconcile the pessimistic ascetism of Augustine
with the Bacchic excesses of late Mother goddess worship. Neither
Nietzsche’s original hypothesis of the Apollonian–Dionysian dialectic
nor Paglia’s augmented interpretation of it can be applied successfully to
the realm of theology. But Burgess’s theological terms bear little engagement with the theological positions from which he derives them. Rather,
when applied to the arena of artistic creation, they tend to lose their
ontological meaning and begin to function as metaphors for two opposing impulses in human existence and aesthetic creation.
64 The City of God, Saint Augustine, trans. Marcus Dodds, Modern Library, New York,
1950, pp. 232–233.
64 J. Clarke
Therefore Paglia’s variant of the Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy can function as an aesthetic analogue for Burgess’s opposition of
Augustinianism and Pelagianism. Paglia remains largely faithful to the
tension between impulses that Nietzsche’s text describes. She concurs
with Nietzsche’s verdict that there is a direct lineage from Socrates to
modern science which is entirely and extremely Apollonian. She agrees
with the objective hypostasis of Apollo that Nietzsche calls “Being” and
the dynamism of Dionysianism that Nietzsche calls “Becoming”. Yet
Paglia also develops the terms in the context of the late twentieth century in which she wrote Sexual Personae, offering an expanded understanding of their meanings to accommodate the vast range of subject
material that her text considers. She summarises this expanded opposition of creative impulse succinctly:
Dionysus is energy, ecstasy, hysteria, promiscuity, emotionalism—heedless indiscriminateness of idea or practice. Apollo is obsessiveness, voyeurism, idolatry, fascism—frigidity and aggression of the eye, petrifaction of
objects. (SP, 96)
The addition of such dualities as gender, or the late eighteenth-century tension between classicism and romanticism, or the opposition of
paganism with monotheist Judaeo-Christianity, all assist Paglia’s agenda
to expand Nietzsche’s terminology to the point where it might legitimately encompass all of Western art. Nietzsche had claimed that his thesis applied throughout the history of Western culture without actually
demonstrating it. His exempla were restricted to the Attican drama of his
academic specialisation and Wagner’s music, his highly subjective representative of the potentiality of late nineteenth-century art. Hans Reiss
notes how:
Greek culture for Nietzsche was the prototype of a great culture; for it
reflected the wholeness of a nation’s life where unity was revealed in all
its particular manifestations. He never questioned, let alone examined, this
assumption which struck him as self-evident.65
65 The
Writer’s Task from Nietzsche to Brecht, Hans Reiss, London, Macmillan, 1978, p.
This is one of the fundamental achievements of Paglia’s epic study. For
over a century scholars had utilised Nietzsche’s compelling distinction
between Apollo and Dionysus in relation to Western art and culture
without ever demonstrating that it could legitimately be mapped on to
the cultural space they were inspecting. In fact, Nietzsche himself had
failed to demonstrate that it was applicable to ancient Greek culture.
Paglia’s exceptionally comprehensive efforts to demonstrate its universality as an applicable theoretical device inevitably imposed significant augmentation and addition upon Nietzsche’s outline concept.
Paglia’s insightful overview of Western culture does clarify many issues
that Burgess raises within his fiction. Her astute, though not original,
perspective on Rousseau as the most significant of Western philosophical optimists is clearly useful when examining texts such as A Clockwork
Orange. Although Burgess’s text centres around his favoured theme of
human free will, encouraging an analysis predicated by his own preferred
opposition of Augustinian and Pelagian doctrines, Paglia’s perspective on
the influence of Rousseau in Western liberalism leads us rather to consider A Clockwork Orange as an analysis of the social failings of such a
system on the level of the individual:
[F]eminism, like all liberal movements of the past two hundred years is
heir to Rousseau. The Social Contract (1762) begins: “Man is born free,
and everywhere he is in chains.” Pitting benign Romantic nature against
corrupt society, Rousseau produced the progressivist strain in nineteenthcentury culture, for which social reform was the means to achieve paradise
on earth. (SP, 2)
This “progressivist strain” not only encompasses the thinking of Marx
and his followers, but also underpins the general breadth of modern
Western liberalism. Movements as diverse as feminism, social democratism, minority rights and communism all share the medium of social
reform as the predicating action towards perfecting society. Paglia correctly traces these movements back to Rousseau, whose optimistic
analysis of man’s inherent nature—“born free”—is shared by Pelagius.
Whereas Pelagius offered individual change as the predicating action to
improving the human condition, encouraging his followers to base their
behavioural patterns upon those of Jesus Christ, Rousseau recommended
programmes of social reform, such as access to education:
66 J. Clarke
Rousseau rejects original sin, Christianity’s pessimistic view of man born
unclean, with a propensity for evil. Rousseau’s idea, derived from Locke,
of man’s innate goodness led to social environmentalism… It assumes
that aggression, violence and crime come from social deprivation—a poor
neighbourhood, a bad home. (SP, 2)
Burgess critically examined the efficacy of such Rousseauvist social
experimentation in a number of his novels, notably A Clockwork Orange.
In this regard both Paglia and Burgess can be seen to associate the
Apollonian impulse with a nexus of social progressivism and transgression of traditional societal norms. This relates not only to the Pelagian
impulse to perfecting the individual, which can come at a cost as Burgess
warns in A Clockwork Orange, but also to the transgressive impulses that
Paglia identifies in the overthrow of traditional goddess worship and
the spiritual migration from group mind to individual eye, and which
Burgess diagnoses in the reversed social norms of the Pelphase in The
Wanting Seed and in Kit Marlowe’s espousal of atheism and homosexuality in A Dead Man in Deptford.
However, the Dionysian impulse is also transgressive, since both are
progenitors of aesthetic creation. The distinction is between transgression inspired by the intellect that seeks to improve on the existing paradigm and is therefore Apollonian, and transgression fuelled by natural
emotions, which in this dichotomy may be read as Dionysian intoxication, inspired by the earth goddess. Paglia delineates this distinction
The quarrel between Apollo and Dionysus is the quarrel between the
higher cortex and the older limbic and reptilian brains. Art reflects on and
resolves the eternal human dilemma of order versus energy. In the west,
Apollo and Dionysus strive for victory. Apollo makes the boundary lines
that are civilisation, but that lead to convention, constraint, oppression.
Dionysus is energy unbound, mad, callous, destructive, wasteful. (SP, 96)
Curiously, in this discussion of earth goddesses and sky cults, Paglia’s
dichotomy actually proves compatible with the original conception of
Manicheism as expressed by the prophet Mani. The goddess figure to
whom Paglia attributes the Dionysian artistic impulse, a goddess simultaneously capricious and inspirational, resembles the eternal feminine,
the spiritual double revealed to the Persian visionary. This goddess can
also be found in the works of Ted Hughes, Robert Graves and some
American Manichean writers.
Paglia’s expansion of the Apollo–Dionysus dichotomy, unlike Burgess’s
shifting definitions of Manicheism, adheres closely to the theology of the
prophet Mani. Yet it also draws an almost Platonic distinction between
earthly womanhood and a spiritual feminine ideal. Paglia resolves this
through reference to a chthonic prehistorical goddess archetype. In
Sexual Personae, she develops an opposition between two forms of early
religion, earth cult and sky cult, which also finds echoes in Updike and
Burgess. The distinction is that Dionysian (or chthonic) religion, being
based upon the feminine principle of the Great Mother, is rooted in
nature and the natural world around us. Apollonian religion, which
superseded goddess worship at the dawn of recorded history, places its
masculine deity or pantheon outside the knowable world (up in the sky
as a sun god, on Olympus, or in a notional Heaven or spiritual plane) so
as to impose order upon chthonic chaos and inspire humanity towards
subduing and improving upon the natural world. Samuel Coale has
noted this opposition of earth cult and sky cult in the work of John
Radical polarities pervade and permeate Updike’s books. Matter and spirit
clash and duel relentlessly; woman and man, earth-goddess and sky-god,
sex and religion, past and present grapple and interpenetrate one another
Burgess’s understanding of the prehistoric Goddess religion and its influence over the creation of art came not from Paglia or Updike, but from
Robert Graves, who popularised the idea that the creation of poetry was
an intuitive act of worship of the ur-Goddess, mediated via her avatar the
Muse or through her image, the moon. Graves’s book on the subject,
The White Goddess, was well-known to Burgess, and he even referenced
it when attempting to define the central role of the Muse in his Enderby
cycle. Burgess knew Graves personally and, as with many more prominent writers, provoked an argument which later rankled into a feud.
They met at a poetry reading at Manchester University during Burgess’s
66 In Hawthorne’s Shadow, Samuel Coale, University of Kentucky Press, Lexington, KY,
1985, p. 124.
68 J. Clarke
undergraduate days and he criticised Graves in a student magazine review
afterwards. Graves angrily rebutted Burgess’s review point by point in
a letter, leading to a long-standing animus held by Burgess against the
older writer. As Andrew Biswell writes,
This letter sparked the beginning of Burgess’s off-and-on campaign against
the poet, which he pursued in reviews of Graves’s Collected Short Stories
(1965) and his translation of Omar Khayyám’s Rubáiyát (1967). The vendetta was resumed in 1971, with dismissive remarks on Graves’s “pot-boiling” fiction in The Novel Now, and again in 1982, when Burgess wrote a
long article on Martin Seymour-Smith’s biography of Graves. (Real Life,
Despite the apparent rancour, Burgess made use of Graves’s work, especially in delineating the process of artistic creation pursued by characters
such as Enderby or Will. The heavy influence of The White Goddess upon
the texts of the Enderby quadrilogy and Nothing Like The Sun has been
noted by critics, and has even been acknowledged by Burgess himself.
Kevin Jackson has noted the influence of The White Goddess in the construction of the poetic voice and mythos of Enderby:
Put another way, Enderby is, toutes proportions gardées, something of a
William Empson, with perhaps a jigger or two of Robert Graves (the goddess mythology) and W.H. Auden for good measure. (Sonnets, xii)
Graves’s idea for the book that was to become The White Goddess originated in his identifying a stylistic disconnect in the tradition of English
poetry. Given his significant interest in mythology and the works of
the early social anthropologist James Frazer, Graves developed his idea
beyond an analysis of the structural dissonance he had identified into a
consideration of the mytho-historical developments which he posited
may have led to it. Grevel Lindop notes that,
by July 1943 Graves was writing to [Alan] Hodge about the links between
poetry and “primitive moon-worship” and suggesting that “The history of
English poetry has been the modifying of the original moon-poetry, which
is stressed, with sun-poetry (intellectual, Apollo poetry) which is measured
in regular beats and metres.” (WG, viii)
As Graves explored the mytho-historical development of patriarchal
rationality and attempted to track its growing influence over European
culture in recorded history, he identified the artistic impulse with the
early Goddess religion and came to the conclusion that the “function of
poetry is religious invocation of the Muse; its use is the experience of
mixed exaltation and horror that her presence excites” (WG, 10). For
Graves the prehistoric Goddess worship demonstrated by the existence
of feminine religious totems like Sheela-na-Gigs could be intuited in
early art, and could therefore be considered as the source of art itself.
Like Paglia, Graves argued that a patriarchal turn caused a rupture in cultural production. Early in his delineation of this argument, Graves highlights the role of Socrates as a key desacralising rationalist, in terms that
evoke Nietzsche’s similar summation in The Birth of Tragedy. For both,
Socrates represents a pivotal moment in which the balance of power
shifted crucially away from supernatural mythology and towards a scientific rationality:
One of the most compromising rejections of early Greek mythology was
made by Socrates. Myths frightened or offended him; he preferred to turn
his back on them and discipline his mind to think scientifically. (WG, 9)
Graves, like Paglia, can therefore be understood to be theorising at least
partly within the lineage of thought initiated by the Nietzschean dichotomy. Both offer an augmentation of Nietzsche’s thought primarily by
way of conceptualising the desacralising process identified with Socrates
within a lengthy historical process wherein the Dionysian (or Goddessinspired) impulse was slowly suppressed, and eventually replaced by a
hegemonous patriarchal and rationalising impulse. For both, their theory is problematised by the historicity of the late Medieval and early
Modern era, primarily in terms of how they could locate their posited
tension between two opposing impulses within the dominant Christian
culture of Europe at that time. Both utilise the cultural disconnect of the
Reformation to recast Roman Catholicism, especially in its pre-Reformation form, as a subverted development of the Dionysian (or Goddess)
mythos. For Graves,
the popular appeal of modern Catholicism is, despite the patriarchal Trinity
and the all-male priesthood, based rather on the Aegean Mother-and-Son
70 J. Clarke
religious tradition, to which it has slowly reverted, than on its Aramaean or
Indo-European “warrior-god” elements. (WG, 56)
This sentiment is echoed in Sexual Personae repeatedly, as Paglia
attempts to construct a Catholicism in which its superficial sky-cult
appearance is a veneer, a mere mask of convenience, thinly veiling an
underlying chthonism. When Paglia writes that the “Romanism in
Catholicism is splendidly, enduringly pagan, spilling out in Renaissance,
Counter-Reformation, and beyond” (SP, 139), she is not only delineating a Catholic regionality, a specifically Mediterranean form of
Catholicism, but also seeking to emphasise that Catholicism in general
maintains a “vestigial paganism”, sexualised and decadent, which may be
contrasted with “austere” Protestantism (SP 53).
Although Paglia is clearly familiar with Graves’s work, he receives little attention in Sexual Personae. She cites The White Goddess on only two
occasions—once to dispute Graves’s interpretation of Keats’s La Belle
Dame Sans Merci and again to accuse him of being “addled by homophobia” (SP 672) in his assessment of Sappho. Nevertheless, both Graves
and Paglia seek to chart a trajectory of thinking and artistic creation in
Western European thought from before recorded history to the twentieth century CE. Within that, they both identify an original impulse to
art which they co-identify with primitive goddess worship, and which
is initially challenged by a patriarchal turn and then later, as Nietzsche
delineated, in Attic Greece by early rationalising intellectualism as represented by Socrates. They also concur that this goddess-inspired
impulse to art is later finally overthrown in the early modern period by
an opposed pseudo-secular impulse whose lineage can be tracked back
ultimately to the initial emergence of patriarchal culture and religion. For
Nietzsche and Paglia, these opposed impulses can be termed Dionysian
and Apollonian. Graves does not apply this terminology, but nonetheless
his vision of the White Goddess closely tracks the same trajectory delineated by Paglia in Sexual Personae.
If we accept Paglia’s merging of Nietzschean Dionysianism with urGoddess worship and its varying debased forms in the historical patriarchal era, then it becomes clear that Graves has identified a form of
Dionysian art arising from the chthonic figure of the Great Goddess,
which Burgess utilises overtly in Nothing Like The Sun, the Enderby
cycle and a number of other fictions. The Shakespeare of Nothing Like The
Sun, and many other Burgessian artist-protagonists are clearly delineated
within the parameters of the Goddess myth as Graves has mapped it.
However, given the cultural and political manifestation of this myth, especially within the Nietzschean dichotomy, then it must be opposed by an
equal, if not even more potent myth.
In the Elizabethan era, this Apollonian paradigm is expressed as
a proto-rational pursuit of human perfectibility that strongly evokes
Burgess’s depiction of Pelagianism. In Burgess’s fiction it is personified
by Raleigh’s School of Night, inspired by the occult Neoplatonism of
John Dee and Giordano Bruno. According to Paglia, within only a few
decades it had ultimately led to the poetry of Milton, the birth of modern scientific inquiry with the Royal Society and the overthrow of the
British monarchy by Cromwell. As an origin of artistic creativity within
Burgess’s work, this impulse opposes the methodology expressed by novels like Inside Mr Enderby or Nothing Like The Sun, which propose overt
goddess worship via a muse avatar as the source of artistic inspiration.
The alternative to the muse is the opposing element of the Nietzschean
dialectic, Apollonian art that requires no external power to inspire its
potency. This line of artistic creativity finds it most fervent Nietzschean
proponent in Attican drama after Socrates. The Socratic method, for
Nietzsche, was a development that placed Western culture on a path that
over-stressed the role of the analytic in human existence. As Magnus and
Higgins note:
Although granting that Socrates was a turning point in world history,
Nietzsche contends that Socrates was responsible for directing Western
culture towards an imbalanced, exaggerated reliance on the Apollonian
point of view. A defender of reason to an irrational degree, Socrates had
taught that reason could penetrate reality to the point that it could correct reality’s flaws. This had become the fundamental dream of Western
culture, a dream that was later manifested in the modern approach to
Paglia expands on this when she writes that “Western science is a product of the Apollonian mind: its hope is that by naming and classification, by the cold light of intellect, archaic night can be pushed back and
defeated” (SP, 5). Since the net result of the transition from earth cult
67 “Nietzsche’s Works and Their Themes”, Bernd Magnus and Kathleen M. Higgins, The
Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996. p. 23.
72 J. Clarke
to sky cult is the distancing of man from god, as the Apollonian influence in Western culture increased so did this distance increase, Nietzsche
argues, until man came to assume a position of atheism. God is dead,
Nietzsche’s madman pronounces. Secular Western culture has invested
its faith in science instead. This supercession of god, especially by an
ego-driven rationality which itself threatens to become godlike (or
übermensch in Nietzschean terms) is the ultimate Apollonian stance.
From it stems the impulse to improve upon the world that manifests as
Apollonian art, in which man is forced to assume the responsibilities of a
divinity and recreate the world so as to improve upon nature.
Where Nietzsche isolates the man versus god motif within The Birth
of Tragedy, it is to emphasise the equality and struggle inherent in the
interdependency of the Dionysian and Apollonian impulses. Nietzsche’s
Everyman, the Aryan, discovers that “the contradiction at the heart of
the world reveals itself to him as a clash of different worlds, e.g., of a
divine and human one, in which each, taken as an individual, has right
on its side, but nevertheless has to suffer for its individuation, being
merely a single one beside another”.68 This equivalence is later unbalanced to accentuate the Dionysian impulse as that which should be
enhanced in order to restore society and art. Though Nietzsche argued
in The Birth of Tragedy that both impulses are required for an artistic
optimum such as he found in Attican tragedy, he later argued increasingly in favour of a more Dionysian approach as a response to what he
perceived as an excessively Apollonian modern existence, the ultimate
legacy of Socrates. Daniel Conway has acknowledged this imbalance,
which is based on a distinction between Dionysian reality and Apollonian
Notwithstanding his characterisation of tragedy as a collaboration between
Apollo and Dionysus, The Birth of Tragedy reveals that the two gods are
not equal partners in the business of delivering an aesthetic justification.
While Greek tragedy owes its provenance to the patronage of both gods,
Nietzsche assigns a certain priority to the “tragic wisdom” of Dionysus.
While Apollo presides cheerfully over those simulacra of life that sustain
the illusory meaning of individual existence, Dionysus affords his epopts a
glimpse of life as it is.69
68 The
Birth of Tragedy, trans. and ed. Walter Kaufman, p. 71.
to Nature”, by Daniel Conway in Nietzsche: A Critical Reader, ed. Peter
R. Sedgwick, Oxford, 1995, p. 45.
69 “Returning
Paglia assumes a similar position in terms of her understanding of the
Dionysian, emphasising goddess-inspired art as somehow more valid or
complete than the Apollonian version. Her choice of contrasts, such as
Apollonian Sidney and Dionysian Shakespeare, exemplifies how she balances her argument. “Shakespeare is a metamorphosist and therefore
closer to Dionysus than to Apollo—Shakespeare’s elemental energy
comes from nature itself,” she claims (SP, 195). Burgess also seemed to
favour the Dionysian (or Augustinian) impulse initially, but he slowly
reversed this opinion, or at least alternated his focus, from MF onwards
to the end of his life, especially in novels such as Mozart and the Wolf
Gang, A Dead Man in Deptford and Byrne.
The prejudicial paradigm being drawn by Nietzsche, Paglia—and
perhaps also by Burgess—emphasises the Dionysian as the ‘natural’
state of man. Nietzsche’s Dionysus offers life “as it is”, Paglia’s preDionysian triple Goddess represents “primeval nature”, and Burgess’s
Augustinianism is a rationalisation of mankind’s status in a world where
the “the wrong God is temporarily ruling the world and the true God
has gone under”. If the Dionysian impulse perceives nature as fallen and
suffers from it, the Apollonian perceives nature as fallen and seeks to
improve it.
All a Matter of a Goddess: The Dionysian
Mode in Burgessian Artistic Creativity
The application of an aesthetic dialectic to Burgess’s fiction unveils a
gradual transition away from depicting one mode of artistic creativity towards another. This transition took place over the duration of
Burgess’s fiction-writing career, and its slow development is best demonstrated via a chronological exegesis of his novels. In the earliest phase
of Burgess’s fiction he represents a form of artistic creativity that relies
upon external inspiration, often via a supernatural or supranatural female
figure, who can be considered analogous to the chthonic goddess archetype described by Camille Paglia as the taproot for Nietzsche’s Dionysus
figure in matriarchal prehistory.
This chapter tracks the evolution of Burgess’s Dionysian mode of
artistic creativity, from its earliest expression in his first written novel, A
Vision of Battlements, via early fictions, including The Eve of Saint Venus
and The Worm and the Ring, to his first great successes, the Malayan
Trilogy and A Clockwork Orange, concluding with an examination of
Burgess’s mature Dionysian mode as expressed in the first two Enderby
novels and Nothing Like The Sun.
Implicit within the mechanism of this mode, as with its Apollonian
counterpart, is a global perspective defined by the artist’s relative position to divine creation. Reliant as they are upon capricious higher powers for their art, Burgess’s early Dionysian artist-protagonists do not seek
to rebel or challenge these higher authorities, no matter how they are
made to suffer. This is in contrast with Burgess’s later Apollonian artist-protagonists, whose purpose in creating art is explicitly to challenge
© The Author(s) 2017
J. Clarke, The Aesthetics of Anthony Burgess,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-66411-8_3
76 J. Clarke
the notion of God as creator, and to generate alternative creations within
their art which could challenge God’s flawed creation on the grounds
of their perfectibility. In transiting away from Dionysus towards Apollo,
Burgess’s own aesthetic trajectory follows the same vector ascribed to the
Attican dramatists by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy.
Not all of Burgess’s early novels feature artist-protagonists or
depictions of artistic creativity to the extent that such thematic content became dominant in his later career. In some works from this era
Burgess’s treatment of art and writing becomes, at best, tangential,
such as the brief role played by the writer F. Alexander in A Clockwork
Orange. To isolate the development of Burgess’s aesthetic, a focus on
those novels that feature a significant treatment of the artistic process is
needed, but this is not limited to those which depict artist-protagonists,
since works such as The Eve of St Venus or The Malayan Trilogy illuminate
Burgess’s early modality (and its implicit relationship with an Apollonian
opposite) without placing the issue of artistic creativity centre stage.
The Proto-Dialectic in a Vision of Battlements
Burgess’s earliest treatment of the process of artistic creation in fiction occurs in his first novel, A Vision of Battlements, written in 1949.
Although it does not depict the act of writing fiction, it does indicate
that Burgess intuited a dialectic within the artistic process even prior to
his overtly espousing a duoversal reality. Prior to the publication of the
Malayan Trilogy in 1956, Burgess harboured the hope that he might
one day attain primary recognition as a composer of music. However,
“destiny seemed to have an unwished-for vocation ready for slow delivery” (TMAM, 33). This “unwanted literary gift” manifested itself during
the Easter break from his job as a schoolteacher in 1949 when, following the creation of “a piano sonata and a piano sonatina, a little concerto for piano duet and percussion, some realisations of Purcell songs,
a polytonal suite for recorders, orchestral incidental music for Murder
in the Cathedral, The Ascent of F6, and The Adding Machine”, Burgess
found himself “empty of music but itching to create” (Battlements, 7).
The resulting work features a semi-autobiographical protagonist Richard
Ennis who, like Burgess had been, is an amateur composer working as an
army educator on Gibraltar during World War II.
A Vision of Battlements features a number of what later become familiar
tropes of Burgess’s fiction. According to Timothy Lucas, “predominant
themes in later Burgess can be glimpsed in separate, embryonic context”
in even his earliest works.1 In A Vision of Battlements the reader encounters a semi-autobiographical protagonist living Burgess’s own life experiences, the theological debate between Augustine and Pelagius, infidelity
and fraught marital relations, macaronic language in a multilingual setting, a structure derived from the architecture of a famous myth, and
artists creating art, all regular Burgessian elements in his later fiction.
However, the artists in A Vision of Battlements are not the professionals
who feature in Burgess’s later novels, but amateurs, hobbyists and dabblers. The protagonist Richard Ennis is a would-be composer, struggling throughout the book with the composition of a passacaglia. But his
work is denigrated by Corporal Coneybeare, a Professor of Harmony at
a Royal College, who judges Ennis as having no ear, no natural ability
to compose (Battlements, 189). Ennis’s brief love interest Lavinia writes
“a little verse” but feels it is “awful stuff”. Nevertheless, he encourages
her to share her poetry with him as part of his seduction. While typical
Burgessian themes and content exist here in prototype, Burgess had not
yet formulated a way to express a coherent mode of artistic expression
in A Vision of Battlements. What results from Burgess’s depictions of the
creation of amateur art is a nascent and conflated variant of both his later
Dionysian and Apollonian modes. It may be that Burgess was exploring
the notion of artistic creation through the very act of writing A Vision of
Battlements, or alternatively, the confused mode of creativity was intended
to reflect the unprofessional and unfinished art which Ennis and Lavinia
The novel commences with Ennis embarked for Gibraltar, leaving behind a broken or breaking marriage. He is treated to a utopian
speech made by an historian, Lance-Corporal Cheney, who contrasts
an Apollonian Mediterranean culture beneath “the sun, our indulgent father” with the chthonic Dionysian “dark world of the northern
brine and the crude heavy gods” (Battlements, 17) Ennis and his fellow
recruits have left behind. This army rhetoric of progress and perfectibility, drawn from The British Way and Purpose, a text used by army educators like Burgess during the war, runs throughout the novel and Ennis is
1 “The Old Shelley Game: Prometheus and Predestination in Burgess’s Works”, Timothy
R. Lucas, in Bloom, 135.
78 J. Clarke
forced to propagate it himself. Yet Ennis is incapable of personally committing to a perfectible Apollonian future:
[H]e desperately wanted conformity, stability. There was no lack of offers:
the Army said, “Do try to be a good soldier”; the Church said, “Come
back”; Laurel now came along with “Elevate yourself to my world.” The
trouble was, of course, that his art got in the way. (Battlements, 37)
This sets up a dramatic opposition of Ennis as Dionysian artist living as
a fish out of water in the Apollonian environment of Gibraltar, where
non-combatant soldiers dream of a utopian post-war existence. But the
Apollonian atmosphere is an institutional aspiration that is not shared
by the cynical squaddies. Ennis and his fellow soldiers, even the lecturers themselves, are all aware that the “vague golden age” promised in
endless formal army lectures will never come “when wrongs would be
righted, wives no longer seduced by the stranger in the land (Pole, Free
French, American), work plentiful and beer cheap”. Ennis, like all his fellows, is under no illusion that the army’s utopian vision is “all an opiate,
but perhaps even a kind of poetry in which the act of expression meant
everything, the content nothing” (Battlements, 38).
Ennis’s artistic urge is depicted as subject to mythology, along with
all aspects of life in Gibraltar. His existence and identity are circumscribed by the mythology of his own parentage and marriage, statuses
which are described as functioning “behind” or beyond mere history,
and hence abstracted in the same sense that Nietzsche considers mythology.2 Equally, his artistic vision is subordinated to clashing mythologies
of the Mediterranean, where the figures of Venus and Prometheus can
be understood as early representations of the two opposed Burgessian
artistic modes. Venus, as also depicted in The Eve of Saint Venus, is not
the sanitised Grecian love goddess she initially seems so much as the
Paglian chthonic female archetype who stands in the shadows behind
Nietzsche’s Dionysus. Prometheus, alternatively, represents rebellion
and aspiration, the Pelagian will towards human perfectibility expressed
through personification in an Apollonian manner. The Apollonian
archetype of Prometheus runs through Burgess’s fiction, emerging in
2 “In The Birth of Tragedy and in the second Untimely Meditation … Nietzsche insists
that the genuinely mythic figures need to be, like the masked figures of Greek tragedy,
abstract rather than naturalistically detailed.” Young, 225.
different forms in The Malayan Trilogy, Napoleon Symphony and A Dead
Man in Deptford. With Ennis’s “real” life in Britain and his identity rendered into myth, and the utopian vision of the future propagated by the
army an obvious fiction, that “left only art. For him, Ennis, only music”
(Battlements, 38).
Ennis finds his music flows easily while conducting his affair with
his piano student Concepción, but the relationship is doomed to fail
once she falls pregnant and refuses an abortion. After he abandons her,
we encounter the first iteration of Burgess’s fundamental duality in his
He had known it well at the time of his leaving the Church, the vision of
the gangster-God saying, “That may be so brother, you the last repository
of values. But I’m in charge here. If I press the button on the wall, chaos
will come again. I know Time, I know the mystery of the budding cell, I
know the secret of power.” Then the shackled Lucifer was seen with his
Non serviam, then Prometheus the brave fire stealer, pecked by eagles on
the stark rock. Ennis had become a Manichee, at home in a world of perpetual war. It did not matter what the flags or badges were; he looked only
for the essential opposition—Wet and Dry, Left Hand and Right Hand,
Yin and Yang, X and Y. Here was the inevitable impasse, the eternal stalemate. (Battlements, 71–72)
This, and the subsequent symbolic baptism when Ennis plunges from
a boat into the water, marks his rebirth into an Apollonian mode and
a transition from the Dionysian, which is marked by its spatiality, the
superimposition of myth and history upon reality and art in a manner
overtly expressive of musical polyphony:
In the close green world time was suspended, and events were laid out on
a checkerboard: Concepción in bed, Laurel at home polishing her nails, his
father opening a bottle, the line “Wer reitet so spät?”, a chord of superposed fourths. (Battlements, 86)
The German citation is the opening line of Goethe’s poem Der Erlkönig,
which was set as a lied by Franz Schubert and others. The poem features
the death of a child attacked and spirited away by the supernatural Alder
King, designating a paradigm shift away from the other “checkerboard”
elements—sex, marriage, family and wine—towards the unknown. The
superposed fourths may imply a ‘mystic’ or ‘Prometheus’ chord, which
80 J. Clarke
again resonates with Ennis’s transition to a more Apollonian mode
of artistic creation. Soon afterwards, Ennis changes accommodation,
abandoning the uxorious Bayley for a shared living environment with
the flamboyant homosexual Julian Agate. Initially, he finds this new
Apollonian atmosphere pleasant, and conducive to his artistic work:
Ennis often felt almost happy. The world of women was far; the cool flutes
of the epicene voices were soothing him to a strange peace. Badinage, discussion about the arts, homo anecdote—these were better than moaning
over lost Concepción up in the dirty billet, antiphonal Doris-lorn groans
from dirty Bayley. (94)
Ennis initially finds his passacaglia “flowed limpidly and urbanely now,
losing the clotted turbid qualities that had disfigured its first draft”, but
equally he is maddened by sexual desire for Concepción even as he is
inspired to compose. This conflation of sexual appetite and artistic creativity later becomes a hallmark of Burgess’s Dionysian mode, and is
unsustainable for Ennis in his new Apollonian environs. It is not long
before the manuscript “neglected, lay dusty and glass-ringed on the
table”, and Ennis’s artistic calling is forgotten (111). Furthermore, this
limpid and urbane mode of music is not actually representative of Ennis’s
urge to create. A drinking bacchanal to celebrate VJ Day drives Ennis
back to composing, and he does so in the manner of Burgess’s most celebrated fictional artist, F.X. Enderby, locked in the toilet. The resulting
music however “dissatisfied him profoundly” because it is not what “he
wanted to write”, Dionysian music “as elemental as water splashing or
rocks falling, as brutal as the grind of heavy chains, something which
would strike at the diaphragm” (117).
Caught between the Dionysian and Apollonian modes, Ennis’s art is
doomed to failure, destined to be no more than “a hobby, like building Spanish galleons out of matches” as Lavinia scathingly dismisses it
(188). Although Ennis continuously yearns to be “back in the billet
with Julian, in the calm epicene atmosphere where lust could be transmuted into creative energy” (159), the Apollonian environment both
erodes his desire to create and dissolves the potency of his music. Like
Burgess’s later Dionysian artists, Ennis’s will to create is inextricably
caught up with his (hetero) sexual urge, and the novel concludes with
Ennis on a ship heading back to Britain, his mind assailed with musical themes in an “agonising exultant process of useless creation” after
he has slept with a brassy Wren (265). Yet his entanglement with the
amateur poet Lavinia is less the “conference of the Muses” it appears
to outsiders than a disappointing and impotent encounter. Although
Ennis feels sexually aroused by Lavinia, on each occasion he finds himself mentally detached, either considering the occasion as “material
for a minor poem” or else working out “a passage of double fugue”
(Battlements, 164, 185).
Lavinia is also a would-be artist, and Ennis is reminded of Venus while
discussing aesthetics with her. The fourth line of Lucretius’s De Rerum
Natura—“Te quoniam genus omne animantum concipitur [By you, every
living thing is conceived]”—which passes through his mind is a reference
to Alma Venus, the named progenitrix of all the Romans, or descendants of Aeneas. Ennis reveals to Lavinia that his mode of artistic creation is unthinking, inspired and unwilled, his free will having in any case
been “quenched by the gangster-God” (125) after his superior officer
cancelled a concert at which Ennis hoped to perform his music. There is
no overt depiction of supernatural inspiration involved in Ennis’s artistic creativity, but nevertheless it assumes the form of unconscious channelling. Rather than evoking a muse figure, Ennis describes his creative
method in primarily psychoanalytical terms:
You don’t create anything with any real conscious intention. Your unconscious throws up a theme and a faint glimmering of its possibilities, then
you get another theme, or even a whole crowd of them, and you’re being
more or less ordered to get down to work. Then you’re so concerned with
the labour of hammering the work out that you haven’t time to think
about expressing emotions and ideas and so on. (146)
This notion of labouring recalls Ennis’s earlier insight that the “pentecostal bestowing of the ability to create” required payment in return
for the “divine gift”, something beyond the mere contribution of
labour that “the gods” chose (119). On that occasion, immersed in the
Apollonian environment fostered by Julian Agate, Ennis feared that he
was guilty of hubris, the Promethean sin that all Apollonian artists commit in seeking to supersede the natural order. In his aesthetic debate
with Lavinia, he tells her he is interested not merely in her poetry, but in
“what makes the artist tick” (157). She, however, interprets this (rightly)
as a seduction attempt and the reader is never granted an insight into
Lavinia’s artistic methodology.
82 J. Clarke
However, a comparison of her two poems does seem to demonstrate
a progression from a Dionysian to an Apollonian mode. Ennis reads the
first poem while being interrupted by Barasi, who discusses marriage
and war, thus forming a contrapuntal narrative to Lavinia’s free verse.
Her untitled poem, which Ennis does not understand, appears to be a
poetic self-portrait, depicting a graceful, though fragile, woman with
blonde hair. But her grace “was not nature’s good,/ Who nothing
understands./ Horrible now she should/ Use to her own ends” (153).
This ambiguous conclusion suggests a tentative but regretful break with
unthinking nature, which could perhaps be read as a burgeoning free
will. Any interpretation of the other example of Lavinia’s poetry must
be tentative at best, as it is offered without context and apparently without its opening lines. Yet the fragment we are given by Burgess similarly
implies a methodological shift from the Dionysian to the Apollonian,
presented on the level of myth. The fragment commences with an
image evoking Demeter (whom Nietzsche acknowledges as a presage of
Dionysus): “in that corn death,/ I am promised to be queen of the bellied wheat”. This death image is, perhaps evoking Frazer’s The Golden
Bough as well as the cycle of nature, also a birth (180): “I pray a last
thanks in my killing breath, /Glad to be ripped, torn of the panting hollow,/ While his one eye glows, the angels carry away/ The suffocating
forge to become the sun”.
Lavinia’s poem appears to be a response to Nebraskan poet John
Niehardt’s 1909 poem “A Vision of Woman”, in which the poet experiences a transcendental vision of all womanhood in an encounter with a
young prostitute. In Niehardt’s poem, the lover stripped naked becomes
Helen of Troy, and they couple in the “panting hollow of the world”,
amid “[t]he drone of cornfields in the warm damp night”.3 But after
sex, the poet lies awake, afflicted with a vision in which the face of the
young prostitute merges with all women; his own mother, the women
who accompanied Christ, Cleopatra, Guinevere and especially Dido of
Carthage. When the vision passes, he adores her sleeping form “with primal worshippings” and is rendered childlike against her breasts. “God”
had made a mother of her though she is childless, and now the poet imagines her “[b]efore a green-girt cottage with your babes;/ And grapes
3 Lyric and Dramatic Poems of John G. Neihardt, John G. Neihardt, University of
Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 1991, 2nd ed. 2000, pp. 54, 55.
hung purple in the afternoon”.4 But he will not give her children nor
turn the soil of the land for her. He has no “kinship” with “the giving
Earth” and the sun shall never “purple” those grapes. The poem concludes the night’s chthonic fantasy with the simple statement “It is day”.
Lavinia’s fragment writes back against Niehardt’s narrative of transcendence via feminine fertility. Her poem depicts the everywoman
as Demeter, mother of Dionysus, welcoming birth in the death of
sex because it brings to an end the patriarchal oppression of Christian
morality, the “four gospel” hooves that “hammer” her “back into the
ground”.5 Just as Niehardt’s poem identifies the poet with the sun that
shall never shine on the nighttime prostitute and hence never give her
the pastoral idyll of family life he fantasises, Lavinia’s narrative deconstructs this male fantasy as suffocating oppression. In contrasting her
Demeter role with the fainting heat of solar masculine Apollonianism,
this fragment suggests that Lavinia may represent the chthonic ur-Goddess who inspires art under Burgess’s Dionysian paradigm. Her later
unconsummated sexual encounter with Ennis presages a similar encounter F.X. Enderby experiences with his Muse in Enderby Outside. Ennis,
like Enderby, is incapable of mating with the goddess and is destined to
be at best a failed or minor artist.
Introducing the Muse
As in Nietzsche’s examination of Attican drama, in Burgess’s work the
Dionysian form emerged first, with the Apollonian form following as a
correction, a contrast and a reconsideration. After Burgess had established himself as a professional writer, and following his own transition
4 Ibid.,
pp. 58, 59.
Burgess’s biographer Roger Lewis, Lavinia is one of the earliest fictional iterations, alongside Ennis’s absent wife Laurel, of Burgess’s own first wife Lynne. According
to Lewis, Lynne was always “within reach in his novels, a tormenting, tragic muse” and
she was “both Laurel and Lavinia in A Vision of Battlements”, commencing a lengthy list of
Burgess’s female leads in whom Lewis saw Lynne (Lewis, 20).
This autobiographical notion of Lynne as the archetypal Burgessian everywoman is not
entirely without merit; novels such as Beard’s Roman Women demonstrably feature characters evocative of her. Yet while Laurel’s ambitious yet scathing letters to Ennis might well
have been inspired by Lynne’s wartime correspondence, Lavinia the sociable, intellectual
poet is a much less persuasive avatar of Burgess’s first wife, who was sadly renowned for
alcoholic excess and social impropriety.
5 For
84 J. Clarke
from a Dionysian to an Apollonian mode of creativity, he critiqued the
stereotypical Dionysian mode as excessively romantic and impractical.
He even acknowledged that this criticism could appear “cold-blooded
to those who have a more romantic view of art—the Muse descending
only when she decides to, the long wait—in an exophthalmic trance—
for inspiration” (TNN, 215). Yet this “romantic view” well describes his
own earlier artistic vision. The Muse populates many of Burgess’s early
works, always carrying the promise of artistic inspiration balanced with
the threat of a demand for payment, “something commensurate with
the divine gift” in return for “the pentecostal bestowing of the ability
to create” (Battlements 119) as his earliest protagonist, Richard Ennis,
describes it. Ennis’s concern that artistic creation may itself be an act of
hubris provokes a recurring fear for Burgessian protagonists—“Did the
gods decide on the nature of the payment?” (Battlements, 119).
This punitive figure of artistic inspiration is the subject of the opening line proper of Nothing Like The Sun—“It was all a matter of a goddess, dark, hidden, deadly, horribly desirable. When did her image first
dawn?” She manifests throughout Burgess’s early writings simultaneously
as a Paglian female vampire and as the chthonic goddess Paglia identifies
as the prehistoric female archetype hidden behind the historicised masculine mask of Nietzsche’s Dionysus.6 The first appearance of a goddess
in the writings of Anthony Burgess dates back to his time as a student
at Manchester University, writing verse about his burgeoning relationship with the woman who was to become his first wife, Lynne. In a
poem entitled “A History”, which he wrote for a college magazine, the
young Burgess draws a distinction between the flesh and blood object of
his desire and the abstract idealisation of his longing. The poem appears
to be about his initial attraction to, and seduction of, Lynne but the
opening lines evoke a goddess who is neither Lynne nor some chthonic
archetype or Muse, so much as a creation of his own imagination, an idealisation of womanhood superimposed onto his living, breathing lover:
6 Paglia describes the female vampire as a recurring sexual persona in Western art and culture who preys on male strength. Paglia identifies many figures from culture and literature
as female vampires, including the Biblical Eve, the Gorgon Medusa, Nefertiti, Catullus’s
Lesbia, Spenser’s “aristocratic Amazons” (193), von Kleist’s Penthesilea, Geraldine in
Coleridge’s Christabel, Keats’s Lamia, Catherine’s ghost in Wuthering Heights and the
Hollywood femme fatale, among many others.
Anyway, there emerged from his mind’s cellar
The forged stamp of the image of the goddess,
And it fell upon her,
Almost, as it were, per accidens. (Sonnets, 27)
Later in the poem, following the consummation of their relationship,
the narrator realises that the act of “opening” her body to a man will
be more significant to his object of adoration than “their personal history”. In other words, the experience of sex would be more important to
her than the fact that she had slept specifically with him. The narrator’s
response is to revert to his idealisation:
Stricken, he escapes to the war.
In absence her image reverts to that of the goddess crystallised
About his longings; (Sonnets, 27)
The goddess of “A History” is an adolescent idealisation of womanhood,
yet insofar that this goddess causes the poem’s narrator a degree of pain,
she bears kinship to the series of chthonic, punitive, supernatural Muses
who populate Burgess’s later fictions. That archetype first emerges in a
minor work written in 1952 when Burgess still harboured musical rather
than literary ambitions, and so wrote a libretto based on a story from
Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy which Burton had himself taken
from the Latin poem Pervigilium Veneris.7 Burgess reimagined the Latin
poem as a short opera, and created a series of characters and a locale (an
English Gothic mansion’s drawing room) that would easily translate on
to the stage and into music; the six main characters cover the standard
range of opera voices. Never a writer to waste work, when Burgess later
achieved success as a novelist, he revisited the abandoned libretto and
recrafted it into a novella, The Eve of Saint Venus, and it was first published in 1964, the same year as Nothing Like The Sun.
From the brief version of the story in the Anatomy of Melancholy (a
bare 280 words), Burgess wrought a comic tale that exposes the earliest
incarnation of his muse as he understood it, and also reveals that the elements of Dionysianism and Apollonianism in his work actually predate
7 Burgess attributed this poem to Florilegus, following Burton, but it is now considered
to be the work of Tiberianus, who is better known for his poem Amnis Ibat, which shares
the unusual metre and subject matter of the Pervigilium.
86 J. Clarke
his theological wrangling with free will and divine grace in fiction. The
cast parts neatly across Nietzsche’s divide. The figures of Julia Webb
and Crowther-Mason, respectively the bridesmaid and best man, are
Apollonian spirits, reflecting the modernity, optimism, transgression and
scientific urge of their respective careers as journalist and politician.
The parents of the bride represent the Dionysian impulse, not only
by way of their matrimonial example, but also through their actions:
Lord Drayton indulges in phenomenal eating and drinking throughout,
while yearning for a more vital past when blood was stronger; and Lady
Drayton, in addition to railing against Julia’s Apollonian plot to foil the
wedding, forms one part of the triple-aspected goddess, whose maiden
and hag forms are represented by the maid Spatchcock and the cackling
nanny who has already buried five husbands of her own.
Burgess opens his version on the eve of Ambrose’s wedding to Diana,
as her father receives delivery of a present of mediocre statuary sent
from “Syracuse or somewhere” by his drunken brother. Drayton, who
sees them as “those gods and goddesses, the spoils of Greece, the grace
and gold of the ancient world” (Venus, 13), rages at Spatchcock for accidentally breaking a finger off one of the statues as the story begins. A
dedicated Dionysian, he recognises in Spatchcock an aspect of the urGoddess and, in his florid fashion, verbally attacks her in her Queen
of Hell form. “You effluvium, you miasmal fog,” he calls her, not only
evoking the “unbelievable effluvia” that Will experiences in Nothing Like
The Sun when the goddess first manifests to him in her Hellish form, but
also the miasmic “chthonian cloud” that Paglia detects in female archetypes. Spatchcock is also “sediment, you lees, you leavings, you flasket
of unwholesome guts… Out of my sight, you Medusa” (Venus, 11–12).
Hence, she is both Dionysian liquid and the dangerous Medusa figure
about which Paglia writes extensively.8
Into this pre-marital Dionysian idyll the complicating Apollonian figures of Julia Webb and Crowther-Mason arrive. Webb, a lesbian journalist, is intent on destroying Ambrose and Julia’s marriage before
it commences as she has sexual designs on Julia. Crowther-Mason,
8 In Sexual Personae, Paglia identifies liquids with the chthonic, and hence, in her definition, the Dionysian. Being shapeless, they contrast with structured solidity of Apollonian
construction. This identification spans the “murk and ooze” (6) of geological nature, the
primeval and dangerous ocean, blood and bloodshed, especially in vampiric attack or maenadic fury, and the Dionysian intoxication represented by wine.
a subtle politician, is a less fervent Apollonian than Julia and has no
designs upon the wedding. Nevertheless, he espouses a continual rejection of the Dionysian paradigm, especially in his interactions with the
Reverend Chauncell, who ultimately loses his Christian faith as a result of
Apollonian persuasion.
Webb reveals her Apollonian credentials when she first meets
Crowther-Mason on the eve of the wedding: “We journalists regard our
world as a higher order of reality than most people call the real” (Venus,
20). She works as an agony aunt, advising distraught young women
on how to deal with advances from stepfathers and otherwise improve
their existence, yet overtly holds her readership in contempt. For Julia,
the world is perfectible, and she sees her vocation as a remaking of the
imperfect natural world. This refutation of inherited “natural” order is
also expressed by her homosexuality. She privately promises Julia: “I can
look after you, you need looking after. I’ll be more than a husband or
a friend”, later Lady Drayton comments on Julia’s “naked hungry will”
(Venus, 30).
In this paean to Venus, the love goddess, Julia’s role is diabolical. In seeking to destroy the marriage, she is the opposing force to
the Dionysian impulse. Her credo—“All restraint is immoral” (Venus,
21)—she claims to borrow from Blake, a writer considered by Paglia as
an Apollonian intent on wrestling sex from the possession of the Great
Mother of chthonic nature. In a spirit of whimsy, when Julia calls her
travel agent in London to book a holiday in France for her and Diana,
Burgess has her request the number “Revelation six double six”. In the
context of this slender Dionysian novella, her unashamed Apollonianism
is clearly diabolical.
For Sir Benjamin, Julia’s modern world is a mere milksop version
of the glorious past. He expresses his opinion, while gorging on alcohol and food, in terms of Dionysian blood, establishing the connection
between Bacchic drinking, blood and Dionysian history, while condemning Apollonian television and cinema as fake Platonic simulacra, designed
to weaken the vitality of the populace:
“Wine … makes blood, and blood makes history, and blood is conspicuously, pardon, conspicuously absent today … You see them,” he said,
“goggling at the box that’s meant for goggling. There the drained, the
vampire-sucked simulacra, pardon, simulacra ogle and amble and posture
and moo.” (Venus, 31)
88 J. Clarke
For Paglia, cinema and television are Apollonian ways of seeing.
“The blazing lightbeam of the movie projector is our modern path of
Apollonian transcendence,” she states. As a result, cinema is “the culmination of the obsessive, mechanistic male drive in Western culture” (SP,
31). To a Dionysian like Sir Benjamin, this Apollonian vision is an abhorrent overthrow and diminution of the vital Dionysian impulse. He sees in
cinema and television a reversal of reality, wherein Plato’s cave becomes
more real than what is real; the Apollonian hyperreality of the modern
age to his mind is a perversion, a lie against actuality:
You see them in the pictures too, with dovetailed sticky paws. And they let
that dirty conjuring trick, persistence of vision, weave them a flat-nosed,
odourless heaven, ultimate reality, of which this coloured, stinking, various,
delightful, painful world is but a copy. (Venus, 31)
When, as in the Pervigilium and Burton, the statue of Venus curls her
hand around the wedding ring, Sir Benjamin becomes exultant. Here,
for him, is proof that the scientific Apollonian age does not yet hold
full sway, and that there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are
dreamt of in modern Apollonian philosophy. “This may excite your wonder, the incredulity of your anaemic age which explains the miraculous
away with algebra and washes the blood out of everything. But to me it
isn’t surprising,” he explains to Julia and the two men. (Venus, 35)
The most curious figure in the novella is that of the vicar, Reverend
Chauncell, whose name denotes an altar area, requiring only the addition of the presence of the deity to become a sacred space, a temenos in
Paglian terms. Nominally Anglican of the ‘High Church’, he nevertheless possesses some Catholic traits about which his congregation have
muttered darkly, such as his attachment to candles and Latin. Chauncell,
the author of a monograph on Sin and the Good Life, like Burgess,
acknowledges the necessity of sin. He is an early Burgessian neutral
for whom modernity is marked by an anaemic duality. “What have we
instead?” he asks, acknowledging how the modern world has dispensed
with the “incense-laden thrill” of knowing that Hell exists. “Right and
wrong, with their interchangeable wardrobes and the police-courts, temples of a yawning, neutral god with a relish for disinfectants” (Venus, 48).
During the course of Venus’s night-vigil, Chauncell is transformed
the most. His attempt to exorcise the pagan presence of Venus from
Ambrose results in failure, after he too becomes possessed by the
goddess. As he recites the Rituale Romanum, it is transformed between
page and spoken word into the very text of the Pervigilium. This
causes a crisis of faith, and he dramatically renounces his vocation only
to be restored to a new, richer faith during the false dawn of the morning star. He is born again, but not in the evangelical Protestant sense,
since he now possesses a deeper Dionysian faith than his previous weak
Anglicanism. His is a direct fealty to the goddess, Venus:
It was a second-hand faith that I carried all these years. Now it shines like a
birthday present. Oh, to be happy! My very body is reaffirmed in the glory
of its flesh, though ageing. My flesh is reformed. The blood skates through
my arteries; I could digest a whole sheep; my mind seethes with inchoate
poems. (Venus, 111)
Like Sir Benjamin, he becomes fixated on Dionysian flesh and blood
and gorging on food, but there is also an early expression of Burgess’s
Dionysian mode of artistic creation. As with Enderby later, Chauncell’s
renewal by the goddess pricks his mind with poetry. Chauncell’s rebirth
is synechdocal of a much wider renewal by the goddess. The rest of
the cast join him to sing their joy, and the entire land, both flora and
fauna, explodes in a flourishing bacchanal of fecundity and amorousness.
Orchids bloom, beer “sings”, people kiss in the street. The Reverend
The cats are wailing in a most melodious counterpoint, bitches have had a
miraculous accession of heat. In the municipal zoo there must be amorous
pandemonium: probosces wantonly wreathing, capillary erections of leopards and panthers. (Venus, 111)
Eventually he is forced to acknowledge (112) that “My past life has been
the real blasphemy. I’ve been too analytical, too niggling, too concerned
with splitting the spectrum and forgetting about the living rainbow.”
Chauncell has been guilty of the Apollonian sin of scientism. Restored by
the goddess, he fulfils his nominal destiny and becomes a temenos.
In The Eve of Saint Venus, the depiction of the goddess herself is
both comic and tangential, as may be expected in such a slight text.
Nevertheless, elements of the goddess paradigm emerge here which
achieve fuller exploration in Burgess’s later works, including the Enderby
cycle and Nothing Like The Sun. When Ambrose returns in horror from
90 J. Clarke
the pub, telling of how he was awakened by a woman speaking Greek
who claimed to be married to him, Sir Benjamin comically assumes that
it is a Greek prostitute, an enterprising new service provided by the
landlord. As Paglia acknowledges, ritual prostitution was a significant
feature of goddess worship in ancient times, and prostitutes are thus avatars of the goddess, just as Fatimah is in Nothing Like The Sun. Venus’s
appearance is both ghostly and inexplicable. This supernatural intrusion
of the goddess into the rational world is a recurring trope of Burgess’s
Dionysian mode.
The goddess brings, as she always does, poetry in her wake.
Abandoned in the parlour alone with the invisible spirit of Venus,
Ambrose reaches to the bookshelf for a copy of Shakespeare’s Venus and
Adonis. He seeks to keep awake and avoid her clutches by drinking alcohol and reading a poem about her. This is a strategy inevitably doomed
to failure. In his Bacchic intoxication, Ambrose succumbs and describes
love as “really a fever”; Diana, his virginal beloved, responds that “The
alcohol will be writing sonnets for you soon” (68).
However, though she brings poetry in her wake, just as she brings
fecundity to the earth, Saint Venus is not yet the Burgessian muse. The
only writer at the Drayton mansion is the Apollonian Julia Webb, and
she is not in the goddess’s thrall. Venus is the goddess of love and fertility, but no art results from her descent. There is no artist-protagonist in
The Eve of Saint Venus to reap the creative benefits of her appearance.
So while this early work features expressions of the conduit for supernatural artistic inspiration, it does not demonstrate the Dionysian mode
of Burgessian artistic production because of its lack of an artist-protagonist. The full emergence of the muse figure in Burgess’s oeuvre, simultaneously a Gravesian earth-goddess and a Paglian vampire, did not occur
until the publication of Enderby Outside and Nothing Like The Sun, a
decade after The Eve of Saint Venus was first written.
Yet The Eve of Saint Venus does contain a nexus of imagery and oppositions that present Nietzsche’s Apollo–Dionysus dialectic in a prototypical form that Burgess was to expand and mature in his later works. Even
at this early stage in his literary career, many of the elements he was to
explore in his later fiction are present in this slight and contrived novella.
The Nietzschean association of science with Apollo and the Paglian association of modernity, cinema and homosexuality with Apollo are all present,
as is the Dionysian worship of the ur-Goddess in her various archetypal
forms as goddess of Love, triple-aspected goddess and Queen of Hell.
Rilke and the Ring
Burgess’s second written novel, The Worm and the Ring, had a troubled history. It was initially rejected by Heinemann in 1954, and did not
emerge until 1961, after the Malayan Trilogy, The Right to an Answer
and The Doctor is Sick had already been published. Within a year it had
been withdrawn from sale and pulped due to a successful libel action,
and was only republished in a revised form in 1970. The novel is built
upon a mythic superstructure borrowed from Wagner’s Ring cycle, but
otherwise functions as an insufficiently sly roman à clef about the school
at Banbury in Oxfordshire where Burgess worked in the early 1950s.
The mythic stratum of Wagner addresses the notion of creative writing more directly than did Burgess’s use of the Aeneid in A Vision of
Battlements, primarily because the titular ring is here transformed into
a schoolgirl’s fictional diary, full of her romantic daydreams of an imaginary liaison with the headmaster. It is somewhat ironic that Burgess’s
novel warning of the dangers of creating fiction out of real-life material
was sued succesfully for libel.
The trajectory of Christopher Howarth’s narrative is bookended by
two poetic fragments he retrieves from his own bookshelf and opens at
random. As the book begins, Howarth is said to be “having difficulty
with the Duino Elegies, great difficulty. It was only a pastime, of course,
as his wife kept reminding him” (9). Soon afterwards, he reads a section
from the first of the elegies:
Die findigen Tiere merken es schon dass wir nicht sehr verlässlich zu Haus
sind in der gedeuteten Welt
Meaning that the cunning animals have already observed that we are not
really very much at home in the explained, or interpreted, world. (19)
This is the second evocation of Platonism in the novel after the epigraph.9 However it also evokes, via Rilke’s elegy, many of Burgess’s
9 The epigraph is from Plato’s Apologia, and Burgess translates it as “(… condemned on
the charges of corrupting youth and substituting false gods for the gods of the borough.)”
This refers to the prosecution of Socrates but also to Woolton in the novel, who quotes this
fragment in his resignation as headmaster.
92 J. Clarke
aesthetic obsessions. Yves Buelens considers it an “existential question”
that Howarth is faced with, “which also reflects his own hesitations in
life”.10 While this is true, as with Homer’s epics, the elegy opens with an
invocation to a deity, placing it within the Dionysian mode of divinely
inspired literature, not least because Rilke claimed to have heard the
phrase spoken by a disembodied voice at Duino Castle in 1912, which
sparked the composition of the earliest elegies. These opening lines are
recited aloud by Howarth on the way home from the pub:
He raised his eyes to the enthroned saints. Who, if he were to cry, would
hear him among the angelic orders? He said it aloud in Rilke’s own words,
with romantically exaggerated vowel-sounds: “Wer, wenn ich schriee, höre
mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen?”11
Yet implicit in the elegy is the notion of the classical scala naturae, or
Great Chain of Being, in particular the rungs adjoining man’s place in
the universe, in which the Apollonian expresses the human urge to aspire
to angelic superhumanhood, while the Dionysian accepts human animality. For Rilke, “Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich”, every angel is terrifying,
and the poet’s voice is described as an animal’s mating call, full of dark
sobbing, “den Lockruf dunkelen Schluchzens”. Like Kenneth Toomey
in Earthly Powers, who also recalls the opening lines of this elegy in a
moment of self-pity and loneliness, Howarth is struggling to identify his
own place in the universe.
Rilke was enormously influenced by the young Nietzsche, especially
in his Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus period.12 As a result, the
elegies seek to celebrate existence even as they lament it. According to
10 “Valhalla in Trieste”, Yves Buelens, End of the World Newsletter 3, International
Anthony Burgess Foundation, July–August 2009, p. 17.
11 “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the orders of Angels?” (Ring, 23).
12 See “Rilke and Nietzsche, with a Discourse on Thought, Belief and Poetry”, Erich
Heller, in The Importance of Nietzsche: Ten Essays, Erich Heller, University of Chicago
Press, Chicago, 1988, p. 90 ff. Rilke also wrote glosses on The Birth of Tragedy in 1900.
Rilke and Nietzsche were also connected via Lou Andreas-Salome, who was Nietzsche’s
sole love object and much later a lover of Rilke. A renowned psychoanalyst, she wrote sensitively about both men, and appears as a character in Burgess’s The End of the World News,
attempting to seduce Freud.
Richard Detsch, Rilke’s angel can be thought of as a “self-apotheosis”
in which it becomes “a projection of his own creative will” and Detsch
argues that this makes the Elegies analogous to Nietzsche’s own reconciliation of “the Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies”.13 In other
words, in the first elegy, Rilke calls in desperation for divine inspiration
and/or intervention, while also fearing and desiring his own potential as
an artist.
Howarth is no artist, but the potential he fears in The Worm and the
Ring is still his own. He allows his academic research to be plagiarised
and stolen by Gardner, who passes it off as his own doctoral thesis. He
flirts with the possibility of a protracted affair or even a life lived with
fellow teacher Hilda Connor before withdrawing from the relationship.14 He approaches both Catholic faith and full apostasy during the
novel without ever fully embracing either. Howarth spends most of the
novel in fear of his own Apollonian self-apotheosis, almost blindly refusing opportunities to improve or perfect his own future, neither fully
immersed in the gestalt mechanisms of school, church or village life, nor
disengaging from them in an assertion of his individualism. In The Worm
and the Ring, the polarities of Apollonianism and Dionysianism remain
The Rilke reference is counterbalanced at the end of the novel by
another poetic excerpt that Howarth again chooses randomly. Although
Howarth describes the action as Sortes Virgilianae—a form of bibliomancy based upon deriving predictions from lines randomly chosen from
the Aeneid—he uses Dante rather than Virgil for his source text, and
13 “On Transvaluing History: Rilke and Nietzsche”, fn 3, Richard Detsch, in Between
Philosophy and Poetry: Writing, Rhythm, History, eds. Massimo Verdicchio and Robert
Burch, Continuum, London, 2002, p. 197.
14 By the novel’s conclusion, Howarth views his relationship with Hilda as akin to that of
“Kundry and Amfortas” (Ring, 261). This reference to Wagner’s Parsifal is a rare deviation from Burgess’s rather mechanical mapping of the Ring cycle in a mock-epic English
village context. Kundry, “the devil’s bride”, is an enigmatic, pagan seductress-siren figure
who seduced Amfortas years prior to the opera’s commencement, and stole the spear that
had pierced Christ’s side from him, which was then used to give Amfortas an incurable
wound. Kundry is thus a Paglian goddess-avatar who wounds those she inspires, both
chthonic and daemonic.
94 J. Clarke
reads “the final lines of the Purgatorio” (Ring, 257).15 Howarth has,
like Dante, traversed purgatory and is now set to embark on his journey to paradise. Having resigned from the school, Howarth is about to
emigrate with his family to a new life working as a wine salesman in Italy,
and it is their collective future which he seeks to divine through the bibliomantic process. While Howarth does move from an approximately
Dionysian situation at the book’s commencement to a more Apollonian
one at its close, it would be simplistic to describe the novel as his transition from one mode to another. It would be more accurate to describe
Howarth’s progression as that from Rilkean lamentation to Dantesque
rebirth. At this point in Burgess’s fiction-writing career, the opposed
modes of artistic creation had not yet been fully manifested.
The text does contain another of Burgess’s early amateur artists however, a poet-journalist intent on excoriating the village and its inhabitants
in rhyme. The reader is treated to three excerpts from his “long comic
epic in heroic couplets on the town and its denizens” (Ring, 99) as the
poet recites from his work in the local pub, to the apparent enjoyment
and approval of those who are the butt of his jibes. Burgess offers no
further explanation for the poet, and it is possible that he exists solely as
a trope to permit the inclusion of Burgess’s own scurrilous rhymes about
Banbury in the novel. A similarly anonymous poetic commentator can be
found in Devil of a State, where “[s]ome disaffected person had written a
poem in heroic couplets, beginning: ‘Dunia, the little world of the misled,/ A deadly living for the living dead’”.
Yet the poet-journalist is also equipoised between reportage and artistic expression, and his poetry can therefore be considered synecdochal
of the novel as a whole. He also functions not unlike the tragic Attican
chorus as described by Nietzsche, a Dionysian discharging of truth into
the Apollonian world of self-images. The poet-journalist is not so much
Schlegel’s ideal spectator, as that aspect of the village society which
expresses their petty tragedies as art back to them, “the mirror image in
which the Dionysian man contemplates himself”, thus warranting the villagers’ acceptance rather than their ire.16
15 The four lines he recites are from Purgatorio Canto XXXIII ll. 142–145, which translate as: “I came back from the most sacred waves, remade as fresh plants are, refreshed,
with fresh leaves: pure, and ready to climb to the stars.”
16 The Birth of Tragedy, trans. and ed. Walter Kaufman, p. 63.
Amateur Art in the Malayan Trilogy
Burgess’s first published novels (Time For A Tiger, The Enemy in the
Blanket, and The Beds in the East), collectively known as the Malayan
Trilogy, emerged while he was still employed as an educator in the colonial service. The protagonist of these texts, Victor Crabbe, is not himself an artist, but in the colonial environment of British-ruled Malaya he
encounters a series of amateur artists, including three poets, a painter
and a composer. Through his depictions of Crabbe’s interaction with
these artists, Burgess’s duoversal understanding of artistic creativity first
truly begins to emerge. Time For A Tiger introduces Burgess’s earliest
reflective artist, Crabbe’s second wife Fenella. Burgess depicts her scavenging snatches of language for use in her poetry, adapting the malapropisms or mispronunciations of others for her art. When the alcoholic
Nabby Adams tells her not to become concerned for Alladad Khan, he
tells her,
“He’s only coughing his art up.”
Fenella heard this with appreciation. Coughing his art up. That could apply
to any of the tubercular poets. She must use it sometime. (Trilogy, 88)
Fenella’s magpie eye for poetic material marks her out as potentially
Apollonian, seeking to personalise, individuate and repurpose the raw
material of life into her own artistic output. Nietzsche noted that to the
Apollonian mind the Dionysian impulse occasionally seemed analogous
to barbarism, and Fenella’s poetry introduces a somewhat imperialist
notion of the impossibility of civilisation in the hot, Dionysian tropics.17
She ponders how “[c]ivilisation is only possible in a temperate zone”
before recalling that she “had written a poem about that: Where sweat
starts, nothing starts. True, life runs/ Round in its way, in rings of dust
like Saturn’s,/ But creating is creating arid patterns/ Whose signatures
prove, always, the arid sun’s” (Trilogy, 55). Fenella’s gruff dismissal of
the land in which she lives as being fundamentally unsuited to civilisation
17 “The Apolline Greeks also saw the effect of the Dionysiac as ‘Titanic’ and ‘barbaric’,
unable to conceal from themselves the fact that they themselves were also inwardly kin to
those fallen Titans and heroes.” The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Shaun Whiteside, p. 26.
96 J. Clarke
expresses the classic memsahib attitude towards life in the colonial
Yet her poem goes further than simple ‘white man’s burden’ rhetoric,
since she depicts Malaya as ultimately uncivilisable, and hence it can offer
no purpose for her or Victor Crabbe other than personal advancement.
Fenella’s is an Apollonian stance, especially in the Paglian understanding,
which sees all of Western culture descending from the Apollonian tradition of ancient Athens. Paglia states that “Mycenaeans from the south
and Dorians from the north would fuse to form Apollonian Athens,
from which came the Greco-Roman line of western history” (SP, 8).
She further identifies Judeo-Christianity, the other pillar of Western culture, as profoundly transcendental, and hence Apollonian. By contrast,
she notes that many other cultures (she offers Buddhism and the culture of the Indian sub-continent as examples) retained an ur-Dionysian
passive acceptance and immersion in feminine nature. It is this form of
Apollonian thinking, the imperialist Western drive, that informs Fenella’s
other idea for a writing project, a passing notion which occurs to her
when she encounters the unmediated tribal culture of Lanchap:
Cool libraries with anthropology sections were in her head. She automatically saw form in her mind the exordium of a stock monograph: “The aboriginals of the Upper Lanchap present, ethnologically and culturally, a very
different picture from the inhabitants of the coastal areas” (Trilogy, 122)
This Orientalist fetishisation of the tribespeople expresses an Apollonian
attempt to delineate the boundaries of their Dionysian culture, to render them safe for Western consumption and to scientistically diminish
the relevance of their way of being. Burgess’s technique here of satirising the modes of colonial discourse may possibly have influenced Chinua
Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which was issued by the same publisher two
years later. Achebe’s novel concludes with a British colonial officer contemplating writing a monograph on “The Pacification of the Primitive
Peoples of the Lower Niger” (185), in which the entirety of Okonkwo’s
history (and by inference the full cultural and literary expression of
Achebe’s novel) is to be reduced to a single paragraph of dull colonialera anthropology. In Things Fall Apart, the suggestion that local culture
could be enveloped by Western academicisation comes at (and as) a conclusion, with Achebe warning that the entire culture explored within the
novel was at risk of being overwritten by a colonial palimpsest of dull and
inaccurate anthropology. In Time For A Tiger, Fenella’s notion is embedded in a flowing narrative, just another slipstream in Burgess’s expansive vision. There is no similar suggestion that Fenella’s anthropological
Apollonianism could come to dominate the discourse about Malaya.
In the second novel of the trilogy, The Enemy in the Blanket, Fenella’s
poetry is contrasted with the work of two amateur poets and a painter.
Burgess has described this novel as the scherzo in the symphonic structure that makes up the trilogy, and hence the reader may suspect deliberately playful and humorous asides deviating from the main trajectory
of the trilogy.18 Anne Talbot’s paintings are a case in point. Burgess
extracts humour from the Crabbes’s misconception that Talbot himself
has painted them. Confronted by the overtly sexual images of nurserycoloured “dendromorphs”, which featured “a snake entering a woman’s
mouth; a stylised satyr leaping out of a cuplike navel; a parade of pink
haunches”, Fenella is swift to pronounce judgement:
“Trying to shock,” said Fenella, as the two of them craned at a sort of
erotic Laocoon, poster-paint flesh and ill-proportioned limbs. “He wants
everybody to think he’s interestingly depraved. It’s all very childish.”
(Trilogy, 221)
However, the paintings are by the highly sexual Anne rather than her
gourmand husband, and she admits that she paints them “for my own
amusement”. While it is possible that Anne’s paintings and her expressed
purpose for painting them fulfil a Dionysian outpouring of libido,
Burgess does not revisit the character qua artist again in the novel, preferring to focus on her emotional entanglements, which at times have
the quality of a romantic farce. Her husband, the State Education
Officer, is also an artist, a poet who expresses his excessive love of food
in verse. When the Crabbes first encounter him, he is “intoning harshly
and without nuances from a heavily corrected manuscript”. Fenella, fellow poet, is swift to a wordless judgment on his verse, lowering her head
18 “When I first began to write my Malayan Trilogy (called The Long Day Wanes in
America), I saw how a symphonic scheme (the second movement is a scherzo) would enable me to record, each as a very nearly complete entity, the different stages of an expatriate
Englishman’s love affair with Malaya, as well as the stages of the process which brought
Malaya from British protection to independence.” (TNN, 95)
98 J. Clarke
with embarrassment at what she considers the adolescent quality of his
Later, the comic potential of Talbot’s food-fixated verse is realised in
a tragicomic scene where he attempts to write about the loss of his wife,
who has run away to Singapore with a lover. His paean to loss swiftly
devolves into yet another poem about food when “the corpse becomes
meat”, and his attempt to versify about the political crisis in Malaya comically fails to make it past the first line before his culinary monotheme
asserts itself: “In moments of crisis hunger comes, welling/Up through
the groaning tubes, and feeding-time/Is the time of waking or perhaps
the time before/Night settles on the land, endless night” (Trilogy, 362).
Talbot’s limited skill cannot transcend the sole subject matter of “food,
sheer food”, and Fenella notes that his poetry “rang with the bells that
called Pavlov’s dogs to salivation” (Trilogy, 225).
Talbot’s inability to write about any other topic provides a humorous aside, a scherzo moment in the symphony, but Fenella’s judgement
of it functions as a contrast to Crabbe’s assessment of her own writing.
Crabbe, we are told, notices little of the tangible world around him,
despite his obvious enjoyment of alcohol and sex, preferring “the world
of idea and speculation” to “the world of sensory phenomena” (Trilogy,
207). This ought to make him a sensitive reader of poetry, especially that
of his wife, but his assessment of her work is uniformally negative. He
reads it, “pitying”, noting when her poems are not “very good” or are
“confused” or “crude” (Trilogy, 275–276). However, Fenella’s criticism
of Talbot’s poetry is reasonable, primarily because it is legitimated by her
own practice of poetry. She “was sensitive to the harmonics of words.
She was a poet herself” (Trilogy, 225).
Crabbe’s inability to see her talent is as myopic as Talbot’s inability to
write about anything other than food. Crabbe fails to see Fenella’s suffering in Malaya and he fails to see her potential as an artist. He begins
to recognise her ability only after she leaves him, noting how well she
writes in her letter to him from her voyage back to Britain. Ultimately,
even after the shock of discovering that she has become a respected
and published poet in Britain, he describes her merely as “one brainy
woman who didn’t like me much” (Trilogy, 486). Burgess has delineated
an internal logic here that is replicated throughout his entire oeuvre—
only artists are qualified to judge other artists, and especially only writers may pass judgement on other writers. Such judgements—in novels
from the Enderby quadrilogy to Nothing Like The Sun, ABBA ABBA,
Earthly Powers and A Dead Man in Deptford—invariably express the
clash between the Dionysian and the Apollonian, as represented by their
respective adherents.
A further contrast emerges in the final novel of the trilogy, The Beds
in the East, in which Victor Crabbe champions the nascent composing
career of a young Chinese Malay, Robert Loo. Having failed to note
Fenella’s poetic talent, Crabbe appoints himself as mentor and adviser to
Loo, hoping to establish his innovative talent as the basis for a national
music for the newly independent Malaysia. Although Crabbe has correctly identified Loo’s talent, he ignores the young man’s protests that
he is not “composing for Malaya”. Loo composes because he both
wishes to and feels the need to do so. This is “a daemon, an obsession”
(Trilogy, 404). Paglia defines the daimon as “a spirit of lower divinity
than the Olympian gods” (SP, 3), which accurately describes the position
of the Burgessian Muse, an intermediary of the chthonic goddess who
stands behind the Dionysian mode, inspiring creativity.
Loo is the first true Dionysian artist in Burgess’s oeuvre, and like
Enderby or Will Shakespeare, he is in thrall to his muse. Assuming the
role of a violinist located in his imagination, she “hurled themes at him,
fully orchestrated, with a solo violin soaring and plunging in the foreground, and this solo part insisted on being rich in harmonics and intricate multiple stoppings” (Trilogy, 428). When a jukebox is installed
at his father’s cafe where he works, Robert discovers that even cotton
wool in his ears cannot prevent the schmaltz delivered by the mechanical
“music-god” from entering and destroying his ability to compose:
The maddening image of the violinist, her dress changed, for some reason,
from blue to green, was more maddening than before: she would stand
there forever, her bow ready, her cheek caressing the polished wood of the
fiddle, waiting, smiling, waiting. (Trilogy, 439)
The Muse is not the only daemonic element that Robert encounters
however. Paglia identifies both sex and night as daemonic, and when
Robert encounters both in the person of the “eminently nubile” and
promiscuous Rosemary Michael, his compositional talent is fatally undermined. In Burgess’s formation of the Dionysian mode of creation, the
Muse is jealous and does not brook love rivals. The manifest world, the
Apollonian creation of man, impinges upon Robert’s Dionysian creativity not only by way of the jukebox but also through the expectations
100 J. Clarke
placed upon Robert once he leaves his father’s house in the hope of
finding somewhere to compose in peace. Seeing a talented young man,
Rosemary embarks on his seduction. Away from the mechanical music,
Robert “heard it now, violin soaring above the muted horns and the
harps, and saw the soloist, smiling in green. Then, with a shock, he saw
Rosemary, and heard no music” (Trilogy, 445). The daemons sex and
night converge upon him, and Robert’s music begins to transfigure into
romantic schmaltz, reflecting the insubstantial and superficial nature of
his sexual encounter with Rosemary, the false muse. He hears “[q]uiet
strings, a monotonous alternation of minor, or rather modal, chords.
Dorian mode” (Trilogy, 474).
Afterwards, thinking of the encounter, Robert recalls a line of poetry,
apparently as divinely inspired as his music: “Do not show your body to
the moon, my darling, for fear that even her silver beams may smirch it”
(Trilogy, 482). It may be, as Robert doubts, a reference to “some old
Chinese poem”, or perhaps a distorted allusion to Laertes’s speech to
Ophelia in Hamlet, wherein he warns his sister that even “[t]he chariest maid is prodigal enough /If she unmask her beauty to the moon”.19
It is also an unequivocal warning against the lunar force that represents
chthonic femininity. According to Paglia, a woman’s “sexual maturity
means marriage to the moon, waxing and waning in lunar phases. Moon,
month, menses: same word, same world” (SP, 10). Rosemary represents
daemonic female sexuality, but she is not a true muse.
Nevertheless, Robert enters a “highly charged, febrile state”, believing
himself in love with Rosemary, and decides that his music must express
the transcendence of sex rather than the innovative contrapuntal music
he had previously written. He rashly decides that “[a]ll the music he had
written before this night must, of course, be immature, must be re-written or, better still, destroyed” (Trilogy, 499). When he tries to compose
again, the jukebox now silent, “nothing came. The solo violinist seemed
to have vanished” (Trilogy, 529). In fact, he now requires inspiration
from the very mechanical device that previously silenced his muse.
Yet all he can manage is a “few bars of lush but near-astringent
Debussyish chords” (529). Enflamed with love or lust, “art seemed
to give no solace” and he is now subordinated to a new god, “a god
who was all soft lips and huge melting eyes, a god expertly invoked by
19 Hamlet
Act 1, Scene iii, ll. 39–40.
Tchaikowski or Rachmaninoff or the early works of the French impressionistic composers”. Like his music, Robert himself is transformed by
his rejection by the muse. His previous composition “was the work of
somebody else, somebody he did not like very much” because it lacked
“the yearning, the heartbreak, to be comforted by the easy message of
the single flowing tune and the big chords” (Trilogy, 530). In an attempt
to recapture his experience with Rosemary, he visits a prostitute:
At the blinding moment of climax Robert Loo saw quite clearly the kind
of music he wanted to write: his vision confirmed those shafts, those bursting fragments, of last night. The claims of the body, the claims of the
emotions—some fine soaring melody above the lush piano chords of the
soloist. The violinist had disappeared. (Trilogy, 534)
In the wake of her final departure the Muse leaves him with “an unbidden picture of rows of tins on his father’s shelves” (534). Robert Loo
might believe that, having long since conquered counterpoint and harmony, he has now conquered love. Instead, he has condemned himself
to a future tending his father’s shop.
A Clockwork Orange’s Other Alex
Such is the cultural resonance of A Clockwork Orange in all its many
forms—multiple texts, scores of translations into dozens of languages,
Kubrick’s seminal film adaptation and resulting public controversy,
Burgess’s own multiple attempts at reclamation in theatre and musical
versions, and critical reactions to all of these—that the aesthetic component in this simplistic and repetitive tale of free will and its responsibilities has been multiply obscured. Partly this is Burgess’s own doing,
with the alienating creation of the teen argot Nadsat standing between
reader and immediate comprehension. The responsibility is shared with
Kubrick, as both made much in text and on screen of Alex’s attachment
to classical music and Beethoven in particular.
In Human, All-too-human, Nietzsche describes how, in a postEnlightenment world which is moving beyond God, people can derive
feelings associated in previous eras with religious transcendence through
an appreciation of fine music. The example he gives is not Wagner (by
this stage Nietzsche had broken with Wagner), but the very same piece
of music so beloved of Alex in A Clockwork Orange, the “gorgeosity
102 J. Clarke
and yumyumyum” of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’. “[I]t can happen”,
Nietzsche writes, “that a passage in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony will
make the listener ‘feel he is hovering above the earth in a dome of stars
with the dream of immortality in his heart’.” Until his appreciation of
music is destroyed, along with his other Dionysian urges to intoxication,
sex and violence, Alex too soars when he hears the “Glorious Ninth”.
Nietzsche, as Julian Young notes, associated this piece of music in The
Birth of Tragedy as “the moment of Dionysian transcendence”.20 Only
a few years later, Nietzsche saw it as a specifically post-religious alternative. Alex in A Clockwork Orange is no artist, though he takes joy from
enacting his thuggery, raping and even murdering. However, it is telling that he comes closest to Dionysian transcendence when listening to
Beethoven. Alex is a Dionysian with no god, no goddess.
The stunning achievement of Nadsat, which remains linguistically
intriguing and stylistically fresh and innovative over a half-century on
from its first appearance, allows teen delinquent Alex, or “Your Humble
Narrator”, to dominate proceedings not merely via his mediation of
events, but also by rendering all the other forms of discourse in the
novella dull by comparison. Thus it becomes all too easy to ignore the
“chelloveck’s goloss” of Alex’s alter ego in the novella, or at least, to dismiss that voice as the hectoring pontification of a hypocrite politico.
Alternatively, F. Alexander, the “writer veck”, can be confused for a
Burgessian avatar. He does, after all, write a book entitled A Clockwork
Orange, just as Burgess did. In fact, he writes it twice, after the original
manuscript is destroyed, along with Alexander’s wife, by Alex and the
droogs. However, this is not in keeping with how Burgess depicted his
avatars at this stage of his career. In other novels, including the Malayan
Trilogy, Devil of a State, The Right to an Answer, The Doctor is Sick and
Honey for the Bears, protagonists exist in locales known to Burgess, often
working in similar professions and experiencing events from his own life.
Although it has been suggested that his first wife Lynne had experienced
a sexual assault during the war, which to some extent informed the writing of A Clockwork Orange, the writer F. Alexander otherwise bears little resemblance to Burgess himself. F. Alexander is a penner of political
tracts and a journalist. Like his fellow journalist Julia in The Eve of Saint
20 Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, Julian Young, Cambridge University
Press, Cambridge, 2010, p. 251.
Venus, he is an ideologue, an avowed Apollonian in the sphere of politics,
who wishes to see reform in the Pelagian sense as Burgess understood
it—towards a society predicated on man’s free will to perfect himself.
F. Alexander exists as an Apollonian foil to Alex’s uninspired and
misdirected chthonic energy. His A Clockwork Orange explicates the
title and theme of Burgess’s own, but they are far from the same text.
F. Alexander’s “clack clack clacky clack clack clackity clackclack” has
resulted in a pompous treatise, which politically opposes the Ludovico
technique later used to suppress Alex’s Dionysian urges to sex, violence
and musical appreciation. Alex himself identifies this didactic tone when
he satirically reads from the draft before attacking F. Alexander and
his wife:
Then I read a malenky bit out loud in a sort of very high type preaching
goloss: “—The attempt to impose upon man, a creature of growth and
capable of sweetness, to ooze juicily at the last round the bearded lips of
God, to attempt to impose, I say, laws and conditions appropriate to a
mechanical creation, against this I raise my sword-pen—” (ACO, 26–27)
Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange is, unlike F. Alexander’s, rigidly constructed in three sections, in which the final part mirrors the first. So
just as Alex attacks F. Alexander and destroys his “life’s work” in Part
One, so the author takes Alex in and cares for him following his own
brutalisation at the hands of the police in Part Three. In the intervening
years during which Alex has been in prison, F. Alexander has rewritten
his polemic, aging in the interim from youth to middle age. The mirroring extends beyond action to personae. Although Alex requires his “help
and kindness” (ACO, 167), he does not know the name of the “kind
protecting and like motherly veck” who has saved him, and is shocked to
discover that it is his Apollonian namesake:
Good Bog, I thought, he is another Alex. Then I leafed through, standing in his pyjamas and bare nogas but not feeling one malenky bit cold,
the cottage being warm all through, and I could not viddy what the book
was about. It seemed written in a very bezoomny like style, full of Ah and
Oh and all that cal, but what seemed to come out of it was that all lewdies
nowadays were being turned into machines and that they were really—you
and me and him and kiss-my-sharries—more like a natural growth like a
fruit. F. Alexander seemed to think that we all like grow on what he called
the world-tree in the world-orchard that like Bog or God planted, and we
104 J. Clarke
were there because Bog or God had need of us to quench his thirsty love,
or some such cal. I didn’t like the shoom of this at all, O my brothers,
and wondered how bezoomny this F. Alexander really was, perhaps driven
bezoomny by his wife’s snuffing it. (ACO, 171–172)
Burgess’s dialectic is here somewhat garbled compared to its more
common iteration, in part because Alex does not fully express his chosen mode. F. Alexander is a writer without inspiration, an Apollonian
seeking the perfection of man without any understanding of how man
as an individual actually functions. By contrast, Alex is a Dionysian
force of chthonic chaos, with his undoubted cunning and ability tragically misdirected into destruction rather than creation. The perfect
world F. Alexander envisages, though presented factually, is in reality
fictional. The article he pens, in Alex’s name, for the ‘Daily Trumpet’
newspaper, is “a very long and weepy piece of writing” which makes
Alex feel “very sorry for the poor malchick who was govoreeting about
his sufferings and how the Government had sapped his will and how
it was up to all lewdies to not let such a rotten and evil Government
rule them again” until he realises belatedly it is about himself (ACO,
When the Government, in the guise of the “interior inferior”
minister, reasserts control of Alex as a public relations tool following his suicide attempt, this “writer of subversive literature” has been
arrested “for his own protection” (ACO, 191) and also that of Alex. F.
Alexander, the other Alex, is a subversive, not only to the government
but also to the principles of free will and individualism that underpin the Apollonian impetus. To Alex his care had seemed like that of
a mother, but maternal figures in Burgess are always representative of
the chthonian goddess. F. Alexander’s desire to murder Alex presages
a series of later conflicts among Burgessian rivals, including Enderby’s
shooting of the Apollonian Yod Crewsy and Miles Faber’s encounter
with his Dionysian doppelganger Llew. Yet it is also a subversion into
chthonic destruction. Just as Alex is artificially warped by the Ludovico
technique to become a coerced and failed version of his Apollonian
opposite, so is F. Alexander, driven “bezoomny” by his wife’s murder
and his failure to leverage political change, is distorted into a failed
The Muse and Mr. Enderby
Burgess’s first full expression of the Dionysian mode is one of his most
renowned creations. Burgess’s comic creation F.X. Enderby is devoted
to a life of poetry, inspired by the muse who Enderby, having suffered
at the hands of a repulsive stepmother, experiences as a maternal influence.21 Despite being a timid, solitary individual who keeps his own
company and writes his poetry in the bathroom, Enderby is thrust into a
picaresque series of comic adventures centred on the loss and rediscovery
of his poetic gift, which is only returned to the poet via a mythopoeic
process of refertilisation requiring interaction with the Muse.
In Inside Mr. Enderby, he marries Vesta Bainbridge, named for the
Roman deity of domesticity and the virginal maid-priestesses who attend
her worship, and like Robert Loo he finds his talent suddenly amputated. The result is a Circean transformation, wherein Enderby literally
becomes swinish, adopting the new name of Piggy Hogg. His poetry is
stolen by Bainbridge and given to the Apollonian singer Yod Crewsy, a
Sixties pop idol whose pretensions towards intellectualism (Crewsy is a
thinly veiled satire of John Lennon) are to be supported by the misattribution of Enderby’s poetry to his hand. It is, therefore, a sterile marriage
for the debased animal-man Hogg, notable only for the literal theft of his
artistic creativity. But Nietzsche notes that Vesta, the Roman diminution
of the Greek Demeter, always presages the birth of the Dionysian impetus.22 Enderby’s first act of renewal is to shoot the Apollonian imposter
Crewsy and retrieve his former identity. These vestigial Dionysian acts by
Piggy Hogg provoke the attention of the Muse who seeks him out to
explore the extent of his creative abilities and whether they ought to be
In Enderby Outside, the second volume of the quartet, the poet
escapes the degraded identity of Piggy Hogg and goes on the run to
21 Burgess’s first published poem, To Tirzah, is used at the end of Inside Mr. Enderby
to designate a farewell message from the Muse. An evocation of the physically maternal,
according to Burgess himself in Little Wilson and Big God, Kevin Jackson has identified that
it was partially borrowed from Blake, and Burgess admitted that he didn’t really understand
the poem himself. (Sonnets, 9).
22 “The myth of Demeter, sunk in eternal sorrow, who rejoices again for the first time
when told that she may once more give birth to Dionysus.” The Birth of Tragedy, trans. and
ed. Walter Kaufman, p. 24.
106 J. Clarke
Morocco. But he must run the gamut of the Muse before his sterility can
be cured. On the brink of his transformation, Hogg ruminates petulantly
about the caprice of the Muse. He wonders “was not the bloody Muse
bad too, withholding her gifts as she had done and then coming forward with a most ill-timed bestowal?” (Enderby, 214). Penning offensive
doggerel about his psychiatrist Wapenshaw in the toilet, an act evocative
of his creative process but one he “did not need his Muse for”, initiates his transformation back towards “Enderby, folk poet”. He temporarily becomes the transitional Hoggerby and his brain begins to fill with
“words that were trying to marshal themselves into an ordered, though
cryptic, statement”. He is not yet prepared to receive poetry, but he is
aware that the muse is once again in his vicinity:
She was there alright; she was playing silly hide-and-seek, finger in mouth, up
and down the corridors. She was wearing a very short dress. (Enderby, 219)
She finally materialises on his flight to Spain in the person of Miranda
Boland, a “selenologist” or lunar geologist. Enderby uses Boland to gain
entry to Spain without suspicion, and promises her a poem as payment.
Enderby may bitterly feel that the moon is “a very liberalising influence”
when Miranda greets him as Piggy, and in the sense of sexual and creative
fertility, it is to be exactly that. But as an avatar of the goddess, Miranda
the moon-muse must first subject Enderby to a series of trials to ensure
that he still warrants the Goddess’s grace. The trials commence with alcohol, since intoxication is a traditional route to Bacchic rapture. Dionysus
may have been diminished by the Romans to the status of a mere god
of wine, but Paglia recognises that drunkenness is only one state of
intoxication, all ascribable to liquids, that may be considered essentially
Dionysian in nature: “Dionysus was identified with liquids—blood, sap,
milk, wine. The Dionysian is nature’s chthonic fluidity,” she writes (SP,
30). For Enderby, this takes the form of ordering a bottle of Fundador
to his hotel room. He bows Miranda into his room, paying tribute to the
avatar of the Goddess, and she immediately offers him the moon: “you
have the luna too. My luna and yours.” In return, he offers her a drink.
Before his alcohol- and fatigue-befuddled eyes, she seems to undergo a
physical transformation from mousy lecturer to sexual avatar of the goddess. She loses “about two stone and fifteen years since embarking at
London” (256), Enderby estimates, as he finds himself considering her
sexually, a notion he instantly dismisses as “purely academic”.
When she accuses him of lying about his claims to be a poet, Enderby
is stirred into reciting one of his published works. This act not only reinstates his former identity as an artist but also assists in the seduction.
When she lays him on the bed and partially undresses him, Enderby
finds himself fading in and out of consciousness as the poetic impulse is
replanted by the goddess. In a moment of lucidity, Enderby feels “a new
poem twitching inside him like a sneeze” (259). Miranda proposes that
he write about the moon, then leads him naked into the streets of Seville
to witness the lunar spectacle up close. She recites the geographical features of the moon as if they were an incantation, and her words magically
draw the moon down upon Enderby. His sudden realisation that she is
within the moon, has indeed merged with and become the moon, frightens him and he flees back into the hotel.23 But in her moon guise, she
follows him through the bedroom window and pins him to his bed like a
What was coming in by that window was the moon, much shrunken
but evidently of considerable mass, for the window-frame creaked, four
unwilling tangents to the straining globe, bits of lunar substance flaking
off like plaster at the four points of engagement. Miss Boland’s head now
protruded at a pole which had become a navel, her hair still flying in fire.
Enderby was stuck to that bed. With one lunge she and the moon were on
him. (Enderby, 260)
When Enderby rejects her sexual overtures, she turns on him tearfully,
accusing him of continued dissimulation: “There’s something not quite
right about you. You’ve got things on your mind. You’ve done something you shouldn’t have done.” Given the chance to atone, Enderby
confesses his crimes against his vocation to the Goddess’s moon-avatar.
He had spurned his life as a solitary artist for the chance of normality, a
job in a bar, and domesticity with a duplicitous woman named for hearth
and home. This amounts to a crime against his vocation, a sin against the
Goddess. He has been a disloyal devotee of the Muse and is required to
renounce his past, stating simply, “It was never really a marriage” (261).
Having formally annulled his marriage before the Goddess, Enderby
must consummate his renewed relationship with her by conjoining
23 “She seemed to be agitating this hollow moon from the inside, impelling it towards
Enderby.” (Enderby, 260).
108 J. Clarke
sexually with Miranda the moon-muse. Enderby’s poetic renewal via
Bacchic sex-magic must incorporate not only intoxication but a vision of
the Goddess. In place of the sexual act, Enderby is transported to a fantasy of driving three young women to a countryside pub in a red sports
car. The three women—“Brenda had red hair and Lucy was dark and
small and Bunty was pleasantly plump” (263)—represent the goddess in
her triple form, a visionary appearance of the tripartite earth goddess also
experienced by Hilliard in Tremor of Intent and Will in Nothing Like The
Sun. By the time Enderby is released from his vision, he is micturating
in the bathroom, an act and location he associates as a prelude to artistic
creation. As he is released from the vision, almost immediately the lines
of a new poem begin to back up in his mind. Coupling with Miranda,
Enderby finds his mind flooded with a lost rapture, that of poetic creation, and his physical release coincides with a simultaneous issue of
Enderby now gently, shyly, and with some blushing, began to insinuate,
that is to say squashily attempt to insert, that is to say. A long time. And
now. Quite pleasant, really. He paused after five. And again. And again.
Pentameters. And now came an ejaculation of words. (Enderby, 263)
Released by the muse, Enderby rushes to put the poem down on paper,
reciting it to his mirror-image, while Miranda, no longer the moon-avatar of the goddess but again mere woman, is shocked by her situation
and departs in disgust. Enderby forgets her almost immediately, “Miss
whoever-it-was, moon-woman.” Instead, he is exultant that “the gift’s
definitely come back” and quickly pens a sonnet about the danger of the
Apollonian trajectory from which he himself had just escaped literally
and figuratively.24 His sonnet features:
what happened in a humanist society. The Garden of Eden (and that was
in the other sonnet, the one that had rendered bloody Wapenshaw violent)
was turned into a field where men built or fought or ploughed or something. They worshipped themselves for being so clever, but then they were
all personified in an autocratic leader, like this Franco up there in Madrid.
24 This poem is actually Burgess’s “Fourth Revolutionary Sonnet”, and was first published in the Transatlantic Review 21, summer 1966, two years before being repurposed
for Enderby Outside.
Humanism always led to totalitarianism. Something like that, anyway.
(Enderby, 265)
Having undergone the Goddess’s moon-magic and successfully shrugged
off his assumed Apollonian identity, Enderby’s first output as a poet
renewed by the Muse is a sonnet decrying his experience—the degeneration of idealistic humanism into fascist individualism. Enderby’s renewal
through sex-magic and the power of the moon-avatar, “that bloody
woman” (265), evokes Paglia’s understanding of the moon goddess as
agent of human fertility, deity of both “slaughter and harvest—symbolised by the sickle crescent of the moon goddess …—[which] are the
record of human sustenance and survival for ten thousand years”.25
For Enderby, a minor poet, fertility granted by the goddess is artistic
only; her touch immunises him from the lure of lesser human femininity, hence his flight from the hearth of Vesta and his later flight from the
caresses of Miranda Boland. This was noted in one early review, though
it was not sufficiently interpreted for what it is—the curse of the Goddess
in Burgess’s Dionysian paradigm.26 In a much more considered analysis, Frank Kermode has suggested that, for stepmother-fearing, Goddessstricken Enderby, all women are muses, all avatars or emissaries of the
The sea, the moon, death and women are now seen to be an important
subtext in these books. Enderby at one point wrote “All women are stepmothers” on a sheet of lavatory paper and flushed it. Later he says that the
muse is “all women.”27
Having manifested in her triple aspects of (step) mother, wife and lover,
the muse will finally emerge in Enderby’s existence in her unmediated
guise, a golden young woman, when he resides in Tangiers. Before this
25 “Sex War: Abortion, Battering, Sexual Harassment”, in Vamps and Tramps, Camille
Paglia, Viking, London, 1995, p. 40.
26 “Enderby can be taken as an affirmation of poetry, as a defense against the deadly neuterism of contemporary life. But it can also be taken as a case against poetry, for Enderby
the man writes his poetry seated on a toilet and has deliberately turned away from all normal expressions of human love.”—“Expanded Version of Enderby Tells of the Poet’s Lot”,
Robert Ostermann, National Observer, vol. 7, no. 26, 24 June 1968, p. 19.
27 “Poetry and Borborygms”, Frank Kermode, The Listener, 6 June 1968, p. 735.
110 J. Clarke
ultimate manifestation, however, Enderby must despatch his rival, the
poetaster Rawcliffe. As Graves notes,
The poet identifies himself with the God of the Waxing Year and his Muse
with the Goddess; the rival is his blood-brother, his other self, his weird.
(WG, 20)
Literary rivalries abound in Burgess’s treatment of his artist-protagonists.
Kenneth Toomey in Earthly Powers has a lifelong rivalry with one-time
lover Val Wrigley, Kit Marlowe in A Dead Man in Deptford is rightly
concerned about his “rivalrous” friendship with Thomas Kyd;28 and
Shakespeare’s rival poet from the sonnets is identified in Nothing Like
The Sun as Robert Greene (NLTS, 83–85). Kevin Jackson has identified “a whole regiment of ghastly poetasters from Enderby’s archenemy Rawcliffe, author of a single dud lyric ‘in all the anthologies’ via
the twittering idiocies of Dawson Wignall and Val Wrigley in Earthly
Powers to the artless Lloyd Utterage, splenetic advocate of Black Power
and sullen attender at Enderby’s creative writing class in A Clockwork
Testament” (Sonnets, x), many of whom function as rivals to Burgess’s
artist-protagonists. Rawcliffe’s relationship with Enderby is one of the
most complex of all the literary rivalries in Burgess’s fiction. They first
encounter each other when Enderby is to be granted the Goodby Gold
Medal for his poetry. However, he refuses the prize in a fit of drunkenness, and Rawcliffe takes advantage by coaxing Enderby to reveal his
plans for a lengthy poem on the subject of Original Sin, entitled The
Pet Beast.29 He later sells the idea to an Italian film company as a movie
script, thereby earning Enderby’s enmity towards what he perceives to
be a thief and traitor to poetry. Enderby researches his rival and discovers
28 “ Kit was now troubled … by the fact of three Toms in his London life, for Kyd
was like to be a kind of rivalrous friend” (Dead Man, 64). Kyd later claims the “foul and
blasphemous” heresies found in his chambers were copied at Kit’s dictation, leading to
Marlowe’s appearance before the Privy Council under suspicion of “association with one
that teacheth atheism”. (Dead Man, 242, 244.)
29 The core idea of Enderby’s The Pet Beast is that the minotaur is the personification
of Original Sin rampaging in the labyrinth of civilisation, only to be murdered by the
Apollonian figure of Theseus. Christopher Howarth explains this succinctly to the wine
salesman Muller in The Worm and the Ring: “You know the legend of Theseus and the
Minotaur? I always think of Theseus as the American superman, you know, tough and clean
and football-playing. The Minotaur is original sin. The Labyrinth is civilisation. If you kill
the Minotaur the Labyrinth falls down.” (Ring, 175–176)
his much-vaunted single anthologised poem is mere “artless lyrics” (62).
Rawcliffe reappears during Enderby’s honeymoon in Rome, and provokes an argument between the newlyweds before inviting them to the
première of his film. Yet, as Sylvère Monod has noted:
When Enderby quarrels with Vesta, he thinks of Rawcliffe for the first time
in other than contemptuous terms, recognizes the man’s clear-sightedness
… Gradually, what transpires is also that between Rawcliffe and Enderby
there is both enmity and kinship.30
Enderby pursues his rival to Tangier, where Rawcliffe has opened a
bar with the proceeds of his movie income, with the intention of killing him, only to find him already dying. Rawcliffe confesses to Enderby
his failure to serve the Muse and the physical and intellectual punishment she has exacted in response: “The real world’s pretty horrible when
the gift goes,” he confides to Enderby. “Don’t talk to me about the
bloody death penalty … Nature exacts her own punishments. I’m dying,
Enderby, dying, and you burble away about writing verse in prison”
(Enderby, 324–325). Before he expires, delusional, claiming a George
Herbert poem as his own, Rawcliffe cites Robert Graves to explain his
treachery to both Enderby and the muse: “That bloody man in Mallorca,
Enderby, says the day of the moon goddess is done. The sun goddess
takes over” (Enderby, 338). Enderby, as a true acolyte of the muse knows
otherwise, however, and this is confirmed when he receives a love letter from the muse’s moon avatar, Miranda Boland, which proposes a
renewal of love and resolves his copyright dispute with his other rival, the
Apollonian popstar Yod Crewsy. With his rival despatched and his ownership of his work assured again, at last the muse can appear to him in
The door opened and a girl came in, very tanned. She wore, as for high
summer, a simple green frock well above her knees, deep-cut at her young
bosom, her golden arms totally bare. (Enderby, 349)
This is the laughing girl that Enderby as Hogg had sensed before leaving
England, finally manifest. Like Will’s muse in Nothing Like The Sun, she
30 “Poets and Poetry in the Enderby Cycle”, Sylvère Monod, in The Anthony Burgess
Newsletter No. 6, Université d’Angers, December 2003.
112 J. Clarke
is golden. Her supernaturality is unquestioned; when she orders a drink
even “the bottles smiled” (351). Enderby dreams that night of her “and
her mother, an older Miss Boland”. She casually corrects the sestet of
the sonnet he is working on, and is later spotted emerging from a local
bar frequented by dropout expatriate surrealist poets. Enderby wonders
if she could be “an anonymous agent of the British Arts Council” (355).
Only when she commences quoting his unpublished juvenilia to him
does he recognise the unnamed girl as the Muse, but when she invites
him to have sex, he fails to consummate. Enderby is not, ultimately, a
major artist. He is a minor acolyte of the goddess, with even his haphazard Dionysian excesses played for comic purposes. Two early critics
misread Enderby’s failure to sleep with his muse as a lesson in life learnt
by the poet:
Although she offers her body to him, Enderby cannot accept; his sexual
impotency is now a recognition that as a poet he must always be seduced
by beauty but can never possess beauty for himself. He has learned love,
but his love must be a pursuit of ideal beauty not the possession of it. She
will inspire him, help him develop a critical judgment for himself, but the
beauty he creates will be for others not for himself31
But this is to ignore a fundamental aspect of the muse; she gelds her
worshippers. Enderby is rendered impotent by her so as to fulfil his destiny as a minor creator. Had he coupled with her, his gift might have
transpired to be greater, but the castrating action would have been all
the more severe. Paglia highlights this aspect of goddess worship, at once
a process of transformative mimesis by the worshipper and an act of jealous caprice by the deity:
Castration in the mother-cults may have imitated the reaping of crops…
By castration, the devotee subordinated himself to the female life
force. Contact with the goddess was dangerous. After making love with
Aphrodite, Anchises ended up crippled, so that he had to be carried from
burning Troy by his son Aeneas. (SP, 44)
31 “Mr. Kell and Mr. Burgess: Inside and Outside Mr. Enderby”, Charles G. Hoffman
and A.C. Hoffman, in The Shaken Realist, ed. Melvin Friedman and John Vickery,
Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1970, p. 309.
Enderby is rendered a eunuch to better serve the Muse. A minor artist, he is incapable of fertilising her, and thus avoids the terrible wounding of Anchises. Just as she does with Will in Nothing Like The Sun, the
Goddess demands fidelity from her worshippers, and Enderby finds himself incapable of sexual congress with ordinary women. However, Will is
a major artist, and his coupling with the dark lady in Nothing Like The
Sun results in the birth of his child. In response, the Goddess infects him
with love sickness, both emotional and a physical syphilis infection, via
her avatar, the Dark Lady muse who is also a prostitute in Clerkenwell.
Enderby does not require such physical reprimands—he can simply be
scared back into the water closet where his poetry takes shape, unencumbered by the competing attentions of an actual female partner. Burgess
highlighted this particularly capricious element of the Goddess, which
exceeds the confines defined by Robert Graves:
But the idea is that the muse isn’t quite Graves’s White Goddess; it is a
female force, highly capricious. And may well be the inhibitor of normal
sexual relations32
Clearly Paglia’s conception of the ur-Goddess owes much to the depiction presented by Graves in his seminal text. Both agree that the
Goddess was supplanted by Judeo-Christianity, that she was the preeminent European deity of prehistory and that she remains potent in
the sense that a latent paganism continues to function within Western
culture as a covert inspiration of Dionysian art. Graves’s thesis is that
“the language of poetic myth anciently current in the Mediterranean
and Northern Europe was a magical language bound up with popular
religious ceremonies in honour of the Moon-goddess, or Muse, some of
them dating from the Old Stone Age, and that this remains the language
of true poetry” (WG, x). However, in Burgess’s fiction as he explained it
the Muse is a darker, more malevolent spirit than even the proto-divinity of prehistory envisaged by Graves or Paglia, but is also a diminished
personification of the positive and negative aspects of sex—fertility and
32 “An Interview with Anthony Burgess”, Thomas Churchill, Malahat Review, no. 17,
January 1971, p. 112.
114 J. Clarke
The Muse in Nothing Like The Sun was not a real muse—only syphilis. The
girl in Enderby is really sex, which, like syphilis, has something to do with
the creative process. I mean, you can’t be a genius and sexually impotent.
I still think that inspiration comes out of the act of making an artifact, a
work of craft.33
Yet Burgess’s description of Enderby’s Muse is at best simplistic. She is
not sex, though she encompasses the sexual urge, for the simple reason
that Enderby is a minor poet, incapable of mating with the Goddess.
Furthermore, if Enderby’s poetry was inspired by sex, the Muse would
not advise him to abandon erotic poetry written in her honour. When she
offers herself physically to him, naked on the beach, holding out “gold
blades of arms, gold foil gleaming in her oxters”, Enderby’s response is to
expire from embarrassment. He feels, and is, not worthy of her:
“It won’t do,” said Enderby, dying. He saw himself there with her, puffing
in his slack whiteness. “I’m sorry I said what I said.”
She suddenly drew her knees up to her chin, embracing her shins, and
laughed, not unkindly. “Minor poet,” she said. “We know now where we
stand, don’t we? Never mind. Be thankful for what you’ve got. Don’t ask
too much, that’s all.” (Enderby, 367)
In Enderby’s later adventures Burgess utilises a metafictional conceit in
order to have Enderby act as his own avatar or proxy, living out possible
scenarios he himself had approximately encountered. This line of what
might be termed counterfactual or speculative biography led ultimately
to Burgess’s ‘autobiographical turn’ in the 1980s, which transpired to
be more confabulated than factual. The later text Enderby’s Dark Lady,
therefore, does not function as a continuation of the Dionysian Enderby
from the early 1960s so much as an editorial comment upon Burgess’s
own interactions with Shakespeare and the world of theatre. While the
Goddess paradigm continues to adhere to Burgess’s depictions of inspiration mediated by women, the nature of the relationship with the Muse
is conflated with the reality of a black woman, just as it is in Nothing
Like The Sun. The last Enderby novel is therefore as much a metafictional
33 Conversations with Anthony Burgess, eds. Earl G. Ingersoll and Mary C. Ingersoll,
University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 2008, p. 58.
editorialising upon Nothing Like The Sun as it is an extension of the
Enderby mythos.
Dionysian Infection in Nothing like the Sun
Having presented the Dionysian mode as farce, Burgess returned to
depict it as Shakespearean tragedy. His 1964 novel Nothing Like the Sun
confabulates around the few known facts of Shakespeare’s life to (re)
construct a Dionysian narrative derived from Shakespeare’s own sonnet sequence, a story of sex and artistic inspiration set in Elizabethan
London. Will’s first encounter with the Goddess comes as a teenage boy
on Good Friday, in a vision triggered by the voyages extraordinaires of a
washed-up sailor who claims that in “Madagastat in Scorea their queens
be queans, for they will take any man to lie withal”. At that moment, as
the image of the exotic foreign whore merges with that of the (virgin)
queen, Will is transported to a vision of the muse as Cleopatra34:
Was it at that moment? England grew all heat, Avon glowed like Nilus and
bobbed with watersnakes. WS saw it: a golden face in the East, a queen on
a golden coin, galleons sailing towards her. (NLTS, 6)
On his way home he is again enraptured by “[t]hat vision!” (9).
Imagining visiting a client of his glovemaker father, he fantasises of
meeting “the great lady” beneath a tapestry of “Susanna and the lustful
elders” (9), the same image that occurs to Enderby when he encounters
his golden-limbed muse. As with Enderby, the Muse strips and offers herself sexually to Will, “naked, gold, glowing, burnished, burning” (10).
Enderby refused the Goddess’s overtures and was thus destined to be no
more than a minor poet, but Will couples with her and becomes her acolyte, with the promise that one day he will be her consort:
He fell before her, fell at her golden feet. She raised him with strong arms
of gold. They fell into swansdown, behind curtains of silver silk. And there
34 Shakespeare’s Cleopatra is one of the most significant of Camille Paglia’s sexual personae, and she dedicates a lengthy section of her study to a consideration of this one character and the play she appears in. For Paglia, Cleopatra is “Shakespeare’s most uncontrolled
and uncontrollable Dionysian androgyne” (SP, 212). Her “rough speech has a daemonic
eloquence” (218) and she is “Shakespeare’s despotic Muse of drama” (220).
116 J. Clarke
was the promise that when the moment came, and soon, too soon, it must
come, he would be possessed of all time’s secrets and his very mouth grow
golden and utter speech for which the very gods waited and would be
silent to hear. (NLTS, 9)
Initially, Will seeks to replicate this encounter with the Goddess through
sex, “making haste to possess her” by sleeping with a “dark-flued country
priestess” (13). This is the same mistake as Robert Loo made in The Beds
in the East. Will’s Apollonian haste to direct his own destiny is rebuked in
mythical form by the descent of daemonic night, for the Goddess will not
be commanded. His vision is blinded by her literally turning off the solar
light that represents her opposed impulse to creation:
And then the great vision glowed, its feet set on the fiery ball that made
ready to go underground. But the Goddess was greater fire, consuming
the world as the sun died. (NLTS, 11–12)
Will later leaves home to “seek out his gold Goddess” and meets her
hag form in the mystic “old lined crone” Madge Bowyer, a stereotypical
witch-woman complete with bubbling cauldron and cat familiar (NLTS,
15). He buys “one pennyworth of the future” and in return, she reads his
fortune in the Tarot. In Old Madge’s “trembling claws” the cards become
a conduit for communication with the Goddess. Madge’s “gibbering” of
a “strange language” is little more than muddled, disjointed Latin, with
phrases like homine (pertaining to man), dis (rich) and tibi dabo (I give
to you) discernible. Of the eleven cards spread, only seven are named,
all major arcana—in order of presentation, The Moon, The Star, The
Magician, The Hanged Man, Death, Strength and the Chariot. Neither
the cards nor the jumbled Latin appear to relate to the message Madge
delivers to Will, which transpires to be astonishingly accurate nonetheless.35 It is, in effect, an order from the Goddess to her acolyte. As Madge
informs Will: “You are here to be told, not to understand.” (NLTS, 17)
He is promised, inter alia, a dark lady to “catch as catch can”, a neatly
35 He is told, though he does not comprehend, that he will not leave for London until
he meets Anne Hathaway, marries her and is driven away by her. Madge also informs him
that his life will be one of hurried writing, and the “fair rhyme” she offers for a further
penny explains his future lovelife and the subject of the entire novel, the tripartite affair
with Henry Wriothesley and Fatimah the dark lady. (NLTS, 14–15)
ambivalent pun on both the male pursuit of the female and the vector of
Once Will is married to Anne Hathaway, following an ill-fated entanglement with Anne Whateley, he again reverts to pursuing the Goddess
through sex, but now faintly intuits that the erotic is concomitant with
man’s animality.36 As Paglia states, “eroticism is society’s soft point,
through which it is invaded by chthonian nature” (SP, 15). The point of
orgasm may connote proximity to the Goddess or, as for Robert Loo, it
can connote a diversion from her thraldom. For Will, the temptation of
the erotic is “bed-slavery”, “a dark way” which he rightly fears:
[I]t seemed to him that, in those shameful bedchamber antics he could not
leave off, he grew, at the moment of annunciation somehow close to that
goddess he had all but neglected (there was a dark way that was shown to
him, but he was fearful of entering it wholly; he knew not properly what it
was but it was to do with evil.) (NLTS, 43)
Nuria Belastagui has proposed an ambivalence in the Goddess-figure,
suggesting that Will conflates “two antithetical (but non-exclusive) positions”, a golden goddess who inspires his poetry and a dark goddess
who inspires sexual desire.37 This conflation appears to be confirmed
when Will goes to Bristol to purchase copies of Plautus’s Maenachmi,
but instead obtains a sexual encounter with a “golden trull”, a black
36 Burgess’s theory on Will desiring a different Anne but being forced to marry Hathaway
due to her pregnancy comes from Ivor Brown, who argued that Whateley was the dark lady of
the sonnets. Burgess wrote: “It is reasonable to believe that Will wished to marry a girl named
Anne Whateley. The name is common enough in the Midlands and is even attached to a fourstar hotel in Horse Fair, Banbury. Her father may have been a friend of John Shakespeare’s,
he may have sold kidskin cheap, there are various reasons why the Shakespeares and the
Whateleys, or their nubile children, might become friendly. Sent on skin-buying errands to
Temple Grafton, Will could have fallen for a comely daughter, sweet as May and shy as a fawn.
He was eighteen and highly susceptible. Knowing something about girls, he would know that
this was the real thing. Something, perhaps, quite different from what he felt about Mistress
Hathaway of Shottery. But why, attempting to marry Anne Whateley, had he put himself in the
position of having to marry the other Anne? I suggest that, to use the crude but convenient
properties of the old women’s-magazine morality-stories, he was exercised by love for the one
and lust for the other.” Anthony Burgess, Shakespeare, Jonathan Cape, London, 1970, p. 57.
37 “The young WS associates the image of the golden goddess with the poetic inspiration
by which “he would be possessed of all time’s secrets and his very mouth grow golden and
utter speech for which the very gods waited and would be silent to hear” (NLTS, 9). The
118 J. Clarke
prostitute serving the sailors. Yet, it is not the Goddess who is bifurcated
so much as Shakespeare himself, split into “sober WS” and “drunken
Will”, a man riven by the complexity of his inner and outer realities,
simultaneously both rational businessman and intoxicated poet, and later
both consort of his Dark Lady muse and catamite to his Apollonian “Fair
It is not the Goddess, the night muse of George Chapman, who
separates out the violent and the sexual from the artistic urge, but Will
himself, squeamish and fearful of the evil he detects in her daemonic
darkness. The conflation of the Goddess’s dual attributes of artistic inspiration and of sexual violence is not created by Will but thrust
upon him repeatedly to the point where he is forced to accept that the
one must accompany the other. The nighttime seed he spills in masturbation over the Bristol prostitute leads to the “other sort of seed”,
the daytime writing of Love’s Labours Lost. Later, in London, Will narrowly escapes becoming embroiled in an apprentice riot, and comes to
the realisation that though no one is truly innocent, nevertheless art
might be made from the visceral realities of sex and violence, semen
and blood, an insight beyond the destructive and incomplete Dionysian
Alex in A Clockwork Orange. After Will enters the patronage of the Earl
of Southampton, the “golden man” promised by Old Madge, Harry
Wriothesley laughs at his meek response to “the best play in the world”,
a hanging at Tyburn. The point Southampton makes to Will is that
the commingling of sex, violence and the art Will creates is not merely
a choice, but is innate. Will must not only look, but “drain it to the
Harry laughed. “Little innocent Will. He who makes Tarquin leap on
Lucrece and everything the filthy world could dream of happen in Titus.
Well, you cannot separate so your dreaming from your waking. If you
would indulge the one you must suffer the other.” (NLTS, 127)
dark Goddess, on the other hand, is associated in WS’s mind with the sexual desire which
is both part of him and other to himself, “some outlandish and exterior beast to which
he must needs, and all unwillingly play host” (NLTS, 11). These two antithetical images,
representations of WS’s double desire (intellectual and sexual), are contained in the composite character Fatimah/Lucy.”—“Nothing Like The Sun: negativity, dialogism”, Nuria
Belastagui (Modernity, 31).
When Will finally accedes to these demands of the Goddess, the artistic
inspiration she provides comes accompanied by the evils of sex and violence and earthy human reality.38 He is immediately rewarded twofold;
with a full player’s share of the theatre and his first vision of her avatar,
“Mistress Lucy”. Within months, Will has become the Goddess’s acolyte,
sleeping with her avatar, the Muse Lucy-Fatimah, and rejecting the optimistic and didactic Apollonianism of Philip Sidney’s A Defence of Poetry:
Sir Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesy is out at last as a printed book. Well,
we have done better than Gorboduc in the years since he penned. He
would have right tragedies and right comedies and delightful teaching &c.
Yet, if we are to hold a mirror to nature (I thank thee, nasty Chapman, for
that phrase) we must see all in one. Thus gibbering in my nakedness and
approaching her with my cock-crowing yard, I see I am a clown, I see I am
also a great king that will possess a golden kingdom. Tragedy is a goat and
comedy a village Priapus and dying is the word that links both. Cut your
great king’s head off and thrust him in the earth that new life may spring.
(NLTS, 152)
Will’s rejection of Sidney stands in contrast to the reaction of Kit
Marlowe in A Dead Man in Deptford, for whom A Defence of Poetry
becomes a personal article of faith. Rather than challenge nature with
art as Sidney proposes, Will submits his talent to the inspiration of the
Muse, whose gifts focus on the evil that men do. The Goddess brings
not only the gift of art, but also enlightenment of the natural and
chthonic horror at the basis of existence, represented in the novel by a
series of brutal executions and acts of violence. Engagement with the
Goddess is an activity which encompasses sex, death and violence as well
as art. Will must figuratively die at her hands and follow her Proserpine
form into Hell:
The transports I now enter are a burning hell of pleasure. If before we
have soared and flown, now we burrow, eyes and noseholes and snoring
mouths filled with earth and worms and scurrying atomies, all of which are
transformed to a heavy though melting jelly of pounded red flesh mixed
with wine. (NLTS, 154)
38 “It is the drawing-in that is needed, blood and murder (well, it is there, it is the world,
I would be what the world itself would be)” (NLTS, 137).
120 J. Clarke
In her company, Will finds “the beast’s heaven which is the angel’s
hell” (156), but he also realises “I must purge her out. But I know I
may not.” She has become a sickness, an addiction, and though he is
rewarded with “plays to be written, images of order and beauty to be
coaxed out of wrack, filth, sin, chaos”, they come at the cost of personal
infection. Will now becomes aware of his mortality at her hands, the corruptible nature of his existence and the sickness of the world surrounding him. The Goddess is forbidden fruit, bringing knowledge of good
and evil, but also suffering and punishment, death and decay:
And more than mine ageing I catch a picture in sun and dust of the
squalor whereto I, and all men in me, am condemned by reason of time
and flesh and indolence: a louse I but now caught in the grey hairs of my
chest, the Fleet’s stink, a boil on my thigh, the wretched mound of rotting
shit that lies to fester in the sun, the diseases that heave and bubble in pustular quietness all over the city and the world. (NLTS, 157)
Southampton acknowledges that the Muse is a conduit for sickness and
evil, and on his sickbed he renounces her while informing Will that she
is pregnant by one of them: “Oh, let us call her part of our sickness”
(NLTS, 182). Will too is infected by the Goddess, not only with sickness, manifested as syphilis, but also with evil itself. He realises that
“from one sin, many may come”, counts off each of the seven deadly
sins, not unlike Marlowe’s Faustus, and finds himself guilty of them all.
But as yet he is incapable of fully realising the Goddess’s vision in his art,
which still remains sweetened:
The reality of life was dark; of that he was growing slowly convinced. It
had more to do with evil and suffering and loss than poetry, born out of
Hybla, would yet admit. (NLTS, 183)39
Will is forced to suffer more evil and loss before the Goddess can
fully manifest to him and inspire his greatest work. All his Apollonian
attempts to sweeten reality must be purged, including his homosexual
39 Hybla was the name of a number of ancient classical sites in Sicily, suggesting that it
was also the name of a local Goddess. The region is renowned for its honey, and the word
has long a literary synonym for superlative sweetness. It is mentioned in literature as early
as the Roman poet Martial, and appears in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part II, when Prince
Harry describes the tavern hostess as being as sweet “as the honey of Hybla”. The most
relationship with Southampton. This is achieved through the actions of
another of the Goddess’s avatars, Will’s wife Anne. On Shakespeare’s
deathbed, years later, Burgess has his son-in-law Dr. John Hall note how
this transition was expressed in Shakespeare’s art:
He saw what the world was and he wrote it down to the dictation of a
goddess… His plays were first all flowers and love and sweet laughter or
else or else the stirring true record of England’s progress towards order.
Then he brooded on what he called evil, aye… But he thought that the
great white body of the world was set upon by an illness from beyond,
gratuitous and incurable. And that even the name Love was, far from being
the best invocation against it, often the very conjuration that summoned
the mining and ulcerating hordes. We are, he seemed to say, poisoned at
source. (NLTS, 231)
Like Ennis and Enderby, Will is rendered impotent by the Goddess.
Following his cuckolding, he is incapable of sex and his “substitute for
tumescence” is the erection of a new theatre. He becomes convinced
that the Goddess “abode in the air, an atomy, ready to rush into a
wound, were but that wound deep enough” (NLTS, 203). Spiritually
wounded by his cuckolding at the hand of his own brother, Will is
open and vulnerable to her infection of evil. The conduit is the prostitute Fatimah, who corrects his impotence by making him “as you were”.
Their restored lovemaking is influenced by a Bacchic element and renders him animalistic: “He entered her like some fabulous sphinx that,
raging into a royal city, was suddenly awed by the gold surrounding it,
made aware thus of the spark of divinity that begot it, then was driven
to the expression of this godhead by a sort of quintessential beastliness”
(NLTS, 219).40 But he is also wounded by the beast himself, even as he
feels his body to be “a temple glorified by her”. His lust becomes displaced by the disease, the infection/inspiration of syphilis that will drive
his art to the heights of the great tragedies:
extensive treatment of the placename in this way is by Leigh Hunt, who wrote an extended
essay on the topic entitled A jar of honey from Mount Hybla in 1848.
40 “he had drunk overmuch (without wine Venus takes cold) to prick the renewal of
appetite” (NLTS, 220).
122 J. Clarke
He desired her then so much that he would have willingly thrown off the
easy lust as a thing of no great value… And then he noticed a minute spot,
drab red, of the size of a small coin, matted into a manner of a plaque,
sharply defined on the tight-stretched skin. (NLTS, 220–221)
As with Enderby’s moon-goddess, Miranda Boland, once the avatar has
achieved her purpose of infecting the poet with art, she is dispossessed
and returned to her humanity. The Goddess departs Fatimah and her
“golden tabernacle” degrades firstly to a “tawny nakedness” and then
to a “brownness, the colour of a dirty river”, a reverse alchemy (NLTS,
223). Thus infected, Will is now ready to receive the Goddess herself
unmediated, and she comes to him in the middle of chthonic night. At
the moment of her manifestation, she unstoppers a porphyry vial that
releases “unbelievable effluvia”. Her mission for Will is to “make those
effluvia real to all”. Will comes to a realisation that Muse-inspired tragedy comes at the price of understanding and absorbing what Paglia terms
“autocratic and capricious” (SP, 42) nature:
I understood what she herself was—no angel of evil, but an uncovenanted
power. But, so desperate was the enemy, she had been drawn by an irresistible force to become, if not herself evil, yet contracted to be the articulatrix
of evil. (NLTS, 230)
As the Goddess “ruptures a hymen unknown to anatomists” and dissipates into his body as particles, taking “total possession” of him, Will
comprehends that he is infected with something more than mere syphilis; he has embodied the decay of the age itself, the “modern disease”
which “cracked order in State and Church and the institutions of both”
(NLTS, 230). Shakespeare’s infection therefore is rendered synecdochal
of the general malaise of the society in which he finds himself. The ultimate conflation of his death from syphilis and the narrator’s collapse
from alcohol brings the artistic process full circle, merging the Bacchic
route to the Goddess with the infection vector of inspiration from the
Like Enderby, Will’s process of artistic creativity is governed from
without, in a process of supernatural inspiration mediated via avatars of
a Goddess figure who extracts a price for the inspiration she bestows.
Art is seen as a sublimation of the sexual urge, a natural result of consorting dangerously with avatars of the Goddess. Through transport
with the Goddess, Will is able to transcend the boundaries of self and
become other, both “clown” and “king”, granting his art a universal
quality which comes to express the spirit of the age. In this sense he is
unlike Enderby in degree but not in kind. Enderby too is inspired by a
supernatural Muse who exists beyond him, but being a minor rather than
a major artist, his interaction with her avatar is much more chaste and
hence he does not suffer the full degradations of her encounter.
Insofar as Burgess depicts the artistic process in his early fiction, it
circles around this dynamic of external inspiration mediated through
female avatars of a chthonic Goddess. Any alternative presented, usually
obliquely through the depiction of rival artists, is only faintly intuited
and barely expressed. Burgess’s understanding of an Apollonian modality, which counterbalanced his Dionysian mode of artistic creativity,
awaited his encounter with structuralist thought.
Conflict and Confluence: The Trajectory
from Dionysian to Apollonian
Burgess’s mid-career spans a period of personal upheaval and professional
success, both of which impacted negatively upon his fiction writing.
In 1971 Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange was
released and Burgess became internationally famous in its wake. During
this time he left Britain again to live in Europe with his new wife and
son, and he began to receive invitations to appear on talk shows and
give lectures. By the mid-1970s Burgess was spending most of his time
lecturing in the United States, sometimes in a formal university role as
writer-in-residence. He also began receiving commissions to work as a
film scriptwriter for various film studios and television companies in
Europe and America. He maintained his significant output of journalism. Inevitably, something had to suffer, and that was his production
of fiction. His lightspeed rate of producing multiple novels each year in
the early 1960s slowed by the end of that decade to a crawl as Burgess’s
attention was diverted by family matters and his increased workload away
from the novel form.
In one sense, this produced more considered works of fiction, such as
MF or Earthly Powers. Yet in another, many of the works of this period
were driven by the need to salvage work commissioned (and often then
abandoned) by cinema or television. Then there is the case of Beard’s
Roman Women where Burgess wrote an entire novel instead of a mere
introductory essay in response to David Robinson’s portfolio of reflections in rainy Rome. There is a distinct sense of Burgess squeezing novels
into the margins of his gruelling schedule, loathe to abandon the form
© The Author(s) 2017
J. Clarke, The Aesthetics of Anthony Burgess,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-66411-8_4
126 J. Clarke
entirely. While he began the 1970s with the bold experimentation of
MF and Napoleon Symphony, increasingly the commercially driven projects inspired as many novels (Burgess’s ‘Biblical’ trilogy of Moses, Man of
Nazareth and Kingdom of the Wicked among them) as arose out of his
own artistic interests (such as Beard’s Roman Women, or ABBA ABBA,
which was created to justify the publication of Burgess’s translations of
sonnets by the Romanesco poet Giuseppe Belli). This chapter examines
these less-studied problem texts from Burgess’s mid-career to illuminate
how they chart his aesthetic transition from Dionysian to Apollonian
By examining the very diverse fictional output of Burgess during this period through the narrow prism of how artistic creativity is
depicted, what emerges is a picture of Burgess endlessly experimenting
with the novel form, and within this experimentation is a gradual drawing into focus of an alternative modality of artistic creativity, a Burgessian
Apollonian mode. In the novels of Burgess’s mid-career, though the quality may be patchy and the end results diverse in theme, scope and intent,
they all share this quality of a dual aesthetic to match the duoversal reality which underpins Burgess’s Weltanschauung. Considering these novels
chronologically reveals how Burgess sought first to depict this alternative
mode and then to find ways to mediate between the two modalities of
Burgess’s Structuralist Turn
While Burgess’s Dionysian mode is literally personified in his early fiction and poetry, in the form of a series of Muses, his Apollonian mode
came much later and much less organically. Rather, in his earliest fiction,
he simply alluded to it, primarily via the motif of including writer-rivals
for his protagonists. Burgess progressed from an initial awareness of an
Apollonian mode, arising out of an encounter with structuralist thinking, through phases in which Apollonianism came increasingly to co-exist
within his fiction alongside his Muse-driven Dionysianism. By the end of
his writing career, the Apollonian mode had become dominant, in novels
such as A Dead Man in Deptford.
Burgess’s slow progress towards expressing this Apollonian mode
commenced when he encountered the work of the French structuralist
anthropologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss. His seminal lecture, The Scope of
Anthropology, made as seismic an impact upon Burgess as it was to make
in academic circles. Burgess reviewed it favourably, identified personally
with Lévi-Strauss’s connection between incest and riddles within myth,
and then decided to base a novel around its theoretics.1 He later claimed
on many occasions that this novel, MF, was the achievement of which he
was most proud.
Structuralism and Burgess’s Catholic-flavoured aesthetic of fiction do
not initially appear obvious bedfellows. Yet Robert Scholes has described
structuralism as a “religious need” to respond to the apparent incoherence that resulted from the scientific breakthroughs of the twentieth century.2 Burgess drew upon the theologies of heretical Catholicism in order
to address what he felt were the shortcomings of Catholicism. It may
be argued, as Scholes appears to, that structuralism in a similar manner
attempted to utilise scientific methodologies to address comprehension
of those areas of human existence which science appeared incapable of
Personal parallels indicate a series of remarkable affinities between
Burgess and Lévi-Strauss. Both were influenced by the work of Freud
and followed him in writing on Oedipus and the incest motif.3 Both
experienced an early epiphany upon hearing modernist music for the
first time, yet both continued to have problematic relations with modernism in general.4 Both were autodidacts, intellectual prodigies who
1 Burgess named The Scope of Anthropology as one of his favourite books of the year:
“Books They Liked Best and Books They Liked Least”, Anthony Burgess, Book World, 3
December 1967, pp. 16–17, cited in Anthony Burgess: A Bibliography, Jeutonne Brewer,
Metuchen NJ, Scarecrow Press, 1980, p. 59.
2 Structuralism in Literature, Robert Scholes, Yale University Press, New Haven CT,
1974, p. 2.
3 Burgess’s literary Freud appears as the protagonist of one phylum of The End of the
World News, and the incest motif occurs in Tremor of Intent and MF, and is a feature of
Burgess’s extensive critical work on Finnegans Wake. In 1972, soon after encountering the
work of Lévi-Strauss, Burgess translated Sophocles’s Oedipus the King. Wilcken notes that
Lévi-Strauss precociously encountered Freudian psychoanalysis as a teenager, reading the
early French translations of A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis and The Interpretation
of Dreams under the influence of Dr Marcel Nathan (Claude Lévi-Strauss: The Poet in the
Laboratory, Patrick Wilcken, Bloomsbury, London, 2010, p. 26.).
4 Burgess’s sense of musical revelation when he first heard Debussy on the radio as a
young teenager is recalled in both his autobiography Little Wilson and Big God and in his
musicology text This Man and Music. In Tristes Tropiques, Lévi-Strauss recalls how witnessing one of the first performances of Stravinsky’s Les Noces at the age of fourteen “brought
about the collapse of my previous musical assumptions” (494).
128 J. Clarke
soon became promiscuous readers and prolific reviewers, able to turn
their attention from a pulp novel to dense avant-garde literature by
turn.5 Both travelled to far-flung destinations where they obsessed
about defining the nature of human culture and interaction—Burgess to
Asia and Lévi-Strauss to Brazil. Both felt like cultural outsiders in their
home countries due to their religious backgrounds and spent large periods of their lives abroad (Burgess as English Catholic, and Lévi-Strauss
as Parisian Jew). Both were strongly interested in linguistics and how
it affects communication, language and literature. Both later became
media-friendly intellectuals, featuring in documentaries and becoming regular fixtures on the TV chat show couch. Wilcken’s postscript
on Lévi-Strauss’s work—that it contained “an autobiographical strain
… which often interweaved incidents from his life with his own thinking, the two sometimes merging into a kind of vital essence”—could be
applied to Burgess equally or even more so.6 Yet, at least superficially,
their respective bodies of work do not otherwise seem to demonstrate
any great convergence of theme or approach.
Where the two meet is in their respective attempts to generate an
understanding both of human existence and of literature that emerges
from systems of binary functions. Burgess derived his duoversal understanding from an inability to synthesise the opposed theologies of
Augustine and Pelagius, except under a contradictory framework of
opposition he termed Manicheism. For Lévi-Strauss’s biographer Patrick
Wilcken it is “Saussure’s concept of ‘binary pairs’—the contrasts that
generate meaning—that had been so useful in phonetics” which became
the identifiable staple of Lévi-Strauss’s work (142). For Lévi-Strauss, this
notion of fundamental opposition derived ultimately from the linguistic
discoveries of Saussure, mediated via the influence of Roman Jakobson,
and first featured in Lévi-Strauss’s early essay “Split Representation in
the Art of Asia and America”, which later formed a chapter of his seminal work Structural Anthropology.7 As Lévi-Strauss sought to construct
5 Denis Bertholet’s biography reveals the extent of Lévi-Strauss’s engagement with literature as editor of the Livres et revues section of L’Etudiant socialiste in the early 1930s
(Claude Lévi-Strauss, Denis Bertholet, Plon, Paris, 2003, pp. 56–57).
6 Claude Lévi-Strauss, Wilcken, p. 357.
7 I have primarily consulted English translations of Lévi-Strauss’s work, and there is little evidence of Burgess having read Lévi-Strauss in French. (According to the catalogue of
Burgess’s book collection maintained at the research centre at Angers, he owned the following books in English: The Scope of Anthropology, Cape, London, 1967; The Raw and the
a new methodology for intercultural comparison, he examined patterns
of symmetries and splitting techniques in face painting, tattoos and artistic motifs from a range of cultural sources. The “common denominator”
that these variegated sources shared, according to Wilcken,
was dualism. Lévi-Strauss’s analysis boiled down to sets of Jakobson-like
binary pairs, stacked up in analogous relationships: representational art and
abstract art; carving and drawing; face and decoration; person and impersonation. (147)
However, the idea of bifurcating reality is hardly unique to Burgess or
Lévi-Strauss. Indeed, it may be a fundamental capacity or trope of the
hemispheric human brain to organise concepts into twinned or contrasting pairs. Furthermore, it is some distance to travel from Saussure’s
binary opposition, via Jakobson and Lévi-Strauss’s structuralist analysis
of mythology, to Burgess’s dual mode of artistic creation. Saussure’s linguistic insight was to view the relationship between binary pairs as structural rather than contradictory. This places seeming opposites within an
overarching structure, and in a way brings them closer to complementarity. Lévi-Strauss universalised this approach in his development of structural anthropology, extrapolating that social structures similarly resolved
into binary oppositions, which in a rather Hegelian fashion expressed a
fundamental human need to resolve the thesis–antithesis–synthesis triad.
From there, he began to address the generation of culture, especially
myth, in a similar fashion: “the true constituent units of myth are not
the isolated relations but bundles of such relations and it is only as bundles
that these relations can be put to use and combined so as to produce a
meaning,” he wrote.8
It was at this point that Burgess encountered Lévi-Strauss’s work,
prior to the development of the poststructuralist notion of privilege or
Cooked, Cape, London, 1970; Conversations with Lévi-Strauss, Georges Charbonnier, Cape,
London, 1969; and Lévi-Strauss, Edmund Leach, Fontana, London, 1970. Burgess also
owned a copy of the 1955 edition of Tristes Tropiques in French, but there is no indication
as to when it was purchased or indeed if it was even read.) Hence I refer to Lévi-Strauss’s
works by their generally accepted titles in English throughout this chapter.
8 Structural Anthropology, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Anchor Books, Garden City NY, 1967,
p. 207.
130 J. Clarke
domination within such binary pairs, or the deconstructionist mission to
resolve such privilege. The circumstances are as unlikely as what resulted
from the encounter. Burgess received a copy of Lévi-Strauss’s inaugural
lecture to the Collège de France for review in the Washington Post, and
upon reading it discovered parallels between Lévi-Strauss’s examination
of the Oedipus myth and Native American legends, and his own work.
In his resulting essay, “If Oedipus had read his Lévi-Strauss”, Burgess
noted in amazement that he felt “manipulated” by Lévi-Strauss, having
identified that the same “riddle-incest nexus” of archetypal mythology
had manifested not only in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake but also in his own
most recent novel, the sub-James Bond thriller Tremor of Intent.9 The
following year, Burgess discovered one of his short stories had been published back to back in The Partisan Review with an article by the philosopher Peter Caws, entitled “What is Structuralism?” Both of his next
two books, the novel MF and a commissioned translation of Sophocles’s
Oedipus Tyrannos for the Tyrone Guthrie theatre in Minneapolis, then
drew heavily upon what Burgess believed he had encountered in LéviStrauss’s structuralism of myth.
It is important to distinguish between Lévi-Strauss’s work and what
Burgess obtained from it. This is not to suggest that Burgess failed to
comprehend structuralist theoretics. Burgess had a formidable intellect
and, unlike much of the Anglophone literary and academic sphere, he
was an early and enthusiastic proponent of Lévi-Strauss and structuralism. For MF Burgess digested three elements of Lévi-Strauss’s lecture
and transformed them into the stuff of fiction. These statements, which
Lévi-Strauss made to illustrate aspects of structuralism and specifically his
method of structuralist social anthropology, became for Burgess the raw
material of his novel, not so much the structure of the fiction as the principles driving its content. They are, in the order Lévi-Strauss expressed
them in The Scope of Anthropology:
The incest prohibition is thus the basis of human society: in a sense it is the
society. (32)
9 Burgess had edited Finnegans Wake into a ‘shorter’ version for Faber and Faber in
1965–1966, and his introductory essay, and explanatory notes throughout both feature
Burgess’s idea that HCE’s suppressed desire for incest with his daughter, occasionally
purged or sublimated by riddles, is the central narrative line of the text.
[T]he very precautions taken to avoid incest in fact make it inevitable. (35)
The correlation between riddle and incest thus seems to obtain among
peoples separated by history, geography, language and culture. (37)
MF has confused many of Burgess’s best critics, including Frank
Kermode and John Stinson. Because it derives its plot mechanism and
content from these elements of Lévi-Strauss’s research, the novel generally requires extensive exegesis to explain the riddles and puns that are
salted throughout the text. This exegesis, even more than is usual for
Burgess’s works, has tended to rely heavily on the explications Burgess
himself gave about the novel in the introduction to his translation of
Oedipus the King, in This Man and Music, in his autobiographies and in
many interviews. Yet this “riddle-incest nexus” (Copy, 260) identified
by Lévi-Strauss is not the most important debt Burgess owes structuralism, even though it interested Burgess sufficiently to incorporate it,
in a remarkable act of literary critical feedback, into his translation of
Sophocles’s play.10
What Burgess owes to Lévi-Strauss primarily is a pathway to expressing his own Apollonian mode of artistic creativity, which prior to MF
had lain at best latent and at worst merely implicit in his work. Timothy
Lucas identifies MF as “something of a watershed in the Burgess oeuvre.
A successful and completely original experiment, MF is certainly the
most concentrated prose of average novel-length Burgess has yet produced, and it was produced at a time of great upheaval and transition”.11
Yet Lucas did not explain the nature of Burgess’s upheaval or transition
in the mid- to late-1960s. This transition was simultaneously personal,
professional and psychological, resulting finally in a fundamental shift in
Burgess’s aesthetic.
Between the publication of Tremor of Intent in 1966 and MF in 1971,
Burgess published only one novel, the second half of the Enderby diptych, which had been completed in the early 1960s. Just prior to MF’s
creation, the days of Burgess writing ‘monthly’ novels were consigned
10 11The fact that Burgess had to rewrite parts of the play to make this theme evident
goes some way to undermining Lévi-Strauss’s original argument about the universality of
this nexus, especially as it applies to the Oedipus myth.
11 12“The Old Shelley Game: Prometheus
and Predestination in Burgess’s Works”,
Timothy R. Lucas, (Bloom, 135).
132 J. Clarke
to history for good. In 1968 Burgess’s wife Lynne died of liver failure,
and he remarried an Italian translator, Liliana Macellari, later the same
year. Just as it is reductive and erroneous to identify Burgess’s chthonic
Muse with Lynne, as Roger Lewis has done, so it would be simplistic to
propose a reconstruction of Burgess’s aesthetic in response to his marriage to Liana. Yet clearly his domestic arrangements, his place of habitation, and even his way of working and who he worked for all changed
as a result of his second marriage. Burgess, Liana and her son Andrea
toured western Europe in a Dormobile for months before finally moving
to live in Malta. He began accepting more journalistic commissions and
spending time in the United States, where his work as visiting lecturer,
journalist and screenwriter found the most lucrative markets. De Jure,
if debatably de facto, he became a parent for the first time at the age
of forty-one to a seven-year-old son, Andrea. These are presumably the
upheavals and transitions to which Lucas referred. And in the midst of it
all, Burgess devoured Lévi-Strauss’s variant of structuralism.
Hence MF, despite its misleading brevity, is probably Burgess’s most
carefully considered work prior to the publication of Earthly Powers. In
addition to Lévi-Strauss’s own writings, Burgess also read works about
him by Edmund Leach and Georges Charbonnier. Burgess was saturated with Lévi-Strauss by the time he wrote MF, and he may have seen
in structuralism a model of possible aesthetic practice which would be
analogous to, or at least in keeping with, the many other new starts he
was experiencing. For Burgess structuralism implied an alternative mode
of artistic creation to the mode of chthonic inspiration he had thus far
depicted in his literary career. Incapable of resolving the contrary theologies of Augustine and Pelagius into a synthesis, and morally determined
to resist what he considered the cowardice of neutrality, Lévi-Strauss’s
structuralism, deriving from Saussure’s binary pairs, may have offered
Burgess a way out of this impasse that was to have aesthetic repercussions. Despite his extensive reading of Lévi-Strauss, Burgess never displayed any deep comprehension of his work beyond the basic notion
that the relationship between binaries offered a method of examining the
deep structures of reality. Structuralism, for Burgess was X/Y, an abstraction to add to his list of favourite theological opposites: good and evil,
Original Sin and free will, God and the Devil, Augustine and Pelagius.
This limited insight offered Burgess no synthesis, but insofar as structuralism suggested the possibility of a complementarity between binaries, it may have offered him a method of rapprochement. After MF,
Burgess never addressed his great binary themes without mediating
them in some way via each other. No longer is it a case of Alex flickering from one to another like a light switch thanks to the Ludovico
technique and its cure, nor the tides of history swinging back and forth
violently between Pelphase and Gusphase. In Burgess’s later novels,
the two clerics co-exist, debating each other in the mind of Enderby at
the point of his death. In Earthly Powers, a Pelagian cleric who leads an
Augustinian Church has his story told by an Augustinian writer damned
to Pelagianism. The interrelationship, rather than the neutral interphase,
becomes his theme.
But this rapprochement of binaries was not all that Burgess received
from structuralism. Its focus on the existence of binary pairings in the
analysis of cultural expression implies an additional mode of artistic creativity to the Dionysian one Burgess had hitherto described in his fiction and poetry. This may have been something Burgess already had a
sense of, either from his studies of literature, especially Joyce, or even
from within his own creative writing, where writer-characters operating
to a different methodology from writer-protagonists were already making appearances on the fringes. Prior to MF, Burgess had not made any
serious attempt to define or explain this second mode of artistic creativity, except insofar as it partially emerges and then is submerged in
the depiction of Will Shakespeare in Nothing Like The Sun. Certainly, it
was nowhere nearly as well defined as the Dionysian mode Burgess had
expressed comprehensively via characters like Enderby.
Within structuralist thinking from Saussure onwards, binary pairs do
not express diametric opposites so much as contrasts. Saussure used the
term oppositional, but meant by it the distinction between phonemes
rather than the sort of lexical and conceptual opposition generated by
the relationship between, for example, light and dark. The implication
of this was that any additional artistic methodology need not be diametrically oppositional to the chthonic inspiration of Burgess’s Dionysian
mode, since both resulted in the generation of art, just as both nature
and culture (a classic structuralist pairing) result in the generation of
human characteristics and even societies.
Edmund Leach’s renowned account of Lévi-Strauss’s work (which
Burgess read) notes the importance of this distinction in the anthropological tradition at the time Lévi-Strauss was working: “Until a few years
ago it was customary for anthropologists to draw a very sharp distinction between Culture, which was conceived of as exclusively human, and
134 J. Clarke
Nature, which was common to all animals, including man” (54). The
distinctive element that generates culture out of nature, indeed that separates humankind from the animal kingdom is, according to Lévi-Strauss
the capacity for symbolic thought systems, such as language, which in
turn both express and facilitate a further structuralist binary pairing—
metaphorical and metonymical thought.
The importance of distinguishing between metaphor and metonymy
had existed within anthropology from the days of Frazer’s The Golden
Bough (1890), in which he contrasted metaphorical forms of primitive
magic (such as voodoo) from metonymical ones (such as the laying on
of hands in faith-healing). Frazer used the terms homeopathic and contagious magic to describe these two forms, but Lévi-Strauss identified
behind them the abstract distinction between relationships of likeness
and relationships of contiguity. As Leach has it, “Frazer’s homeopathic/
contagious distinction is practically identical to the Jakobson-LéviStrauss metaphoric/metonymic distinction” (61).
This distinction offered Burgess a pathway towards uncovering his
Apollonian mode, since within it he could clearly identify his own existing Dionysian mode of chthonic inspiration with Frazer’s contagious
magic and, by extension, with Lévi-Strauss’s metonymic form of cultural
expression. Burgess’s Muse comes into regular physical contact with his
artist-protagonists. She is no mere metaphor. She connects with the artist
and together they form part of a chain of creation, which emanates from
Burgess’s chthonic creator-Goddess, via the Muse and the artist, into
manifestation. By implication, a differing mode of artistic creation must
co-exist, one predicated upon metaphor rather than metonymy. Rather
than the artist being a link in the chain of creation, generating art that
is itself what Tolkien referred to as “subcreation”—miniworlds subordinate to God’s creation—there must be an additional mode wherein the
artist creates metaphors of God’s creation, in effect challenging God by
seeking to improve or do better upon His work. This apotheosis of the
artist is the hallmark of Burgess’s Apollonian mode. What is surprising,
however, is that it also exists in Lévi-Strauss’s work, and in creative rather
than analytical form.
Leach has described Lévi-Strauss as being a “philosopher-advocate”
and hence somewhat of a poet who never wrote poetry.12 In this he may
12 Lévi-Strauss “consistently behaves as an advocate defending a cause rather than as a
scientist searching for the ultimate truth. But the philosopher-advocate is also a poet…
be identifying the unscientific flaws in Lévi-Strauss’s analytical methodologies which have concerned other critics.13 Yet, Lévi-Strauss did attempt
to write creatively, and he describes extensively a period in the field in
Brazil when “[t]he Indians had disappeared; for six days I wrote from
morning till night on the backs of sheets covered with lists of words,
and sketches, and genealogies” (TT, 376). The work, which went ultimately unfinished, was a play entitled The Apotheosis of Augustus, which
dealt with the dramatic encounter between an Apollonian Augustus on
the brink of deification and his former friend Cinna, who had for a decade rejected human society in order to commune with Dionysian nature.
So Lévi-Strauss’s attempt at a work of creative art unsurprisingly focused
upon what he described as “the problems which tormented” him as an
anthropologist working in the field, and which Edmund Leach described
as his “central preoccupation”—“to explore the dialectical process by
which this apotheosis of ourselves as human and godlike and other than
animal is formed and reformed and bent back upon itself” (48).
Christopher Johnston has interpreted Lévi-Strauss’s account of The
Apotheosis of Augustus as a complex rumination on the difficulties of
the ethnographer’s position, simultaneously separated from culture and
yearning for reintegration with it, but changed by his separation in ways
that may affect such reintegration. But this, as he acknowledges, is simply to read the text “as a kind of talking cure, a therapeutic response to
the alienated predicament of the field-worker, and an attempted working-through of that predicament”.14
While Johnston’s reading of The Apotheosis of Augustus is both illuminating and legitimate, nevertheless it does not adequately account for
Lévi-Strauss has not actually published poetry, but his whole attitude to the sounds and
meanings and combinations and permutations of language elements betrays his nature.”
Lévi-Strauss, Edmund Leach, 4th ed. intr. and revised James Laidlaw, Fontana, London,
1996 (1st pub. 1970), p. 29.
13 Robert Scholes was one of the earlier Anglophone critics, along with Edmund Leach,
to question the scientific rigour of Lévi-Strauss’s work. Such criticisms have never been
effectively silenced by Lévi-Strauss’s advocates. For Scholes, rather than considering LéviStrauss’s working methods as ‘poetic’, he criticised them (and those of Roland Barthes)
as “too arbitrary, too personal, and too idiosyncratic”. Structuralism in Literature, Robert
Scholes, Yale University Press, New Haven CT, 1974, p. 155.
14 Claude Lévi-Strauss: The Formative Years, Christopher Johnston, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, 2003, p. 155.
136 J. Clarke
the titular theme—the rise of a man to godhead. By considering Cinna
as protagonist rather than Augustus, Johnston focuses the text on the
tormenting problems of ethnography. By reversing that focus, the text
becomes a rumination on man’s position as zoon phonanta, the speaking animal who, by virtue of developing metaphorical and metonymical
thought, generates culture, civilisation and society and comes to control nature. Lévi-Strauss’s play poses the question as to whither that
elevation of mankind out of animal ancestry proceeds. Or, as Edmund
Leach would have it, “God made Man in his own image, but are we
so sure that in achieving humanity (Culture) we did not separate ourselves from God? This is the note on which Lévi-Strauss ends Tristes
Tropiques” (48).
In Lévi-Strauss’s account of the play, distinctive aspects similar to
Burgess’s Dionysianism and Apollonianism can be easily discerned. The
eagle informs Augustus that he will know his own divinity,
not because of any sensation of inner radiance or any capacity to work miracles, but because he will endure without disgust the nearness of a wild
creature which will smell disgustingly and cover him with its droppings.
Carrion, decay, and cloacal secretions will come to seem his natural accompaniment: “Butterflies will copulate on the nape of your neck. Any patch
of ground will seem to you good enough to lie on: you will not think of it,
as you do now, as prickly, swarming with insects, and certainly infectious”
(TT, 378)
Augustus will, essentially, transcend the natural world, severing himself
entirely from that aspect of man which is still animal. It is not merely
that Augustus will die as man and be reborn as god, though there
are clearly elements of Frazer’s The Golden Bough in Lévi-Strauss’s
imagery of carrion and decay. The most notable Apollonian aspect of
Augustus’s divinity will be that the natural world can no longer impact
upon him. Its negative chthonic attributes—odour, decay, infection,
corruption—are incapable of disturbing him. Neatly, Lévi-Strauss offers
a correlative in Cinna’s experience of his self-imposed exile into nature.
Returned after a decade to civilisation, Cinna is reminded of what he
once turned his back upon, and he tells his listeners of the extent of his
“I lost everything,” he said. “Even what was most human became inhuman to me. To while away the interminable days I took to reciting lines
from Aeschylus and Sophocles; and I so soaked myself in some of them
that now when I hear them in the theatre their beauty means nothing to
me. Every phrase reminds me of powdering foot paths, and burnt grass,
and eyes reddened by the sands.” (TT, 379)
It is probably no coincidence that Lévi-Strauss’s Cinna chose the same
two dramatists as Nietzsche did in The Birth of Tragedy to represent
human culture at its highest. Certainly, his depiction of how capricious
nature destroyed in a process of accreted association the beauty which
culture represented for Cinna is an unambiguous reversion or devolution back towards man-as-animal and the chthonian mire. This is further
evoked in a pathetic fallacy in the third act, which Lévi-Strauss informs us,
opens in an atmosphere of crisis. On the eve of the ceremony of apotheosis, all Rome is invaded by divinity. The Imperial palace cracks open and
animals and plants run wild inside it. The city returns to a state of Nature,
as if a cataclysm had overwhelmed it. (TT, 379)
This brief description recalls both the rampant and sudden domination
of Nature in Burgess’s The Eve of Saint Venus, when the pervigilium
concludes positively with a bacchanal of singing and animalistic sex, and
the opening of the Goddess’s porphyry vial in Nothing Like The Sun,
which unleashes destructive and evil effluvia upon the civilised world.
Dionysian nature is amoral, and as antipathetic to civilised Apollonian
society in Lévi-Strauss’s fiction as it is in Burgess’s. In Lévi-Strauss’s brief
and mediated extract, it is not possible to ascertain whether the naturedriven cataclysm occurs because Augustus is abandoning human society
for divinity, thereby leaving a vacuum which nature abhors, or whether it
happens because Cinna has returned to the city contagious with nature’s
chthonic effluvia. What matters is that in describing this abandoned art
work, Lévi-Strauss provided Burgess with an outline template for a dialectic of artistic creation, the existence of which had already been implied
by the binary-pairing algebra underpinning structuralism in general.
Burgess’s encounter with the ideas of Lévi-Strauss charted for him a
pathway towards depicting an Apollonian mode of artistic creativity.
138 J. Clarke
MF as Structuralist Fiction
Burgess’s Apollonian mode of creation did not spring forth fully formed,
suggesting perhaps that his encounter with The Apotheosis of Augustus
in Tristes Tropiques came after his reading of The Scope of Anthropology.
Certainly, his subsequent novel, MF, performs a Lévi-Straussian mythical ritual of riddle and incest, tacking closely to the narrative matter of
The Scope of Anthropology. A short but dense text, MF follows the eponymous Miles Faber on his adventures to discover the work of a mysterious
Caribbean artist, Sib Legeru. Contrary to the wishes of his guardians,
Miles travels to the island of Castita, intent on exploring Legeru’s art,
which appears to have no coherent underlying order and which hence
represents a form of freedom for Miles.
However, both Miles’s freedom to act and the freedom implied by
Legeru’s artwork transpire to be illusory, since the hallucinatory series of
characters and events experienced by Miles are circumscribed by a mythic
form of destiny, expressed through Lévi-Strauss’s conjunction of incest
and riddles. The novella is therefore crammed with linguistic puzzles,
to the point where contemporary critics like Shirley Chew complained
that “the action, which is in the shape of a quest, is often less interesting in itself than for the cunning examples of word-play with which it
is knotted”.15 Much of the criticism which has followed since then has
expended endless energy on undoing those knots triumphantly, guided
primarily by the expository articles and essays written by Burgess himself
over a number of decades. Burgess felt MF was not merely one of his
more significant fictional achievements, but also a book which had not
been greatly understood, and in This Man and Music he dedicated an
entire chapter to explaining what he had attempted to achieve.16
There is no need to replicate this material once again. Useful exegesis of the novel originated with Frank Kermode’s initial review for The
Listener in 1971, and continued, assisted via Burgess’s regular missives from within his code-constructing workshop in interviews and
in This Man and Music, through a lengthy lineage of critics, including
15 “Mr. Livedog’s Day: The Novels of Anthony Burgess”, Shirley Chew, in Encounter vol.
38, no. 6, June 1972, p. 63.
16 “Oedipus Wrecks”, in This Man and Music, Anthony Burgess, Hutchinson, London,
1982; repr. in The Anthony Burgess Newsletter vol. 3, Université d’Angers, December 2000,
pp. 27–41.
John J. Stinson, to recent doctoral theses. Compared to the openly
and honestly baffled reviews from some American critics, the confident unravelling of Burgess’s linguistic puzzle-boxes in later criticism
is simultaneously illuminating and limited.17 Kermode’s review, later
expanded into the article “The Use of Codes”, is by contrast a valuable
and insightful consideration of the extent to which Burgess’s adoption of
structuralism functions satisfactorily within the fiction. In parsing these
structuralist elements as well as unravelling Burgess’s riddles, Kermode
achieves his stated aim, borrowed from Barthes, “to read in order to
maximise plurality, not in order to understand secrets” (Codes, 75).
Kermode’s criticism of MF does raise a question unanswered by decades of Burgessian exegesis. If, as he suggests, the novel “makes ambiguous claims for order without apparently having much of it” (Codes, 78),
then it follows that “its structure is self-questioning” (81) since Kermode
convincingly demonstrates the debt the novel owes to the structure-generating theories of Lévi-Strauss and Barthes, a debt Burgess often freely
acknowledged. Kermode attempts to resolve this self-questioning in two
different, and somewhat contradictory ways. Firstly, in defining what he
understands as the novel’s message, he states that “[t]he book … denies
that it is a mere agglutination of random elements; it speaks of order and
the threat to it of anti-cultural disorder. It could be called culturally conservative” (Codes, 81). Yet later, he notes that the novel “displays randomness subjected to human intentions and ideas of order” which leads it to
enact “the arbitrariness, the chanciness of such order”, thus validating “not
the explanations of Lévi-Strauss but its own status as a characteristic product of homo faber; it is aware of its own chimerical nature” (Codes, 89).
So Kermode offers two answers to the problem of why MF presents
an obsessive capacity for generating order while demonstrating that all
order thus generated is effectively arbitrary. These two answers—that it
is by way of conservative critique, and that it is a product of visionary
fantasy—appear on first viewing to be contradictory, or at least, a riddle
of his own that Kermode has added to Burgess’s pile. In fact, they may
be resolved via Burgess’s Apollonian mode of creation, which I propose
17 Baffled critics such as Ralph McInerny, in his review in Commonweal, 28 May 1971,
pp. 290–291; and Thomas Winter, in “A Protean Work”, in Prairie Schooner, Spring 1972,
pp. 82–83.
140 J. Clarke
he was beginning to comprehend during his exploration of structuralism
and the writing of MF.
In short, the attempt to generate creation that is not subordinate
to the revealed creation of God (or in Burgess’s case, the chthonic
Goddess) could arise from the conservative impulse to impose order
upon capricious nature, while the sheer hubris of the attempt could
simultaneously be perceived as imaginative but fantastical. Katherine
Adamson has described “Faber’s wish to wholly transcend categorical
divisions” as representative of “a dangerous desire to unpick the cosmos
created by God, and return to primordial disorder”.18 This seems to be
confirmed in the novel when, in deconstructing the arbitrary taxonomies
of Sib Legeru’s art for Miles, his grandfather Zoon Fonanta notes that
while it “is man’s job to impose manifest order on the universe”, this
does not include “yearn[ing] for Chapter Zero of the Book of Genesis”
(MF, 200).
Yet this is to view Miles’s impulse from the Dionysian standpoint,
which renders it inexplicable. It is much more easily comprehended from
the Apollonian position, and homo faber—the man who makes—is a
proto-Apollonian. It is not that the text is rendered chimerical so much
that Burgess shies away from the implications of man-generated order,
which is the existence of an additional contrarian mode of creation to
that revealed by God or inspired by the Muse. While the empty structures that prop up Sib Legeru’s art are indeed nihilist, “a cynosure to the
young and misguided who think God was not clever enough not to want
to fashion a cosmos” (MF, 201), the compound creator “Sib Legeru”
is not the only artist who features in the novel. Miles’s one-time lover,
Carlotta Tukang, is a bad erotic novelist, while another lover, Irma, is
like Miles himself a mere aspirant. In fact, Miles’s plan to take a sabbatical year to test himself for signs of artistic creativity is first revealed in the
same scene where he encounters Pine Chandeleur, the “oysterballocked
poetaster” whose work is apparently appreciated by the New York critic
Alfred Kazin (MF, 59).
Chandeleur, a gay symbolist dismissed by Miles as a “faggot” who
writes pseudopoetry, “all acrid smoky bedsitter sextripe”, is an early
attempt by Burgess to characterise the Apollonian artist. Though Miles
18 “A Bit of Unoriginal Sin: Allusions to the Fall in Selected Novels of Anthony Burgess”,
Katherine Adamson, doctoral thesis, University of Liverpool, 2010, p. 146.
is eager to dismiss the admittedly louche Chandeleur as talentless, their
encounter unveils Miles as a Dionysian aspirant, subject to the cruel
caprice of the chthonic Goddess even as he seeks to transcend all order
and attain freedom. While Miles is destined ultimately to become a
minor published poet, at the time he escorts Chandeleur and his lover
Aspinwall on their yacht it is the gay couple who “were free, though in
desperate sexual bondage to each other” (MF, 51).
While Miles hides in toilets like Enderby, fantasising about writing
surrealist plays in which “[t]he significance, of course, would lie in the
inconsequentiality” (MF, 54), Chandeleur not only writes poetry and
publishes it but literally wears his transcendent mysticism on his sleeve.
His shirt is patterned with obscure quotations from mystical writers,
which invariably suggest escape from the bounds of subordination to
divinity. Miles notes quotations about the Buddhist notion of Atman,
from the Zen master Yung-Chia Ta-Shih, and from Sant Kabir, the
Indian mystic poet who inspired the Bhakti movement. Tellingly, the
only quotations the usually omniscient Miles can identify are those he
attributes to Meister Eckhart, the scholastic mystic, and Saint Bernard of
Clairvaux. Burgess appears to have sourced all the quotations appearing
on Chandeleur’s shirt from Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy, a
popular study of Perennialism.19 Miles commits a standard misreading of
Huxley’s text by taking the term “God” at face value: “You’re all dressed
up in God, I said. I’d call that a God-shirt” (MF, 58).
Aspinwall immediately warns Miles to “[s]hut up about God”, but
there is instantly “an apocalyptic rending above us and then the thudding of wings of a tight and berserk archangel”. Facing death, Miles hallucinates an encounter with his own double (a premonition of his later
actual encounter with his doppelgänger Llew) who asks him: “This is
what you wish, no? The death of form and shipwreck of order?” (MF, 59).
Destruction of form and order, in other words, is equivalent to destruction of the self. Attempts to evade structure are futile because the true
choice is not between order and primeval chaos, but between two
19 Huxley’s 1945 text was notable for ecumenising notions of a universal transcendent
godhead across Western and Eastern religious traditions alike. Insofar as it accepted and
popularised ideas of progressive and holistic transcendence, its expansive notion of godhead
is often considered a significant influence on the emergence of the ‘New Age’ movement in
the latter half of the twentieth century.
142 J. Clarke
opposed forms of aesthetic order. Fonanta explains the futility of Miles’s
quest at the novel’s conclusion:
You think of freedom of artistic expression as being wonderfully incarnated in these works [of Sib Legeru], no doubt. No doubt, no doubt. You
are young. Liberation even from the dungeon of unconscious obsessions.
The death of the syntax of the old men. No more solar or lunar crudities
of sharp light—instead the glamour of the eclipse. What utter nonsense.
(MF, 199)
Legeru’s pseudo-art is predicated upon “the meanest and most irrelevant
of taxonomies” (199), derived from the sort of arbitrary arrangements
within dictionaries which Burgess used to create oceanic literary effects
at the conclusion of both Nothing Like The Sun and Napoleon Symphony,
and also, notably, at the very moment Miles faces destruction by shipwreck and encounters a vision of his own double. However, Miles is
at no real risk. Camille Paglia has described how liquids, especially the
ocean, connect humanity to a primeval and chthonian Dionysianism20;
and Frank Kermode has identified a particular correlation between the
sea, the Muse and the mother figure (in French, the words mer and mère
are homophones) in Burgess’s work.21 However, the Goddess capriciously wounds her acolytes in direct proportion to their artistic gift.
Hence, while Enderby undergoes the temporary loss of his identity, Will
Shakespeare loses his sanity and his life. By contrast, Miles Faber merely
loses consciousness for a few hours.
Katherine Adamson believes that “[a]s a postlapsarian man, Faber
must exercise his free will and reject the vicious incestuous circle established by his forefathers. If he continues on the path to Sib Legeru, a
manifestation of incest and solipsism, Faber will transgress the human/
animal divide and descend to a subhuman state.”22 But this is not the
20 “Dionysian liquidity is the invisible sea of organic life, flooding our cells and uniting
us to plants and animals. Our bodies are Ferenczi’s primeval ocean, surging and rippling.”
(SP, 91).
21 “The moon draws up tides in the sea and in women, in la belle mer and la belle-mere.
The step-mother is the muse, death, the sea, even the moon or its goddess.” “Poetry and
Borborygms”, Frank Kermode, The Listener, 6 June 1968, p. 735.
22 “A Bit of Unoriginal Sin: Allusions to the Fall in Selected Novels of Anthony Burgess”,
Katherine Adamson, doctoral thesis, University of Liverpool, 2010, p. 151.
full story. The alternative to functioning in a fallen world is “not to yearn
for Chapter Zero of the Book of Genesis” but to actively unwrite the
Fall itself by creating “better” than God. This, in his own minor fashion, is Chandeleur’s artistic mission. One quotation mysteriously vanishes from the text emblazoned across Chandeleur’s shirt, and Miles is
left pondering whether it was said by “St. Lawrence Nunquam [or] Cnut
of Alexandria?” (MF, 61).
The quotation derives from Lawrence Durrell’s Nunquam, which was
newly published in 1970 just as MF was being prepared for publication,
and hence is probably a late editorial addition. Nunquam is the second
part of Durrell’s The Revolt of Aphrodite diptych, and was reviewed for
The Saturday Review by Burgess. Durrell’s novel can be read equally as
SF or as Marlovian tragedy. Inspired in equal parts by Spengler’s depressive philosophy and McLuhan’s then innovative vision of the mediated global village, Durrell’s novel details a world wherein man trades
his freedom, not unlike Marlowe’s Faustus, in return for access to
almost magical power. In an attempt to escape his bonds to the nefarious “Firm”, the protagonist Felix Charlock creates an android version of
his one-time rival Julian’s great love Iolanthe. In his review of the novel,
which predated completion of MF, Burgess notes that Iolanthe II jumps
to her “death” alongside Julian because she has to be destroyed and him
with her, both “slain by his ultimate ambition, which is to create rather
better than Nature”.23
Julian is an archetypal Apollonian and is, therefore, guilty in
Burgess’s Dionysian mind of the crime (or sin) of Mary Shelley’s Dr
Frankenstein—the successful emulation of God’s creation of sentient life.
In attempting to parse Durrell’s Faustian romance, Burgess applied the
structuralist binary pairings he had encountered in Lévi-Strauss to the
“now” and the “never” of Durrell’s Latinate titles:
Perhaps the tunc and the nunquam can be teased into representing the 1
(clockhand of action) and 0 (creative passivity) of the Kabbala, male and
female, happy and blessed, from which all else springs. We are free to love,
and love is the only source of creation. We can never be wholly enslaved
23 “Durrell and the Homunculi”, Anthony Burgess, in The Saturday Review, 21 March
1970, pp. 29–31, 41.
144 J. Clarke
by the great forces that sneer at free will and think they can do better than
Through ruminating on both Lévi-Strauss and Durrell, Burgess began
to close in upon the implicit alternative mode of artistic creation which
I term Apollonian. Unlike the “creative passivity” of divine inspiration,
it is marked by the “clockhand of action”. Rather than subordinate to
nature, it seeks to better it. Love may be the “only source” of creation,
but love can take different forms, just as there are alternative forms of
creativity to procreation. Hence, it is not accidental that the protoApollonian Chandeleur is homosexual. Miles examines Chandeleur’s
discarded shirt to confirm he had indeed read the Durrellian excerpt,
“pick[ing] through the shirt as for lice, but it wasn’t there” (MF, 61).
Neither Miles nor Burgess proved capable of a sustained awareness of the
Apollonian mode at this point in time.
Thomas Carlyle and Hollywood’s Apollo
The fiction that Burgess wrote following MF displays both the liberation
he found in discovering a new mode of artistic creation and the influence of his growing workload of commercial commissions. The novels
he wrote in the early 1970s were not always well understood or wellreceived by critics, and they have tended to be relatively ignored in critical appraisals of his oeuvre. Writing in 1977 William Hudson contrasted
what he considered to be a significant fall-off in quality in Burgess’s work
since his encounter with Lévi-Strauss and structuralism:
[W]hen one thinks back and recalls that in 1967 Burgess had just published, in rapid and miraculous succession from 1962 on, A Clockwork
Orange, The Wanting Seed, Inside Mr. Enderby, Honey for the Bears,
Nothing Like the Sun, Tremor of Intent, plus five or so interesting novels in
the years 1960–62, one is sad about what has happened since: the “experimental” highjinks of MF, the close-to-unreadable Napoleon Symphony,
most recently the verse of Moses.25
24 Ibid.
25 Pritchard, William H., “Merely Fiction: Review”, The Hudson Review, Vol. 30, No. 1,
(Spring, 1977).
In one sense, it is unsurprising that critics noticed a difference in the
quality of Burgess’s fiction during this period. Following the success of
Stanley Kubrick’s film of A Clockwork Orange, Burgess was in demand
as a screenwriter in Hollywood. These were lucrative commissions, bolstered by income from lecturing or writer-in-residence sinecures at
American universities. According to the archive maintained at the Harry
Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, in just over ten years
from the 1971 release of Kubrick’s movie, Burgess wrote commissioned
scripts or lengthy treatments for films or television dramas about Roald
Amundsen, Attila the Hun, Edward the Black Prince, Cyrus the Great,
Marco Polo, Samson, Aristotle Onassis, Beethoven, the Shah of Iran and
Merlin, with multiple projects commissioned about the life of Christ,
Sigmund Freud and William Shakespeare. This work was in addition to
theatrical commissions and cinematic adaptations of fictional works by
other writers, as well as his punishing journalistic workload.
Yet few of these TV or cinema projects came to fruition. Of his
screenplay for the James Bond movie The Spy who Loved Me, only the
locale of a villain’s underwater base was retained in the final filmed version.26 His three televisual adaptations of Bible narratives produced by
Lew Grade proved to be the only screenplays written by Burgess that
were filmed. Burgess’s fictional output dwindled as he tackled a torrent of commissions, and he later adopted a policy of adapting his own
screenplays into novels. Hence his fiction from the 1970s and 1980s falls
into two categories of subject matter: those novels which he had generated himself; and those which had originally been commissioned as cinematic or televisual projects. Yet even the novels born as fiction often had
roots elsewhere. ABBA ABBA was born out of a longstanding hobby of
translating the blasphemous sonnets of the Romanescu poet Giuseppe
Belli into Mancunian dialect, while Beard’s Roman Women was inspired
by the photographs of David Robinson, and 1985 began as an extended
critical rumination on the legacy of Orwell’s dystopia.
Burgess was not, therefore, the sole arbiter of his novels’ subjects or
themes to a very large extent from the time of MF until the final decade of his life. His fictions about Napoleon, Moses, Sigmund Freud,
Leon Trotsky, Atilla and Jesus Christ were all originally written with an
eye to the big or little screen or the stage. What seems initially like a
26 “Anthony
Burgess’s 007 obsession”, Andrew Biswell, New Statesman, 9 April, 2013.
146 J. Clarke
fictional turn towards the “Great Man” theory of history can therefore
be explained by the interests of commercial cinema and television, but
that does not fully explain why Burgess chose to rework material he had
already been paid for into novels.27
Thomas Carlyle’s famous statement that history is “the Biography
of Great Men” appears in his 1841 study On Heroes, Hero-Worship and
the Heroic in History (21), in the first of six lectures examining concepts of heroism he had delivered the previous year, entitled “The Hero
as Divinity”. Great Man theory as espoused in these Carlyle lectures
is, in other words, a Victorian examination of the Apollonian impulse.
Carlyle’s hero-as-divinity embodies the “oldest, primary form of heroism” (Heroes, 5) and he (always a he) emerges from “the hideous inextricable jungles of misworship” that mark the pagan era, neither as “quack”
nor as an allegory, but as a quasi-divinity driven by a sincerity that “has
in truth very something of divine” (Heroes, 87) and possessed of a power
of thinking that is “godlike and stronger than gianthood” (Heroes,
32). I am not proposing a direct categorical relationship between these
Burgessian protagonists and Carlyle’s somewhat arbitrary schema. Just as
Burgess’s Napoleon is hero-as-general and not hero-as-king, so his fictional Moses, Christ and Freud are not quite Carlylean heroes-as-priests
in the sense the Victorian described Martin Luther. Rather, it is the subject-centred conception of history as the achievements of Apollonian
individuals that the two models have in common.
Napoleon is consistently depicted as challenging creation and seeking
to encompass it. Before battle, he prowls “round the map that glowed
inside his skull, every river and even the most inconsiderable township
glinting obediently” (NS, 160). As Charles-François Lebrun states, “[h]
e’s there to turn the age into himself” (NS, 80). Even after his capture
and incarceration on Elba, he still attempts in small ways to impose his
will upon chthonic forces. He creates a garden that is destroyed by a
vicious storm, symbolising the final victory of chthonic Dionysianism
27 Hollywood’s bias towards “Great Man” explanations has been widely noted. It extends
from film content (such as the prevalence of biopic versions of history, the sub-genre
Burgess was most commonly commissioned to write), via the aggrandisement of individual
achievement in a fundamentally co-operative industry (as witnessed at awards ceremonies
like the Oscars) all the way to academic perceptions of artistic creativity in cinema, such as
auteur theory.
over his Apollonian attempt to improve and control. He explains the garden’s allegorical meaning to Betsy:
For a garden is what a man must win from the wilderness, it is the order he
seeks, with nature’s own compliance, to impose upon the aimless growth
of nature’s germinating forces. And my gardens shall spread, sir, and my
trees and bushes push back the bounds of your watchfulness. Once I
sought to turn all Europe into a garden, nor, despite all, will the wilderness
altogether reclaim it. (NS, 294)
Throughout the text, often straining an already stretched plotline, Burgess associated this impetus of Napoleon with the myth of
Prometheus, who defied the gods in order to bring fire to man and
improve mankind’s control of his environment. His rebel identification
emerges in his constant self-association with forces of political upheaval:
“I’m the spirit of the French Revolution, the American Revolution, any
damned revolution you please” (NS, 134). Burgess copperfastened the
association by having Napoleon attend a play based on the myth, during which he interrupts to demand that the actors free Prometheus. He
is, as Samuel Coale notes, “Promethapoleon. History is transformed into
myth; the mortal and flawed historical Napoleon becomes Burgess’s—
and Beethoven’s—Prometheus, an embodiment of the human spirit”
(Coale, 133). For it is Beethoven’s use of a theme borrowed from his
own ballet The Creatures of Prometheus in the fourth movement of the
Eroica symphony that generates the association for Burgess’s novel.
As the title suggests, the novel is as much an attempt to convey the
form of music in literature as it is a fiction about the life of Napoleon.
Burgess’s experimental prose style seeks to emulate the structures and
format of Beethoven’s symphony, which had originally been dedicated to
This element of unorthodox narrative style becomes, in differing formats, a recurring element of Burgess’s ‘Great Man’ fictions. His resistance to the outmoded Great Man theory of history was consistently
expressed by mediating such narratives through experimental prosody.
With Napoleon Symphony it is the attempt to emulate the Eroica in prose.
In Moses: A Narrative, he wrote in the genre of epic poetry. Even the
relatively straightforward prose styles in which his versions of the lives of
Freud and Trotsky are written become unexpectedly experimental when
he merges them both alongside the remnants of an unmade disaster movie
148 J. Clarke
script to generate The End of the World News, a complicated tripartite narrative functioning on at least four embedded levels of diegesis.
Burgess’s strategy for achieving critical distance from the potential for hagiography of the Carlylean Great Man narrative, while preserving the heroic component inherent to the Apollonian, is primarily
achieved through this opaque use of language and playful approach to
narratology. Nested narratives and complex narratology in general serve
to complicate otherwise straightforward storytelling in Burgess’s fiction and help to mediate the dialectical tension between the Dionysian
and Apollonian impulses. This strategy serves the purpose of refocusing attention on the generation of art, and this very point forms Betsy
Bascombe’s answer to Napoleon’s Carlylean self-identification as
The point I am trying to make … is that the hero doesn’t have to have
existed. To nourish the imagination with the heroic image—this can be as
well done through some superior (and hence perhaps heroic) imagination.
Oh, we don’t have to call on the ultimate imagineer, if he may be called
that, since all that he can add to the image is the corporeal and the spatial
element and the time thing and so on, all of them limitations. (NS, 329)
Betsy’s reassertion of the mythic over the real in relation to the hero
returns us curiously to structuralism and to Lévi-Strauss. Napoleon is
simultaneously an historical figure, a fictional protagonist, an avatar of
Apollonianism associated with the mythical Prometheus, and a literary
conduit for the music of Beethoven in Napoleon Symphony. This subordination of factual (or even fictional) ‘reality’ to such an experimental
structure and prose style was not considered successful by some critics.28
Nevertheless, it is entirely compatible with what Edmund Leach has to
say about Lévi-Strauss’s understanding of the relationship between historicity and mythology:
28 “Burgess met a film-making friend who talked him … into Napoleon-a-la-Eroica, so
Burgess, eager to please and fool around, went ahead and did it. Worked up his Napoleon,
got Beethoven in his bones, and ended up with 363 pages of nonsense.” “Fooling around,
and Serious Business: Review”, Roger Sale, The Hudson Review, vol. 27, no. 4 (winter,
1974–1975), p. 627.
Events in the historical past survive in our consciousness only as myth and
it is an intrinsic characteristic of myth (and also of Lévi-Strauss’s structural
analysis) that the chronological sequence of events is irrelevant. (25)
This effects a collapse of temporality on the level of myth making, suggesting that within mythological narrative, all meaning is synchronic. If
we are to read Burgess’s fictions of Great Men as mythology, and his prosodic experimentation directs us to do so, then the contemporary experience of reading (and indeed of writing) the texts subsumes the historicity
into a simultaneous myth-moment. Such a mythological synchronicity is
actually to be found in the works of Carlyle himself, in Sartor Resartus,
where the unnamed editor quotes Professor Diogenes Teufelsdröckh on
the fundamental nature of man: “Stands he not thereby in the centre of
Immensities, in the conflux of Eternities?” (50).29
The satirical neo-Platonism in Carlyle’s work is obvious, yet his (or
Teufelsdröckh’s) depiction of man as constructor of his own universe,
clad as a deity, located across all being at a conjunction of all times, is
instructive in considering the effectively limitless potential scale of
Apollonian man, especially as regards his capacity, as artistic creator, to
transcend physical and temporal limitations. Burgess’s Napoleon appears
to conduct the symphony in which he is contained. His experiment in
transposing musical form into literature has been discussed as a failure
of form, yet it proposes exactly the sort of synchronic depiction of a
diachronically lived existence that concurs with the sense of omnipresence expressed by Carlyle’s “Centre of Immensities, in the conflux of
In Napoleon Symphony Napoleon exceeds his historical boundaries and
becomes omnipresent, extant in a mythical Promethean past as much as
in a postmodernist literary future. Similar stylistic transpositions occur
with Burgess’s depiction of other Great Man biographies. The eponymous Moses evokes and exceeds both his confines within Biblical theological tradition and his mini-series depiction as Hollywood hero in the
guise of Burt Lancaster. By utilising the epic poem form, Burgess panlocates Moses within a literary tradition stretching back as far as Homer,
29 Burgess was very familiar with the work of Thomas Carlyle. See for example: “Carlyle
and Friends”, by Anthony Burgess, Books Section, New York Times, 22 March 1981.
150 J. Clarke
yet the vers libre content suggests a highly Modernist (and modern)
anachronistic milieu in which Moses seems less to mediate between man
and God as to define his own reality encompassing both. The achievement is not so much to render Moses either eternal or relevant to contemporary times (the Bible achieved the first and Gianfranco di Bosio’s
TV series the latter), as to evoke the Apollonian paradigm of a world
generated by its own protagonist. Burgess’s Hollywood-inspired Great
Man narratives can thus be read as his earliest attempts to comprehend
the Apollonian state, yet he was driven to mediate this unfamiliar mode
via unconventional narratology to manifest its mythological capacity.
Burgess was not simply a Dionysian writing Apollonian Great Man texts
for pay; by adapting these screenplays into novels, he began to explore
the Apollonian paradigm of creating one’s own world and how narratological forms could be put to work to mediate between these two creative modes.
Reflections of Rome in the Rain
Burgess took another step in his rapprochement towards the Apollonian
mode with the 1975 novel Beard’s Roman Women. Unlike the colossal
Great Men of his Hollywood script adaptations, Ronald Beard and the
other characters in the novel function on a human level. Although they
are fictional depictions of largely factual people, they are shorn of the
accretions of fame and myth that attach to figures like Napoleon, Moses
and Christ. Additionally, Burgess sought to address the aesthetic ramifications of the Apollonian creative mode for the first time. In Ronald
Beard and P.R. Pathan, Burgess depicted the contrasting functions of
two artists working in opposed modes. Yet Beard’s Roman Women was
not so much a clear contrast as a muddying of the waters. The novel is
predicated upon the metaphor of reflection, and the modes are mediated
through each other in this way. This mediation of Apollo via Dionysus
and vice versa was to become Burgess’s dominant creative methodology
in his mid-career.
Beard’s Roman Women is saturated with reflections. The narrative
reflects not only elements of Burgess’s own life, but also the photographs
by David Robinson used to illustrate the novel. In turn, Burgess’s fiction is a reflection upon Robinson’s images that partly inspired it, which
are themselves images of reflections of Rome in the rain, captured via
the reflective qualities of puddles, rivers, raindrops and wet windows.
In Robinson’s photographs, collected in his Reflections monograph, the
eternal city is rendered alien and distorted; it is refracted, deconstructed
and ultimately sublimated via the twin reflective capacities of the camera
apparatus and the media of glass and water. A similar, but not identical,
process of oblique representation emerges from Beard’s Roman Women,
in which Burgess deconstructed and reflected aspects of his own experience of living in Rome.
The effect of considering Burgess’s text in conjunction with Robinson’s
photographs, or indeed in conjunction with the separate text of
Robinson’s monograph, is to find oneself plunged into a hall of distorting
mirrors, in which meaning is perpetually deferred by oscillating perspectives, shifting temporalities, and a profound questioning of the ability of
either fiction or photography to depict reality in a documentarist mode.
Reflection, as distinct from reflexivity, has not received the attention that
one might expect in either literary or photographic criticism, and this may
in part be due to the dual meaning inherent in the word. As the Swiss
photographer Ernst Haas pertinently identifies in his introduction to
Robinson’s monograph:
There exists a strange relationship between the mental and the physical
phase of the phenomenon called reflection. In the dictionary, the definition of reflection is divided into mental and visual applications. But when
experienced by man in the creative process, the word reflection merges
both meanings. (7)
Burgess’s novel, itself a literary reflection upon Robinson’s visual reflections, can be read from within the lineage of writing in response to visual art. In this sense, Beard’s Roman Women forms part of a tradition
that includes works such as W.H. Auden’s Musée des Beaux Arts (1938),
which responds to Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, a painting from the
school of Breughel the elder, or John Ashbery’s Self-portrait in a Convex
Mirror, which contains Ashbery’s contemplations on a painting of the
same name by Parmigianino, an early Cinquecento mannerist painter.
This ekphrastic category, which also includes fiction such as Tracy
Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (1999), stands distinct from the
more common literary interaction with art, which all too often merely
seeks to fictionalise the art world, or invent artists and artworks.
Although Martyna Markowska has striven to define a genre of the
“photography novel”, there remains a paucity of criticism examining
152 J. Clarke
literature written in response to photography, what we might term photographically ekphrastic literature. This is perhaps as much due to the
lack of relevant texts as to an oversight on the part of the critical establishment. As Markowska points out, “[t]he relationship between photography and literature is widely commented on by numerous scholars from
different fields in the humanities and beyond, from aesthetics to literary
criticism,” but this intermediality lacks critical consensus since “[t]he key
issue with works on intermedial and interdisciplinary analysis remains
This lack of an available critical methodology is especially evident
in the consideration of literary responses to photography. Mieke Bal’s
work on Rembrandt overtly attempted to go “Beyond the Word-Image
Opposition”, a conundrum that has existed in photography ever since
John Herschel named it after the Greek words for “light” and “writing”.30 The attempt to erode this opposition has clear resonance with
Haas’s merging of the two meanings of reflection. Equally, critics from
Lacan onwards have examined the meaning of mirrors and mirror images
from a wide array of critical approaches. Nevertheless, there is a vacuum of specific criticism on the photography of reflections. This may be
because, as Robinson himself identified, his project was highly innovative. Robinson acknowledged the slender number of precedents for his
work on reflections:
They [reflections] are present in other photographers’ work—Atget’s
store windows, Brassai’s nightclubs, Kertez’s street scenes and distortions, Haas’s New York scenes, and in films such as Eisenstein’s Strike
and Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai… [But] only Kertez seems to have
become seriously involved with pushing the concept, and only with his
specialized series of distortions. (Reflections, 14)
To understand Burgess’s literary reflection on Robinson’s photographic
reflections, one must first unpack Robinson’s work and Burgess’s
response to it. By themselves, Robinson’s photographs connote a series
of nested reflections, amounting to his mental reflection upon the photographic reflection of the reflection of visual images. For Robinson,
30 Reading Rembrandt: Beyond the Word-Image Opposition, Mieke Bal, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, 1991.
reflections exceed mere mirror images; rather they iterate the transience
and mutability of reality and identity. He correctly identifed that, in an
attempt to make sense of the welter of sense imagery that stampedes the
optic nerve, the human mind seeks to simplify, rationalise and indeed
remove elements that add to the confusion. One such element is reflection, so often a dissonant reality presented at an angle or via distortion
compared to its surroundings. Robinson notes,
It seems that somehow we have been taught to filter out reflections, to
look right through a door or windowpane and ignore its very existence.
For normal vision, the eye merely scans the familiar. Thus the more familiar our world becomes, the more routinely we see it, and the more we
miss, the more atrophied our vision becomes—until something shakes us
out of this pattern. (Reflections, 14)
Photography has attempted different strategies to draw attention to
both this filtering process and the seeming mimesis of mirror images.
Robinson perfected an organic method of drawing attention to the actuality of reflected images, primarily by shooting reflections that either
encompassed refraction through water or juxtaposed reflected images
within or against a context of actuality. In many of the photographs in
Reflections, the central images are warped and morphed by the reflective medium, and contrasted with banal surroundings, such as cobbles
circumscribing puddles, thus reversing the natural filtering mechanism
of the mind and eye so as to draw attention to the reflected virtuality
rather than the surrounding actuality. In other images, Robinson carefully composes juxtapositions that render reflections primary to their
source images, such as shooting via the refraction of water, or through
a pane of glass which simultaneously reflects and permits a transparent
perspective. Through these methods, Robinson sundered signifier from
signified, subject from object, and developed a concept of the reflection
beyond that of the mere mirror image, into territories of hallucination,
impressionism and dreamscape. As he explained,
Reflections do not belong to particular objects as do shadows; they
owe their existence as much to the medium as to the subject. Their
identities are lent and borrowed; they are never stable or predictable.
(Reflections, 123)
154 J. Clarke
Within Vilém Flusser’s dichotomy of visual and documentary photography, Robinson’s work is clearly of the visual form. Equally, within John
Szarkowski’s metaphorical distinction between “mirrors” and “windows”, Robinson’s reflections are “mirror” photographs, not only in
the literal sense of depicting physical reflection, but also in Szarkowski’s
intended meaning that they foreground the photographer rather than
the world. Since Robinson’s own stated intention was “in using the
photographic medium not to attempt to re-create reality but to infuse
images originating in the physical world with the viewer’s imagination”
(Reflections, 11), it becomes evident that his intent was to doubly undermine the notion of photography as objectively “real”. If, as he asserts,
“[e]very photograph is an abstraction, no matter how realistic it may
appear to be”, then his reflection photographs are further abstracted by
the distortive qualities induced by photographing indirectly via the intermedium of water.
This quality of abstraction came upon Robinson in an epiphany when
he traversed Rome in the rain and suddenly noticed how the pools of
water deconstructed and distorted the visual reality of his surroundings
in a manner he associated with impressionist art. Following this epiphany, he travelled to Italy on seven occasions over a three-year period to
photograph reflections, initially of Rome mediated via water, and later
of other Italian locations, and mediated in addition via other reflective surfaces. Of the seventeen images included in the published edition of Beard’s Roman Women, all are of Rome and ten are mediated
through water, with the remaining images reflected via car hubcaps, mirrors and windowpanes. However, though Robinson very deliberately
shot his images in full colour, which at that time was not considered as
appropriate for art photography as monochrome, only half the photographic pages in Beard’s Roman Women are in colour, with the other
pages presenting black and white depictions of the images. This distortion of Robinson’s creative intent, presumably the result of publishing
constraints, had two effects. It firstly generated a deviation between
Robinson’s creative process and that of his reflection within the novel,
Paola Belli. The second was to reinforce Robinson’s own desire to have
the entire portfolio of photographs published in full colour in his own
monograph publication.
There is a hint in the text that Burgess may have been sympathetic
to Robinson in this regard. When Ronald Beard reviews Paola’s “buff
busta” of photographs, which are really Robinson’s, he notes that
“[s]ome were coloured, some black and white. Why?” (BRW, 82). It
is further possible that Burgess shared Robinson’s frustration with the
failure of the published collaboration to fulfil their respective and distinct artistic visions. Robinson’s creative process is foregrounded within
Burgess’s fictional narrative via the character of Paola Belli, a Roman
photographer who embarks on a similar process. In the novel Paola
describes her project concept to Beard:
“What I must do,” she now said, “is to photograph Rome not direct but—
how would you say it?”
“Yes. Rome in reflections. In rain water, you see. Or windows. I think we
will have rain today.” (BRW, 29–30)
However, whereas Robinson was a visitor to Rome and an artist inspired
by an epiphanic contemplation (or reflection), Paola is not only a Roman
native but also a documentarist photographer whose inspiration is left
unexplored and hence remains perpetually deferred within the text.
Furthermore, both photographers put the same images to very different
uses. Robinson’s images were initially used to illustrate Burgess’s novel,
though it might be more accurate to say that Burgess’s novel was written
to illustrate Robinson’s photographs, and later appeared in Robinson’s
own monograph. By contrast, Paola’s photographs are sold to a corporate publisher and emerge as a calendar provided to Beard’s doctor by
a medical supplies firm (BRW, 140). In this sense, Burgess’s fictional
reflection of Robinson’s process and intent may be seen itself as a distorted abstraction.
In contrast to Robinson’s overtly authorial approach, Paola introduces herself (or is introduced by Burgess) as a documentarist photographer. Indeed, when she first meets the protagonist Ronald Beard in Los
Angeles, she abstracts herself from the photographic process entirely: “I
do not notice. I am just a camera darting about. You cannot be rude
to a camera” (BRW, 22). This alludes to the famous scene which opens
Christopher Isherwood’s A Berlin Diary. Subsequent mentions of
Paola’s washed hair in the following chapter extend the reference:
I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in
156 J. Clarke
the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed,
carefully printed, fixed.31
Thus Burgess’s text immediately generates a series of relationships that
are distorted reflections. Paola is David Robinson transgendered, transnationalised and transformed into a documentarist. His photographs,
which illustrate the text, hence become ‘hers’, the product of a literalisation of Isherwood’s metaphor. From Isherwood’s statement, “I am a
camera”, it is a short step to Ernst Haas’s assertion that “Man is a mirror. He reflects reality as well as himself” (Reflections, 7). A parallel (or
reflected) relationship may be found on the passive side of the same
equation, between Roland Barthes’s famous statement in Camera Lucida
(10), that the act of merely preparing to be photographed transforms
him into an image, and Burgess’s own methodology in constructing
Beard’s Roman Women, wherein Beard becomes a distorted reflection
or image of Burgess himself. As Paola is David Robinson distorted and
reflected, so is Ronald Beard a variant on Anthony Burgess, transmuted
not by gender or nationality, but by circumstance. Of all of Burgess’s
semi-autobiographical protagonists, few tack as closely to the facts of
Burgess’s own life as Ronald Beard. Burgess himself identifed some of
the many parallels:
Beard’s wife dies of cirrhosis, like mine, and an American film producer
calls him to Los Angeles to console him. At a party Beard meets a young
and beautiful Italian photographer, Paola Lucrezia Belli, falls heavily for
her and goes back with her to Rome—to my own apartment on Piazza
Santa Cecilia, Number 16A. (YHYT, 322)
This parallel life extends outwards from Beard and Burgess into a series
of distorted reflections of his real life contained within the text. Burgess
himself identified Beard’s wife Leonora Isherwood with his own first
wife Llewella (Lynne) Isherwood Jones. Beard’s brief relationship with
Paola Belli distorts and truncates Burgess’s own second marriage to the
Italian translator Liana Macellari. The slightly implausible introduction
of Leonora’s cousin Ceridwen, whom Beard subsequently weds, can be
read as an extension of the Lynne reflection into the distorted paradigm
31 “Berlin
Diary” in Goodbye to Berlin,
Harmondsworth, 1972 (1st pub. 1939), p. 7.
that Burgess creates in Beard’s Roman Women. In this alternative reality, Beard/Burgess does not grasp the possibility of a new life, a “new
world, yours”, with Paola/Liana but instead rejects it in favour of the life
he lost when Lynne died, one of “superficial order, coziness, smugness,
yawning over the fire” with a Lynne/Leonora substitute in the form of
the younger Lynne/Ceridwen (BRW, 149). As Martin Phipps has noted,
Beard’s Roman Women is populated by a series of doppelgangers, generating a further set of internal reflections within the novel’s universe.32 In
such a binary universe, the desire for a Hegelian synthesis is paramount.
Dr Bloomfield defines love to Beard, who does not love himself, as symbiosis, “the sense of a single living unity” (BRW, 144).
However, Ronald Beard succumbs to a fatal diagnosis, the invented
“Schweitzer’s disease”. This is probably a reference to “Albert Schweitzer
syndrome”, a putative condition defined by the rehabilitation expert
Simon Olshansky in which counsellors suffer “the feeling of self-righteousness, the assumed omniscience, the self-appointed mission to correct the client’s mistakes and to solve all of the client’s problems”, which
was suggested by the philanthropic actions of the theologian and doctor Albert Schweitzer.33 The phrase had been in currency for a long time
before Olshansky’s definition, however.34 Beard, plagued with guilt over
his neglect that led to his first wife’s death, dies ironically from a surfeit
of kindness to others. Burgess’s survival in 1959 of a real and potentially
fatal condition is reflected and inverted by Beard’s dying from a satirical,
non-fatal one.
Yet the biographical similarity between Burgess and Beard is only one
of a long series of distorted reflections within the house of mirrors that is
32 “[T]here are two Paolas (one his lover, the other his ‘rapist’), two Pathans (the second
of whom Greg Greg knows, in Malaya), two Leonoras (the one on the phone and the one
in the past), two Miriams (the lissom young one and the cancerous older one) and two
Bellis (the surname of Paola and the dead poet—who himself has two translators, Beard
and a restaurant guitarist”. “Beard’s Roman Women”, Martin Phipps, The Anthony Burgess
Newsletter 6, Université d’Angers, December 2003.
index.php/beards-roman-women--m-phipps.html accessed 10 September 2012.
33 “The Albert Schweitzer syndrome: An excess of virtuousness”, Simon Olshansky,
Disabled U.S.A. vol. 2, 1978, p. 3.
34 For example, Thomas Sowell’s collected letters contain a reference to “Albert
Schweitzer syndrome” dated 14 March 1964, wherein Sowell implies a definition of excessive indulgence of the faults of others. A Man of Letters, Thomas Sowell, Encounter Books,
San Francisco, 2007, p. 47.
158 J. Clarke
Beard’s Roman Women. The novel’s comic relief, a colonial pal of Beard’s
called Greg Gregson (or simply Greg Greg, an onomastic mirroring) can
be read as an actualisation of an alternative solo life that Burgess rejected
or feared, or both, following Lynne’s death. Greg’s existence is one of
continual alcohol consumption and boorish lamentation of the good old
days in the colonies. Greg is hence not merely Beard’s dark and distorted
reflection, but is also Burgess’s.
A similar triad exists around the nineteenth-century Roman dialect
poet Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, whose top-hatted statue in Trastevere
and whose bawdy and sacrilegous sonnets form a ghostly after-image
in the text. The figure of Belli functions as a literary analogue for
Robinson’s reflective images in which the same figure appears twice,
once in actuality, and again in reflection. As Burgess did, Beard gives
himself the task of translating Belli’s sonnets into demotic English with
Paola’s help. In Beard’s Roman Women, Beard encounters an English
busker who informs him that:
There’s one man who redeems Italy and it’s that top-hatted bugger Belli.
You know his work? Blasphemous and scurrilous sonnets. I’m translating
them, with the help of the chick I’m shacked up with, as the Yanks put it.
I play the guitar for a sort of living, Belli is my real job, not that anyone
cares. Do you care? (BRW, 126)
Beard is relieved to have “the task … removed from him”, thus generating a reversed mirror image of the Burgess reflection J.J. Wilson in
ABBA ABBA, who, like Burgess himself, dutifully translated some seventy of Belli’s sonnets into Burgess’s native Mancunian dialect. Such
intertextualities remain reflections despite their echo or foreshadow qualities, primarily due to the shared object of reflection being Burgess’s own
life experiences. None of David Robinson’s reflection photographs depict
a mise en abyme image, but instead, where multiple iterations of the same
image recur in a photograph, it is always limited to a duality.
The influence of Lévi-Strauss’s structuralism can be detected even
in complex interrelationships in Beard’s Roman Women, which, like
Robinson’s photographs, consistently break down into binaries. Just as
Robinson’s images are fractured and distorted by water, thematic subjects such as Belli function as hubs, deconstructed into a series of binary
relationships at contorted angles to each other. Burgess, Beard and the
busker all forge relationships with the dead Roman poet, and all dedicate
themselves to translating his work. Beard gives up the mission, while
Burgess fulfilled it. The busker, a transient character exits to an uncertain
future and may or may not complete the task.
On first encountering Robinson’s photographs, Burgess immediately
comprehended that they represented a double vision: “David Robinson
had photographed a double Rome—one sitting on its rain-puddled
reflection,” he recalled in his autobiography (YHYT, 318). This dualism
in Beard’s Roman Women can be found in the series of thematic polarities Martin Phipps has delineated. For Phipps, Beard is “stuck in Rome
while a lot of jarring opposites—sex versus platonic love, past versus
present, reality versus fantasy, life versus death—contend for his attention”.35 But Burgess’s ever-present duality manifests beyond the mere
thematic in ways that approach the aesthetic opposition of Dionysus and
Apollo. On the macro-level, he uses Robinson’s “double Rome” as a
starting point to create a double of his own life experiences that led him
to live in Rome in the 1970s. On the micro-level, the fundamental duality applies to the issue of artistic creation. As Roger Lewis astutely notes,
“Beard’s Roman Women splits the author into warring selves: the scriptwriting hack and the posh novelist-cum-professor” (365). Ronald Beard,
a hack screenwriter who “would only know fame vicariously” encounters
his aesthetic reflection in his lover’s former husband, the successful novelist and academic P.R. Pathan, who represents for Beard the highbrow
legitimacy and financial success he himself seems destined never to attain.
Pathan is both Beard’s love rival and life rival,
the husband from whom she was divorced … a greater man than he—no
mere scriptwriter but a genuine novelist and one he had read and partly
admired—P.R. Pathan, author of Hell is a City and A Remoter World and
Her False Mouth, all much-praised novels, and My Dungeon or My Grave, a
work of premature autobiography. He was, as he knew from Who’s Who
… thirty-eight years old with a lifetime of moderate fame in front of him.
(BRW, 30)
The distinction between the two writers lies in how they embody the
structural dichotomy within photographic aesthetics that Vilém Flusser
denoted as the opposition of visual versus documentary photography.
Extending John Szarkowski’s metaphor of “window” and “mirror”
35 “Beard’s
Roman Women”, Phipps.
160 J. Clarke
photographs into the literary arena, it becomes evident that the hack
scriptwriter Beard embodies the reflective mutability of art, while the
renowned novelist Pathan is a mere documentarist, a window open upon
himself alone. This in turn evokes Nietzsche’s dichotomy of Apollo and
Dionysus from The Birth of Tragedy, wherein the Apollonian represents
the individualist urge of the chorus and the Dionysian the ecstasy of subsummation into the group. When The Times reviews P.R. Pathan’s novel
The Heavens Such Grace, Pathan’s work is condemned for its chorus-like
mediation of all diversity. All voices become that of the Apollonian chorus, Pathan himself:
All the characters talk alike … and it is curious to find a taxi-driver using
the same modes of speech as the lecturer in anthropology whom he carries. Men, in point of dialogue alone, are undistinguishable from women,
and one wonders what precisely Mr. Pathan is playing at. There may, of
course, be some dark holistic intention of demonstrating that all people are
fundamentally the same one person, perhaps the author himself, but novels
are made out of the glory of diversity, and there is little here but a uniform
greyness. (BRW, 124)
By contrast, Beard attains a form of universality through his diagnosed
death sentence, which permits him the privilege to co-identify with
a pantheon of Burgess’s own heroes. In this sense, Beard becomes the
intertextual reflection of these historic characters, since they have almost
all featured as protagonists in other novels by Burgess. Rather than write
their lives, this alternative Burgess dies like them:
“It’s coming any day now,” Beard said fiercely. “I’m luckier than most.
I know it’s coming. Damn it, man, I’ve done better than Shakespeare,
Napoleon, a bloody sight better than Marlowe and Keats and, Jesus Christ,
Chatterton. Jesus Christ too,” he added. (BRW, 147)
It is important to note that Beard does not attain the Carlylean “Centre
of Immensities, in the conflux of Eternities” of Burgess’s Apollonian
heroes. This is not a case where Beard becomes Everyman (or
Everywriter). Rather, he is simply expressing fraternity with a pantheon
of Burgessian heroes. The Centre of Immensities is Burgess himself.
In his consideration of David Robinson’s photographs, Ernst Haas
identified the locus of overlap between the two distinct semantic
meanings of reflection as the process of self-identification and self-discovery. “In reflective meditation,” he writes, “the mind becomes a mirror
and we can find ourselves. Through the camera we finally are the mirror, because we can only see what we are” (Reflections, 8). For Burgess
also, the process of fiction writing was a process of self-identification and
self-discovery. In the alternative universe of Beard’s Roman Women, he
explored the aftermath of the death of his first wife Lynne through the
speculation (derived from speculum, a reflective mirror, as John Ashbery
notes in Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror) of not marrying his second
wife Liana. Through their respective reflections, Beard’s eponymous
Roman women, Leonora and Paola, Burgess explored his relationship
with his two wives and examined the path he never took, concluding
ultimately that it ends in death.
By harnessing the power of transmutation discovered by Robinson in
the distortions of photographic reflection, Burgess was able to construct
a seemingly realist narrative that foregrounds the instability of the self.
In Beard’s Roman Women, Burgess read his own life mediated through
a similar distortion to that which Rome undergoes in Robinson’s photographs. His career as a writer was refracted and split into the duelling
figures of Beard and Pathan, which resulted in a nullification of art. His
love life was reflected and inverted, with Paola/Liana supplanted by
Ceridwen/Lynne in a transposition of what Martin Phipps has described
as “the frankly autobiographical premise of a 50-year-old widower
suddenly at relational loose ends in the late 60s”36 via what might be
described by Robinson’s definition of reflection as an “impressionistic,
upside-down view” (Reflections, 13). Burgess’s real life diagnostic death
sentence is reflected forwards in time and circumstance in the novel.
Beard’s Roman Women also incorporates a series of reflections upon
Burgess’s own work, not only backwards in time towards novels like The
Doctor is Sick but also forwards to the creation of ABBA ABBA.
Although Beard’s Rome is artistically sterile, it does reflect the possibility of art elsewhere, from Isherwood’s Berlin to Shelley’s Geneva
to the diegetic level above its own fictional universe in which the same
photographic images that Paola sells to be used in a corporate calendar
also illustrate Burgess’s novel and form the content of Robinson’s monograph. The novel concludes in a rainstorm, suggesting a further cycle
36 Ibid.
162 J. Clarke
of action, image and reflection to follow. By seeking to generate a literary analogue for Robinson’s doubly reflective photographs, Burgess also
derived a creative methodology for mediating between the two modes of
artistic creativity.
Bridging Apollo and Dionysus in Rome
Burgess’s grave marker in Monaco bears two words, “ABBA ABBA”,
a gnomic phrase which unpacks into Christ’s words on the cross, the
rhyme scheme of a Petrarchan sonnet’s octet, and the title of a deceptively slight novella Burgess wrote about the fictional encounter of two
poets, John Keats and Giuseppe Belli. Like Beard’s Roman Women,
Burgess wrote this novella while resident in Rome in the mid-1970s,
deriving the work from an existing artistic project. In this case, it was his
own hobby of translating the earthy and demotic sonnets of the Roman
dialect poet Belli into his native Mancunian dialect which led to the generation of the fiction. Burgess’s Mancunian versions of Belli’s blasphemous poems, foregrounded by Ronald Beard’s idea of translating them,
finally appeared as an appendix in ABBA ABBA, attributed to a modern
scholar called J.J. Wilson (another reflected variant on Burgess, whose
birth surname was Wilson) within a frame narrative.
The novella features two writers who respectively embody the
Apollonian and Dionysian modes. Set in 1820, ABBA ABBA centres on
the fictional encounter of Keats and Belli in Rome during Keats’s terminal year. Burgess presented their relationship as a friendly rivalry, permitting the exploration of their differing modes of artistic creativity as they
sought to explain themselves to one another. It is important to note that
Burgess’s dual modality did not really exist in the Romantic period; the
closest analogue one might find is in Kant’s contrast between the phenomenal and the noumenal, wherein the pure reason notion of freedom
is perpetually conflicted by the necessity of engagement in natural causality. A discussion of this forms a significant postscript in John Jones’s 1969
study John Keats’s Dream of Truth, which may well have formed part of
Burgess’s reading in preparation for writing ABBA ABBA. Yet Burgess
did not use Keats and Belli to express “our double existences, phenomenal and noumenal as [Kant] calls them, inside nature and outside”.37
37 John
Keats’s Dream of Truth, John Jones, Chatto and Windus, London, 1969, p. 273.
Instead he constructed their relationship as a dialogue wherein their
attempts to comprehend each other’s cultural differences mask and mediate Burgess’s own attempt to explore the relationship between Apollonian
and Dionysian artistic creation.
Apollonian art could be considered as noumenal creation, since it
exists either in contrast to or at the least entirely distinct from the external world. However, Dionysian art as it manifests in Burgess’s work is
a product of the supernatural, deriving from divine inspiration by a
chthonic Goddess-figure, often mediated through a Muse operating in
the field of phenomena. Hence, in Kantian terms, while there is a certain overlap between the noumenal and the Apollonian, and similarly
between the phenomenal and the Dionysian, the two dialectics do not
perfectly map on to one another. This becomes clear in an early passage
in the novella where the poet Giuseppe Gulielmi introduces a conception
of Apollo which is both noumenal and supernatural:
To be religious is to respond to the numinous. It does not have to be your
Mr Severn’s gentle Jesus. I have read your poems. You treat Apollo, may I
say, as a living numen.
John turned his eyes on him that flashed in the candles. “He is not
mocked,” he said. “That god is not mocked. That god can punish.”
“Punish may be, but no save,” Clark said.
“Save, yes, that too,” John said fiercely. “I will say that only he can save.
This you should know, as he is also the god of healing” (ABBA, 12)
This conception represents Apollo in a manner I have sought to describe
as Dionysian, a supernatural divinity responsible for artistic inspiration. This usage is clearly intended metaphorically, as a classical allusion
rather than to be taken literally, since Burgess follows historical record in
depicting Keats as agnostic verging on atheistic.38 The Apollo referred
38 Although
Keats did not share the overt atheism of P.B. Shelley, he was vigorously and
consistently opposed to religion, as his letters, and poems such as Written in Disgust of
Vulgar Superstition, indicate. According to Robert Gittings, “Keats was strongly anti-clerical. His bitterness with what he called ‘the pious frauds of religion’ was abnormal. He
loathed the Church. Every anti-clerical remark in reading or conversation drew from him
a mark of approval.” John Keats: The Living Year, Robert Gittings, Heinemann, London,
1978 (1st. pub. 1954), pp. 196–197.
164 J. Clarke
to by Burgess throughout ABBA ABBA is in fact the same Apollo Keats
wrote of in Hyperion. Keats’s Apollo represents the human impetus
towards divinity, the drive to create that arises from the individual seeking to understand themselves. Keats’s Apollo strikes the Muse dumb,
and in her silence he discerns that he is capable of achieving divinity
within himself, as the assertion “Knowledge enormous makes a God of
me” reveals.39 He is a poet, “deified” by the “creations and destroyings”
which occur to his imagination, and Jones notes (107) that the cancelled
variant final line of the unfinished poem in manuscript form read “Apollo
shriekd and lo he was the God!”
Apollo’s apotheosis into poet-god is achieved through knowledge
and deep understanding of the self in the face of divine silence. His traditional function as god of healing in the Greek pantheon becomes, in
Keats’s poetry, analogous to the process of conquering evil and suffering
through seeking to comprehend it. This is the sense in which Burgess
has Keats defend Apollo as god of healing even as he rejects the notion
of Apollo as noumen. When he reworked some of the Hyperion material
into The Fall of Hyperion, Keats overtly placed himself, as aspirant poetgod, in the position of seeking healing through art, both from the grief
resulting from his brother’s death and from his own burgeoning tuberculosis. As John Jones notes,
At the heart of these difficulties, deeper than the question of an overdriven
talent, lies the poet’s subtle but passive understanding of what he is trying to be and do. This gets expressed through the Olympian Apollo in
Hyperion, and then through Keats himself in The Fall. (105)
ABBA ABBA commences as Napoleon Symphony ends, in that it opens
with Keats’s military friend Elton describing his experience on St
Helena, where he heard Napoleon, quoting Voltaire’s Candide, shout
“Il faut cultiver notre jardin” (ABBA, 8). Although there is no sense
in which the two texts inhabit the same fictional universe, Elton’s anecdote connects directly back to the conclusion of Napoleon Symphony,
where Napoleon uses the image of the garden to express the notion of
natura naturata, the perfectible world of the Apollonian. The distinction between Apollonian (or Pelagian) natura naturata and Dionysian
39 Hyperion, John Keats, III.113.
(or Augustinian) natura naturans is more clearly made by Spinoza than
Voltaire, since Voltaire adhered to a post-Leibnitzian idea of an active,
formative natura naturans.40 Nevertheless, Burgess extended Voltaire’s
instruction to cultivate the garden in Napoleon’s discussion with Betsy
into “what a man must win from the wilderness, … the order he seeks …
to impose upon the aimless growth of nature’s germinating forces” (NS,
308), thus recasting it as a Pelagian (and hence Apollonian) mission to
construct a more perfected creation.
Elton later admits to having invented the episode, but defends his fabrication on the ground that Keats lies professionally. “Is not your poetry
a kind of lying?”, he accuses. Keats considers this “[a] very Platonic
way of looking at it. Fictions, yes, the making up of things, but with no
intent to deceive. Coleridge says something about the willing suspension
of disbelief. Your lie was charming and harmed no one. It was a kind
of poetry. That was good, I thought, old Bony shouting Voltaire at you
from his cabbage patch” (ABBA, 32). This provides an initial attribute
for how Burgess conceived of the Apollonian mode of artistic creation.
Poetry, to Burgess’s Keats, differs from simple lying in that “the making
up of things” are not intended to have negative consequences.
This is a sentiment that can be applied to ABBA ABBA itself, and
may perhaps have been intended by Burgess as an apologia for his
unsubstantiated fabrication about Keats and Belli. According to Roger
Lewis, “[t]he narrative of Abba Abba derives, unattributed, from Robert
Gittings’ Standard Life of John Keats, published in 1968”, but this does
not account for the invention of the character of Giovanni Gulielmi nor
the meeting of Keats and Belli (409). There is no evidence to suggest
the two poets ever encountered one another in historical reality, and
Gittings’s biography, like all others is reliant upon the account of Joseph
Severn for its narrative of Keats’s final months in Rome.
As Sue Brown has observed, “[a]part from short extracts from three
of Dr Clark’s letters, everything we know about the last three months
of Keats’s life comes from Severn’s letters and reminiscences” (95–96).
Because of this lack of alternative sources, “no one has challenged his
[Severn’s] telling of Keats’s dying”. Yet, as Nicholas Roe concedes,
“Severn’s input is problematic, however, from a biographical point
40 Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World, Jeffrey Burton Russell, Cornell
University Press, Ithaca, 1986, p. 136.
166 J. Clarke
of view” (376). On the subject of Keats, Joseph Severn, the sole available witness, is not reliable. He would amend his description of Keats’s
activities, physical condition and mental state, depending on whom he
was writing to. As a result, “[t]he tone and content of Severn’s letters
to his family are also markedly different from those addressed to Keats’s
friends” (Roe, 376). From an historian’s perspective, Severn is an unreliable narrator, but must be relied upon as he remains the sole available
source. This allowed Burgess a certain laxity that was not generally available to him when writing his Great Man narratives for Hollywood or
Lew Grade. By restricting his depiction of Keats to the period he spent
in Rome at the culmination of his life, whence only the unreliable epistolary descriptions of Joseph Severn are available as source texts or witness
accounts, Burgess was liberated to invent the encounter with Giuseppe
No less than Beard’s Roman Women, ABBA ABBA was written to
facilitate the wider dissemination of a separate artwork. Burgess was a
near neighbour of the district’s patron poet, Giuseppi Belli, whose statue
stands in his eponymous piazza a five-minute walk from Burgess’s former
apartment in Trastevere. With the assistance of his translator wife Liana,
Burgess began to translate some of Belli’s dialectal sonnets into his own
native Mancunian dialect. He describes this soberly in his autobiography,
as if it were a commission:
The poet Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli was the great master of the dialect
and a scholarly recorder of the filth and blasphemy. He wrote 2279 sonnets in Romanescu, and one of my tasks became the translation of some of
these into Lancashire English. (YHYT, 242)
Yet there was no publisher awaiting this work. It was not so much a task
as the “strenuous hobby” attributed in the second part of ABBA ABBA
(91) to J.J. Wilson, a Mancunian poet living in New York, or the “real
job” of the busker Ronald Beard encounters in Trastevere. Later, in
You’ve Had Your Time, Burgess conceded that he “sometimes thought
of dedicating my life to their translation” (327). To render this obsessive hobby publishable, Burgess appended the poems to the brief novella
which forms the bulk of ABBA ABBA. Burgess’s autobiography also
includes a supernatural anecdote in which he was haunted by Keats’s
“fierce creative energy”. Feeling that “Keats was watching all the time”,
Burgess claimed to “quieten his unquiet spirit by putting him in a little
novel and having him meet Belli” (YHYT, 329–330).
Interpolated between the two sections of fiction and poetry is a curious bridging passage of five pages, which seeks to connect the translated
Mancunian sonnets by Burgess back to Belli himself and the narrative of
the preceding novella. J.J. Wilson, whose name and skeletal biography
partly adhere to aspects of Burgess’s own life, transpires to be the anglicised grandson of Giovanni Gulielmi, a friend of Belli and fellow man
of letters, who lived in Burgess’s Trastevere apartment some 160 years
earlier, translating Byron’s Beppo. The mediating strategy of reflection Burgess developed for Beard’s Roman Women is again utilised here
to generate binary relationships around polyvalent hubs. The Italian
Gulielmi translates the scandalous English poet Byron in the same apartment that Burgess translated the scandalous sonnets of Belli. The Eternal
City, and specifically the apartment on Piazza Santa Cecilia, in ABBA
ABBA is a topos that reflects a dual timeframe.
This conception of Rome as urbs aeterna manifests in two opposed
fashions within the text of ABBA ABBA. In debate with a cardinal, Belli
offers his vision of Rome as Dis, a corrupt and animalistic city of ignorance, and summarises his comparison in a phrase also used as a title of
one of P.R. Pathan’s novels in Beard’s Roman Women:
A Roman expects nothing from his rulers except tyranny of one sort or
another. Treat a Roman well and he will begin to think there is a catch
somewhere and start brooding revolution. Probably they deserve to be
so treated, the rats of this foul and beautiful sewer. They are probably all
damned, and hell is a city much like Rome. They have no notion of morality,
none of theology, none at all of history. Ignorant and damned. (ABBA, 67)
This Augustinian Weltanschauung contrasts with the Pelagian impulse of
Cardinal Fabiani, whose vision of a perfectible Rome, policed by censors
and guided by the example of the wise, is destined to be undone by the
set of uncannily accurate predictions made by Belli. Invited by Fabiani
to offer his “vatic” vision of Rome, Belli flashes “forward to the future”
(ABBA, 65–66) and offers a series of prophecies about the diminishing
of Papal secular rule, the unification of Italy and the decline of dialectal
Italian language, all of which will come to pass. But Belli’s depiction of
an eternally fallen Rome, later expressed in his demotic sonnet sequence,
168 J. Clarke
is also opposed by Keats, who experiences his own “remarkable vision”
of an eternal Roman:
He saw this Mario as Marius, living by the Tiber while Rome was building,
living through the growth and fall of the empire, always the same with his
wine and bread and garlic, through two thousand years of the city’s life.
He gaped at the boy in awe. (ABBA, 36)
This vision is a curious amalgam of Apollonianism and Dionysianism. It
is a Dionysian inspiration as conceived by an Apollonian artist. The focus
on individuation—the primacy of the person over the environment and
society—suggests an Apollonian approach to Keats’s depiction of Rome,
yet it is the society and not the individual which changes. Keats’s Mario
is static, utopian and archetypal, and embodies the extended timeframe
perspective that Burgess sought to generate through reflected binary
relationships. It approaches the mythological synchronicity of Carlyle’s
“Centre of Immensities, in the Conflux of Eternities”. Keats’s tuberculosis did not permit him sufficient time to write such an epic, however.
The intermediary Gulielmi correctly divines that Keats has been granted
a vision which he is incapable of rendering into poetry:
Gulielmi wished to say, but dared not: It is not for you, this thing is reserved
for another. The muse presiding over this notion has hit the wrong season and
the wrong poet. (ABBA, 41)
Gulielmi, himself a Dionysian artist, correctly divines that Keats is too
Apollonian to render this particular artistic vision. Yet it has been gifted
to Keats in a moment of confluence between the two modes, for not
only is the Apollonianism of Burgess’s Keats not in doubt, neither is his
Pelagianism. Early in the novella, Keats asserts both:
Saints do not create goodness, they but exemplify it. As for those called by
Apollo, they make truth, they make beauty. They create, and in creating
create also themselves. (ABBA, 12)
Burgess pursued this further by having Keats state a credo in which
he expresses his belief “in the holiness of the human imagination, the
brotherhood of all elements of the cosmos, the creation of the human
soul through suffering and love, the divine revelations of poetry”
(ABBA, 46). This is inevitably contrasted with the Augustinian,
Dionysian poet Belli, for whom Rome, and by extension all creation, is
ignorant and damned. For Belli, “free thinking is no thinking” (ABBA,
47), and Keats’s poetry suffers from an excess of whimsy and a surfeit of
As in the Elizabethan era, the early nineteenth century understood
two forms of nature. The contrasting meanings of natura naturans
and natura naturata found expression on opposite sides of the debate
between Classicism and Romanticism since, as John Jones notes, nature
“could be made to exemplify system and good sense as well as vital mystery” (271). Belli believes that Keats’s poetry, which emphasises the
truth and beauty inherent in nature, is a misunderstanding, since for
him nature is “lying and ugly and malevolent”, and makes people sick
(ABBA, 48).
Throughout ABBA ABBA, Keats actually is sick, dying of tuberculosis. Burgess’s depiction of Keats’s illness, and its possible connection
to his creativity, contrasts with how he depicted Shakespeare’s syphilis in
Nothing Like The Sun. Will flirts with the Apollonian mode only to dedicate himself to the Goddess, who in turn infects him with syphilis via the
Dark Lady Muse, Fatimah. It is this infection which Burgess suggested
was the direct cause of Shakespeare’s artistic genius. Deborah Hayden’s
study Pox demonstrates that the symptoms of euphoria, megalomania,
depression and paranoia which manifest in tertiary stages of syphilis may
have a significant impact on artistic creativity.41 Some years after Nothing
Like The Sun, Burgess told G. Riemer that he believed tuberculosis had a
similar effect:
I think art is sublimated libido. You can’t be a eunuch priest and you can’t
be a eunuch artist. I became interested in syphilis when I worked for a
time at a mental hospital full of GPI cases. I discovered there was a correlation between the spirochete and mad talent. The tubercle also produces a
lyrical drive. Keats had both. (Conversations, 59)
There is, however, no evidence that the historical John Keats suffered
from syphilis or any other venereal disease. In fact, as Hillas Smith has
argued, concurring with a long series of doctors who have conducted
41 Pox: Genius, Madness, And The Mysteries Of Syphilis, Deborah Hayden, Basic Books,
London, 2003.
170 J. Clarke
historical diagnostic inquiries into Keats’s health problems, “the question
of syphilis … is almost certainly not relevant”.42 In any case, Keats did
not live long enough for syphilis to have developed to the tertiary stage
where it would affect mental processes, even if he had contracted it. In
ABBA ABBA, Burgess makes no reference to Keats suffering from syphilis. Burgess did persist with the notion that tuberculosis could generate
a similar artistic creativity to syphilis, however. Nearly a decade after the
publication of ABBA ABBA, he was still ascribing a creative aspect to
tubercles in his biography of D.H. Lawrence.43 Yet, despite maintaining
a belief that literary potential could be enhanced by the illness, Burgess
did not depict Keats as artistically inspired by his tuberculosis in ABBA
ABBA. The fact that the historical Keats wrote little in his final months
could not have been the dissuading factor, since Burgess happily deviated from the account contained in Severn’s letters by inventing a series
of meetings between Keats and Giuseppi Belli. Instead, Burgess drew
upon the Romantic cliché that consumption was the product of the body
decaying due to an overworked mind. This reverses the vector between
illness and artistic creativity that Burgess depicted in the Dionysian mode
of Nothing Like The Sun. Whereas Will is infected then inspired, Keats in
ABBA ABBA is overly creative, then suffers physically as a result. This
conception of tuberculosis as debilitation resulting from hyperactive cognition is, as Katherine Byrne argues, no longer a modern one, but it was
prevalent in the time of Keats:
[I]t was probably Romanticism which brought tubercular glamour into the
new [nineteenth] century. An enduring bond was forged between this disease and the poets, artists and musicians of the late eighteenth and early
nineteenth centuries. Phthisis not only killed John Keats, but functioned
for his contemporaries and followers as the physical manifestation of his
all-consuming intellect. (93–94)
42 “The Strange Case of Mr. Keats’s Tuberculosis”, Dr Hillas Smith, in Clinical Infectious
Diseases, vol. 38, no. 7, 2004, p. 992.
43 “Nineteen Eighty-Four was a metaphysical game to Orwell, and The Plumed Serpent a
politico-religious game to Lawrence. It is probably not in order to speculate how far the
killing tubercle was, with both men approaching middle age and death, responsible for
their respective fantasies” Flame Into Being: The Life and Work of D.H. Lawrence, Anthony
Burgess, London, 1985, p. 158.
Tragically, this erroneous diagnostic understanding was held by Keats’s
doctors as well as his contemporaries and followers. As Sue Brown states,
“the insistence of Keats’s various doctors in 1820 that it was his mind,
rather than his body, that was diseased, is striking” (83). Furthermore,
this extended even to his doctor in Rome, Dr James Clark, despite his
specific expertise in phthisis.44 Nicholas Roe rightly points out that
“Clark’s diagnosis is baffling” since “[h]e already knew Keats had
advanced pulmonary consumption and had thus sought accommodation for him that would benefit a patient with infected lungs” (389).
All of this appears in ABBA ABBA, down to Clark’s sad acknowledgement during Keats’s autopsy that “[t]here were no lungs left at all”
(ABBA, 83).
Although Burgess did not depict Keats being lyrically inspired by his
tuberculosis, he does utilise the trope of illness to propel Keats into the
same kind of fevered topos which Will Shakespeare experiences in Nothing
Like The Sun. Just like Will, John Keats encounters an avatar of the
Goddess and is tempted to serve her. Unlike Will, he finds himself incapable of doing so. The experience begins as Keats walks the Pincio, an
area of wooded gardens overlooking the city. Thanking Bacchus for his
evening, he encounters Pauline Bonaparte, sister to the fallen emperor,
who offers him a ride in her carriage.
Later that evening, he sleeps and dreams of Fanny Brawne, and
is drawn into a succubal hallucination. In his dream-state, Keats kisses
Fanny’s eyes to stop her looking at him, evoking the moment in
Hyperion where Apollo recalls dreaming of the Goddess Mnemosyne’s
eyes, “an ancient power” which desires his “heart’s secret” and his allegiance. He then dreams of John Florio referring to a woman’s quaint,
and Shakespeare picking fig-seeds from his teeth, which Keats understands as “a signal to spend seed” (ABBA, 52).45 When he awakes, with
strong blood in his veins for once, he realises that the Dionysian impulse
is imparted initially via sex with women: “One offended the gods at
one’s peril. The caress was a carosse to the dark world” (ABBA, 53).
This inevitably calls his own mode of creativity into question. He briefly
44 Clark was the author of a number of books on tubercular illness, including one specifically about the effects of a Mediterranean climate on the disease, The Effects of a Residence
in the South of Europe in cases of Pulmonary Consumption.
45 ‘Quaint’ and ‘figge’ are Elizabethan euphemisms for the vagina.
172 J. Clarke
considers all his extant work up to that point to have been mere play.
Granted an experience of the Dionysian mode, Keats considers succumbing to it:
John sweated in fear and prayed: “Whoever presides over poetry, spare me
to dare the darkness. Everything is an allegory of the unknown. Teach me
the way of the reading of the signs. Give me time to grow. I promise faithful service. No more play”.
Yet Keats is not destined to swear fealty to the Goddess and her porphyry vial of knowledge of good and evil. In a second succubal dream,
he sleeps with Pauline Bonaparte, but he identifies the experience as fantastical. “All this I tell you is true,” he tells Severn, “in poetic truth it
is all true” (ABBA, 70). Even in fantasy, Keats cannot commit to service to the Goddess, for “Alma Venus or Queen Mab or l’ultima principessa could give in no wise to my fancy what she she she denied to my
body” (ABBA, 71). In a final fever dream, Keats encounters Shakespeare
himself, “mad Will, who speaketh good Florentine”, but whereas Will
embraced the physicality of Dionysian creation, Keats sees in it only revenant animality. Fever-Will’s yearning for the totality of human existence,
“the red din of an aching tooth as it engageth good hot meat, … the nutmeg and cinnamon in mulled ale thudding on the arch of the palate, …
the dove-soft touch of a young love’s ripening breast” is to Keats the harrowing wanderings of a ghost who “longed to lap blood” (ABBA, 71).
As he returns to quotidian reality, Keats realises that “Severn heard
none of this” soliloquy, which he believes happened entirely in his own
mind, within the invented universe of his Apollonian imagination.
Burgess’s double vision is here a moment of confluence between the two
modes, the one perceived by the other. Read from a Dionysian perspective, Keats receives multiple supernatural visitations from the Goddess,
who seeks to lure or persuade him to her service. Keats chooses to read it
from his rational Apollonian perspective, and hence dismisses the experience. He refuses to be Jun Kets—junkets—“To be eaten by Fairy Mab”
(ABBA, 8).
In Beard’s Roman Women, Burgess explored the possibility of mediating between the Dionysian and Apollonian modes of creativity through
processes of relationship and reflection, but found that perspective is
itself a distorting mirror, generating a double vision rather than a true
confluence. However, his reading of Lévi-Strauss had suggested that
structuralism might offer a method of rapprochement. Structuralism’s
systems of binaries proposed a position of synthesis, where dialectics
were resolved by being subsumed within structure itself. Burgess grants
this very insight to Keats on his deathbed, where he is subsumed in
Apollonianism to the extent that he is no longer able “to separate out
the imagined, the dreamt and the quotidian real” (ABBA, 81).
Although he is more separated from and conflicted with Belli than
at any other stage in the novella, nevertheless Keats intuits a rapprochement based on the structure that gives the book its title—that of the
Petrarchan sonnet form that he and Belli both practised:
It came to him thus that the sonnet form might subsist above language,
but he did not see how this was possible. Language itself was perhaps only
a ghost of the things in the outer world to which it adhered, and a ghost
of a ghost was a notion untenable totally. And yet it seemed that two men,
of language mutually unintelligible, might in a sense achieve communication through recognition of what a sonnet was. Belli and himself, for
instance. (ABBA, 82)
From his encounter with structuralism, Burgess initially explored the
possibility of a second methodology for creating art. Yet by the time he
had completed ABBA ABBA, not only had he uncovered the Apollonian
mode and depicted it directly in John Keats, but structuralism had also
provided him with an effective method of mediating between the two
modes. This is not merely to state that all art can be equated on the
level of medium, since Burgess, as a true high modernist, insisted on an
understanding of standards in fiction that might be considered elitist by
many.46 Rather, it is an understanding that two diametrically opposed
forms of artistic creativity—the Apollonian urge to divinity that manifests in creating a more perfected universe in art as opposed to Dionysian
divine inspiration, mired in imperfection and animality—merge in the
fundamental topos of language and its poetical structure. With the bridge
between the two in place at last, Burgess was finally free to cross over
from the Dionysian mode towards the Apollonian.
46 His distinction between “Class 1” and “Class 2” fiction, as described in Ninety Nine
Novels is a good example of the disdain in which Burgess held populist writing, for example. The selection of recommended fiction in the same text also heavily leans towards the
experimental, high modernist tradition.
Nowhere but the Fire of Words:
The Apollonian Mode in Burgess’s Fiction
Towards the end of Burgess’s career, he achieved the depiction of
Apollonian artistic creativity in his fiction. By the time Burgess came
to complete Earthly Powers in 1980, following the lengthy process of
experimentation during his mid-career in which structuralism led him
along a series of pathways which attempted to mediate the Apollonian
mode via the Dionysian, he had uncovered a methodology to bridge the
opposed impulses of Apollo and Dionysus, partly via revisiting previous
experiments in The End of the World News. However, the lengthy gestation of Earthly Powers meant that it contained a spectrum of Burgess’s
positions on the aesthetic dialectic. After this attempt to write a ‘big’
novel, Burgess took an autobiographical turn, wherein aspects of his own
life were recast in Apollonian terms in novels like The Pianoplayers and
Any Old Iron. Burgess then returned to experimental narrative form to
manifest his fullest depiction of the Apollonian mode in his late novels,
Mozart and the Wolf Gang and A Dead Man in Deptford, before positing
a retreat from this high water mark in his posthumous verse novel Byrne.
This chapter explores how the Apollonian mode finally emerged in these
late works.
The Gay Science of Kenneth Toomey
Earthly Powers is a multiple anomaly in Burgess’s oeuvre. Its length and
its lengthy gestation stand in stark contrast to earlier texts such as Honey
for the Bears, which were written in a matter of weeks to only a fraction
© The Author(s) 2017
J. Clarke, The Aesthetics of Anthony Burgess,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-66411-8_5
176 J. Clarke
of the size of Burgess’s 1980 blockbuster. As early as 1973 many of the
key elements of the novel were already in situ, as Burgess revealed to
Basil Bunting:
I’ve got a very long novel … about the Papacy, really about Pope John,
and this has to be told. The narrator is Somerset Maugham, taking the
character, Somerset Maugham, as the narrator at the age of eighty-one,
and in his divagatory way tells a long story. It’s all about whether Pope
John was really a saint or whether a miracle, an alleged miracle, really was a
miracle. That’s the root of the thing. (Conversations, 100)
Other of Burgess’s novels were in the planning long before execution;
his desire to write a fictional biography of Christopher Marlowe was
deferred in 1964, the quatercentenary of his birth, to 1993, the fourhundredth anniversary of his death, to accommodate the writing and
publication of Nothing Like The Sun, which also celebrated the life of a
playwright born in 1564. Yet there is no evidence that Burgess wrote or
even planned A Dead Man in Deptford for years prior to its publication.
By contrast, the significant debt that text owes to Charles Nicholl’s The
Reckoning, which was first published in June 1992, indicates that it must
have been written in a short period of time, prior to publication in early
1993. Hence, while themes and subject for some of Burgess’s novels
may have been in consideration long before publication, Earthly Powers
is unique in the time taken to write it from start to finish. Six other novels, two children’s novellas, a lengthy narrative poem, three book-length
works of criticism and innumerable articles and film scripts came and
went in the time that Burgess worked on Earthly Powers. Although a
significant achievement, writing this novel was clearly a difficult one for
Burgess, who was normally such a prolific and expedient author.
This generates the first of a series of problems when attempting to
analyse the aesthetics of the text. It cannot easily be fitted into a chronology of his aesthetic development because it was not produced serially
in a neat lineage, but rather overlapped with a large body of his other
fictional work, in which a burgeoning rapprochement with an Apollonian
mode can be discerned.1 If MF marked the point in his artistic development when he became aware of the Apollonian mode, then Earthly
1 See
Chap. 4.
Powers can be considered as representative of his entire development
from just after that moment right up to the brink of his writing overtly
Apollonian fiction. For this reason, the previous chapter focused on the
other novels Burgess wrote in this period, which offer a clearer delineation of Burgess’s trajectory away from the Dionysian mode to a confluent form of writing. Yet Earthly Powers is Burgess’s most extensive
work, and it features as its protagonist an author, Kenneth Toomey. Its
supporting cast is likewise littered with writers, from the poet laureate
Dawson Wignall, to Sciberras, a Maltese poet. Recurring major characters include Toomey’s one-time lover and later writing rival Val Wrigley,
and a fictional giant of German modernism, Jakob Strehler, winner of
the 1935 Nobel Prize for Literature. It is impossible to ignore Earthly
Powers in any examination of how Burgess treats artistic creation, since
the novel abounds with writers and with discussions about writing.
An additional complication arises in relation to the narratology of
the text. It is narrated almost entirely from the perspective of the writer
Kenneth Toomey, from the vantage point of his 82nd year, looking back
over an event-filled life. At the outset of the novel, Toomey warns that
“writers of fiction often have difficulty in deciding between what really
happened and what they imagine as having happened. That is why in my
sad trade, we can never be really devout or pious. We lie for a living”
(EP, 17). This alerts the reader to the likelihood of inconsistencies in the
narrative that follows. At the novel’s conclusion, Toomey decides to title
his memoirs Confabulations. These memoirs are the in-world representation of Earthly Powers itself; its in-world title is deliberately chosen to
underline the very unreliability of the text itself on either level of diegesis. In response to his sister’s assertion that Confabulations is “a wet sort
of title”, Toomey defines the term:
In psychiatry, according to this dictionary here, it means the replacement
of the gaps left by a disordered memory with imaginary remembered experiences believed to be true. Not that I see the difference. All memories are
disordered. The truth, if not mathematical, is what we think we remember.
(EP, 645)
These statements by Toomey bookend the bulk of the novel’s narrative
and are clearly intended to inform the reader that Toomey is an unreliable narrator. This unreliability manifests in a series of ways. Some of these
are clearly intended by Burgess and function validly within the fictional
178 J. Clarke
level of the text, such as Jakob Strehler’s Nobel prize, granted in a year in
which no real-life literary Nobel was awarded. In the in-world reality of
Earthly Powers, Strehler claimed the 1935 prize, and this maintains coherence within the fictional ontology of a text where Strehler is depicted as
an important literary figure. However, other examples, such as instances
where texts are misquoted or mistranslated, real people misnamed or
real events misdated, are less clearly intended by Burgess as deliberate inworld errors by Toomey and his confabulating memory. They may well
be, as Roger Lewis has suggested, Burgess’s own errors, and Toomey’s
fallible recollection could function as a mechanism for explaining away
mistakes made by Burgess in the writing of the text (EP, 121).
The issue of confabulation becomes especially relevant in relation
to Burgess’s later volumes of autobiography, which demonstrably contain factual errors, flights of fancy and conflations with his novels, to the
extent that the novelist William Boyd once referred to them as Burgess’s
finest works of fiction.2 Within the fields of neuroscience and psychology, theories seeking to explain the phenomenon of confabulation have
proliferated. The line between delusion and confabulation continues to
be hotly debated, and models proposing multiple forms of confabulation
exist. In considering confabulation within the confines of Earthly Powers,
or indeed any fiction, there is a cognitive-neuropsychological framework
proposed by Metcalf, Langdon and Coltheart which “takes into consideration how the general organization of the autobiographical memory
store and a person’s individual emotional/motivational biases can influence confabulatory symptoms and content”.3 This framework, referred
to as a self-identity theoretical model, posits that confabulation may arise
from a desire to maintain a sense of personal coherence, which may have
been eroded by gaps in memory. In this context Toomey’s confabulation
arises from a desire to create a coherent narrative of the self, which he
actualises as his memoirs. However, this in turn is amended by Toomey’s
assertion that writers “lie for a living”, and are prone to shape events to
conform to a satisfying narrative structure and trajectory. As he explains,
2 In part two of The Burgess Variations, dir. David Thompson, first broadcast BBC 2, 27
December 1999.
3 “Models of confabulation: A critical review and a new framework”, Kasey Metcalf,
Robyn Langdon and Max Coltheart, in Cognitive Neuropsychology, vol. 24, iss. 1, 2007, pp.
“it is so much easier and so much more gratifying to shape, reorder,
impose climax and dénouement, augment here, diminish there, play for
applause and laughter than to recount the bald treadmill facts as they
happened” (EP, 45). Toomey’s narrative is therefore composed of the
events of his life, firstly confabulated by his memory and then also consciously amended by his novelist’s skill of fictionalising.
This in turn informs the debate introduced by Roger Lewis over
whether some of the unreliability is better attributed to Burgess than to
his creation Toomey. Minor errata litter the text, and in many cases it is
not possible to identify whether they are intended and, if so, whether
by Toomey or by Burgess. Except for obvious and clear instances of inworld invention, such as the elevation of the fictional Carlo Campanati
to the papacy or Strehler’s Nobel prize, there is no methodology that
can sift the various unreliable elements contained within Earthly Powers
so as to attribute them variously to Toomey’s invention, his erratic memory, or to Burgess as author. This significantly complicates any attempt
to isolate the aesthetic represented by Toomey and the many other writers (both real and imagined) depicted within the text, since everything is
mediated through Toomey’s consciousness and then doubly amended by
his failing memory and habit of fictionalising.
Proceeding on the basis that Toomey confabulates in order to attain
a sense of psychic wholeness, the question arises as to what may have
ruptured his psyche in the first place. As the novel opens, Toomey tells
Geoffrey they should sleep apart and recalls the opening of the first
Duino Elegy—“Wer, wenn ich schriee [Who, if I cried...?]”—recalling
that it had been “poor great dead Rilke” who wrote it (EP, 9). The
elderly Toomey is not the first of Burgess’s protagonists to fixate on these
lines. Christopher Howarth in The Worm and the Ring similarly evokes
them at the outset of his own quest for personal coherence, and these
lines can connote the quest to resolve the Nietzschean schism between
Dionysus and Apollo. The crucial difference between the two texts is that
Earthly Powers is not a linear narrative in the way The Worm and the Ring
is. Toomey’s anguished wrangling between the two modes, represented
by the quotation from the Duino Elegies, comes towards the end of his
life, even though it appears early in the novel. Yet if Toomey is suspended
between two artistic modes, this performance of confabulation interferes with critical attempts to delineate his struggle. On the same page,
Toomey dons “the mask of distinguished immoral author”, and it is
never subsequently clear in the novel when, if ever, he takes it off (EP, 9).
180 J. Clarke
This complicates the very premise of the novel—Toomey’s archbishop-appointed task of recollecting the factual circumstances of an
alleged miracle performed by Carlo Campanati. As Burgess wrote in
The Washington Post, “The narrator, whose fictional trade leads him to
confuse the imagined with the actual, is forced to look back over his
long life, assemble the undoubted historical and biographical and separate them from what is fabled by the daughters of memory”.4 The purpose of collating his memoirs is not so much to set the record straight
as to contextualise a single event, yet by giving his memoirs the title
Confabulations, Toomey clearly concedes failure in the task of separating the historical from the fabled in his narrative. The very modality
of artistic creativity is an earlier and more profound fight that Toomey
experiences, and it is not only cognate with this issue of achievement and
legacy, but also with the more fundamental schism Toomey experiences,
that between his religious faith and his human nature.
Earthly Powers is far from the only Burgess novel thematically focused
on man’s relationship with God. His great theological theme—Augustine
versus Pelagius—is centred on exactly this matter, and recurs again
and again throughout his fiction. In Earthly Powers, it is given an additional nuance by Toomey’s homosexuality. At Chap. 11, when the narrative moves backwards in time to recount Toomey’s confabulated
memoirs, the novel curiously omits any mention of his childhood and
commences instead when he is already a published novelist aged 26, in
a scene which might be termed Toomey’s own origin myth—his schism
from the Catholic Church. This unfolds in an encounter with one
Father Frobisher, who is quick to associate Toomey’s condition with his
I’ve had one or two shall I say literary personages sent to me with precisely
your problem. It’s always such people who have the problem. Actors too,
though not musicians. You’re a writer?
A novelist, reviewer, that sort of thing. (EP, 54)
Toomey’s defence of his sexual orientation to the priest is based on three
grounds. The first is that all sexuality arises from the same source and is
4 “The Genesis of ‘Earthly Powers’”, Anthony Burgess, in Washington Post, Book World
section, 23 November 1980, p. 2.
therefore identical in kind, whether aimed at procreation or not: “Oh,
I know what you’ll say—that my sort of sexuality is sterile. But there’s
only the one fundamental urge,” he tells Frobisher, “Alma Venus, and so
on” (EP, 55). This reference is problematic in the context of Burgess’s
earlier evocations of Venus in his fiction, in A Vision of Battlements and
The Eve of Saint Venus. Ennis’s recollection of Alma Venus from the work
of Lucretius overtly identifies her as progenetrix, mother of all, while the
magical deity who presides over Burgess’s adaptation of the Pervigilium
is directly associated with a flowering of fecundity within the novella.
Toomey’s attempt to elide the sexual urge that results in procreation
with his own homosexual orientation can be read as sly sophistry, or as
a sophomore error by a young and troubled intellectual, but it is at best
inconsistent with how Burgess has used Venus to represent the chthonic
female archetype behind his version of the Dionysian mode.
Toomey’s next stratagem is to cite the precedent of Michelangelo.
This example is one that Toomey consistently utilises to explain his sense
of having been born innately homosexual. He uses it in debate with his
sister Hortense on multiple occasions, comes out to his mother by referring to it, and later raises it in argument with Carlo Campanati’s elder
brother Raffaele. “God made him what he was,” he tells the priest,
“a homosexual and an artist. He’s one of the glories of the Church”.
Frobisher’s rejection of this argument remains consistent with actual
Catholic dogma. Homosexuality is considered to be a “moral disorder”
by the Church, a “tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil” (EP,
56).5 Yet the Vatican evades the argument that sexuality is innate, and
hence a product of God’s creation, by arguing that humanity is made by
God as “the creature of God” and cannot be “reduced” to a mere sexuality. Catholicism requires homosexuals to live chastely, without indulging their sexual appetites. This is the response of the pious Raffaele when
Toomey once again evokes Michelangelo in a discussion about his own
This position, occasionally summarised as “hate the sin, love the
sinner”, presents homosexuality as an aberration from heterosexual
practice, which in turn is depicted as being intended for the purpose
5 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1 October
doc_19861001_homosexual-persons_en.html retrieved 26 September 2013.
182 J. Clarke
of procreation.6 This focus on sex’s procreative purpose connects
Catholicism in Burgess’s oeuvre back to the chthonic earth Goddess
and her Muse avatars, for whom fertility is all one, whether resulting in
art, offspring or even illness. In an aesthetic context then Catholicism
in Burgess must denote the Dionysian artistic mode, an impulse divinely
inspired and channelled to the artist via Muses, with a concomitant cost
to the artistic creator. This paradigm derives from Graves, and can also
be found in Camille Paglia’s reworking of Nietzsche. John Leonard
wrote in an early review of Earthly Powers that “Mr. Burgess is also quite
serious. He is telling us that St. Nicholas was cheated; that if God is the
Father we have come to know, we desperately need a Mother Church”.7
Yet what Toomey yearns for is not the feminisation of Catholicism so
much as its root ur-form in chthonic Goddess-worship, which brings
with it the gift of Dionysian art. Divorced from sexual interaction with
the feminine, Toomey is also separated from the Dionysian mode.
Toomey’s dilemma is consistently depicted as a clash between his sexuality and the edicts of the Church from which he is apostasised. Midway
through the novel he acerbically summarises it: “If the two Gods could
fuse. The one who created me sick, the other one who commands me
to be sound” (EP, 364). Yet in Earthly Powers, there is only God and
the Devil, if, as John Leonard astutely noted, “God in fact bothers to
be there”.8 Of the Devil, there is no question in Earthly Powers; Carlo
frequently encounters cases of infernal possession, from the sorcerer
Mahalingam to “the authentic tonalities of the master” (EP, 542) in a
possessed child of Novara, and infernal influence is directly identified
as causing both the rise of the Nazis and the cult massacre by Godfrey
Manning. In fact, Burgess subsequently identified God directly with the
Devil in Earthly Powers:
What curious game is God playing? If God is also the devil, the prince of
the powers of the air, then it is as likely that evil will come out of good as
6 This phrase derives ultimately from Augustinianism, whose Letter 211, written around
424 CE, contains the phrase “Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum”. This approximately translates as “With love of men and hatred of sin” and has subsequently been
adapted into more familiar locutions, including “hate the sin and not the sinner” which was
popularised by Gandhi, Mohandas K.
7 “Books Of The Times”, John Leonard, in New York Times Book Review, 30 June 1981.
8 Ibid.
the other way round. Perhaps more so. If our century is to be explained at
all, it is in terms of God becoming his opposite. (YHYT, 356)
This contradictory and at times confused theology is the central theme of
Earthly Powers. It underpins the tension between Toomey’s homosexuality and his relationship with God, and overspills into considerations of
Toomey’s aesthetics. Separated from mother church and God, Toomey
nevertheless is not of the party of God’s rival. There is nothing diabolic
about either his furtive and failed sexual relationships nor about his commercial successes and artistic failures as an author. Toomey’s aesthetic
achievements arise in part from the tension between his covert sexuality
and his anguished faith in God. His former lover and later rival, the poet
Val Wrigley, adopts a militant gay politics, which in turn shapes his much
less fraught theological perspective. This contrasting approach to homosexual self-identification drives their respective artistic work. Wrigley,
who marches for gay liberation against Mosley’s fascists and appears for
the defence at the trial of Radclyffe Hall, eventually provokes an obscenity trial of his own, having recast Christ as gay lover of his apostles in a
poetry collection. His defence centres on an Apollonian aesthetic, allied
to the political theme of gay emancipation present in the work: “Aren’t
we proclaiming,” cried Val, “a new view of God? God made us what we
are and he had his reasons. I don’t see the difference” (EP, 321).
For Wrigley, God is not bifurcated into the condemnatory overseer
of the Church and the creator of his own sexuality. If there is but one
God, then the Church’s perspective must require amendment. To that
end, Wrigley literally rewrites the New Testament, placing homosexual
relationships at the centre of the Gospel. His Weltanschauung entirely
lacks the presence of women. It is a utopian vision of gay masculinity,
and also a bending of the Church’s narrative to his own will and vision.
Wrigley is therefore an Apollonian artist, imagining a world within his
art that improves upon the real world in which he finds himself. He
embodies the Promethean spirit of rebellion and aspiration that typifies
Burgess’s Apollonian mode. If Burgess’s version of Dionysian aesthetics
requires a feminine mediatrix, similarly his version of Apollonian aesthetics regularly coincides with homosexuality. From his earliest depiction
of a homosexual character, Julian Agate in A Vision of Battlements, to
Kit Marlowe in A Dead Man in Deptford, Burgess invariably associates homosexuality with a utopian (or Pelagian) drive towards perfection. Where these homosexual characters are also artists—as are Agate,
184 J. Clarke
Wrigley and Kit Marlowe—this association manifests aesthetically as
Burgess’s Apollonian mode.
The sole exception in this career-long nexus of associations is Kenneth
Toomey, who is both gay and a frustrated artist in the Dionysian mode.
This is expressing in aesthetic terms the theological crisis Toomey experiences in Father Frobisher’s drawing room. Toomey’s tragedy, the engine
which drives the narrative of Earthly Powers, is his inability to negotiate
a rapprochement between his sexuality and his faith. Aesthetically, this
prevents him from embracing the Apollonian mode as Val Wrigley does.
Toomey’s model, the behavioural example he consistently returns to, is
a similarly anguished figure; Michelangelo’s poetry oscillates between
erotic homosexual verse, often glossed as neoplatonism by early critics,
and excoriating bouts of guilt and self-recrimination.
Yet Michelangelo offers no genuine precedent for Toomey’s attempt
to reconcile his sexuality with the ordinances of the Church. Toomey
only evokes Michelangelo in defence of his own sexuality, and states consistently that he was both homosexual and a great artist, and that the
two states are somehow connected. If they are, under Burgess’s aesthetic dialectic, then this connection is that between Pelagianism and the
Apollonian mode. Michelangelo functions as an aspiration for Toomey, a
perfectible state of being wherein homosexuality, societal acceptance and
artistic greatness conjoin. Michelangelo functions as Toomey’s Pelagian
exemplum, but Toomey is incapable of emulating the aspirational example represented in his mind by the Florentine artist. This is most acutely
demonstrated by his furtive, anonymised attempt to rewrite the Book of
Genesis as a love story between two men. Whereas Wrigley’s gay New
Testament is published in Britain under his own name and attracts a
very public trial for obscenity, Toomey’s A Way Back to Eden is, as
Wrigley excoriatingly notes, “Published in Paris, of course. In Arsehole
International or some other coterie rag. Under a pseudonym, of course”
(EP, 217).
It is also, despite the many layers of nested narrative, a text which
transits the dialectic between Dionysus and Apollo. Toomey tells
the story of Robert, an author, who shares his reconstructed vision of
Genesis with his young lover Ralph after they have slept together for the
first time. In this new Eden Adam is accompanied not by Eve but by
Yedid, a male companion, who is transformed into a woman by God as
punishment after they succumb to the temptations of the snake and eat
of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The sex that precedes this Biblical
retelling is overtly Dionysian in the Paglian understanding of the term.
At the peak of their sexual pleasure, “the madness followed, the drouth
of a demented hoarseness of arcane and terrible incantations, the rasp of
words ineffable, prayers to gods long thrust under the earth” (EP, 183).
These chthonic evocations are swiftly followed by orgasm, depicted in
the terms of Frazer’s The Golden Bough as “the flooding of the whole
dessicated earth”, a petite mort which, like the actual death of Frazer’s
cultic sacrifices, ushers in a new era of fertility (EP, 184).
However, Robert and Ralph’s coupling cannot lead to procreation.
Toomey’s narrative of gay love preceding Eden functions on both a theological and a mythopoeic level, wherein it represents the sinfulness condemned by Father Frobisher and Christian doctrine in general. Burgess
hints at this through a subtle series of intertextual references: “Ralph
writhed and groaned and the words were strange. ‘Solitam…. Minotauro
… pro caris corpus…’” (EP, 184). These fragments, as Geoffrey Aggeler
has noted, are taken from the Roman poet Catullus and in turn reference Burgess’s own Enderby cycle, and specifically a key image used in
the Burgess canon to represent Original Sin. The words Ralph mutters in his ecstasy are taken from Catullus’s epyllion on the wedding
of Peleus and Thetis (ll. 79–81), and refer to the sacrificial payment of
Athenian youth to feed the Minotaur.9 The ‘pestilence’ or blood curse
upon the Athenians resulted from the murder of Minos’s son Androgeos
in Athens. According to legend reported by ancient authors, including
9 Catullus,
poem 64, ll. 77–84:
Nam perhibent olim crudeli peste coactam Androgeoneae poenas exsoluere caedisElectos
iuuenes simul et decus innuptarum Cecropiam solitam esse dapem dare Minotauro. Quis
angusta malis cum moenia uexarentur, Ipse suum Theseus pro caris corpus Athenis Proicere
optauit potius quam talia Cretam Funera Cecropiae nec funera portarentur.
English translation (Thomas Banks, 1997):
Once, they say, King Cecrops’ Athens was forced by cruel
plague to pay the price for Androgeos’ murder: was accustomed
to give chosen youths and the loveliness of unwed maids
together as feast for the Minotaur.
Since his narrow city walls were shaken by these evils,
Theseus himself, for the sake of his dear Athenians, yearned
to put forth his own body, rather than let such living dead
of Cecrops’ land be borne to Crete.
186 J. Clarke
Plutarch, Minos prayed to Zeus to curse the Athenians, who were subsequently struck down with famine and plague. Minos demanded a regular
delivery of Athenian youth to be fed to the Minotaur in his labyrinth in
return for lifting the curse.
Enderby uses the myth of the Minotaur to represent Original Sin
in his lengthy poem The Pet Beast. His rival Rawcliffe cribs the plot of
the poem and adapts it into a screenplay for an Italian schlock movie
called L’Animal Binato (the twofold creature).10 Rawcliffe’s adaptation
clearly relates to Burgess’s conception of what he called the Manichean
condition of mankind, but Enderby’s title focuses more directly on the
Minotaur itself, and how it represents not only the bestial destruction of
man’s animality but also functions as the foundation of man’s civilisation.
Enderby’s thesis, distorted and simplified by Rawcliffe for a B-movie
script, expresses the Augustinian paradigm of human society constructed
on the ruins of damnation and aspiring to divine grace, it also connotes
the Dionysian mode of artistic creativity. The sacrifice to the Minotaur
functions to replenish the land in a Frazerian manner, permitting the
regeneration of society. Ralph’s gnomic and fragmented summary of
the Minotaur myth—“Solitam … Minotauro … pro caris corpus”—translates as “accustomed … to the Minotaur … for the sake of the bodies”.
As Rawcliffe demonstrated, there is danger in distortion. These elided
fragments form a destructive progression of the Augustinian paradigm.
Enderby suggests that the Minotaur must be tamed in order to generate civilisation with all its human flaws, but Ralph’s staccato summation
proposes a new narrative, which arises from the lack of fertile capacity in
his coupling with Robert. Humankind can also become accustomed to
sin literally for the sake of the bodies, for the purpose of bestial physicality alone which cannot lead to creation. This is a negation of the positivist urge to recreate the world expressed by Apollonians like Val Wrigley,
and it is negated because Toomey is no Apollonian. In Robert’s version
of the Genesis myth, the capacity for procreation must be restored by
an imaginative and provocative transformation of Eve’s curse. Yedid’s
punishment for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge is to be transformed into a woman. With the female principle restored, Toomey’s
Dionysianism retrieves internal cohesion. Although Robert goes on to
10 This
film is retitled Son of the Beast from Outer Space in English.
claim that his version of Eden “is made true by the sheer act of writing
it”, it is clear that Toomey does not believe so (EP, 187).
Rather, it is Ralph’s Augustinian locution that Toomey internalises.
This becomes evident when he accompanies the allied forces liberating Nazi concentration camps and finds himself literally enmired by the
ordure of the holocaust: “I leaned against the wall and wiped my shoe
clean. The paper seemed to have been torn from some Latin textbook. I
read: Solitam … Minotauro … pro caris corpus … I threw the scrap away”
(EP, 457). Perhaps in his shock at the horror of the camp, Toomey
momentarily forgets the very elided quotation he himself placed in the
mouth of Ralph in A Way Back to Eden. This is yet another instance
where it is unclear whether Toomey’s failure to identify a quotation he is
familiar with is intended as the result of his erratic memory, or whether
it is a simple error by Burgess. However, it is a clear evocation of human
bestiality, Augustinian damnation leading not to Enderby’s taming of
sin and growth of civilisation, but down the dead-end of bestial destruction. Confronted by “calcined ribs, skulls, spinal columns”, Toomey
encounters a variant of sin which is literally “for the bodies”. Augustinian
despair is inevitable: “Man had not been tainted from without by the
Prince of the Power of the Air. The evil was all in him and he was beyond
hope of redemption” (EP, 457).
In aesthetic terms this defeat and damnation externalises the failure of
Burgess’s Dionysian mode. Toomey experiences the same process of pain
and evil that Will does in Nothing Like The Sun, faces down the same
effluvium of evil, but cannot reap the artistic rewards of inspiration from
the Muse because he is homosexual and rejects the feminine principle.
This is why Toomey is not a great writer but a populist hack. Suspended
between the Apollonian mode of Promethean defiance represented in
Earthly Powers by Val Wrigley and the Dionysian mode for which he
yearns but from which his nature withholds him, Toomey’s attempts at
literature are doomed to failure. Faced with the genuine genius of Jakob
Strehler, Toomey concedes “My destiny is to create a kind of underliterature that lacks all whiff of the subversive” (EP, 395).
Burgess reprises the reflective technique he had developed in Beard’s
Roman Women to generate a series of binary contrasts around Toomey,
especially in the field of artistic creativity. The core comparison is with
Carlo, a Pelagian appointed to the head of an Augustinian Church,
since Toomey himself is a spiritual Augustinian torn by the Pelagian vector of his homosexuality. As Suzanne Keen has identified, “Toomey, a
188 J. Clarke
popular writer and a rationalist, is exiled from the Church because, as he
sees it, God made him a homosexual. Ironically, he is the self-appointed
Augustinian of the book, while the Holy Father Don Carlo seeks to
advance the Pelagian cause through ecumenicism”.11 Both men find
their internal realities incompatible in opposing ways with their chosen
environments. Toomey exists in the world of letters and, as in Beard’s
Roman Women, Burgess provides a series of reflections which function
as meditations upon the protagonist as well as generating mirrored distortions of him. David Robinson’s methodology in producing his watery
photographs of Rome in the rain aimed at accentuating the failure of
photographic mimesis. Similarly, Burgess’s adoption (and adaptation)
of the technique in Earthly Powers, is intended to erode the straightforward, almost Victorian, realist, blockbuster format he had chosen for his
The novel opens with a venerable and successful Toomey about to
attend a British embassy party in his honour. Yet immediately this vision
of achievement is doubly undermined, firstly by the presence of the yet
more venerable Dawson Wignall, the poet laureate, and secondly by
the Maltese poet Sciberras, who usurps Toomey’s 81st birthday cake.
Toomey finds Wignall’s poems to be “insular, ingrown, formally traditional, products of a stunted mind”, thus setting a pattern in which the
protagonist sneers at superior writers, eventually including Joyce and
Huxley (EP, 23). Toomey is forced to grudgingly concede that Wignall
is a very tolerable person who even possesses “a slight tremor of what I
took to be vocational conviction” (EP, 34). Wignall’s vocation relates to
the supremacy of the individual voice. For him, “No writer is above language. Writers are language. Each is his own language” (EP, 34). This
is an Apollonian vocation, marrying the individualist impulse to a quest
for perfected expression, but it is also the methodology by which Wignall
has achieved the kind of acknowledgement and lasting artistic success
that has evaded Toomey. For Toomey, such a singular dedication to individual expression runs in contrast to depicting the “truth”. “[A] man
who serves language, however imperfectly, should always serve truth,”
11 “Ironies and Inversions: The Art of Anthony Burgess”, Suzanne Keen in Commonweal,
vol. 121, 11 February 1994.
12 “Burgess said that no one had understood that his novel was a parody of the blockbuster, the film epic, works like The Godfather”. On Histories and Stories: Selected Essays,
A.S. Byatt, Chatto and Windus, London, 2000, p. 21.
he claims, yet Toomey associates this truth with the God he is unable to
serve, and via that, with the attribute of fictionality itself: “that deeper
truth, the traditional attribute of God, which literature can best serve by
telling lies” (EP, 45).
This “deeper truth”, reprised in A Dead Man in Deptford as verità
verissima, is beyond Toomey’s capacity as a writer, even though he
is capable of fiction. Toomey’s writing, unlike Wignall’s, is mere craft,
since his fictionalising is aimed, not at exposing the truest truth, nor at
expressing the perfected individual voice, but simply at populist entertaining. This is exemplified by his debut novel Once Departed, in which
he substitutes heterosexual relationships for his own homosexual ones to
produce a racy populist potboiler. “[I]t is so much easier and so much
more gratifying to shape, reorder, impose climax and dénouement, augment here, diminish there, play for applause and laughter”, he admits
(EP, 45).
Val Wrigley’s Apollonianism is of a different calibre to Wignall’s,
encompassing the rebellious Promethean overthrowing of Augustinian
authority, which can also be found in other homosexual Burgessian
writer characters such as Kit Marlowe. Wrigley functions as a consistent counterpoint to Toomey throughout the lengthy narrative scope of
the novel. Commencing as furtive young lovers, they split when Wrigley
embarks on a more lucrative arrangement with an older man, the first
of many romantic betrayals Toomey is to experience. Yet this contrast
between romantic fervour and cool practicality is less important than
their contrasting approaches to the purpose of literature. Wrigley’s
credo is “Anything for art”, an almost contemporaneous expression with
Gaultier’s protomodernist l’art pour l’art sloganeering, while Toomey
denies that art should “come first”, suggesting instead “Love first, faith,
I mean fidelity” (EP, 64, 65).
Many years later, when Toomey is invited as an eminent novelist to speak
to students of the fictional Wisbech College, Indiana, he discovers that
Wrigley, whom he had once described dismissively as a consumptive “poet
boy” (EP, 87) and later as “Soho’s favourite drunken poet” (EP, 319), is
the writer-in-residence. Their interaction reprises the debate over the primacy of artistic vocation, with the amendment that Toomey no longer
prioritises romantic love over art, but practical craft. Toomey tells the students that “the mechanics of the craft are more important than angling
for ultimate truths or changing the world”, to which Wrigley accuses
him of taking “the easy way out, the path of compromise” (EP, 498).
190 J. Clarke
Toomey’s plaintive query, “Is it so terrible a thing to wish to entertain?”
soon morphs into a defence predicated on being “the loyal servant of the
public”. His ultimate argument, before being ushered from the room, is
that, having recognised that “it had not been given to me to reach the
more exalted reaches of art”, he nevertheless “risked much to save the life
of one of the most shining exemplars of literary attainment” (EP, 499). In
other words, Toomey’s defence of a career spent producing populist novels,
screenplays for unmade Hollywood adaptations of Middlemarch and theatrical productions entitled Jig a Jig Tray Bon, rests solely on his somewhat
selfish attempt to rescue the Jewish Nobel Laureate Jakob Strehler from the
Wrigley is seen only through the eyes of Toomey, which are perpetually coloured by that early romantic betrayal. Yet it is evident—from the
bravery of his defence of Radclyffe Hall, his marching for gay liberation
and his career-long attachment to Gaultier’s l’art pour l’art credo—that
Wrigley is both a courageous and principled individual and a legitimate
artist. Toomey’s snide depictions of his one-time amour fail to mask
Wrigley’s dedication to both the cause of gay liberation and Apollonian
artistic creation. After Wisbech College, Toomey is no longer capable
of defending the indefensible path he has chosen. When he is given the
opportunity to defend Wrigley’s blasphemous poetry about Christ in
court, he finally concedes the scale of his defeat in both human and aesthetic terms:
My own work as a creator of fiction has been severely harmed by the taboo
on the depiction of the homosexual act of love. My own life has been spent
in exile chiefly because of the draconian British rejection of the homosexual sensibility as a legitimate endowment. As a homosexual I speak up now
for other homosexuals. And for homosexual art. (EP, 526)
Toomey’s failure is thus not an incompatibility between his sexuality and
his environment, though that is clearly informative. Rather it is the failure to adjust and re-imagine his own universe, to grasp as Wrigley does
the imperative to marry his art and his sexuality into an overarching aesthetic that does not concede to Augustinian life and Dionysian art, but
rather challenges it with a Pelagian life encompassing Apollonian art. In
bitterness, Toomey’s final artistic work, an opera based on the legend
of St Nicholas, rails at God as evil and depicts Venus as an unreachable
source of inspiration. He accepts that his career has been “the purveying
of a kind of trash” (EP, 559). Toomey’s failure is ultimately a failure of
nerve, in contrast to Carlo Campanati’s failure, which is a failure of overreaching ambition.
The Contrapuntal Approach
If Toomey only belatedly accepts that he has been purveying trash, the
unnamed author of The End of the World News seems aware of the same
fate from the outset. In a foreword, Burgess harnesses his almost habitual trope of interdiegetic self-insertion, appointing a “John B. Wilson,
BA” as “literary executor of the author of whom this is his first published
posthumous work” (EOTWN, vii). This apparently deceased writer,
we are informed, was the author of The Hamlet of Roaring Gulch, an
incomplete opera libretto set in the Wild West, and a collection of short
stories called The Bad-Tempered Clavicle, among much other “subliterature” whose production is explained away as representing “the ineluctably growing authority of the visual media, particularly television”
(EOTWN, viii).
In one sense, this attempt to obtain distance from his own authoriality is rendered facile; Burgess’s own authoriality is declared on the cover.
However, the acknowledgement in a foreword that what follows is “subliterature” is a brave and perhaps exceptionally honest one. The foreword
even provokes questioning over the validity of the novel as a coherent
and intended work of art. The text as presented is alleged to have been
found in an Italian shopping bag and ‘processed’ by its literary executor, for whom “the sub-literary nature of the style, was the only internal
indication that this was intended as a single work, though the heterogeneity of the contents militated against that supposition” (EOTWN, viii).
Perhaps as further intent to pursue the fictiveness of authoriality, copyright for The End of the World News is assigned to Burgess’s wife, Liana.
Later novels and non-fiction books reverted to Burgess’s own copyright.
Yet, if there is a sense of apology in the publication of The End of the
World News, its existence appears to be justified not so much by the putative (and entirely fictional) death of the author so much as the introduction of literary counterpoint as the narratological superstructure within
which the tripartite narrative is contained.
The pursuit of literary counterpoint was an ongoing process of experimentation which Burgess appears to have inherited from studying the
works of James Joyce. Burgess’s previous typological and structural
192 J. Clarke
attempts to forge a literary analogue for musical counterpoint had
resulted in failure. In the foreword to The End of the World News, however, he appears to announce (albeit via his alter-ego, his own literary
executor) the resolution of this structural problem in a metaphor derived
from watching television. From a notebook page of gnomic and apparently unconnected notes, the executor Wilson quotes the following:
Saw photograph of late President Carter and wife in White House late at
night eating hamburgers and watching television. Note well—they were
watching three screens simultaneously. Question of having something else
to watch while commercials are on, late night commercials being the dullest and most frequent. But—this must be future viewing pattern. True
visual counterpoint. Is this also possible future for the novel? Consider
carefully, mon vieux. (EOTWN, ix)
The text that follows, therefore, is to be justified as a coherent literary
piece because it evokes the simultaneity of experience within literature
that counterpoint produces within music. Deferring, for the moment,
the question of whether The End of the World News does succeed in this
task of generating literary counterpoint, the three contained narratives
themselves indicate a sense of revision of Burgess’s literary career to that
point. The text contains three separate plots, one featuring the professional life of Sigmund Freud, another an apparently musical dramatisation of Trotsky’s visit to New York in 1917, and the third a near-future
apocalyptic disaster story about the end of the world.
The sources for all three may be found in the Burgess archive at the
Harry Ransom Center, which lists among its holdings an undated mimeo
typscript entitled Freud and a television typescript entitled That Man
Freud, dated from 1977. Additionally, there is a folder entitled That Man
Freud, which contains drafts of a fiction dated variously between 1978
and 1986. The archive’s holdings of Burgess’s dramatic music contains a
box entitled Trotsky’s in New York! dating from 1980, in which the work
is described as an “off-Broadway musical”. The same box also contains a
reworked operetta for The Eve of St Venus dating from the same period,
which perhaps explains the repurposing of some material from The Eve
of St Venus in the Trotsky-related sections of The End of the World News.
The archive also contains an entire box of folders relating to a project
entitled Puma, which was to have been an ‘end of the world’ movie for
Hollywood, including multiple screenplay typescripts and three years’s
worth of correspondence before the project was finally shelved. This is
the ur-text of the disaster phylum of The End of the World News, which
features an almost identical plot involving a rogue planetoid called Lynx
marauding the moon and earth.
The novel is therefore an attempt to repurpose work Burgess had
done for other projects that were not ultimately fulfilled. Much later,
Burgess explained that he had “salvage[d] for a kind of sub-literature
what the livelier media had rejected. I hate waste” (YHYT, 327). If
the brief account from You’ve Had Your Time is to be accepted, then it
appears that the disaster movie was never made by Zanuck and Brown at
Universal Pictures, Stanley Silverman suffered writer’s block and failed to
complete the music for Trotsky’s in New York!, and a Canadian television
broadcaster backed out of their original plan to make a series on the life
of Freud.13 The archive material suggests that this is not the entirety of
the story, however. The Freud project at least was being rewritten, sometimes as fact and sometimes as fiction, well into the 1980s, even past its
publication as one of three fictional phyla in The End of the World News.
Burgess’s tendency to rework failed projects into fiction dates back
to the rewriting of The Eve of St Venus as a novella in the early 1960s.
His habit of repurposing failed cinema and television projects is nearly
as longstanding, having commenced at least as early as the writing of
Napoleon Symphony in 1974, following Stanley Kubrick’s failure to
develop a film out of the project. The late 1970s and early 1980s are
replete with such reimagined projects, as Burgess conscientiously repackaged projects originally commissioned by cinema or television for his
own literary readership as novels. His script for RAI’s production Moses
the Lawgiver was reworked into the book-length poem Moses, just as
his scripts for Jesus of Nazareth and A.D. were fictionalised as Man of
Nazareth and Kingdom of the Wicked. In this context, the emergence of
a novel ostensibly constructed from the ruins of multiple cinematic and
televisual project failures is not entirely unexpected. Yet it is Burgess’s
repurposing of some of his existing novels within The End of the World
News which is of interest, since those reworkings indicate the extent to
which his aesthetics had transited from a fully Dionysian mode towards
a greater rapprochement with an Apollonian vision of artistic creativity.
13 Burgess completed the music himself and later had one of the songs performed on
BBC radio.
194 J. Clarke
Setting aside the extraneous, apologetic frame narrative of the foreword, The End of the World News is constructed as a triptych within
which the disaster narrative also functions as a frame, since it ultimately
encompasses the stories of Freud and Trotsky as diegetic sub-levels.
These narratives are presented as video discs of TV movies, the only fictions preserved from human culture on the spaceship that escapes the
destruction of Earth within the Lynx narrative.
Although Burgess makes a case for all three narratives being “aspects
of the same story … the story of the twentieth century”, it is a weak
one, predicated on the metaphor of televisual “zapping” between channels (YHYT, 327). It falls apart on its own merits, since the Lynx narrative is not presented as a televisual experience rendered in literature,
but as a lecture to students living aboard the spaceship. This immediately
relegates the two Great Men Carlylean narratives to a subordinate position, as secondary narratives within the primary SF frame, rather than all
three functioning at the same level of narratology. This somewhat erodes
Burgess’s case for constructing a literary analogue for counterpoint.
More importantly, it implies an understanding of the Apollonian
mode that extends beyond mere Carlylean Great Man narrative. Both
Freud and Trotsky, as Burgess depicts them, are Apollonian in the sense
that each seeks to enforce his vision of reality on to the world around
him. Each, as Burgess depicts them, fails to do so, but not in a way that
would endorse a simple Dionysian reading. In the Trotsky phylum, the
conception of God transits from “God, meaning us, meaning US us”
at the outset, to “God or Trotsky?” at the conclusion (EOTWN, 69,
319). This navigates the space from Dionysian collective to Apollonian
singularity, as well as eliding the position of divine creator with that of
Trotsky, who seeks to remake the world by way of revolution.
Similarly, the Freud phylum concludes with firstly his cancer and later
Lou Salome acknowledging his Carlylean attainment, and then with
his insistence that the world is constructed on a model based within his
own mind.14, 15 Both are complicated by Dionysian dreams that evoke
14 Freud’s cancer promises him “Visits from great men. Einstein. H.G. Wells. Your photograph in the magazines. Medals. Awards. No Nobel Prize, of course. You’re still not
respectable enough for that. But other things. Many” (EOTWN, 324). Lou Salome introduces herself to him as the former mistress of Rilke and Nietzsche and requests to become
his mistress also, thereby elevating him into her pantheon of great men (EOTWN, 341).
15 “My psyche,” he said, “may be taken as a kind of model” (EOTWN, 342).
realities beyond the extent of the given narratives. Trotsky sees visions
of a Mexican singer who informs him that Mexico is a good place to die,
while Freud dreams that he is assaulted by Lou Salome, Helene Deutsch,
Melanie Klein and other female psychoanalysts, in which the question
“What do women want?” becomes the riddle of the sphinx. While this
could be read as the implied triumph of Dionysianism in both narratives,
nevertheless it remains no more than implied. The narratives as presented do not extend as far as Trotsky’s death nor the feminisation of
the Freudian vision of psychoanalysis. Both are deliberately truncated at
moments of Apollonian transcendence. In any case, both are also mere
subsets of their frame narrative, the SF story of Valentine Brodie.
The Lynx phylum is Burgess’s most traditional foray into SF, insofar
as it functions within the limiting paradigm of the Hollywood disaster
movie narrative model. It is a classic three-act narrative, complete with
villain and love interest, which holds interest primarily because of how
Burgess uses the hackneyed format to re-examine elements of his own
oeuvre. The narrative commences with Valentine Brodie teaching SF
studies to his class, thereby synecdochally echoing the overall lecture
format of the frame narrative: “Val was an instructor in science fiction,
and he was himself moderately well-known as a practitioner of the form”
(EOTWN, 28). Although his course commences chronologically with
the lunar proto-SF of Cyrano de Bergerac, itself an unorthodox starting
point for SF studies, he soon amends this to suggest that “the true progenitor of the genre” is “Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year”.16, 17
This critical analysis is unique, and it is more likely that Burgess has
Brodie propose it because Defoe’s hybrid history/novel functions as an
ur-text for his own disaster narrative. Defoe’s journalistic analysis of the
1665 plague outbreak in London bears little of the speculative nature of
SF and lacks the defining characteristic of the genre, a Suvinian novum.18
16 Burgess was the author of a renowned translation of De Rostand’s play about Cyrano
de Bergerac, which was also used for the English subtitling of the 1990 film by Jean–Paul
17 Most SF critics concur with Brian Aldiss’s assessment in Trillion Year Spree that the
first SF text was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. However, some critics, including Adam
Roberts, have proposed texts from the early Enlightenment, such as Kepler’s Somnium, as
the originating point of the genre.
18 See Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, Darko Suvin, Yale University Press, New Haven,
1979, for a full definition of the novum and its function as a defining characteristic of SF.
196 J. Clarke
However, just like Burgess’s Lynx narrative, it explores how people cope
in a disaster environment, both in their denial of reality and in their
adaptation to it. Defoe’s text also critically examines the response of the
state, and ultimately it depicts survivors sheltering from the disaster on
ships. Brodie’s provocative statement generates a critical debate among
his students who offer various definitions of SF, which results in Brodie
curiously dismissing his own chosen métier as trivial, mediocre trash.19
Brodie appears to be disillusioned in both of his vocations, the creation
of SF and its critical study.
What follows is a curious repurposing of early key Dionysian moments
from Burgess’s back catalogue. Brodie’s Falstaffian sidekick, the actor
Willett, recites the poem from The Eve of St Venus, which commences
“Tomorrow will be love for the loveless, and for the lover, love”
(EOTWN, 118). A scene later, as Willett and Val engage prostitutes
at Madame Aphrodite’s, an East 44th Street brothel, Val hears Willett
“declaiming from another room of love”. His declamation proves to be a
localised New York variant of Reverend Chauncell’s pivotal aubade from
The Eve of St Venus, in which the Dionysian transformation of man, animal and landscape at the hand of the chthonic female deity is celebrated.
Burgess then switches attention to his sole previous attempt to fictionally depict the apocalypse, the seminal conclusion to his 1962 novel The
Wanting Seed.20 This is introduced firstly via the perspective of Brodie’s
nemesis, Bartlett, who notes with concern that the approach of Lynx
towards Earth,
was inducing an instability manifested in various bizarre forms—sudden
bad temper, often of a murderous kind, in normally placid temperaments;
placidity in the normally violent; incursions of poetic inspiration among
stolid bank managers and insurance brokers; satyriasis; sadism; a longing,
as in pregnancy, for strange foods. Bartlett knew from one of his medical
19 One suggests that it “ought to have scientists in it”, an objection probably derived
from Kingsley Amis’s famous study of SF, New Maps of Hell, London: NEL, 1960.
20 Seminal insofar as it was apparently purloined by Harry Harrison as an amended ending for the 1973 cinematic adaptation of his own 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room!
which was entitled Soylent Green. The key revelation that the processed foodstuff was made
from people does not appear in Harrison’s novel and was apparently borrowed from The
Wanting Seed.
colleagues that the menstrual cycle, especially in girls under twenty, was
being disrupted. (EOTWN, 132)
This description evokes the swing towards the Gusphase in The Wanting
Seed, a novel predicated on a cyclical conception of history. Released
from Pentonville Prison and in search of his pregnant wife BeatriceJoanna, that novel’s protagonist, Tristram Foxe, embarks on his “anabasis” towards Preston, where he believes his wife has gone. Before he
has left greater London, he encounters groups of people engaged in
“Eucharistic ingestion”, and he eats meat for the first time in his life. A
soldier in Aylesbury tells Tristram that he and his friends are “at least
civilized cannibals. It makes all the difference if you get it out of a tin”
(TWS, 172). Beyond Nuneaton, the ingesting is accompanied by ritual
orgies, and Tristram later records “Dionysian revels at Sandon, Meaford
and the cross-roads near Whitmore” (TWS, 184).
Brodie and Willett’s progress, again from a starting point of involuntary incarceration, towards the rural location where Brodie’s wife is
located, in many ways echoes Tristram’s earlier, failed, odyssey through
Dionysian Britain. They too encounter cannibalism and ritualised sex
and, just as in the earlier novel, their journey is paralleled by that of a
heavily pregnant woman. They even encounter the commercialisation of
human meat, the can of ideogrammed Chinese human bully beef from
The Wanting Seed rebranded as “Mensch Spongemeats” (EOTWN, 251).
Beatrice-Joanna’s heavily symbolic transition into earth-mother as she
traverses a pseudo-apocalyptic terrain during late pregnancy is similarly
echoed by the gravidic presence of “the strange girl Edwina, who was
now evidently very near her time” (EOTWN, 350).
Yet the Dionysian subtext of the earlier novel is consistently subverted
in the Lynx narrative. Beatrice-Joanna’s pregnancy, a symbol of hope in
the apocalyptic bacchanalia that announces the Gusphase, is here transformed via Edwina into a mere plot device. The orgiastic England that
Tristram navigates is rendered simply feral and nihilistic when transferred
to Lynx-threatened America. The schematic superstructure of the earlier
novel—the cycle from Pelphase to Gusphase via an intermediate phase
(and then backwards in pendular fashion)—is no longer present. This
cycle was described by The Wanting Seed’s protagonist Tristram Foxe
in a lecture to schoolchildren as “[t]he gradual subsumption of the two
main opposing political ideologies under essentially theologico-mythical
198 J. Clarke
concepts”.21 One of these concepts, in this opening Pelphase of the
novel, is the subsumption of notions of God and the devil into the “mere
fictional symbol” of Mr Livedog, a cartoon character demiurge symbolically held responsible for the Malthusian crisis.22 As Tristram explains,
“Nowadays,” he said, “we have no political parties. The old dichotomy, we
recognize, subsists in ourselves and requires no naive projection into sects
or factions. We are both God and the Devil, though not at the same time.
Only Mr. Livedog can be that, and Mr. Livedog, of course, is a mere fictional symbol” (TWS, 12).
Livedog is an artificial synthesis Burgess utilised repeatedly in his fiction to connote a transient and unstable transcendence of orthodox religious understandings of good and evil. In The Wanting Seed, Livedog
symbolises an Apollonian attempt to supersede antiquated “theologico-mythical” notions, which have been philosophically replaced by a
state-sponsored culture of progress in the Pelphase. The deliberate conflation and diminution of God and the devil to the status of compound
cartoon characters is intended ironically, since the novel’s trajectory is
towards a reassertion of the older theological binary as the Gusphase
emerges. Livedog has an additional presence in MF, albeit unwritten,
as the unspoken and unspeakable answer to the riddle posed by Aderyn
the bird-woman to Miles Faber. As Burgess glossed it in This Man and
There are two opposed answers, both equally valid. One is God, which is
dog backwards (every dog has his day), the final final, the ultimate reality.
But the opposed ultimate reality is devil, lived backwards: if you have lived
you have had your day. (TMAM, 176–177)
As the unspoken answer to the sphingine riddle, Livedog in MF carries
the same semantic weight as it does in The Wanting Seed. It functions
21 (TWS, 10) The relative applicability of this “theologico-mythical” mapping on to political ideology (or indeed aesthetics) is discussed in Chap. 2.
22 “They all loved The Adventures of Mr. Livedog in the Cosmicomic. Mr. Livedog was a
big funny fubsy demiurge who, sufflaminandus like Shakespeare, spawned unwanted life all
over the earth. Overpopulation was his doing. In none of his adventures, however, did he
ever win: Mr. Homo, his human boss, always brought him to heel” (TWS, 12).
as a transient and unstable synthesis of an irresolvable binary. In the
earlier text this synthesis is shown to breakdown in the half-life of the
cycle from Pelphase to Gusphase; in MF, the novel in which Burgess first
began to explore a structuralist resolution to this binary, it is not resolved
so much as suspended and left unanswered. In the Lynx narrative, however, Livedog remains an unstable transience, but one which moves in an
opposite vector to the trajectory of The Wanting Seed. If Burgess’s earlier
dystopic apocalypse charted the transition from Apollonian Pelagianism
to Dionysian Augustinianism, then the Lynx narrative reverses that trajectory. The signifier of Apollonian decay in The Wanting Seed is transformed in the Lynx narrative into a signifier of Dionysian decay.
Burgess depicts this within a televised end-of-days rally hosted by
Christian evangelist Calvin Gropius. The revivalist gathering is suddenly
interrupted by protestors, witnessed on television by Valentine Brodie,
who astutely identifies their protest as a signifier of Apollonian transcendence, a decaying Dionysianism in the face of a science fiction future:
LIVEDOG, said the banners, LIVEDOG LIVEDOG, and the slogans
took up the name—“Live for Livedog, kill for Livedog”. Val saw that
the name was compounded of God and Devil backwards. He nodded to
himself—a science fiction situation. Evil? That didn’t perhaps come into
it. The new god was beyond mortality, the ultimate supernatural to be
appeased. Lynx was his body. (EOTWN, 161)
The sexual and violent format of the protest, described as “Bacchanalian
acts”, amounts to nothing more than a transference of Dionysian collective hysteria to an inanimate object. Brodie, the SF writer, correctly identifies this decay of the Dionysian impulse as “a science fiction situation”,
a transient convulsion of Dionysianism set to be transcended, literally
and figuratively, by the narrative’s Apollonian resolution in humanity’s
escape into space. The novel’s coda, in which the three narratives clumsily align, underlines this rapprochement with the Apollonian paradigm.
Brodie’s own SF debut fiction is literalised, by way of Professor Frame’s
salvatory vision, in the odyssey of the spaceship America I, which carries humanity’s brightest and best into the galactic unknown. Brodie’s
Apollonian SF vision has superseded reality.
Yet Burgess shies away from fully endorsing this Apollonian framework, depicting the decay of Freud’s and Trotsky’s visions into simplistic
cartoon figures Sike and Pol, the material of children’s fairytales, reduced
200 J. Clarke
to functioning on the same semantic level as Livedog. Similarly, Brodie’s
unorthodox variant of SF is consistently contrasted with the sciencebased vision of Professor Frame and his daughter Vanessa throughout
the narrative, suggesting that it is more of a hybrid, humanist vision,
constructed to correct Frame’s admission that “Scientia non satis est.
Knowledge is not enough” (EOTWN, 331). Burgess constructs a spectrum of monolithic perspectives in the text that embody different shades
of Apollonian and Dionysian vision. These function in balancing binary
pairs, such as Frame’s science-based futurism, which proves as insufficient
as Calvin Gropius’s religion, which is derided by his own son as “antiscience. Instinct, superstition, myth” (EOTWN, 296).
Similarly, the demagogue Bartlett, who serves his own Apollonian
will-to-power, is counterbalanced by Willett, who expresses a very sensual and passive Dionysianism in his insistence that “We are earth …
We’re not mind careering in outer space. We’re tree and grass and root
and dung and water. Earth, earth is us” (EOTWN, 309).23 Valentine
Brodie is the pivot around which these paired binaries move. As an advocate of SF, and the partner of scientific genius Vanessa, he is an avowed
Apollonian, albeit one conflicted by a Dionysian humanism which, as
with Willett, aggrandises the need for art to balance scientific endeavour. Burgess expressed Brodie’s final yet conflicted commitment to the
Apollonian paradigm that blasts humanity’s future into space by using
the music of Mozart as an emblem which bridges both modes. As the
shattered remnants of Earth form a ring of debris around the Lynx
planetoid, the inhabitants of America I listen to the final movement of
Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony:
Mozart, too, was part of that dusty ring, but, miracle, Mozart was also
here, tender, triumphant, drowning even the loud howling of a child. The
rhythms of Mozart bore them on into space, the beginnings of their, our,
journey. (EOTWN, 386)
The End of The World News functions as a crucial step on Burgess’s journey towards an Apollonian mode of artistic creation, yet in its apologetic
23 “But what reality do you serve, Beauty? Love? Truth?”
“Power,” Bartlett said without hesitation. “Power is the reality. Manifested at so many levels—the power of one heavenly body over another, of one man over many” (EOTWN, 271).
narratological frame, and in how it seeks to subordinate and undermine
its component Carlylean Great Man texts, it remains conflicted and
uncommitted. Burgess’s own attempt to distance himself from ownership
of the compound text, as well as his legitimate description of it as “subliterature” and “an entertainment”, can therefore be read as an expression of resistance towards creating a text in the Apollonian mode.24
However, The End of the World News also marks a technical breakthrough
in Burgess’s lengthy quest to generate a literary analogue to musical
counterpoint, which was ultimately to provide him with the narratological framework he required to generate a truly Apollonian text.
Burgess’s Autobiographical Turn
Burgess’s repurposing of failed televisual and cinematic projects and his
revisiting of older completed fictions in The End of the World News form
part of an autobiographical turn his writing took during the 1980s. The
decade was bookended by the publication of his two volumes of confessions, Little Wilson and Big God and You’ve Had Your Time, and the
period between saw the publication of a series of texts that, to a greater
or lesser degree, revisited his life and work to date. While Burgess’s work
has been critically noted as having consistently featured a significant
pseudo-autobiographical component, reworking events and scenarios
from his own life into fiction, the act of writing his life story significantly
permeated his other published work during the 1980s.25 This Man and
Music, ostensibly a memoir relating to his secondary calling as a composer, contains large sections of autobiography, and a number of chapters
are dedicated to explicating earlier fictions, including Napoleon Symphony
and MF. Even as Burgess was composing his formal memoirs, he was
additionally glossing his autobiography in critical works like This Man
24 Burgess probably borrowed this term from his erstwhile friend and rival novelist
Graham Greene, who habitually distinguished between his novels and the less serious narratives he termed “entertainments”.
25 Burgess’s extensive use of autobiography has been the subject of a collection of
essays (Anthony Burgess, Autobiographer, ed. Graham Woodroffe, Presses de l’Université
d’Angers, 2006) and at least one doctoral thesis (Fiction autobiographique et biographies
imaginaires dans l’oeuvre d’Anthony Burgess, Thèse de doctorat, Aude Haffen, Université
Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris III, November 2010).
202 J. Clarke
and Music and Flame Into Being, as well as mining the raw material of his
early years for two novels, The Pianoplayers and Any Old Iron.
The Pianoplayers is unique in Burgess’s oeuvre for fictionalising elements of Burgess’s own childhood, previously only briefly alluded to in
the character of Enderby’s loathsome stepmother, while Any Old Iron
contains a lengthy section set in the University of Manchester during the
time that Burgess himself had studied there. Neither contains a writerprotagonist, though both allude to the act of autobiography, ostensibly presenting themselves as the memoirs of a prostitute and an Israeli
spy respectively. However, Burgess’s aesthetic dialectic finds expression
in both novels outside the field of literary creation, as they explore how
the dialectic might manifest in related disciplines. In The Pianoplayers,
Ellen’s father’s art in the cinemas is depicted as improvisational and
performative, lacking the permanency of literature or composed music.
Similarly, in Any Old Iron, the narrator’s studies in philosophy are used
as the basis for a philosophical exploration of both Burgess’s theological
dialectic of good and evil and its aesthetic analogue of the Dionysian and
Apollonian modes of artistic creation.
For Burgess performative art was too ephemeral to be relevant; the
spectre of posterity, which haunts Enderby at the opening of his quadrilogy, constantly hovers about his conception of artistic achievement. In
The Pianoplayers Burgess’s failed metaphor of love as art form appears
to erode the artistic status of Billy Henshaw’s piano performances.
Transient and ephemeral, they are depicted as occurring in the same
aesthetic space as his daughter Ellen’s lovemaking—as competent craftsmanship, performed to an end which is primarily if not entirely related to
financial remuneration. Even at the novel’s conclusion, when her grandson becomes a renowned concert pianist, he is described simply as fulfilling the “Family Gift”, which failed in her father, rather than as an artist.
Yet in the novel’s pivotal scene, Billy’s piano marathon, Burgess allows
performative art to transcend the transient. “But dad was an artist in his
way,” Ellen insists. “He couldn’t help wanting to play properly, as if the
people that came into gawp knew the difference between D sharp and
Allegretto non troppissimo” (TPP, 133).
Billy Henshaw’s grotesque piano-playing marathon becomes his artistic apotheosis. As he performs continuously, without sleep, Ellen notes
that “it was as if dad didn’t exist any more as a real person, a real person
being someone who has a bed to fall into” (TPP, 142). In improvising
an entire operatic score, he attains a new status, that of artist, which
Burgess clarifies is not a performative position:
He had not moved from being a pianoplayer to being a pianist, he had
moved from being a pianoplayer to being a Composer, but none of the
words and music he made up could be written down (TPP, 142)
In the moment of his apotheosis, Billy becomes the battleground for
Burgess’s aesthetic dialectic, with ownership of his achievement fought
over by emblems of the Dionysian and Apollonian modes. The soubrette
Maggie claims responsibility for Billy’s suicidal marathon, insisting that
he is dying for love of her, thereby suggesting Burgess’s Dionysian mode
of direct artistic inspiration by a representative of the chthonic Goddess,
who kills even as she inspires. Similarly, a communist protestor seeks to
claim Billy on behalf of a philosophy of Apollonian progressiveness:
There we are, a typical Bourgeois Assumption, as though personal
Epiphenomena like what she calls Love have anything to do with the real
issues which are the class struggle and the wrestling for the Possession of
the Means of Production. (TPP, 137)
Yet Henshaw barely acknowledges Maggie, who he previously courted,
and resists her interpretation that his performance is meant as a romantic dedication to her. Equally, he refuses to identify himself as a worker
yoked in struggle by the capitalist impresario. A passing old lady,
Mrs. Haggerty, correctly identifies the nature of Billy’s sacrifice when
she claims to be in “the presence of this crucified man” (TPP, 137).
Henshaw’s association with Christ is entirely aesthetic, predicated on
a sacrifice that is as much derived from divine inspiration and love as it
is from a revolutionary desire to impose his artistic vision on the world
around him. He extends Mrs Haggerty’s identification by improvising an entire opera he calls The Destroyers, which begins with a class war
narrative about people suffering on the dole, but transforms into a religious work in which Our Lord “sings to them about Peace, and ask your
Heavenly Father, and Love your Enemies” (TPP, 138).
The tussle between Dionysianism and Apollonianism continues
even after Billy’s inevitable fatal collapse at the piano. Mrs. Haggerty
insists that Billy’s “funeral is conducted with proper ceremony as is
only right for a Great Man”, implying that he had attained a Carlylean
204 J. Clarke
Apollonianism, yet she also describes his final piece of music as the
product of Dionysian divine inspiration: “I am also quite sure that the
music, if you understand me, came from a source which may have been
divine and may have been diabolic but was certainly not of this world”
(TPP, 147). A similar equivocation affects a professional musician who
describes Henshaw’s composition as “wholly original. It was wholly
modern, he said, and yet it had hints of what the future might hold. He
said it was also very deeply of the past, but not a past recorded by history” (TPP, 147). Unfortunately, the novel then progresses to Ellen’s
amatory biography, leaving the question of Billy Henshaw’s artistic
achievement perpetually in suspension. Burgess’s attempt to synthesis
his aesthetic dialectic proved ultimately to be an inconclusive vacillation
between the two modes, as transient and ephemeral as performative art is
itself in Burgess’s depiction.
Any Old Iron is a more substantial text, though some reviewers had
considered the novel to be “curdled” by its dense referentiality and by
Burgess’s attempt to construct a realistic, yet strained, and in places fantastical, narrative. Amid this welter of referentiality (which extends from
figures of myth like King Arthur, to those of ancient history like Attila the
Hun, and up to contemporary luminaries like Churchill, Stalin, Eden and
De Valera), is a focus on philosophy entirely unique in Burgess’s fiction.
This is not to say that Burgess was not a thoughtful writer, nor that he
was unaware of the philosophical tradition. Yet philosophical themes in his
fiction, when present, were previously subordinated to his theological considerations. Where Burgess debated issues of philosophical interest such as
free will, they became inevitably entangled with discussion of early Church
theologians and Burgess’s obsessive concern with good and evil. In Any
Old Iron, the text strives valiantly to supersede these theological obsessions, and Burgess uses a series of evasive manoeuvres in an attempt to
keep theology from intervening. Initially this is achieved via the medium
of identity politics, especially hybrid forms of nationalism. The central
families in Any Old Iron are respectively Russo-Welsh and MancunianJewish. Additionally, Burgess co-opts philosophy to fulfil the role that theology had played in many of his previous novels. The narrator is a trained
philosopher in addition to being a professional spy and soldier, and his
philosophical studies become a frame through which to view the text.26
26 “Fictbites”,
p. 16.
Peter Campbell, London Review of Books, 11(10), 18 May 1989 pp. 16–17;
Unlike The Pianoplayers, Any Old Iron does feature writers, primarily failed ones. The protagonist, Reginald Morrow Jones, is described as
having “made a few verse translations of Lorca”, but was not “much of a
hand with English prose”, as his single failed attempt to purge his emotions
through poetry proves: “He tried writing verse on some of RSM Noakes’s
lined thin letter paper to get the bitter hurt out of his soul. He wrote about
a devastating sword called Amor and then crumpled up the execrable lines”
(AOI, 230). Less self-aware is Reg’s brother-in-law Irwin Roth, “a graduate
of Columbia University [who] had rejected all promotion in order to write
the definitive war novel” (AOI, 209). The narrative Roth chooses is the
actual war experience of his brother-in-law Dan Jones, recast with American
GIs rather than British squaddies. Roth pens a lifeless 1200 page epic
entirely derived from the experience of others and, frustrated by his own
lack of talent, he brutalises his wife Beatrix. Roth’s bankruptcy of creativity is underlined by both his novel’s reviews (“It lacked conviction. Author
Roth beat the big drum of an overliterary prose to drown the unreality of
the narrative”) and his idea for a second novel, “about a chunk of gold that
had got into a family and became a kind of family curse” (AOI, 336–337).
Roth’s output is effectively journalistic, requiring access to the Jones family
to generate material for his books. While his wife Beatrix may believe that
he had “missed his vocation” (AOI, 337), his immediate descent to the status of garrulous barfly after she leaves him suggests that he had no vocation
in the first place. In Roth, as in Alex in A Clockwork Orange, the Dionysian
impetus has become degraded into mere sex and violence.
The text includes brief cameos by the novelist A.J. Cronin in pre-war
Wales and a “Yank author” whose “first name’s Saul”(AOI, 366–367)
in post-war Israel, but the world of Any Old Iron appears to be largely
bereft of artistic creativity. Art’s role in transcending the quotidian is
replaced, uniquely among Burgess’s work, by the consolations of philosophy and ideology. The dangers of nationalism are underwritten repeatedly throughout the text, primarily via the hybrid identities of the two
interconnected families at the heart of the narrative who counteract the
futile destruction enacted by Welsh nationalists. They are also evoked by
the narrator’s complicated relationship with Zionism, which he works
through violence to secure, but simultaneously condemns as at risk of
veering into “Hitlerism” in its excesses. Ideology’s threat to art is identified repeatedly in vignettes such as Dan Jones’s encounter in Poland with
the Benedictine treasures looted by the Nazis and subsequently damaged
by the Soviet troops. Original scores by Mozart and Grétry are partially
206 J. Clarke
destroyed by the rampaging Soviets, though some of the cache turns up
later in the Hermitage museum, functioning as the spoils of war.27
An ancient sword, the novel’s titular “old iron”, signifies this misuse
of cultural artefacts by ideological forces. Taken from Italy by the Nazis,
it is part of the cache retrieved from under Dan’s nose by Soviet forces
and then stored at the Hermitage, whence it is procured by Reg to function as a symbol of the quest for Welsh independence and liberation.
Burgess’s narrator underscores the danger of misappropriating cultural
creations for ideological means when he notes in a confessional moment
(he too is a trainer of killers) that
Destruction, best expressed in this age in which I write as terrorism, is
truly there for its own sake, but the pretence of religious or secular patriotism converts the destructive into the speciously creative. (AOI, 70)
The novel does not entirely lack Burgess’s old dualism, however. Its
spokesman in Any Old Iron is Yura Shulgin, a distant relative of the Jones
family, whose attachment to “the principle of the duoverse” (AOI, 185)
permits him to foresee the coming Cold War relationship and drives him
to pick sides, as previous Burgessian heroes like Hillier in Tremor of Intent
were also forced to, by defecting from the Soviet Union. Shulgin is a man
left behind by the processes of history, and his insight into literature casts
light on Burgess’s own progression beyond simple binarisms. He draws
a distinction between literature and other cultural productions—like ballet, football or music—on the basis that “Literature is different. Literature
mirrors ideology” (AOI, 186). Yet ideology in Any Old Iron is the force
of destruction which leads to the eradication of art. Shulgin’s vision of
literature, one predicated upon his attachment to duality, is at last seen in
Burgess’s work as a limited and potentially negative one.
With ideology dismissed as a threat to artistic creation, Burgess turned
in Any Old Iron to philosophy in an attempt to generate the synthesis of
27 “Pte Shawcross was more interested. ‘Music,’ he said. ‘Pretty old music. Good God,
Der Hausfreund—Singspiel—Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Give me that.’ But the officer
kept it to himself” (AOI, 196).
Mozart wrote several Singspiele—Zaide (1780), Die Entführung aus dem Serail (1782),
Der Schauspieldirektor (1786), and finally Die Zauberflöte (1791). Der Hausfreund: ein
Singspiel in drey Aufzügen was André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry’s 1771 L’ami de la Maison in
a 1780 or so translation performed at Vienna as a comic opera.
duality suggested originally during the writing of MF. The text’s putative author is “Harry Wolfson”, a philosophy student at Manchester
who subsequently becomes one of the founders of Mossad. The name
is doubly provocative, since his fellow Mossad agents are all given noms
de guerre such as Aleph, Beth and Ghimel, the first three letters of the
Hebrew alphabet. This suggests that Harry Wolfson may also be a pseudonym, intended to protect the identity of the philosopher turned spy.28
Indeed, there was an actual philosopher called Harry Wolfson who was
active during the period in which Any Old Iron is set. Wolfson was the
first Jewish faculty member at Harvard, and is remembered primarily as
an expert on Spinoza. He was recalled by lifelong friend and colleague
Lewis Feuer as a committed Zionist who nevertheless had resisted taking up a post at a university in Israel.29 Burgess’s ‘Wolfson’ is likewise
a Zionist, though one plagued with doubts as to whether the means he
utilises to bring about the Israeli state justify the ends. Intriguingly, he is
also a scholar of Spinoza, and he writes on both Spinoza and a perennial
Burgessian theme:
I had to write an essay on Spinoza. “‘Good and evil are relative to finite
and particular interests, but in the absolute the distinction is transcended.’
Discuss”. (AOI, 88)
‘Harry’s’ essay, in other words, seeks to resolve, via Spinozan philosophy, the theological question of good and evil which runs throughout
Burgess’s oeuvre. Such a resolution may indeed be found in Spinoza’s
Ethics, which details a pantheistic conceptualisation of God as equal to
nature, and seeks to define notions of good and evil as affects upon the
human condition relative to the individual. In the preface to Chap. IV of
the Ethics, Spinoza directly addresses the matter:
As for the terms good and bad, they indicate no positive quality in things
regarded in themselves, but are merely modes of thinking, or notions
28 None of ‘Harry’s’ family are named in the text at all, apart from his sister Zipporah,
whose surname is never given.
29 “No doubt, Wolfson was finally a traditionalist in religion and social philosophy. No
challenger of received truth, he asked only for the enlightenment of scholarship. He had no
utopias, no faith in the common man”. “Recollections of Harry Austryn Wolfson”, Lewis
Feuer, American Jewish Archives, April 1976, p. 47.
208 J. Clarke
which we form from the comparison of things one with another. Thus one
and the same thing can be at the same time good, bad, and indifferent.
For instance, music is good for him that is melancholy, bad for him that
mourns; for him that is deaf, it is neither good nor bad.30
Spinoza’s pantheistic and relativistic understanding of good and evil
changed between the writing of his Short Treatise, wherein he considered good and evil as entities of reason, and the later Ethics, in which
they are described as entities not of reason but of imagination. Spinoza’s
attachment to reason suggests that this change was intended as a diminution of their importance as concepts, but it also relocates good and
evil as creative acts, brought into being within the human mind in much
the same way as art is created, via imagination. This provides a crucial
link between Burgess’s theological obsessions and his aesthetics, since it
relegates good and evil to the same level of reality as artistic creativity.
Additionally, as Harvard’s Harry Wolfson notes at the conclusion of his
first volume on Spinoza, since the Dutch philosopher did not conceive of
God as a purposeful creator this relocates good and evil to the realm of
mankind’s imagination.31 In that location they function, like the creation
of art, as levels of perceived (im)perfection. Spinoza restated this in his
unfinished On The Improvement Of The Understanding:
In order that this may be rightly understood, we must bear in mind that
the terms good and evil are only applied relatively, so that the same thing
may be called both good and bad, according to the relations in view, in the
same way that it may be called perfect or imperfect.32
When ‘Harry’ returns to Manchester after the war to pursue a master’s
degree in philosophy, he chooses “an ethical subject—the grounds for
supposing that human life was sacrosanct in a world dedicated to taking
it” (AOI, 274). This is nominally based on Schopenhauer’s The Fourfold
Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which Harry doubly misspells,
30 On the Improvement of the Understanding/The Ethics/Correspondence vol. 2, Benedict
de Spinoza, trans. R.H.M. Elwes, Dover Books, New York, 1955, p. 189.
31 “[H]e did not believe that anything was created by God for any purpose, even for the
perfection of the universe as a whole”. The Philosophy of Spinoza, vol. 1, Harry Wolfson,
Harvard University Press, Cambridge MT, 1934, p. 440.
32 On the Improvement of the Understanding, Spinoza, p. 6.
thereby inadvertedly supporting his own admission that he had only pretended to read the text “in its impossible German”. He offers the following abstract of his dissertation:
Solipsistically speaking, we know that the only evidence of the existence of
the external world is to be found in our experience of it. Transfer that conviction to a world of solipsists, and murder is, in a sense, the snuffing out
of oceans and galaxies. (AOI, 275)
Schopenhauer’s solipsism, derived in part from Berkeley’s radical empiricism, can be understood in Harry’s critique of it as an extreme variant of
the Apollonian mode, expanded outward from the arena of aesthetics to
encompass all of human experience. Since human beings experience the
universe uniquely, and are unable to experience a reality in which they do
not themselves exist, they can be conceived as creators of their own universe. Thus not only good and evil, but the entirety of human existence
can be seen as human creation.
Harry’s thesis continues, by way of the Marquis de Sade, to suggest that evil—expressed both as the unthinking evil of natural disasters as well as the consciously willed evil of mankind—is the product of
nature, since “Nature is careless both in the spending of seed and the
snuffing out of life, and we are children of nature” (AOI, 275). Camille
Paglia argues that de Sade represents one phylum within a return of
chthonic Dionysianism in the Romantic period. She considers his work
to be a counterbalance to that of Rousseau, who offers a positivist feminisation of Western thinking in contrast to the Apollonianism of the
Enlightenment period which had immediately preceded. However, she is
forced to acknowledge a strong Apollonian bent in de Sade “who stands
half in the Enlightenment, half in Romanticism” (SP, 231). She locates
de Sade at the end of a lineage stretching from Montaigne through
Pascal, which treats “the soul’s relation to a universe without God”, yet
she simultaneously seeks to depict him as the spokesperson for a “daemonic mother nature … the bloodiest goddess since Asiatic Cybele” (SP,
234, 235). The contradiction between these two depictions of de Sade
is not sustainable. One could equally view de Sade’s position as that of
a pessimist Spinoza, since he asserts in Justine that “there is no God,
Nature sufficeth unto herself; in no wise hath she need of an author”
(496). Furthermore, de Sade also insists that the philosopher is a solipsist, answerable to no higher power. Again in Justine, he argues that “to
210 J. Clarke
his consideration, he is alone in the universe; he judges everything subjectively, he only is of importance” (608).
This is the extremity of the Apollonian position, and it is where the
Apollo–Dionysus paradigm as expressed in the work of Burgess parts
company with the dialectic described by Paglia in Sexual Personae. For
the extreme Apollonian the entire experienced universe is a personal
creation, analogous to artistic creation, and therefore the sub-creative
relationship of art to reality that occurs in Dionysianism is completely
elided in the Apollonian mode. This spectrum extends to the decadent
position of life lived as art, it can also be conceived in reverse, wherein
art expresses a reality cognate with, and equal to, lived existence. In this
sense, Harry’s understanding of humanity as “children of nature” is best
understood in the Spinozan sense of natura naturata. Harry’s attempt
to conflate the nature that “made earthquakes” with the human nature
that “made men capable of making bombs and gas chambers” is sophistic, deliberately ignoring the conscious intent involved in the latter. It
seeks to conflate natura naturans and natura naturata. This explains
why Harry concludes by stating that “[e]xperience was what it was and
not what it ought to be. There was more of Wittgenstein in that conclusion than I realized” (AOI, 275).
The “Is-Ought” problem evoked here properly derives from David
Hume, but this distinction is not what Harry intends by citing Wittgenstein.
The gap between “is” and “ought” described by Hume’s Guillotine
is concerned primarily with issues of morality.33 The introduction of
Wittgenstein suggests two additional elements at work in Harry’s thinking: language and aesthetics. The bulk of Wittgenstein’s work was only
published after his death in 1951, so Harry’s reference must be to the
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, otherwise Burgess is guilty of anachronism.34
Within the Tractatus, whose title was a tribute to Spinoza’s Tractatus
33 To many people, Harry’s thesis might also appear to deal with issues of morality, but
he himself significantly describes its content instead as “an ethical subject”. This important
distinction allows him to use Wittgenstein’s elision between ethics and aesthetics.
34 Wittgenstein’s extensive writings on experience in Remarks on the Philosophy of
Psychology were only written in 1947–1948 and, as Christopher Peacocke has noted
(“Wittgenstein and Experience”, Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 127, April 1982,
pp. 162–170) much of the material was not published until the 1980s, and those sections
which had previously appeared in part in the Philosophical Investigations or Zettel similarly
would not have been in print at the time ‘Harry’ was studying.
Theologico-Politicus, Wittgenstein delineates a solipsistic understanding of
experience (Erfahrung). Partly, this relates to his work on language’s inability to adequately convey individual experience to others, but more directly
it means that “[w]hatever we see could be other than it is”, and hence the
totality of our experience is constructed internally (5.634). Wittgenstein
immediately follows this statement with an assertion of what could be considered as Sadean Apollonianism:
Here it can be seen that solipsism, when its implications are followed out
strictly, coincides with pure realism. The self of solipsism shrinks to a point
without extension, and there remains the reality co-ordinated with it.
Harry’s conclusion that experience “was what it was and not what it
ought to be” is another example of apparent Dionysianism that transpires to be Apollonian. Although it appears to contrast life as lived with
a perfected idealisation of life (an Apollonian conception), Wittgenstein
does not support that interpretation. In keeping with his insistence on
the solipsistic nature of experience, the terms of Harry’s comparison are
reversed, and experience as it is, becomes Apollonian, and what experience ought to be, contrasted with the individualist Sadean brutality that
can result from such a solipsistic existence, must be Dionysian—collective, Rousseauvian and empathetic.
This also has implications in the aesthetic arena, since, as Wittgenstein
also argues in the Tractatus, “Ethics and aesthetics are one and the
same” (6.421). While this statement has been hotly debated by philosophy scholars since its first publication, there is little ambiguity about its
importance to Harry’s thesis and to his entire narrative, Any Old Iron.
The argument of the thesis focuses on the extent to which life should be
considered sacrosanct. Harry becomes a trained killer and helps to found
Mossad, while occasionally agonising over whether the ends justify his
means. Understood ethically, Harry’s Wittgensteinian conclusion about
experience is a realpolitik acceptance of the argument made to him by his
Mossad handlers: “The killing of a child playing in the dust is a phenomenon qualitatively different from the preservation of the state, but state
preservation deals in such phenomena” (AOI, 301). Harry condemns
this as “pure Hitlerism”, but nevertheless acquiesces to his recruitment
and all that follows.
212 J. Clarke
Since Wittgenstein suggests that ethics and aesthetics are the same,
an aesthetic realpolitik is also implied by Harry’s thesis conclusion. This
relates to his role as narrator of Any Old Iron. Harry is the antithesis of
Irwin Roth, the “failed novelist” who is incapable of adequately expressing the adventures of the Jones clan in fiction, because his narrative does
manage to do exactly that. Harry feels obliged to tell their story as it is,
without the additional fictionalisation that Roth’s reconstructions bear.
Denis Donoghue reasonably objected to Harry’s assertion that his narrative was “a record of historical fact” (AOI, 240) rather than an historical novel, but this is an objection which can only be directed at Burgess
and not at his creation, for whom the narrative is a work of recording
rather than invention, history as opposed to fiction. However, in the
extreme Apollonian paradigm suggested by Schopenhauerian and Sadean
solipsism, these become the same thing. Harry is the author of his own
universe, and the Jones clan are, like the rest of the dramatis personae,
simply expressions of his own imagination, like the modes of Spinoza’s
Therefore, the trials and travails that Harry and all the other characters undergo in the narrative are the product of his own imagination.
This elides, as Wittgenstein does, the difference between ethics and
aesthetics, rendering the sufferings of Dan in his death march across
Europe, or Beatrix in her abusive marriage, or Reg as he traverses a figurative hell in order to destroy Arthur’s sword, all as Harry’s personal
responsibility. To inflict such suffering on the Joneses is “Hitlerism”, but
the ends justify the means since they result in the text he narrates, just
as the moral relativism suggested by Harry’s Mossad mentors results in
the foundation of the state of Israel. Only a de Sade could maintain such
cruelty, however. When Reg, and even the Roman ruins in Israel, speak
to him of “injustices which could never be avenged”, Harry decides to
leave his military position to return to teach philosophy at Manchester,
and the novel concludes (AOI, 386).
Any Old Iron is a complex narrative that does not always cohere, and
much of its complexity derives from the philosophical superstructure
Burgess built around the ambivalent character of Harry. As in Earthly
Powers, it aspires to tell the story of the twentieth century, but where
the earlier novel revolved around the character of Kenneth Toomey, Any
Old Iron focuses on two central events that Burgess identified to Amy
Edith Johnson: the injustices which arose from the Yalta conference; and
Israel’s struggle for existence.35 This decentralises the text, a process further exacerbated by the elusive and secretive nature of its narrator, Harry
Wolfson. Through the interplay of myth and ideology, the world of Any
Old Iron generates injustices for all, and Harry’s attempt to make sense
of this by way of his scholarship leads him to understand that the only
way to transcend the ethics of his actions and the aesthetics of his narrative is to accept a solipsistic Apollonian conception of the world he
lives in as his own artistic creation. Harry is therefore Burgess’s first truly
Apollonian writer-protagonist, insofar as he is understood to be the solipsist creator of the world of Any Old Iron.
Yet this is a very extreme version of Apollonianism, and it is further
complicated by the narrative structure of Any Old Iron itself, since the
opening section of the novel is written in the second person, and hence
posits an imaginary reader who appears to be other than the imaginary
author, Harry. Unless the opening section is read as Harry addressing
himself, the text assumes a reader-as-other, fatally undermining the solipsism of the later narrative. Yet if the change in narrative voice between
the first and second sections marks a migration on the part of the narrator towards such a solipsism, then the novel as a whole can be read as
Burgess seeking to establish the boundaries of his Apollonian mode. In
his final three novels, Burgess was able to retreat from this position of
solipsistic excess. Having identified the extremity of Apollonian individualism, Burgess later sought to generate Apollonian artist-protagonists
who could function without requiring the proviso of Wittgensteinian or
Sadean solipsism to reign over their own diegetic fields.
The Baroque Weaving Machine and Polyphonic Image
Anthony Levings has argued that Anthony Burgess wrote Mozart and
the Wolf Gang as an attempt to “find a place in his own ‘sonic universe’
for Mozart”.36 In its depiction of a heaven populated almost entirely by
renowned composers, this understanding of the text as a topos within
which Mozart’s peers seek to position themselves and each other relative
35 “A Forest of Midnight Hair”, Amy Edith Johnson, New York Times Late City Final
Edition, Sect. 7; p. 12, col. 1, 26 February 1989.
36 The Public Personage as Protagonist in the Novels of Anthony Burgess, Anthony Levings,
doctoral thesis, University of Kent at Canterbury, 2007, p. 157.
214 J. Clarke
to him is entirely legitimate. However, this spatial quality of the text is
not its purpose, as Levings suggests, so much as a defining characteristic that enabled Burgess to attain two long-pursued literary achievements
in Mozart and the Wolf Gang: the production of literary counterpoint;
and the depiction of an Apollonian subject. These are experimental aims,
however. If one seeks an actual ‘purpose’ for the text this is likely to lie in
its date of publication.
In 1964 Burgess published Nothing Like The Sun to commemorate the quatercentenary of William Shakespeare, the first of a series of
themed texts he released in time for major anniversaries. This somewhat
commercial habit extended to honouring the centenary of James Joyce’s
birth with the musical Blooms of Dublin, and that of D.H. Lawrence with
a television documentary and a work of biography and literary criticism.
Indeed, Burgess noted his own attention to such anniversaries in the
preface to Flame Into Being, clarifying that “Lawrence was the only great
British writer to celebrate a centenary in 1985, a year devoted to musicians and, most of all, to Handel, who was born in 1685”.37 The bicentennial of Mozart’s death in 1791 offered Burgess the opportunity to tap
into the lucrative Mozartian market, one that was boosted by year-long
celebrations in both Vienna and Salzburg, as well as a “19-month observance”38 at New York’s Lincoln Center, during which every note Mozart
had composed was performed, at the cost of $3 million. Such extended
international celebrations insured that Mozartiana remained in the public eye for a lengthy period, and allowed Burgess’s celebratory text to
remain current long into 1992, after it had emerged in paperback. There
may also be the additional motivation of salvaging commissioned work.
The text includes three acts of an opera buffa about Mozart’s life, which
had apparently been commissioned “from Salzburg itself”.
Yet Mozart and the Wolf Gang is far from being a crowd-pleasing
hagiography or novelisation of the composer’s brief life. Ever the experimentalist, Burgess, who had commemorated Shakespeare with a complex
nested narrative and Napoleon with an aspirational literary superstructure derived from music, constructed a text that was, as the US edition
37 Flame Into Being: The Life and Work of D.H. Lawrence, Anthony Burgess, Abacus,
London, 1986 (1st. pub Heinemann, 1985), p. xi.
38 “500 Lincoln Center Events For Mozart Bicentennial”, Eleanor Blau, New York Times,
Arts Section, 24 May 1990.
subtitled it, “A Paean for Wolfgang, Being a Celestial Colloquy, an
Opera Libretto, a Film Script, a Schizophrenic Dialogue, a Bewildered
Rumination”. This subtitle is more significant than it initially sounds. As
with 1985, Burgess utilises a series of literary formats to generate a panoramic perspective on his subject. The effect is multi-dimensional, serving
to flesh out the character and legacy of Mozart in a manner that proves
more successful than many a simple biographical fiction about the composer’s life.
In practice, this translates to a complex structure in which literary formats, levels of nested diegesis, and diverse narrative modes interact in an
attempt to generate an analogue of musical counterpoint in literature.
The novel opens with a discussion between composers set in a putative
Heaven. These composers watch an opera buffa about Mozart’s life and,
in between acts, the reader encounters a changing cast of composers and
writers who discuss Mozart, music and general aesthetics.
The second half of the book deconstructs further, commencing
with an adaption of Mozart’s K.550 as a short story about Louis and
Marie-Antoinette, putatively written by Stendhal, which is followed by
a dialogue between ‘Anthony’ and ‘Burgess’ who critique the preceding text from a higher level of narrative while watching a film treatment
of Mozart’s life. The text then returns to the Heaven narrative before
concluding with a monologuised essay, ostensibly by Burgess, in which
he attempts to encompass and editorialise upon the entirety of the text.
While Mozart and the Wolf Gang contains fiction in a myriad forms,
it also functions as a commentary upon the act of fictionalising and as
Burgess’s final, and most successful, attempt to resolve his favourite literary experiment—the generation of literary counterpoint.39
Burgess’s most successful experiment in literary counterpoint came
ironically in a tribute to a composer who was, if anything, renowned for
his lack of counterpoint. He sought to present Mozart in a musically
inflected environment and language, and again returned to the problem
of the literary depiction of counterpoint he had previously attempted in
39 Literary counterpoint is a term used in prosody to designate the use of a stress or
stresses at variance with the regular metrical stress. This definition was rendered antiquated
by the innovations of vers libre, and the notion of literary counterpoint became available for redefinition during the Modernist period. The prosodic meaning is not intended
here, where I refer instead to the various experimental attempts to transpose contrapuntal
polyphony from music into literary form.
216 J. Clarke
a series of texts including Napoleon Symphony, 1985 and The End of the
World News. The format of a dialectic debate, reprised from 1985, offers
an initial duologue or catechism, but no counterpoint. However, in the
later novel, this is augmented by a film script, which comes closest of all
the formats mentioned in that lengthy subtitle to a direct fictionalisation
of Mozart’s life.40 Within the short story K. 550 and the libretto for an
opera buffa, Burgess offers fictional angles on Mozart’s life and work that
are heavily influenced by musical form. Burgess takes the zapping technique from The End of the World News and rather than zapping between
disparate narratives, he zaps between perspectives on his subject.
The challenge of recreating polyphony in literature is one destined
to be limited by the boundaries of analogy, due to the impossibility of
transmitting simultaneity in an art form experienced sequentially. As Alan
Shockley states, “musicology—any writing about music—is an attempt at
making analogies between language itself and what happens within the
world of sound. Composer and writer Ned Rorem succinctly sums up
this paradox: ‘If music could be translated into human speech it would
no longer need to exist.’”41 For Burgess, a self-confessed composer manqué, the attraction was the promise in counterpoint of mirroring “the
multiplicity of life” (YHYT, 292). If the contrapuntal challenge is considered as the achievement of simultaneous polyphony in text, it was one
that Burgess attempted repeatedly in his fiction, and one he had picked
up from Joyce.42 From his analysis of Joyce, which extends over two
book-length studies, a commentary and an edited version of Finnegans
Wake, Burgess concluded that counterpoint is not really transposible to
Nevertheless, he kept trying. Burgess attempted to incorporate a contrapuntal structure into a novel on no fewer than four occasions. The
40 This appears to be original work. The Burgess archive at the Harry Ransom
Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin possesses the bulk of
Burgess’s scripts for cinema and television, and while treatments and scripts relating to
Beethoven and Stravinsky are contained in the archive, there does not appear to be any
work relating to Mozart.
41 Music in the Words: Musical Form and Counterpoint in the Twentieth-Century Novel,
Alan Shockley, Ashgate, Farnham, 2009, pp. 1–2.
42 Critics have detected attempts to create textual analogues of counterpoint in the
Wandering Rocks, Sirens and Circe chapters of Ulysses. See Bronze by Gold: The Music of
Joyce, ed. Sebastian Knowles, Garland, New York, 1999.
earliest was Napoleon Symphony, wherein counterpoint is emulated by a
series of techniques, including macaronics, typography, portmanteau
words, footnotes and simultaneous poetry. The result is at times a typographical jungle in which, as with Finnegans Wake, the author’s narrative
intent is obscured by the experimentation in form. Burgess has compared
this unsuccessful attempt with Joyce’s own experiments in counterpoint
via the layering of multilingual puns, and admitted that: “I knew better than anyone that the book was a failure—as, on a far superior scale,
Finnegans Wake is a failure—but no art can progress unless failure is
sometimes risked” (YHYT, 296).
Burgess scaled back from the typographical experiment to a counterpoint based on format for 1985. Rather than attempt to emulate the dissonance of simultaneous textual voices, Burgess responded to Orwell’s
dystopic vision with a variety of different literary formats, including
anonymous dialectic, literary criticism and parody. In this experiment the
structure failed to overcome the sequential nature of the experimentation
to function as true counterpoint. The criticism is informed by the dialectic which precedes it, just as the lengthy fictional parody of Orwell’s
novel that concludes the book is informed by the discursive sections
before it. While its stylistic experimentation with plural forms marks 1985
as one of the more imaginative tributes to Orwell’s novel, the actual simultaneity of true counterpoint remained elusive.
Burgess’s attempt to utilise the metaphor of “zapping” between television channels to evoke literary polyphony emerged in The End of the
World News. However, this contrapuntal “zapping” technique serves
only to dissipate the power of the individual narratives. Rather than conveying a sense of simultaneity, the constant interruption of one narrative by another jars the reader and disrupts continuity. Their disparity
of form and theme sit uneasily next to one another in the contrapuntal
form Burgess has chosen. The narrative styles are too diverse and they
lack common subjects or themes.
The metanarrative, what we might consider analogous to the musical score, is the frame wherein the disparate stories of Freud and Trotsky
are revealed as videos being viewed by the future descendants of those
spaceship denizens who survived the destruction of Earth described in
the apocalypse narrative inhabited by Val Brody. But if this metanarrative is the musical score, the key to understanding the counterpoint, then
Burgess’s creation of literary suspense and revelation functions to destroy
the musical analogy, since the key to the narrative has been withheld
218 J. Clarke
until the end. Ultimately, the metanarrative that knits the component
narratives together appears thin and contrived. If the book is a failure, it
is a failure primarily of form, and it is a failure to generate a functioning
analogue of literary counterpoint because the sole moment of simultaneity occurs, as it were, in retrospect.
In Mozart and the Wolf Gang, many of these previous experiments
are reprised. When Constanze and Aloysia sing (using the side-by-side
typographical form to designate simultaneity that Burgess first presented
in Napoleon Symphony) respectively for and against Mozart’s sacking,
the rhymes and metre match, suggesting polyphony but not counterpoint (Mozart, 32). By contrast, when the major-domo and the servant Lorenzo sing against each other, the relative line lengths and rhyme
schemes reveal that counterpoint is being depicted. Later, as Mozart and
Salieri await the Emperor’s decision on which of the two shall replace
Gluck as court composer, the three composers embark upon a discussion
of the “cruelty of counterpoint”,43 about which these otherwise squabbling composers appear to be in agreement:
GLUCK Let us drink to—oh, counterpoint.
SALIERI You pronounce the term sourly. Handel’s words still rankle? About his cook knowing more of contrapunto than your esteemed
monodic self?
GLUCK I never aspired to being a baroque weaving machine. But that
was cruel, Salieri.
43 This is one of a number of deliberate biographical errors in the opera buffa section.
Gluck died a month before the Emperor Joseph II appointed Mozart to the position in
December 1787. Here, Gluck is present at the appointment of his replacement and expires
during it. The other significant deviation from biographical reality in the opera buffa is
Mozart’s writing of an opera based on the Rape of Lucretia as an act of love for Aloysia
Weber. Act two of the opera commences at the Weber house after Aloysia has sung in
this work, which does not in reality exist. The scene appears to date the imaginary opera
to around 1781, a year after Aloysia’s marriage, when Mozart had moved to Vienna
but before he went to stay as a lodger in the Weber home. Yet in this depiction, Aloysia
does not appear to be married. These obvious errors of biography are noted by the celestial Schoenberg and Gershwin: “SCHOENBERG—This opera buffa is absurd. Travesty.
Biographical falsification. Mozart’s life was not like that. GERSHWIN—What do you
expect from a mere entertainment? The truth?” (Mozart, 59–60).
SALIERI Counterpoint is a cruel discipline. Let’s drink to its cruelty.
(Mozart, 51)
The harmony that follows, in which the three rail against how they must
“slave at counterpoint./At four- and five-part counterpoint,” and condemn “the pedantic schools/Where analytic ghouls/Probe strictly at
strict counterpoint,” is humorous but historically inaccurate. The contrapuntal focus in this section must be read as deliberate anachronism,
intended to highlight the attempt to generate literary counterpoint,
which was the experimental purpose of the text as a whole. Burgess the
composer was, according to Paul Philips, much more conservative than
was Burgess the novelist, which may perhaps explain his attachment to
the idea of counterpoint in both, as it is as conservative a technique in
music as it is radical in literature:
Often daringly experimental as a novelist, Burgess as a composer was
essentially conservative. He often wrote in conventional musical forms,
such as sonata and passacaglia, and tended to write traditionally structured
works such as four-movement symphonies and three-movement concertos.
Burgess had a deep love of polyphony and composed untold amounts of
Burgess’s final attempt at literary counterpoint within the text occurs
in the short story K. 550, in which Burgess has Stendhal pen a narrative about Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette based on the structure of
Mozart’s symphony in G minor. Alan Shockley, Anthony Levings and
Werner Wolf, among others, have written extensively and comprehensively about this short story.45 However, one brief passage within the
story where Burgess attempts to emulate a passage of uncharacteristic
counterpoint within Mozart’s symphony bears close examination. K.550
44 “The Music of Anthony Burgess”, Paul Philips, Anthony Burgess Newsletter, issue 1,
Université d’Angers, July 1999.
45 See Music in the Words: Musical Form and Counterpoint in the Twentieth-Century
Novel, Alan Shockley, Ashgate, Farnham, 2009; and The Musicalization of Fiction: A study
in the Theory and History of Intermediality, Werner Wolf, Rodopi, Amsterdam, 1999. This
story is also considered by a number of scholars, including Anthony Levings, in Anthony
Burgess: Music in Literature and Literature in Music, ed. Marc Jeannin, Cambridge
Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2009.
220 J. Clarke
does utilise counterpoint, primarily between strings and woodwind in the
minuet, and Burgess evokes this by a subtle reprise of the typographical
structure he used in Napoleon Symphony. The juxtaposition of italicised
text (to represent the contrapuntal voice of Marie-Antoinette, the softer
musical theme of the symphony) is not intrusive and assists comprehension, given that the remaining unitalicised text merges the dominant
theme’s voice (Louis) with that of an omniscient narrator.
Such cultural genderisation of musical themes, dating from as early
as A.B. Marx’s Die Lehre von der Musikalischen Komposition, published
between 1837 and 1847, traditionally marks the more vigorous theme as
male and the softer theme as female, translated here by Burgess into his
“he” and “she”, Louis and Marie-Antoinette. Burgess’s story progresses
by such analogies; a musical key is translated into a literal one turned
in a door lock, and the repetition of music required by the sonata form
used by Mozart is presented by Burgess with a stage direction, complete
with the repeat dots one might read in a music score, to “Repeat all. To
here” (Mozart, 95). This in itself does not render the narrative defunct as
literature; rather, it again evokes, by analogy, Mozart’s symphony via the
narrative of Louis and Marie-Antoinette. The passage repeated, the musical exposition, both represents and literally depicts Louis pacing the carpet
outside Marie-Antoinette’s bedroom, only to attempt and repeatedly fail
to enter. In that the narrative of K.550 explores the sexual difficulties of
the early married life of Louis and Marie-Antoinette, which reputedly continued for some months after the wedding, this simple evocation of repetition by stage direction works more satisfyingly within narrative prose than
the actual repetition of text presented in the recapitulation section.46
Yet all these experimental attempts to depict polyphonic counterpoint
in words are at best allusive and metaphorical. Since, in musical terms,
counterpoint means the existence within a piece of music of two or
more simultaneous melodies, there is an important distinction between
counterpoint and harmony, where all notes that are not part of the predominant melody function to support the melodic line, effectively by the
creation of chords.
46 Alan Shockley is correct in stating that “repetition of whole passages is not only nonessential to prose literature, repetition opposes narrative”. He further believes that “This
simply does not work as literature is supposed to… the later passage clearly repeats a
large passage of text; this is prose not behaving like prose”. Music in the Words, Shockley,
pp. 38–39.
If we accept the idea that poetry can be polyphonic, we do so on
the basis that poetry’s greater density of ambiguity permits Empsonian
ambiguity wherein multiple meanings may be discerned close to simultaneously. Burgess suggested that such ambiguity may result from the
‘chordal’ qualities of ambiguous literary techniques such as puns, allusion and paranomasia, the polyphonic form Joyce attempted to utilise in
Finnegans Wake (YHYT, 292). This permits a temporary, or instantaneous, moment of multiplicity of meaning, akin to harmonics in music,
while not necessarily evoking the type of polyphony described by counterpoint. In fiction, however, the lesser density of the language tends to
enforce a serial comprehension, which theoretically could include contrapuntal debate developing serially or “in time”. The attempt to create literary counterpoint in fiction therefore amounts to an attempt to enforce
such a simultaneous polyphonic reading.
Throughout Mozart and the Wolf Gang, Burgess constantly migrates
from one viewpoint and form to another, seeking to build up a picture
of Mozart’s importance and legacy through a plurality of perspectives.
Despite this, and despite Burgess’s many apologies within the text for
his failure to achieve the tribute to Mozart he desires, the book is a more
holistic and satisfying text than his previous attempts at literary polyphony. It also marks Burgess’s final and most successful attempt to directly
analogise musical counterpoint in literary form. In Mozart and the Wolf
Gang he merged the stylistic splicing techniques borrowed from Joyce’s
Sirens, which he had used firstly in Napoleon Symphony with a structural
conceptualisation of counterpoint, the juxtaposition of different forms of
literature beside each other in the same book, which he had developed
in 1985. To this he added a further contrapuntal analogue generated for
The End of the World News; the idea of zapping between diegetic levels of
reality, thereby permitting contrasting forms and themes to play against
each other.
In Mozart and the Wolf Gang the metanarrative is presented from
the outset—the locus is Heaven, the afterlife of great figures of literature and music as they await the celebrations of Mozart’s birthday. Thus
the reader is given advance notice of both the musical score upon which
will be written the various thematic melodies, and the overarching aim
and theme of the novel itself, the utopian construction of a contrapuntal marriage of literature and music in honour of Mozart. As the novel
doubles back and forth upon itself, playing literary form against literary
form, depictions of polyphony are presented within individual sections of
222 J. Clarke
the novel, but polyphony is also generated by the proximity and interaction between the literary forms themselves.
The multiplicity of perspectives on the titular character in Mozart and
the Wolf Gang amounts to an expansion of the reflective technique Burgess
had developed in Beard’s Roman Women, a methodology which directly
challenges Kierkegaard’s understanding that, because cognitive reflection
“is fatal to the immediate”, literature as a language-based medium is rendered incapable of achieving the “indeterminacy” of music.47
In Beard’s Roman Women he used triads of binary relationships to
generate a degree of multidimensionality. For Mozart and the Wolf Gang
Burgess extended the earlier relationship between subject, reflection and
object exponentially, entering the postmodernist territory where primacy
pertains to the image over the object.
This concern about authenticity arose originally from Baudrillard’s
Simulacra and Simulation and was given further voice in Umberto Eco’s
Faith in Fakes. However, Burgess’s technique in Mozart and the Wolf
Gang is deliberately aimed at showing up this insufficiency of representative depiction in literature. Image (deriving from the medieval French
image, meaning reflection) is all that literature can offer. Mozart can
no more be captured in words than his music can (and Burgess bravely
includes the ambitious but inadequate “K.550” in his text as a demonstration of the latter.) If Any Old Iron can be read as a text without an
object, then Mozart and the Wolf Gang functions as a text with an absent
subject. It is narrated by a cacophony of competing voices, each generating perspectives, opinions and reflections—images—about Mozart.
Furthermore, nearly all these voices—the celestial composers and writers, plus the avatars of Burgess himself within the text—are themselves
images. Inevitably, therefore, Mozart is not present within the text.
47 “Music always expresses the immediate in its immediacy. This is also the reason that in
relation to language music appears first and last, but this also shows that it is a mistake to
say that music is closer to perfection as a medium. Reflection is implicit in language, and
therefore language cannot express the immediate. Reflection is fatal to the immediate, and
therefore it is impossible for language to express the musical, but this apparent poverty in
language is precisely its wealth. In other words, the immediate is the indeterminate, and
therefore language cannot grasp it”. Either/Or, vol 1, Søren Kierkegaard, ed. and trans.
Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1987, p. 70.
It could be further argued that much poststructuralist theory is predicated upon the notion
that language itself functions within a condition of perpetual indeterminacy.
There is a Mozart who inhabits the opera buffa, and a separate Woferl
who enacts the film script. Yet both of these operate on diegetic sublevels of narrative, as entertaining divertissements for characters existing
on higher narratological planes. No sooner have they appeared than their
appearances are invariably critiqued on the basis of their inauthenticity by
a Rossini or Schoenberg, a Henry James, an Anthony or Burgess, each of
which is a simulacrum or reflective image.
Yet, through their disputation, they generate a reader effect that
comes close to the simultaneity of musical counterpoint. The reader is
provoked to assess their judgements against the texts they judge, which
have immediately preceded. Further, the reader may be tempted to
weigh up these deliberately fragile and anachronistic cyphers against their
real world counterparts. At the centre of this reading experience is the
elusive figure of Mozart himself, or rather the lack of a singular Mozart,
since he is continually mediated through the judgement of Burgess’s
many fake worthies, through fragmentary artistic biographies swiftly
disowned by the “Blessed spirits” (Mozart, 15) who created them, or
through the transposition of his own music into literary analogue. The
narrative density of Any Old Iron, in which the singular Apollonian
narrator-subject subsumes all other content and yet the text does not
cohere, is here replaced by its opposite—narratological atomisation in
which simulacra reflecting on simulacra manage to generate a consistent
and coherent image of the Apollonian object.
What Levings calls in his thesis “the ‘real’ Mozart” (171) makes a
brief cameo appearance at the celestial concert in his honour, but he is
inevitably an unspeaking toddler, an infant prodigy who “climbs on to
the stool as if it were a hillock” (Mozart, 138). His walk-on role is to
provide the “celestial colloquy” with its punchline before the brief critical essay with which Burgess closes the text. This dénouement has God
turning the pages for the infant Mozart, a conclusion also suggested
in Burgess’s précis in the Wilson Quarterly, wherein he refers to “God,
whom Mozart, perhaps at this very moment, is busy teaching about
music”.48 This is Philip Sidney’s Apollonian paradigm extracted from its
metaphorical confines. The Apollonian creator no longer need seek to
48 “Mozart and the Wolf Gang”, Anthony Burgess, The Wilson Quarterly, vol. 16, no. 1
(winter, 1992), p. 120.
224 J. Clarke
create a golden world out of the dross of divine creation; instead he here
teaches God perfection directly.
This is Mozart as postmodern Apollonian, however. The text lures
the reader into a hall of mirrors wherein all is image and any notion
of authenticity is perpetually in dispute. It does so in order to emulate
musical counterpoint, a seemingly impossible literary experiment which
Burgess may even have successfully achieved through depicting a welter
of ever-changing perspective, shifting levels of narrative reality, and its
almost cubist deconstruction of the subject. Burgess’s Mozart imposes
his Apollonian vision through his own absence. He is the Apollonian
vision of perfection, a merger of art and life (and afterlife) fit to challenge God and divine creation. However, he is also the vision of those
squabbling “Blessed Spirits”, Anthony and Burgess, who admit to creating the “improbable heaven with squabbling sanctified musicians in it,
but Mozart … not among them” (Mozart, 92). Hence God too, he who
“overpets” Mozart to the jealousy of Wagner, and who turns the infant
genius’s sheet music, is similarly no more than an Apollonian cypher,
another fake in the hall of mirrors, reflecting ultimately only the author’s
own atomised yet polyphonic image.
Feed This Flame: Marlowe the Apollonian
A Dead Man in Deptford ultimately replicates this polyphonic image of
the author, but only after delineating a putative life story of Christopher
Marlowe. Burgess’s Kit is a somewhat antiquated iteration, fitting mostly
into the Overreacher paradigm described by Harry Levin, though
Burgess did not seemingly make use of Levin’s work directly. His use
of H.R. Williamson’s Kind Kit allowed him to humanise Marlowe
and make him sympathetic to the reader, while he could hardly ignore
Charles Nicholl, whose innovative research had broken out of the confines of historico-literary scholarship and entered public discourse even
while Burgess was writing A Dead Man in Deptford. This carefully
selected mélange of influences allowed Burgess to honour the Marlowe
he had known as an undergraduate, while also distinguishing between his
Apollonian protagonist and the historical Marlowe’s own overreaching
dramatic heroes. The omission of important works of biographical criticism by Leslie Hotson, A.L. Rowse, and John Ingram, among others,
suggests that Burgess was content to do a minimal amount of reading in
support of a preconceived portrait of Marlowe. His portrait of Marlowe
is highly intentional.
Burgess’s autobiographical turn had not quite receded following the
publication of his second volume of confessions. His text on linguistics, A Mouthful of Air, functions almost as a companion piece to This
Man and Music, with the focus on his life viewed through the prism of
language rather than music. As Mozart and the Wolf Gang indicated,
Burgess retained the capacity to make an appearance within his own fiction. The intrusion into his own text takes two forms in A Dead Man in
Deptford; in both novels Burgess performs as both narrator and editor.
Anthony and Burgess are responsible not merely for the “schizophrenic
dialogue” about Mozart but claim ownership of all of the fictional text
prior to the editorialising “bewildered rumination” that concludes
Mozart and the Wolf Gang. Similarly “Jacke Wilson” (Burgess’s birth
name was John Wilson) narrates the biography of Kit Marlowe, the novel
proper, before the “true author” enters at the conclusion to briefly editorialise about the preceding text. The construction of the actor Wilson
as narrator was the first of many conscious revisions of Burgess’s previous
Elizabethan novel, Nothing Like The Sun. Both are contained narratives,
respectively presented as a lecture by a “Mr Burgess” and the recollections of a “play-botcher” called “Jacke Wilson”, both avatars designating
Burgess himself.
In seeking, as an Apollonian creator, to usurp the role of God,
Burgess’s Kit Marlowe requires no Muse, such as inspired Will in Nothing
Like The Sun. Burgess’s Kit might be expected to follow the traditional
reputation of the actual Christopher Marlowe in tending towards a simple atheism. However, attributing atheism to either Kit or to the man
on which he is based is problematic. The reputation of atheism, which
has dogged Marlowe (and, indeed, Raleigh and Hariot) for centuries,
is especially difficult to demonstrate conclusively. J.B. Steane has noted
that Marlowe’s plays are not “readily conceivable as the work of an atheist in the modern sense of the word. That sense, of course, is not the
Elizabethan: an atheist was not necessarily one who denied the existence
of God but one who rejected the churches and orthodox beliefs”.49
49 “Introduction”, in The Complete Plays, Christopher Marlowe, ed. J.B. Steane, London,
Penguin Books, 1969, pp. 16–17.
226 J. Clarke
Pamphlets by Robert Greene and Henry Chettle indicate that
Marlowe had a reputation for atheism beyond the subject matter of
his plays, and they function to support the allegations made by both
Thomas Kyd and Richard Baines to the Privy Council. However, as
Nicholas Davidson has observed, none of this evidence of Marlowe’s
atheism is especially reliable:
Robert Greene, Richard Baines and Thomas Kyd certainly knew
[Marlowe] personally, but their evidence cannot be accepted uncritically.
Greene’s account was written on his deathbed, and was designed more
to justify his own recent conversion to religious faith than to document
the beliefs of his acquaintances. Baines was a professional informer, and
his charges were never tested in court. Kyd wrote his document against
Marlowe while in prison, probably as part of an attempt to buy his own
release. (129–130)
Critics such as Boas or Levin, led in part by this documentation of
Marlowe’s atheism and the posthumous reputation that gathered around
him, sought evidence of Marlowe’s beliefs in his artistic works.50 While
his most-renowned protagonists, Tamburlaine, Barrabas and Faustus, all
appear to deny God, their attribute of atheism is in keeping with their
overall depiction as overreaching anti-heroes. Denying God is the most
extreme philosophical position they can assume before suffering a fall
due to their overweening hubris. Burgess himself initially concurred
with this assessment that Marlowe’s atheism was at best unconfirmable.
In his biography of Shakespeare, which offers many of the same ideas
and themes as Nothing Like The Sun, Burgess offers a reading of Doctor
Faustus that suggests Marlowe may well have been a crypto-Catholic:
If Marlowe was a genuine atheist who believed that “hell’s a fable,” why
did he expend such eloquence on demonstrating that hell was real? If, as
some say, he was a true man of the Renaissance and an exponent of the
50 Thomas Beard, in his The Theatre of Gods Iudgements (1597), claimed that Marlowe
“as it is credibly reported” was a well-known atheist who had “denied God and his Sonne
Christ, and not only in word blasphemed the trinitie”. The following year Francis Meres,
following Beard’s lead, suggested in his Palladis Tamia: Wits Treasury being the Second Part
of Wits Common Wealth treatise that “our tragicall poet Marlow for his Epicurisme and
Atheisme had a tragicall death”.
unfettered human soul, why does he go to such trouble to justify the
ways of God to man, thumping out almost sermonically the limitations
of human ambition under the divine law? Doctor Faustus could have been
written by a practicing Catholic. Perhaps it was: we shall never know the
whole truth about Marlowe. (Shakespeare, 88)
The Apollonian impetus may encompass a Nietzschean pronouncement
of God’s death, but equally it may signal a belief in scientific rationality. For Kit, living during a liminal era between medieval superstition
and the dawn of the Enlightenment, and influenced by his fellows in
Walter Raleigh’s School of Night, the Apollonian impulse comes inevitably to focus on the image of the sun, the rational source of life on
Earth as understood by Marlowe’s contemporary, Giordano Bruno. Yet
this departure from the usual understanding of Marlowe as wild atheist is not an unreasonable invention by Burgess, given the term’s more
broad Elizabethan meaning. While the “School of Night” is a twentieth-century invention, nevertheless Marlowe (and hence Burgess’s
Kit) was connected to what was perceived as a suspiciously heretical
group of intellectuals. Baines’s deposition to the Privy Council about
Marlowe refers to both Hariot and Raleigh.51 This air of atheism was
largely based on the “School’s” reputation for scientific investigation.
Northumberland possessed one of the largest libraries in England, and
was a patron of Thomas Hariot, who had previously worked for Raleigh.
Hariot lived at Northumberland’s residence, Syon House, and conducted scientific experiments there, primarily in the fields of astronomy,
physics and trigonometry. In Shakespeare Burgess proposes that the
School was a “sober discussion group”, misperceived by others as “a sort
of warlock’s coven”, which aimed at “the reconciling of science with revelation” (102–103).
Despite the Privy Council’s imputations that they are a “nest of atheism”, Raleigh’s School of Night generally reveals theistic beliefs (albeit
heterodox) in A Dead Man in Deptford (136). Raleigh himself is closest
to Burgess’s own espoused beliefs when he speaks of “God in his infinite rhythms and cross-rhythms and counter-rhythms” (136). Raleigh
is placing God outside moral or ethical strictures, considering God as a
51 “He affirmeth that Moyses was but a Jugler, & that one Heriots being Sir W Raleighs
man can do more then he”. from British Library Harley Manuscript 6848 ff. 185–186.
228 J. Clarke
quintessentially phenomenal entity. We hear in Raleigh’s words the evocation of Alex in A Clockwork Orange, for whom the “gorgeosity and
yumyumyum” of Ludwig Van’s Ninth represents what he understands
as ultimate good. The opinions of Raleigh and Alex echo those of their
If God exists, the goodness of God is not seen in ethical terms. God is not
good to us. He’s obviously not good to us, because He’s in no relationship
with human beings. He’s removed from us. God is good. The experience
of god is the experience of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, infinitely magnified. (MFS, 440)
The School of Night’s credo is to seek “a new age unshackled from
superstition and cleansed of blood and bigots, with men marching forward to reason’s pure dawn” (Dead Man, 156). The summoning of
dawn as an image is not accidental. Not only is it an overt invocation of
the Sungod Apollo, but the School of Night also functions as a forum
wherein the members attempt to marry “reason” (a term not dissimilar
from Nietzsche’s understanding of Socratism) to a conceptualisation of
God that Hariot summarises while smoking:
God is enough, the sun his symbol, and it shames me somewhat to think
that this that I draw to my lungs is from a place called Trinity. Shatter the
Trinity, proclaim unity. (135)
The sun is therefore a focal Apollonian image in A Dead Man in
Deptford. There is effectively a spectrum of beliefs in A Dead Man in
Deptford relating God to the sun in differing degrees. For Hariot, the
sun is God’s symbol, a totem representing the life-giving force and
essential unity of his conception of the supreme being, an understanding derived from Giordano Bruno. For Kit, “[w]hat is termed God may
well be a force as inhuman as the sun, and as indifferent whether to bless
by warming or curse by burning” (Dead Man, 138). For his backwards
sister Dorothy, however, no such complicated relationship between the
supreme being and the sun need exist. She “knows that God is in the sky.
But she thinks that God is the sun” (Dead Man, 39). Burgess depicted
Kit’s espousal of atheism, in the best tradition of philosophical epiphany, in the form of a remarkable debate held in the Catholic cathedral at
I cannot pray to you because you do not exist. A small matter, I contain
both existence and its opposite. You cancel out yourself. You condone too
many murders in your name. I condone nothing. I am above such things. My
name is not myself. When men use my name this means they do not know me.
What shall I do? What you are driven to do. And if I refuse to believe in
you? My existence does not depend on your belief. You are then detached from
men. What then is meant by God’s love? The passionate acceptance of myself
as my own highest achievement, manifested to senses live and yet unborn in the
universe as my palpable garment. Men are a strand in that garment. Why did
you have to come down to earth as a man? I do what I will. Men must be
taught. The loving community of men must figure the perfection of the divine
order. Men have learnt nothing. Does not this argue a flaw in the divine substance? When men have destroyed themselves utterly there will be left one man
who has learnt. That will be enough. And I can wait. This is not you who
speak. It is only a voice among the many voices that dart like wind about
the crevices of my brain. Did you expect it to be otherwise? (Dead Man, 47)
This is Kit’s true understanding of God, a “voice among the many”
that populate his fertile imagination. Like Burgess’s Harry Wolfson,
Kit is complicit in creating the universe around him, and like Burgess’s
Mozart, he has come to contain God. Yet his atheism is not entirely
anachronistic. The God that Kit conjures from his mind echoes Hariot’s
faith in a unitary force, containing “both existence and its opposite”.
Equally, it presages the conceptualisation of God that Kit relates to
Northumberland, that of an indifferent force detached from mankind
who makes up only a mere strand in the “palpable garment” of the universe. Kit’s rejection of this “God” is based on his discerning a “flaw in
the divine substance”—men have learnt nothing since the coming of
Christ, hence the universe is imperfect, natura naturata.
The urge to transcend nature within the Apollonian paradigm can
be ascribed to a desire to eclipse the dark capricious goddess Natura.52
52 A classical era example of the goddess as capricious Natura can be found in Apuleius’s
proto-novel The Golden Ass, wherein she manifests herself to Lucius: “Behold, Lucius, I
am come; thy weeping and thy prayer hath moved me to succour thee. I am she that is the
natural mother of all things, mistress and governess of all the elements, the initial progeny
of worlds, chief of the powers divine, queen of all that are in hell, the principal of them that
dwell in heaven, manifested alone and under one form of all gods and goddesses. At my
will the planets of the sky, the wholesome winds of the seas, and the lamentable silences of
hell be disposed”. The Golden Ass, Apuleius, trans. William Aldington, rev. Stephen Gaselee,
London 1935, section XI. 5.
230 J. Clarke
This nature-eclipsing urge recalls Sidney’s adaptation of mimesis, “an
Aristotelian purging of the real through the fanciful” (Dead Man, 96), as
Kit terms it. In fact, Aristotle consistently expresses an Apollonian conception of an imperfect nature made perfectible by art. In the Physics,
for example, he writes that “in general art partly completes what nature
cannot bring to completion, and partly imitates her”.53 He reiterates
this in the Politics, when he states that “all art and education aim at filling up Nature’s deficiencies”.54 This “queen of all that are in hell” is the
dark Goddess in her Proserpine form, the same aspect of the Goddess
that inspires Will through infection by her “effluvia of evil” (229–230)
in Nothing Like The Sun. In A Dead Man in Deptford, Kit does not
find himself punished for defying nature as Will is. In fact, the attempt
to supersede natura naturans and manifest natura naturata becomes
Kit’s sole mode of behaviour. He first expresses his Apollonian credo to
Thomas Walsingham, in an attempt to seduce him:
There is a higher order than what crass nature dictates. Nature does not
want poetry, nor music, nor the eyes of the seeker looking upward from
the dungy earth. Nature does not want the love that she would call sterility
but we could designate otherwise.55
This credo includes, in “the eyes of the seeker” (33), a reference to
Sidney’s A Defence of Poesie, whose poetry-haters cannot look upward to
the “sky of poetry” to seek Apollo. Kit’s Apollonian drive to transcend or
53 Physics, ii. 199a. 15, Aristotle, as translated in “Primitivism and Related Ideas”, Arthur
Lovejoy and George Boas, Contributions to the History of Primitivism vol. I, Johns Hopkins
Press, Baltimore 1935, p. 190.
54 Politics, vii. 1337a. 2, Aristotle, as translated in “Primitivism and Related Ideas”, p. 190.
55 (Dead Man, 33). Diarmuid McCulloch has noted that the continental CounterReformation (which Kit later encounters at Rheims in A Dead Man in Deptford) espoused
the idea that matrimony was not preferable to celibacy. Kit appears to be satirising this
theological turn in his seduction. This demotion of heteronormative relations “was starkly
expressed in Cardinal Bellarmine’s ‘larger’ catechism of 1598, by definition a document
intended for public lay education, when Bellarmine set out a common ancient cliché from
the advocates of celibacy: ‘Marriage is a thing human, virginity is angelical. Marriage is
according to nature, virginity is a thing above nature.’” Reformation: Europe’s House
Divided 1490–1700, Diarmuid McCulloch, Allen Lane, London, 2003, p. 609.
usurp nature derives initially from encountering this text while still only a
Divinity student:
Kit had copied from the manuscript of Sir Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesie,
then in circulation at Cambridge, these words: Nature never set forth the
earth in so rich a tapestry as diverse poets have done. Her world is brazen;
the poets only deliver a golden. Kit thought: I am a poet, I must not be
lowly. (Dead Man, 13)
The influence of Sidney generates an immediate opposition between Kit
and Will, wherein the later novel seeks to revise the former by reconstructing Will’s divinely inspired Dionysian artistic creativity into Kit’s
Aristotelian Apollonian mode. The bifurcation point between their relative developments as artists is located in their respective reactions to
encountering Sidney’s text. Kit immediately begins implementing an
Apollonian modality. While writing Tamburlaine I, Kit endorses art as
a method whereby the shackles of earthbound existence may be superseded. This discharging of the “real through the fanciful” is a reiteration of Sidney’s injunction to create a golden world to replace the brazen
one to which nature has condemned us. Will, however, rejects Sidney
in favour of an approach that might be termed mimetic, yet is certainly
Dionysian by Paglia’s definition:
Sir Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesy is out at last as a printed book. Well, we
have done better than Gorboduc in the years since he penned it. He would
have right tragedies and right comedies and delightful teaching &c. Yet if
we are told to hold a mirror up to nature (I thank thee, nasty Chapman,
for that phrase) we must see all in one. (NLTS, 152)
Will’s attachment to mimesis is actually an expression of loyalty to his
Muse. He can have no ambitions to the status of creator that Kit aspires
to. Kit goes much further than Sidney, however, in his espousal of the
surpassing of “crass nature”. He advocates to Tom Walsingham that art
is something above and beyond nature’s confines and also that homosexuality is an activity fertile in a manner beyond the decree or consideration
of that which is “natural”. Homosexuality for Kit forms part of a holistic
life-encompassing project to supersede “crass nature”. As the novel progresses, Kit advocates tobacco as an improvement upon the natural urge
to sustenance and even posits the existence of a “Golden Age”, a lost
232 J. Clarke
Eden that might be restorable through the means of art, love and the
transcendence of nature.
Kit’s invitation to Raleigh’s “school” follows an encounter at the playhouse in which two key representative aspects of Marlowe’s burgeoning
Apollonianism are introduced. Raleigh quizzes Kit on his knowledge of
“the Priest of the Sun”, a reference to Greene’s dismissive description of
Giordano Bruno. Raleigh also promises to reward him with “the quintessence of newness”, the “nymph” Tobacco (Dead Man, 125). Later,
at Durham House, Raleigh elucidates an Apollonian “philosophy” that
connects Kit’s sexuality to smoking as sublime refinements of natural
urges. For Raleigh, smoking may be considered a sublimation of sustenance itself, a manner of ingestion which goes “beyond the reach of
gross nutrient” (127). Raleigh describes tobacco as both food and lover,
“delicious”, a nymph to be courted and with which to grow in love.
When Kit attempts to smoke again at home, he first catches “hints of
her beauty”, but then vomits and defecates, “cursing the nymph that was
in truth most diabolical” (131). Nevertheless, even in his failed attempt
to sublimate the natural urge to sustenance, Kit is rewarded for his
Apollonianism by the sudden gift of poetry.56 However, a second, more
hesitant attempt that evening is more successful, and Kit concludes that
tobacco is “an organ summoned for a pleasure innutritive, the buggery
of the lungs”, a conflation first suggested by Raleigh’s “philosophy”:
[I]t was analogous, Raleigh was right, to that other pleasure. To rise
above the cry of the maw that bread be turned to blood and bone, of the
importunate gentleman of the loins that brats be begotten—was not that
in a manner of the conquest of nature, vinegary mother that would pull
us down? And to overcome nature was to exalt the soul? No matter, the
drawing in of this divine smoke was an ecstasy and men would in time perceive it as a great benison to the world. (Dead Man, 133)
Raleigh is closely culturally associated with the early commercialisation and popularisation of tobacco, and Burgess uses this association
56 “ Heaving then from wretched odours of ordure that filled his little room, he opened
the window to a raging November sunset. Streams in the firmament came to him and he
grinned sadly at the division of brain and body” (Dead Man, 132).
to construct a framework within which Marlowe’s developing defiance
of natura naturans can be considered. However, while ’s detached
intellectualising about homosexuality is an undoubted anachronism,
nevertheless the terminology Burgess uses to discuss tobacco is in keeping with the contemporary debates when Raleigh first imported it to
England. Raleigh in the novel describes tobacco as a panacea, while
Kit, on succumbing to a bout of vomiting, briefly considers it diabolical, evoking the criticism of the Puritans, who associated it with Satan
(drawing on a Spanish tradition inspired by the fact that the indigenous
Americans often went into trances and spoke with spirits after using
They received a significant boost when James I published his famous
and prescient pamphlet A Counterblaste to Tobacco in 1604. James I’s
pamphlet illustrates the contemporary arguments against smoking.
His countermedical argument is based on the idea that Nature imbues
in man a mixture of the humours that is unbalanced by the intake of
tobacco. Arguments against smoking thus centred on its unnatural effects and potentially Satanic origin. Burgess inverts both of these
arguments in A Dead Man in Deptford, to present tobacco in the manner of natura naturata, an improvement on base nature. In Raleigh’s
Solicinian world view, as in Kit’s solar-focused atheism, to think of smoking as Satanic is inconceivable since, there being no God, there can be
no devil.
Both Kit and Raleigh compare smoking tobacco to homosexuality,
in shared and separate ways. They concur that the two acts can both be
considered a sublimation of natural human appetites to eat and to procreate, yet they differ in relation to how they conceptualise the physiological reaction to tobacco. Raleigh acknowledges its addictive quality,
while still maintaining its virtues as a panacea. Kit by contrast conflates
the physical experiences in his metaphorical summation of the pleasure of
smoking—“buggery of the lungs”. Such candid discussion about homosexual practices initially appear jarring and anachronistic in an otherwise
naturalist narrative. As Alan Bray has delineated, modern notions of
homosexuality were inconceivable to the Elizabethans. A society where
men kissed, declared their love for each other passionately in speech and
poetry, and often shared beds, possessed a significantly homoerotic element, yet the act of sodomy was widely considered to be abhorrent, to
the extent that James VI (later James I of England), whose own close
234 J. Clarke
relationship with Esmé Stuart provoked outrage in the Kirk, declared it
to be one of the crimes no monarch could ever tolerate.57
Alan Bray’s somewhat nihilistic understanding of Elizabethan opinions on sodomy has been queried by later theorists, and it is now
largely accepted that, at least among the more libertine communities of
the capital, forms of proto-homosexuality were explored if not overtly
endorsed. Lawrence Normand suggests that Bray’s conceptualisation
of Elizabethan sodomy, “historically accurate as it is, is inadequate in
itself to encompass and account for the range of ways that homoeroticism in the sixteenth century is responded to, represented, and assigned
value”.58 Education in the classics led to the popularisation of terms
such as Ganymede and Corydon to refer to homosexual interactions
between men among the literate classes, and resulted in a small output of homoerotic poetry, including some of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
Furthermore, the boys who played female roles in the Elizabethan theatres were often available for prostitution, as Burgess depicts through
the character of Jacke Wilson in A Dead Man in Deptford. Hence their
performances can be read as homoerotic discourses.59 It is in this context that we must consider both the historically alleged homosexuality
of Christopher Marlowe and Burgess’s depictions of Kit’s homosexual
As with the allegation of atheism, the truth of Marlowe’s sexuality can never definitively be known, and his reputation for homosexuality again rests largely upon allegations made by Richard Baines to the
Privy Council and the subject matter of his plays, especially Edward II
and, to a lesser extent, The Massacre at Paris. However, in A Dead Man
57 In a treatise written to advise his son Henry how to govern, James lists sodomy as an
unforgiveable crime: “But as this seuere Iustice of yours vpon all offences would bee but
for a time, (as I haue alreadie said) so is there some horrible crimes that yee are bound
in conscience neuer to forgiue: such as Witch-craft, wilfull murther, Incest, (especially
within the degrees of consanguinitie) Sodomie, poisoning, and false coine”. Basilikon
Doron or His Majesties Instrvctions To His Dearest Sonne, Henry the Prince, King James VI,
Edinburgh, 1599, p. 20.
58 “Edward II and James VI”, Lawrence Normand, in Christopher Marlowe and English
Renaissance Culture, ed. Darryl Grantley, Ashgate, Aldershot, 1996, p. 192.
59 See “‘Ganymede’ on the Elizabethan Stage: Homosexual Implications of the Use of
Boy-Actors”, Gordon Lell, in Aegis, iss. 1, Moorhead, Minnesota, 1973, pp. 5–15.
in Deptford it is clear from the start that Kit is homosexual, just as he
is atheist, in an anachronistically modern understanding of the term.
Specifically, he understands his same-sex attraction to be an essential part
of his identity. Unlike Enderby’s passive heterosexual sterility, or indeed
Will’s syphilitic infection (really a divine castration), Kit Marlowe is led
to artistic creativity not via a Goddess-blocked inability to be procreative, but in order to fulfil his own Apollonian ideal of improving upon
nature. His artistic fertility is reflected by way of Apollonian homosexuality, a consciously chosen, non-procreative form of sexuality, rather than
a Goddess-imposed curse or infection. Paglia has noted that periods of
high Apollonian artistic achievement often coincide with eras of significant levels of male homosexuality:
Major peaks of western culture have been accompanied by a high incidence
of male homosexuality—in classical Athens and Renaissance Florence and
London. Male concentration and projection are self-enhancing, leading to
supreme achievements of Apollonian conceptualization. (SP, 22)
For Paglia the homosexual act is an Apollonian attempt to usurp not only
nature but also the Goddess who stands behind the Dionysian impulse
to Bacchic revel. In writing on the Marquis de Sade, she notes the prevalence of and interest in sodomy from this nominally heterosexual writer:
Sodomy is Sade’s rational protest against relentlessly overabundant procreative nature … The ritual sex acts of ancient earth-cult [i.e. Goddessworship] were meant to stimulate nature’s fertility. Sodomy in Sade blocks
the procreative … Sade’s obsessive sodomy is a ritual of riddance to evade
maternal power. (SP, 246)
Paglia reads the Marquis’s works not only as an exaggerated attempt to
bypass natural procreation and fertility, but also as a flight from the urGoddess whose principle archetype is the mother. Kit in A Dead Man
in Deptford glosses his own preference for men in a very similar fashion. The boy actor Jacke Wilson asks Kit “Why boys, why men, why
never girls nor women?” Marlowe responds that Alma Venus “commands me the way I must go and ever has, and nothing may be done”.
Wilson presses him, asking “what is the reason in nature?” and Kit claims
that the sexual urge of Alma Venus not only supersedes nature but also
refutes the matriarchal archetype of the ur-Goddess:
236 J. Clarke
- It is not in nature, Alma Venus rides all above her, one may say it is a
rebuke to nature, we will go our own way nor follow the bestial law of
breeding. And thus too we may escape from our mothers. To bed a
woman, which I have never done, has a strong stench of incest.
- [Wilson] You like not your mother?
- I love her as a son should, but best from afar. (Dead Man, 142)
The connection between homosexuality and the Apollonian is one that
Burgess had previously identified in The Wanting Seed and Honey for the
Bears. The Pelphase in The Wanting Seed is marked by state-encouraged
homosexuality to address the Malthusian crisis of overpopulation. In a
neat reversal of the cultural norms at the time the novel was written, gay
men are preferred for promotion in work and those who have children
are penalised and driven underground. In the comic Honey for the Bears
the paradigm is played for laughs. The Husseys, an Anglo-American
couple on holiday in Leningrad, discover that they are both homosexual even as they both reject their own cultures in favour of the Soviet
paradise, a state predicated on the concept of human perfectibility. Only
in Earthly Powers, where the narrator Kenneth Toomey is a homosexual novelist with strong Augustinian tendencies, does Burgess present
homosexuality in anything other than a firm Apollonian context.60 In
A Dead Man in Deptford, Sir Walter Raleigh shows an almost anachronistic understanding of Marlowe’s homosexuality which concurs with
Paglia’s assertion of the Apollonian power inherent in the homosexual
There is a philosophy in this. As some say the love of boys is the higher
refinement of coupling … meaning that appetite is no longer chained to
60 In 1978 Burgess told Samuel Coale that Toomey “sees that from any theological,
indeed any biological angle, homosexuality isn’t right. It’s a perversion. The novel’s set in
1919. He cannot write novels in which there’s frank candid exploration of homosexuals. So
he has to pretend it’s men and women, and he’s sick of the whole business. God has made
him like this. Therefore, he must resent God… I think that homosexuals should feel that,
but of course they won’t, it is a curse” (Conversations, 133). One curious aspect of this
statement is that it apparently took place some years before the novel was even published.
Another is that Burgess clearly states that homosexuals ought to resent God, an attribute
also evident in Kit Marlowe in A Dead Man in Deptford, despite his atheism.
what nature wills, as with animals, so with tobacco eating and drinking are
refined to an essence beyond the reach of gross nutrient. (Dead Man, 127)
Raleigh here utilises alchemical imagery to reinforce the concept of
homosexuality as a quintessence of sex, an Apollonian refinement of
the sexual urge beyond the base utilitarian procreative nature of heterosexuality. Raleigh is the more convincing Apollonian in the novel,
his Solicinian atheism more persuasive than Kit’s hybrid of nihilism and
Brunonian sun-worship. Even his analysis of Kit’s sexuality is less burdened by a residual Dionysian sense of the Goddess and nature. Kit feels
his homosexuality as natura naturans, an immutable condition. Raleigh
glosses it as natura naturata, a chosen refinement of the natural order.
If Marlowe is correct, then his homosexuality is at odds with his atheism since he, like Kenneth Toomey, sees it as a curse from God, albeit a
God who does not exist. The only possible resolution of this tension is
one that was inconceivable in the Elizabethan era: societal acceptance of
Kit’s trajectory of homosexuality parallels that of Toomey in certain
crucial aspects. Both seek to recast male lovers as female in order to make
stories of romance acceptable to an audience. Both meet with priests in
an attempt to resolve their sexuality with Christian faith, and end up as
apostates after suggesting Christ himself may have been gay. Both ultimately fantasise of a pre-Edenic idyll in which homosexuality was the
original state of mankind. Toomey’s early fictions involve him changing
the gender of love objects to write convincing heterosexual relationships, and later in his career he writes “a new long novel entitled Walter
Dunnett, somewhat autobiographical save for the hero’s heterosexuality”
(EP, 518). Kit not only reshapes his love life to satisfy a readership but
also to placate his family’s inquiries:
Girls? He had met no girls. Nay, wait, and he resexed, as in one of his own
poems, Mr Walsingham into a lady of luscious hair, fine carriage, great
prospects (Dead Man, 38)
When Toomey visits Father Frobisher on the advice of Ford Madox
Ford in Earthly Powers, he has already by his own admission “regularly
gone to confession” and repeatedly “vowed to give it up” to no avail.
He resists the suggestion that his “sort of sexuality is sterile”, citing
“the one fundamental urge. Alma Venus, and so on” (EP, 55). This is
238 J. Clarke
the same argument Kit proffers Jacke Wilson. Frobisher suggests that
Toomey should pray to “our Holy Mother for the grace of purity”,
but Toomey prefers “to address a saint who knew about these things.
Are there any? Or perhaps Our Lord himself. He, if what Renan hints
at is true.” Frobisher warns him that he has “withdrawn, by a perverse
act of the will, from the opportunity of grace” and invites him to pray.
Toomey refuses, apostasised, and leaves immediately. Similarly, Kit is
warned by the priest in the confessional at the College chapel in Rheims
that he “must needs be damned” when he claims that to repent of his
sexuality would be to lie. He states to the priest “that my condition
is condoned by Christ’s own love for the beloved disciple”, evoking a
claim made by Richard Baines against Marlowe in his deposition to the
Privy Council.61
Intriguingly, Will addresses the same subject in Nothing Like The Sun,
but does so from an unattached position, dispassionately reporting hearsay and distancing himself from the opinion:
“There are some who say not so, and that He Himself did practice this
sort of love with His beloved disciple John and that Judas was jealous and
that no woman save one, His mother, is called to the Kingdom.” Then,
in sudden fear of their blabbing this to their father as his own sentence,
he added, “It is false and wrong, yes yes, but there be some that have said
that. And now turn we to our grammar book.” (NLTS, 62)
The entire chapter 29 of Earthly Powers is a set piece in which the Book
of Genesis is reimagined as a gay Utopia, in which Adam’s original male
partner Yedid is ultimately punished by God for eating of the tree of
knowledge, by being transformed into the female Hawwah. The chapter, a passage from a novella Toomey has written entitled A Way Back
To Eden, concludes with an endorsement of homosexuality as a state of
blessedness, a way of avoiding the “curse” of Original Sin:
So Adam and Hawwah went forth in sorrow, and the curse yet holds on
the generations of man, save for the blessed. For the blessed remake in
61 “That St John the Evangelist was bedfellow to Christ and leaned alwaies in his bosome, that he vsed him as the sinners of Sodoma”. British Library Harley Manuscript, 6848
ff. 185–186.
their lives the innocence of Adam and Yedid, and their embraces call back
the joys of Eden. (EP, 187)
For Kit, Eden is regained not through writing fiction but in coitus
with Tom Walsingham in a field as they travel to meet Kit’s family in
Canterbury. In a passage where, as often in the novel, the narrative
voices converge, Tom speaks as he orgasms, Kit thinks of Eden, and then
the narrator Jacke Wilson provides a descriptive context:
This sweet air cleanses your skin of its tobacco smell, we are as we were,
there is this, aaaaaah. Well, yes, Eden recovered, God would not come
peering in the evening cool, he was locked up, puzzled at the reforms that
remade him in the great sacring house of the chief archepiscopate. It was
Tom that took all the dominant part, Kit yielding. (Dead Man, 217)
In this passage it is Kit who smokes tobacco, and hence Tom who
ejaculates. Tom had previously suggested that the “great cathedral” of
Canterbury would “frown down” on them as they couple, therefore the
following line is Kit’s thought (or possibly spoken) response. Then the
narrative voice of Jacke Wilson reverts to situate the scenario by confirming that the orgasming voice is that of Tom.
A Dead Man in Deptford consciously revises many of the events
from Earthly Powers that deal with Toomey’s sexuality. Where Toomey
adapts the genders of lovers in his fiction, Kit does so in his family life.
Where Toomey apostasises himself in a discussion with a priest over
some Amontillado sherry, Kit does so in the confessional box. Toomey
hints at a homosexual relationship between Christ and the Apostle John,
whereas Kit baldly states it as fact. Toomey envisions a gay Eden in his
fiction, whereas Kit experiences it during sex. Toomey is a Dionysian permanently removed from the beneficence of the Goddess by virtue of his
sexuality. This explains why he can write bestselling potboilers but not
art, why he experiences lust but never love. Kit Marlowe is not under the
thrall of the Goddess, due to his defiant Apollonian nature. Hence he
does not sublimate his homosexual desires and experiences in fiction but
lives them. He does not dream of a gay Eden but creates and inhabits
it, does not stutter over blasphemy but utters it. Kit possesses a modern understanding of his gay identity, embraces it, and defends it determinedly within the confessional and pugnaciously outside of it. Kit’s
Apollonianism also embraces atheism and scientific rationality, which
240 J. Clarke
were also emerging in the same period. Kit is an Apollonian futurist—in
Raleigh’s terms one of those few “who look to the future and are bent
on disassembling the old way” (Dead Man, 131).
Just as Will’s Dionysian artistic inspiration stems ultimately from the
“dark, hidden, deadly” Goddess in Nothing Like The Sun (3), the point
of origin of Kit’s rational Apollonian urge in A Dead Man in Deptford
is the philosophy of Giordano Bruno. His Copernican vision of a heliocentric universe was undoubtedly influential among some of the English
nobility during and after his three years in England in the 1580s. A
close friend of Philip Sidney, to whom he dedicated two of his books,
Bruno accessed and influenced many of the personages who feature in
Raleigh’s School of Night. Brunonian scholar Frances Yates has successfully positioned him as a magus operating within the Hermetic tradition,
but this does not preclude a burgeoning empiricism in his work, such
as Ted Hughes has identified.62 The scientific spirit of inquiry which
informs the School of Night provides a philosophical context for Kit’s
Apollonianism. Marlowe, whose political loyalties throughout the novel
waver and vary as a professional spy’s must, adheres only to the philosophical ethos of the School of Night, who profess to seek “a new age
unshackled from superstition and cleansed of blood and bigots, with
men marching forward to reason’s pure dawn” (Dead Man, 156).
Brunonian solar worship pervades both the School of Night and
Marlowe’s own theological conceptions in Burgess’s novel. Via the
Brunonian method, Kit and his colleagues pursue truth in the burgeoning
scientific spirit that was to find fuller flowering in the century following his
death. The scientific method of the Age of Reason, especially as it originates in the School of Night in Burgess’s novel, is an Apollonian attempt
to annotate, encompass and eventually supersede nature. Where Nietzsche
acknowledges the drive within the Apollonian impulse towards the “genius
of the principium individuationis” and the Socratic method, Paglia takes
62 “One of the most significant elements in his teaching (and the same could be said of
[John] Dee’s) was that he presented himself not as the high priest of a new religion, nor
even as a philosophical theologian, but as an empirical investigator—as if he were exploring the real anatomy of the divine universe for the first time… His theme is still the nature
of the soul, and the unified spirituality of creation, but everything now happens in a laboratory which is also a mental gymnasium, and the entire operation is pervaded by a new
pragmatic spirit—the scientific spirit”. Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being, Ted
Hughes, London, Faber and Faber, revised ed., 1993, p. 25.
that to its logical conclusion—that Western science is Apollonian, and
therefore so too are the early attempts to close in on the scientific method,
by way of alchemy or the process of discussion and analysis depicted by
Burgess in Raleigh’s School of Night. In Sexual Personae, Paglia notes that:
Western science is a product of the Apollonian mind: its hope is that by
naming and classification, by the cold light of intellect, archaic night can
be pushed back and defeated. (SP, 5)
Brunonian proto-science is the informing philosophy of the School of
Night and therefore the theoretical superstructure of A Dead Man in
Deptford. The “mad preeste of the Sunne” may have had one foot in the
hermetic Middle Ages, as Frances Yates suggests, writing texts like De
umbris idearum “about a very strong solar magic” (214). Yet even that
text used the image of the sun as a metaphor for life-enhancing knowledge.63 Bruno’s metaphorical understanding of the sun as knowledge is
sufficiently expansive to accommodate the wide spectrum of conceptions
of the sun expressed within A Dead Man in Deptford, yet positions all
of them as variants of Apollonianism in opposition to the many forms of
Dionysian blindness.
Burgess made no structuralist attempt to evade the Apollo–Dionysus
dialectic in this novel, nor can the revisions of his fictional
Dionysianisms—novels such as Nothing Like The Sun and Earthly Powers
in particular—be understood as anything other than a conscious rejection of past modes of artistic creativity. A Dead Man in Deptford marks
Burgess’s belated but complete acceptance of the Apollonian mode. Kit
Marlowe dies screaming, murdered in the Widow Bull’s garden as the
documentary evidence of his death demands he must, and Burgess carefully followed Charles Nicholl in proposing three possible motivations for
the killing.64 Yet before Kit dies, he faces a final Dionysian temptation.
63 “The book opens with a dialogue between Hermes, Philothimus, and Logifer. Hermes
describes the knowledge or art to be revealed as a sun”. Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic
Tradition, Frances Yates, Routledge, London, 2002 (1st pub. 1964), p. 213.
64 Skeres tells Kit before Frizer stabs him, “We heard your threefold no, we speak not of
treachery but of its possibility. There is one reason for your being voided. There are two
others, and you will never know whether it is a knight or an earl who wishes the voiding” (Dead Man, 266). The “threefold no” refers to Kit’s overreaching hubris, which
denies the Queen’s virginity and God’s divinity, and asserts his own homosexuality, thereby
242 J. Clarke
Lying in the garden, “[t]he power of the poet pulsed blood through his
body. The truth of life lay in the vatic messages words sent, meanings
beyond what the world called meaning. The old gods lived; Apollo blazed
in the sun. He must serve what must be served” (Dead Man, 262).
However, Apollo the sungod, like Copernicus’s solar disk, is a metaphor in this Brunonian universe where God and nature merge in a purposeless and unmotivated Spinozan pantheism. If the old gods live they
wear the mask of Apollo; a true Apollonian is his own universe, as ‘Harry
Wolfson’ understood, and serves no one. Kit dreams of Sidney’s golden
age, an Arcadian Hellas populated by fauns and centaurs, but ominously also of the Minotaur, emblem of Enderby’s Original Sin. By way
of confirmation, Kit is finally tempted by his own creation, a temptation
couched in neoplatonism and Dionysian destruction that he finds easy to
Helen approached him from the Trojan battlements. She should not do
this, she should know his nature, she should not be naked, bore his eyes
with her breasts, oppose to his flaccid rod the mouth of the cave whose
interior was the labyrinth where the rending Minotaur bellowed. (Dead
Man, 262–263)
Yet despite the novel’s simple trajectory and traditionalist depiction of
Marlowe as Levinian overreacher, Burgess also co-opted the careful postmodernist scepticism of image (or image) and identity coherence that
he had used to such great effect in Mozart and the Wolf Gang. Burgess
intruded on his own narrative, interrupting his narrator Jacke Wilson
before the novel proper concludes. What he has to say could not wait
for the author’s note a page later. He introduced himself in solipsistic
Apollonian terms, claiming ownership not merely of the narrative but of
everything in it: “Your true author speaks now, I that die these deaths,
that feed this flame” (Dead Man, 269). The purpose of Burgess’s belated
intervention in his own text was to enact an Apollonian equivalent to
the oceanic dying delirium of Will in Nothing Like The Sun, wherein
Shakespeare’s identity merged with that of his narrator, a drunken lecturer entitled “Mr. Burgess”. His purpose in doing so was to add,
simultaneously offending the orthodoxies of Elizabethan state, church and society. The
knight and earl are respectively Raleigh and Essex.
through the medium of his own presence in the text, an important additional layer of meaning to Bruno’s solar metaphor:
But, as the dagger pierces the optic nerve, blinding light is seen not to
be the monopoly of the sun. That dagger continues to pierce, and it will
never be blunted. (Dead Man, 269)
Burgess used his power as “true author” to pause the narrative, freezeframing the moment of Marlowe’s death in time. The “blinding light” is
Brunonian knowledge and ignorance combined, the destruction of intelligence at the point of death married to the permanence of Marlowe’s fame,
his apotheosis into Carlylean Great Man. Burgess’s intervention, and identification with his protagonist, makes of Marlowe’s death a permanent
fixed point at “the centre of Immensities, in the conflux of Eternities”.
Burgess, having authored the text, will continue to die the death and
the dagger will continue to pierce because in writing A Dead Man in
Deptford, he has removed Marlowe’s death from its place in historical time
and transposed it, and with it himself, into a Carlylean eternity.
Byrne: The Retreat from Apollo
Reprising his 1970s fondness for unorthodox narrative methods, Anthony
Burgess’s posthumous final novel is notable for being written entirely in
verse. Composed during his last year of life, Byrne is written in Byronic
Ottava Rima, apart from a section written in the Spenserian stanza form
of The Faerie Queene (later borrowed by Byron for Childe Harolde’s
Pilgrimage.) Interspersed are brief diversions into the sonnet form and
cross-rhymed quatrains. The predominant usage of Ottava Rima, and the
name of both novel and protagonist, generates an intertextual relationship
with Don Juan. Burgess’s text responds to Byron’s satirical inversion of
both the epic form and the womanising reputation of Don Juan by seeking to revert both. His eponymous hero Michael Byrne is hypersexual and,
unlike Byron’s Don Juan, more sinning than sinned against. Yet in choosing to use the archaic form of Ottava Rima, Burgess lends much-needed
gravitas to a convoluted and far-fetched plot that encompasses satyriasis,
infertility, the Nazis H.G. Wells, John Calvin and Islamic terrorism.
Byrne has been variously received, with critics often marvelling at the
inventiveness of Burgess’s verse while simultaneously cavilling at the
excesses of the plotting. Dana Gioia’s review for the New York Times,
244 J. Clarke
which described Byrne as “a complex dark comedy in fluently rhymed
verse” but also “not, alas, the masterpiece that long eluded” Burgess,
is typical of the novel’s early reception. The initial surprise at the emergence of such an experimental work from a dead author’s dusty archives,
typified by one reviewer’s assessment that it was “a pedigree example
of that rare mongrel, the verse novel” has slowly given way to a more
negative assessment over time.65 For Michael Hinds, “Burgess managed to get away with his manifestly tin ear by making his inadequacy
as a rhymester into part of the poem’s performative fabric”.66 While for
one of Burgess’s biographers, Roger Lewis, “[t]he rhythms of Byrne …
thud and thump along, like a steam engine” (150). None of the text was
included in Burgess’s selected poetry collection, Revolutionary Sonnets.
Byrne has come to be seen as an afterthought in Burgess’s oeuvre,
marred by posthumous publications’s associations with incompleteness
and hurried execution. Yet it is an integral and coherent work, rendered
all the more so by its execution in formal verse. Byrne, and especially its
eponymous hero, function as both the actual and the logical endpoint
of Burgess’s long journey between the Dionysian and Apollonian modes
of artistic creativity. That endpoint, as might have been intuited from
the cyclical conceit underpinning The Wanting Seed, is one of excess
Apollonianism. If Burgess found ways to express Apollonian art through
his depictions of Mozart and Marlowe, in Byrne he demonstrates the
Apollonian excess, the point at which the pendulum between the two
paradigms reaches an apogee and turns back.
The opening section of Byrne constructs the eponymous artist as
an excessive and degrading failure, frozen in a perpetual adolescence
of unthinking satyrism and shock-value art. His biographer, a journalist called Tomlinson, describes Michael Byrne’s artistic legacy as surviving “among film-music-makers/Because the late-night shows subsist on
trash./His opera’s buried by art’s undertakers,/His paintings join his
funerary ash” (6). By contrast, Byrne’s physical legacy is a profligacy of
offspring, including twins Tim and Tom, a daughter Dorothy who had
three mothers, another son Brian who followed his father into producing
music, and a further chorus line of illegitimate children.
65 “A
Cheery Swansong”, Jim Clarke, in Sunday Independent, 10 December 1995, p. 10L.
Rima: Quietly Facetious upon Everything”, Michael Hinds, A Companion To
Poetic Genre, ed. Erik Martiny, Wiley and Sons, Chichester, 2012, p. 215.
66 “Ottava
Andrew Biswell has noted how “Burgess returns repeatedly in his
poems to the conjoined ideas (as he sees them) of maleness and creativity”, and Michael Byrne is the final member of an almost entirely male
cohort of artists in Burgess’s oeuvre.67 None of his artist-protagonists are
female, leaving only a handful of minor characters: Lavinia, who writes “a
little verse” which she thinks is “awful stuff” in A Vision of Battlements
(146–147); Anne Talbot of the nursery-coloured dendromorph paintings in The Enemy in the Blanket; Crabbe’s wife Fenella, who becomes
a minor poet in the same novel; and the pop-novelist Rayne Waters in
Byrne. Although Burgess associates male homosexuality with Apollonian
artistry in a number of novels, especially A Dead Man in Deptford, A
Vision of Battlements and MF, he depicted male artists of all sexualities in
his work, from gay Dionysians like Kenneth Toomey, via largely chaste
Dionysians like Enderby, to bisexual Dionysians like Will in Nothing Like
The Sun, heterosexual Apollonians like Mozart and gay Apollonians like
Pine Chandeleur and Kit Marlowe. Hence, while there is a correlation
between homosexuality and Apollonianism insofar as they can both designate a desire to transcend the urges of natura naturans, there is no
impediment for Byrne, no more than for Mozart, to pursue Apollonian
art on the basis of heterosexuality alone.
Byrne is initially inspired towards art by hearing his father sing
Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius in which “a huge orchestra careering madly/
Through a next world weirdly euphonious”, suggests not merely the
transcendence of music but also evokes the image of Apollonian heaven
from Mozart and the Wolf Gang (Byrne, 15). This casts Byrne as an
Apollonian creator, yet in reality he is subject to the “gods of art”, implying that art in this novel is reverting towards the Dionysian:
The gods of art were spitting on their palms,
So one might fancy, ready to create
A small creator who, unblessed by qualms
About the teachings of the Church and State,
regarded prayers and penitential psalms
67 “Artifice and insemination”, Andrew Biswell, The Guardian, Saturday 25 January
2003. accessed online
9 December 2013.
246 J. Clarke
And all that truck as a sheer opiate.
Oscar had said art was above morality
Till the state buggered him for his rascality. (16)
The reference to Wilde underlines the irrelevance of Byrne’s sexuality; it is his Apollonian outraging of public morals that will be his downfall. Byrne is defined by comparison. “Would Mozart have liked this for
his memorial?” asks the narrator about some of Byrne’s work, which
is described as Absonderungstoffe. This Freudian term means secreted
waste, a euphemism for shit (Freud later substituted Scheisse), which he
referred to in his theory of the childhood anal stage, hence the imputation that Byrne is a case of arrested development. The contrast with
Mozart, especially Burgess’s own depiction in Mozart and the Wolf Gang,
wherein an infant Woferl is sufficiently developed to teach music to God,
indicates the extent to which Byrne falls short of the Apollonian ideal.
Byrne’s art and sexuality are connected by violence and degradation.
His Apollonianism is a mockery of Dionysian sexual and artistic submission to the goddess, as becomes evident when his sexual rage towards a
lover, Lady Boxfox, finds “a counterpart” (21) in his approach to his art.
Lady Boxfox’s “Cleo-/Patran storm alone for Byrne the curst” defines
this encounter as an early rebuttal of the Goddess on Byrne’s part (21).
He refuses, despite his sexual heat, to serve his muse. His subsequent
interaction with three sisters, the Goddess in potent triune form, leads
not only to inevitable pregnancy, but also to a sponsored exhibition of
his paintings. Although Byrne’s work is “an attraction/For amateurs of
smut and not of painting”, his subsequent persecution evokes comparison with “that saint/Of sexuality, the dying Lawrence./Byrne felt the
arrow of the martyrised./He rather liked it, and he was surprised” (22).
In Burgess’s canon, and especially his own critical work Flame Into
Being, Lawrence represents a virile, heterosexual strain of Dionysian art.
The author of Sons and Lovers and Women in Love, not to mention the
overtly Dionysian text The Man Who Died, was for Burgess representative
of “Natural Man”, which he defined as “a reaction against the doctrine
of Progressive Man, whose major prophet had been H.G. Wells”, a clear
Dionysian-Apollonian divide.68 Burgess’s pen portrait in the opening
68 Flame Into Being: The Life and Work of D.H. Lawrence, Anthony Burgess, Abacus,
London, 1986, p. 7.
chapter of Flame Into Being (entitled “Lawrence and Myself When
Young”) depicts a martyr for art whose “exhibition of dirty paintings
[had been] raided by the police” (4). The closing of Byrne’s own exhibition of smutty paintings, and his Lawrentian reaction to it, must be read
again as an attempt to lure him towards Dionysian art.
Byrne appears briefly to turn over “A new leaf, willingness to atone,
a/Search for stability, a fresh persona”, and so marries Brenda, a
“decent girl” (24). However, the music he makes for the burgeoning
cinema industry, which according to the narrator, “you can sometimes
hear/In late-night films whose moral orientation/Speaks of a wholly
alien biosphere” (24), is detached from earthbound Dionysianism.
Byrne is faking his art just as he is faking domesticity. He soon reverts
“to the fiend” (26) when he encounters the Goddess in her form as castrating Queen of Hell, the ultimate Muse who lured Will in Nothing
Like The Sun into gelding via sexual infection. Maria Prauschnitz—
the name appears to be borrowed from an old university acquaintance (LWBG, 201)—is “a tempestuous diva—/Tosca’s decolletage.
Brunnhilde’s armour—/Whose voice attacked men’s gonads like a
cleaver” (Byrne, 25). However her aim to “enmesh/With diabolic
pheremones of flesh” (25) is matched by Byrne’s own irrepressible
libido. Unlike Virgil’s Anchises or Burgess’s Shakespeare, Byrne is not
wounded by his encounter with the goddess. Instead, he appears to
match her otherworldly appetite:
her tame
Wild incubus the burning Byrne would feed her
Love (love?) unstained by shyness or by fame
And limitless in its varieties. (Byrne, 29)
During his relationship with Maria, Byrne attempts Dionysian themes
in his art. Domiciled in Nazi Germany, Byrne adapts an ‘Aryan’ version of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which manages to
offend the shade of the original composer in his Mozartian heaven. His
next work is “a bravura/Opera based on Cleopatra’s death”, intended
as his gift to Maria, “but Gift meant poison, figuratively spite” (30)
and Byrne’s spiteful gift is that of age, mortality and death. Maria, by
implication, is too old to be his Muse. In return, she sleeps around with
young Nazi officers since “A goddess is, by nature, half a whore”, but
her infidelity leaves Byrne unconcerned. He is no suffering cuckold and
248 J. Clarke
in any case he “required some semen for his score” (30). This trajectory
of fake Dionysianism soon reaches its logical limit:
When Byrne or Börn took as a choral text
A passage from Mein Kampf. It was not clever,
Though some thought it ironic. It annexed
Motifs from Wagner in a coarse endeavour
To symbolise Teutonic muscles flexed
To kill the Jews, enslave the Slavs, and make
Six of the seas into a German lake. (Byrne, 35)
Inevitably “[h]is muse was silent after Stalingrad” (35), and Byrne
reverts to type, fathering children across the planet while pursuing his
own dual “sub-art”, his “two-stringed bow” (38) of music and painting. By the time Tomlinson the narrator encounters him in Enderby’s
Marrakesh, Byrne has enacted a “change of sexual tropism. ‘My boys./I
prefer women, but these make less noise.’” (Byrne, 41) The narrative
departs Byrne at this point to address “the ironical/Filial sequel” (47)
of Father Tim and his twin brother Tom, two of Byrne’s children. In
the second part of the novel, their half-brother Brian seeks to hold
a retrospective of their collective father’s art. Brian is a thinly veiled
Kenneth Toomey, a successful musical librettist who enjoys catamites.
His roster of popular West End musicals includes Brother Judas, Queen
Thatcher, an adaptation of The Waste Land and another of Wells’s The
Time Machine.69 In Brian’s adaptation, intended to “flout progressivism” (68), Wells’s novel is transformed into a confutation of progressive
Apollonianism. At its conclusion, a singer regales the audience
About an age of meliorist illusions,
Gas, electricity, and other things,
Science, an end to fideist confusions,
Socialists shawing upwards on webbed wings.
Mending old follies with a rational suture,
Apemen lurch on. (Byrne, 64)
69 Burgess’s own musical adaptation of The Waste Land was first performed by the
Psappha Ensemble at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester on
Friday 28 February 2014.
Brian’s work, no less than Toomey’s, is populist trash. Unlike
Toomey, Brian does not appear to agonise over the clash between his
sexuality and his aesthetic calling, such as it is. Hence, for Brian even the
degrading and offensive art of Byrne appears impressive, inspiring his
plan for a paternal retrospective. This section of the novel also features
Tim’s initial steps away from his clerical vocation. He has been commissioned to write a TV show on the life of Calvin and dreams of embracing
a wider experience of life, including sexually. However, even less so than
brother Brian, Tim’s new employment lacks aesthetic content. Indeed,
his paymasters warn against it:
“Art,” he pronounced, “misleads the human soul.
Art.” (Bitter capsule bitten by mistake.)
“It devastates all spiritual control.
Pernicious doctrine—Art” (gulp) “for art’s sake.
It led your Oscar Wilde to condign hell.
We want no art. We want the thing done well.” (79)
The third part of the novel deviates from the Ottava Rima structure
adopted elsewhere. This brief section is written instead in “Byron’s other
suit … the nine-fingered stanza” (83) used in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,
which Byron had in turn borrowed from The Faerie Queene rhyme
scheme invented by Spenser. This most Apollonian of rhyme schemes
appears initially to be mischievously inappropriate for a chapter almost
entirely dedicated to a female writer’s attempts to seduce the twins.70
Yet by invoking Byron’s earlier rhyme scheme, Burgess relocates the
Byronic framework of his own verse from Don Juan to Childe Harold’s
Pilgrimage for this section. There are legitimate reasons for this. The section takes place in Venice, which also opens Canto IV of Byron’s poem,
wherein Byron laments the decline of the city state but identifies it as a
70 Camille Paglia identifies Spenser as the originator of English literary distinction due to
his “intuitive grasp of the hard-edged Apollonian line”. She also reads him as a revolutionary who introduced the Apollonian gaze into literature. Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage
is no less an Apollonian text than The Faerie Queene. He may have chosen the Spenserian
rhyme scheme for its evocation of an atmosphere of acedian melancholy, but the poem’s
depiction of a life transmuted into art is a wholly Apollonian aesthetic.
250 J. Clarke
locus for Apollonian art rather than a physical place that nourishes the
The beings of the mind are not of clay;
Essentially immortal, they create
And multiply in us a brighter ray
And more beloved existence71
Somewhat notoriously, William Thackeray condemned the Apollonian
artifice he detected in Byron’s work, especially in Childe Harold’s
Pilgrimage, when he argued that “Lord Byron wrote more cant of this
sort than any poet I know”. To Thackeray, Byron’s imagery, “dipped
in a grease-pot” of exoticism, was intended quite cynically to generate
sales: “He got up rapture and enthusiasm with an eye to the public; but
this is dangerous ground, even more dangerous than to look Athens
full in the face, and say that your eyes are not dazzled by its beauty”.72
Thackeray’s complaint rests on a critique of populist art, which also
emerges throughout Burgess’s oeuvre in novels such as Enderby Outside,
where the pop singer Yod Crewsy transpires to be a plagiarist, or in
Earthly Powers, where Kenneth Toomey’s own self-criticism and sense of
artistic failure is intricately interwoven with his phenomenal popularity
and financial success.
This also manifests in part 3 of Byrne, which features a “woman
writer, quite notorious./Sex is her line”, thus neatly explaining how her
“novels answered Freud’s frustrated whine/About what women wanted”
(Byrne 87, 89). This author, an American preposterously named Rayne
Waters, is a failed Dionysian, having lucratively confused sex for the
complex chthonic passions of the Goddess. In this sense, she is Michael
Byrne’s counterbalance, both in terms of gender and aesthetic. Both artists fail due to confusing their libidos with artistic creativity. Burgess here
returned Erica Jong’s compliment of having one of her characters stay
at his house in Switzerland in her 1987 novel Serenissima, which itself
71 Childe
Harold’s Pilgrimage, Lord Byron, Canto IV, section V, ll. 37–40.
of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo, M.A. Titmarsh (W.M. Thackeray),
Chapman and Hall, London, 1846, p. 75.
72 Notes
was somewhat derivative of Burgess’s own fiction.73 This is confirmed
when the narrator reveals that “She’s working on a novel, it’s location/
Unserene Serenissima” (Byrne, 88).
Lacking genuine inspiration, she invites the twins to stay at her home
in Giudecca in the hope of sleeping with one or other, thereby inspiring
another sex novel. Since Tom, an academic, has been rendered sterile by
ill-health, Rayne chooses to pursue Tim, who resists on the grounds of
his clerical vocation, even though he is already contemplating abandoning it. Tim refuses the sex because he can identify her purpose: “If your
goal/is pinning me on pages, I decline” (Byrne, 94). No supradiegetic
observers witness Rayne’s failed seduction of Tim. Unlike both Will’s
seduction by Fatimah in Nothing Like The Sun, where “Mr Burgess’s special students” peep down from the heaven of a frame narrative, or Kit’s
seduction by Tom Walsingham in A Dead Man in Deptford, where God’s
all-seeing eye is noted by its absence, here only the fake depictions of
the goddess’s emissaries witness the interaction: “The ceiling though had
flaking cherubim,/A noseless Venus”. (Byrne, 93)
In part 4, again in Ottava Rima, Tim encounters and sleeps with a
sixteen-year-old terrorist urchin named Angela De’ath. His script about
Calvin becomes diverted into a prolonged depiction of the Renaissance
humanist Michael Servetus, herein transformed into a kind of Dionysian
Giordano Bruno, martyred for his dedication to scientific truth by religious dogmatics, though allied to the earth rather than Bruno’s solar sky
magic. For Tim’s Servetus, “faith/was logic, not a mythopathic wraith”,
but his discovery of pulmonary circulation becomes a metaphor for
Dionysian kinesis, since “[l]ike Earth itself” (Byrne, 121), “The ultimate
in heaven was not stasis/But motion” (Byrne, 122). Tim is diagnosed
with “[a] stern prognosis crassly negative:/Inoperable; say six months to
live” upon his return to Britain (Byrne, 130). Like the Keats of ABBA
73 “Serenissima, like Nothing Like The Sun, features an art-inspiring Muse (Jessica’s is
Robert Graves’s White Goddess), and accepts the idea that Shakespeare contracted syphilis. The idea of a time traveller encountering Shakespeare and feeding him his own lines,
as Jessica does, is the subject of a sci-fi short story that Burgess wrote for Enderby in
Enderby’s Dark Lady.” “Burgess’s fictional afterlives—part three, Burgess and Erica Jong”,
Jim Clarke, IABF website. accessed 10 December 2013.
252 J. Clarke
ABBA, he deposits rusty coins of “scarlet tribute” in his wake. His infection by the angel of death has been successful.
The final section of Byrne opens on Christmas Eve, the unlikely date
of Byrne’s retrospective exhibition and performance of his music, and
also the date on which the ancient patriarch himself had revealed he
would return to greet his children in London. Tim and Dorothy are sickened by the “strangely gleeful” paintings collected for exhibition, “as if
human pain/Were necessary bread. It was insane” and they legitimately
question “can art be art if it so sickens?” (Byrne, 135). The answer can be
found in Byrne’s form of excessive Apollonianism, the same form epitomised by de Sade’s solipsism. In de Sade’s godless universe where only
the ego is real, art exists for the artist alone. External to Byrne’s cognition, neither Tim nor Dorothy are capable of accessing whatever aesthetic
content may exist amid the images of “corporeal outrage” (135).
By extension, Byrne’s symphonic adaptation of The Heart of Darkness,
with its “primal core/Of all too primal squalor” similarly transgresses
the earlier warning given to Tim not to emulate Wilde’s excessively
Apollonian l’art pour l’art aesthetic (Byrne, 137). Byrne’s art and
life have merged, since it transpires that he has been living “Upon the
Kalahari border. Quite/The tribal patriarch, due for immolation” (137).
The derivative quality of Byrne’s artistic achievement emerges in the
repurposing of Burgess’s own poetry in this final section. He is introduced by a woman singing “her carol”, which transpires to be a poem
attributed to Enderby in Inside Mr Enderby. In the earlier text, Enderby
is dismayed to note “that, apart from the obvious surface myth, there
was something there about the genesis of the poet”.74 In Byrne’s
slightly adapted variant, the poem is punctuated with lullays and laughter, simultaneously infantilising and scorning Dionysian artists. Byrne
then “figuratively don[s] the bard’s apparel/To give five restive sonnets to John Gielgud,/Who’ll read them now” (Byrne, 140). Like the
carol, these poems all had a lengthy existence prior to Byrne’s co-option.
Mostly written in the 1950s, they were collectively published as “Five
Revolutionary Sonnets” in the Transatlantic Review in 1966, though
74 (Enderby, 47). Kevin Jackson mistakenly locates this poem in Enderby Outside; however, he also notes that “it was one of the three poems ‘mildly approved by T.S. Eliot”
when Burgess submitted an unsolicited manuscript to him in the mid-1950s (Sonnets, 6).
one had previously appeared in Inside Mr Enderby. The other four were
later attributed to Enderby in Enderby Outside, though that novel had
been completed before the Transatlantic Review publication.
Their mutable authorship—Jackson correctly attributes them to John
Burgess Wilson, Anthony Burgess and F.X. Enderby—inverts the usual
relationship between author and artworks. This could be parsed as a
knowing response to the Barthesian death of the author, but it is better
understood from an in-world context. Tim recognises the work as that
of F.X. Enderby and accuses Byrne of plagiarism: “A poet/Confessed to
me in Tangier. He atoned/For a protracted adolescence. So it/Got to
the wrong hands, did it? It was loaned/Me for an hour or so” (Byrne,
145). Byrne, as Tomlinson accused him at the end of part one, is not
merely a failed artist, but also a “Thief, fornicator, traitor” (Byrne, 43).
His entire existence is predicated on dishonesty: in relationships sexual
or otherwise; in terms of his loyalties to group identifiers like nation
or creed; and fundamentally in his approach towards artistic creativity.
Having failed as an artist, his degraded art a mere perversion rather than
true Sadean solipsism, Byrne resorts to stealing art. This returns us to
Sidney, who warned against such excesses of the Apollonian mode in the
Defence of Poetry:
If then a man can arrive at that child’s-age, to know that the poet’s persons and doings are but pictures what should be, and not stories what have
been, they will never give the lie to things not affirmatively but allegorically and figuratively written. And therefore, as in history looking for truth,
they may go away full-fraught with falsehood75
Byrne’s falsehood is founded on his Apollonianism, which demands that
he impose his vision upon the world in which he lives. His degenerate
art failed to achieve that, leading him to steal Enderby’s Dionysian art.
Byrne is left facing his other creation, his children. However, none of
those named in the text are themselves parents, so Byrne concludes that
they too “have done/Nothing to change the world” (Byrne, 148). In a
final reprise of Burgess’s oceanic list methodology, Byrne strives to recall
75 The Defence of Poesy, Philip Sidney, intr. and ed. Albert S. Cook, Athenaeum Press,
Boston, 1890, p. 36.
254 J. Clarke
the names of all of his children, only for his ageing memory to confabulate. He appears to misidentify Leander as Lysander, and then lapses into
a nonsensical list including “Novalis” (the pseudonym of early romantic
German philosopher Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg),
Pontius (Pilate), Patroclus (Achilles’s favourite), Singapurapura
(Singapore City), Kish (father of the first Israelite king, Saul), ending
with “De Minimis et Maximis Non Cura”, a bastardisation of the legal
phrase, “the law does not concern itself with trifles”, which in this variant
means “Concern yourself with neither little things nor big ones”.
For Byrne, this means his children, great and small, and he decides
that his collective offspring “might as well go with me” (148) in a suicidal bombing. Locked in with the bomb, Tom beats his father, to no
avail, but having done his “homework” on Byrne, he is able to open
the door with an Ali Baba-esque incantation. Tom’s magic words derive
from the biblical verse Mark 3:31, translated into the !Kung language
of Byrne’s adopted tribe. These lines, which herald the arrival of the
Virgin Mary and his brothers to see Jesus, are sometimes considered
controversial due to their implication that Jesus had siblings. However,
Burgess most likely borrowed them from George Campbell’s renowned
Compendium of the World’s Languages (1991), wherein this Bible verse
is used to exemplify !Kung’s written orthography. The father, now spent,
is abandoned to his fate with a wry epitaph that “life pays too much for
art” (Byrne, 148).
Against a backdrop of Islamic bombings, Tom recites to Tim one
final poem, again a borrowing from Enderby, entitled The Music of the
Spheres. Andrew Biswell described this as “one of Burgess’s schoolboy
poems,” written as early as 1934, and goes on to propose two possible
interpretations: “The ‘spheres’ of the title could well be the harmonyproducing celestial bodies of mythology. Or else they are testicles, in
which case the poem must be referring to a coarser, orgasmic kind of
music”.76 Biswell’s intriguing proposal suggests a deliberate ambivalence in the poem between Apollonian order and Dionysian sex-chaos.
However, this ambivalence is somewhat undermined by the poem’s previous appearance in Inside Mr Enderby, where it is understood as a sex
poem “addressed to a supposed virgin” (75).
76 “Artifice and insemination”, Andrew Biswell, The Guardian, Saturday 25 January
Whereas Burgess had sought to revise earlier Dionysian work in some
of his later, more Apollonian novels, in Byrne this process runs in reverse,
with the appearance of Enderby’s verse functioning as a re-establishment
of the Dionysian paradigm over Byrne. His excessive Apollonianism cannot be resolved in the solipsism of “Harry Wolfson”, which forgives
terrorism as a means to an end. In any case, Father Tim is inoculated
against such attack, having literally loved his terrorist enemy in the
person of Angela De’ath. This is why Tom is able to foil Byrne’s plans
for mutual immolation, and why the magic words that open the door
to freedom are an assertion of family, but family without a patriarchal
figure. The text concludes with a Dionysian, almost Frazerian, demand
for rebirth: “Spring then was needed—the green chirping token/Of
sacrifice”. Although this refers to the Christian passing from Christmas
to Easter, when “Those baby limbs would grow/Into a Hillman’s,
scourged, finally broken”, it also indicates the relevance of cyclicality,
evoking Burgess’s favoured Wakean term “cropse”, in which he found
“in one syllable a whole resurrection-sermon” (Byrne, 150).
Byrne concludes, like Finnegans Wake, without concluding. Burgess’s
long path from his early Dionysian poetry, via the fiction which initially
brought him fame and success, through the long period of experimentation under the guidance of structuralism, to the Apollonian achievement of his late novels is set in reverse in Byrne, where Apollonianism’s
excesses are identified, excoriated and ultimately defeated.
The rationale for identifying and charting the aesthetics underpinning
Anthony Burgess’s fiction does not require examining Burgess’s own
creative practice. While it may be surmised that Burgess’s own process
of creativity might have significant overlap with the chronological development of the Dionysus–Apollo dialectic in his work, a biographical or
psychoanalytical approach is required to extend its remit to the author
himself. However, the dialectic does generate certain implications in
relation to Burgess’s insertion of avatars of himself into his own fiction,
which in turn question assumptions about Burgess’s position in relation
to modernism and postmodernism.
Avatars, Autofiction, Metafiction
The aesthetic Dionysus–Apollo dialectic helps to explain Burgess’s use of
avatars of himself in his own work, and his regular fictional intrusions
into his own texts. The key indicators of this dialectic are artist-protagonists/narrators, especially where an artist-protagonist is mediated by an
artist-narrator/avatar of Burgess himself. This extends not only to the
fictional artists Burgess created, such as Kenneth Toomey or Enderby,
but also to the historical artists he fictionalised, such as Shakespeare,
Marlowe and Keats. The interrelationship between historical fact and fiction in relation to Burgessian characterization has been usefully explored
by Anthony Levings, and the interpenetration of autobiography with fiction in Burgess’s work has featured in both Aude Haffen’s doctoral thesis
© The Author(s) 2017
J. Clarke, The Aesthetics of Anthony Burgess,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-66411-8_6
258 J. Clarke
and in Woodroffe’s essay collection Anthony Burgess, Autobiographer.1, 2
Yet how these elements connect within the framework of Burgess’s aesthetics has remained largely unexamined.
The expansion of the dialectic across the broad spectrum of Burgess’s
fiction reveals a self-reflexivity in Burgess’s exploration of artistic creativity, which calls into question issues of authoriality and narratology.
Such issues have been well-examined by postmodernist thinking, and
the theoretics of critics like Linda Hutcheon, Kim Worthington and
Jeffrey Williams help to illuminate the self-reflexive ramifications of the
Nietzschean dialectic underpinning Burgess’s binary view of artistic creation. Burgess’s dialectical aesthetic points to a questioning of poststructuralist assertions about authoriality, and the reflexive and metafictional
qualities of his fiction emerge through a consideration of how he uses
narrators and nested narratives, and how that intersects with both his use
of personal avatars within his fiction and his fictional treatment of historical artists. The loci of these intersections cannot be explained solely in
metafictional terms, however. In using metafictional narratological techniques to generate possible worlds, Burgess both adheres to and deviates
from standard poststructuralist assumptions of authoriality, and generates
a series of multifaceted and diachronic aesthetic spaces which he shares
with his creations.
As Anthony Levings notes, “The compulsion to include autobiographical and confessional elements … was there in The Malayan Trilogy … with
the resemblance of Victor and Fenella Crabbe to Anthony and his first
wife, Lynne” (101). But it began in his earliest written fiction, A Vision
of Battlements, in which the protagonist, like his author, spends the war
years in Gibraltar, teaching squaddies and attempting to compose music
while anguishing about the fidelity of his wife back home. Burgess later
conceded that “Ennis is certainly not John Burgess Wilson, though he
has all his faults and some of his disregarded talent” (LWBG, 365). While
many authors commence their careers with thinly veiled autobiographical
heroes, Burgess persisted in adapting his own life into fiction, culminating
1 The Public Personage as Protagonist in the Novels of Anthony Burgess, Anthony Levings,
doctoral thesis, University of Kent, Canterbury, 2007.
2 Fiction autobiographique et biographies imaginaires dans l’œuvre d’Anthony Burgess
(1917–1993), Aude Haffen, Thèse de doctorat, Paris III—Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2010;
Anthony Burgess, Autobiographer, ed. Graham Woodroffe, Presses de l’Université d’Angers,
ultimately in the production of two volumes of “Confessions” which
have since proved to be substantially fictional in themselves. Yet, while
Andrew Biswell is correct to state that “[w]ith the possible exception of
Christopher Isherwood, there was no other modern English writer who
utilized his or her experience so economically for the purposes of fiction” (Real Life, 172), Burgess’s use of autofiction developed far beyond
the mere “transparent masks” of Burgessian personae identified by Aude
Haffen (186).
In his early novels, characters such as Ennis, Crabbe, or Dr. Edwin
Spindrift do bear a striking resemblance to Burgess, but such resemblances primarily relate to their contexts, experiences and associates. As
Burgess admitted, “Dr. Spindrift is not altogether myself, but some of his
experiences are my own” (YHYT, 8), including a neurological diagnosis
in the same clinic. Burgess’s early protagonists live or visit places he lived
and visited, work in jobs he worked at, often have unfaithful wives, and
are commonly writers. This convergence between autobiography and fiction reached a particular intensity in the mid-career novel Beard’s Roman
This autobiographical thematic element has been identified by
Burgess’s critics from as early as A.A. De Vitis in 1972, yet the vast
majority of this critical work has viewed the fictionalisation of Anthony
Burgess primarily as Burgess mining his own life for material.3 Only
Anthony Levings has sought to explore the aesthetic ramifications of
these fictional Burgesses, and his brief but useful consideration of fictionalised Burgesses as Econian possible worlds relates to his fictionalisation in works by other writers, particularly Paul Theroux and A.S. Byatt,
rather than his own works.4
It is not the existence of autobiographical material nor even of autobiographical characters in Burgess’s fiction that is notable, however, so
much as their interaction with the texts they inhabit. Burgessian avatars fulfil a range of roles in their intrusions into his fiction, extending far beyond simple veiled autobiography. While protagonists like
Richard Ennis can unproblematically be read as extensions of the
3 De
Vitis, pp. 12–17.
Perspectives on Anthony Burgess (from Geoffrey Aggeler, Kingsley Amis,
Martin Amis, A.S. Byatt, Roger Lewis and David Lodge”, Anthony Levings, in Anthony
Burgess, Autobiographer, ed. Graham Woodroffe, Presses de l’Université d’Angers, Angers,
2006, p. 60.
4 “Biographical
260 J. Clarke
authorial personality transposed into a fictional, indeed quasi-mythical,
environment, other Burgessian avatars have a more complex relationship
with the works in which they appear. One of the earliest, and most protracted, interrelationships is that between Burgess and his creation F.X.
Enderby, of whom he wrote,
Because I had to write Enderby’s poems for him, or resurrect old poems
of my own to swell his oeuvre, I have sometimes been identified with the
poet himself. This is not really just. I share with him a nostalgia for a kind
of dualism in which the freedom of the spirit is the better confirmed by the
filth of the body. Enderby, like myself, is a lapsed Catholic but also a holy
anchorite aspiring above the fumes of his filth. His visceral obsession used
to be my own. (YHYT, 14)
This complication has persisted to the point where the editor of
Burgess’s selected poems partly attributed some of them to Enderby.
Since Enderby functions as a Dionysian hero in Burgess’s aesthetical dialectic, divinely inspired to write by a Muse figure located within the text,
the question of a conflation between Burgess and Enderby becomes supplanted by the possibility of a conflation between Burgess and the divine
source of Enderby’s inspiration itself. This is extended further in Nothing
Like The Sun, where the story of Shakespeare’s life is told by a narrator
called “Mr. Burgess”, an English teacher in Asia becoming progressively
drunker on rice spirit to the point where his physical collapse coincides
with Shakespeare’s death within the narrative. Burgess acknowledged
this deliberate conflation of narrator and protagonist when he noted that
Mr. Burgess “finally identifies his alcoholic collapse with Shakespeare’s
death” (YHYT, 80).
However, prior to this dénouement, Mr. Burgess enters the text at the
crucial moment when Will is transported to “a burning hell of pleasure”
with Fatimah, from whom he contracts syphilis. At the climax of their
bestial coupling, Will imagines that “the ceiling opens as by some quaint
shutter device to reveal a pearl intaglio heaven, watching, bright-eyed
like a pack of foxes, God the Father, beard-stroking (party-beard), saints
with uncouth names like devils all about” (NLTS, 154). Akin to posterity’s visit to Enderby in the guise of time-travelling students and their
teacher, Mr. Burgess and his Malayan class physically enter Will’s diegetic
level of narrative.
In Burgess’s Dionysian mode, therefore, his avatars within the text
take two forms. There is firstly the straightforward fictionalising of elements of his own life, for example, rendering his visit to St Petersburg
in the comedy Honey for the Bears, or his recuperation from neurological
collapse in The Doctor is Sick. To this list could be added Victor Crabbe
of The Malayan Trilogy, Richard Ennis from A Vision of Battlements,
and the protagonists of The Worm and The Ring and Devil of a State.
However, the reflexive, metafictional intrusion in Nothing Like The Sun
is doubly distant from a simple fictionalising of autobiographical material. The narrator is not a character based on some elements of Burgess’s
life; he is overtly identified as Mr. Burgess. Furthermore, he is not the
protagonist but the narrator of the novel, though a narrator who condescends to look in upon his narrative.
Burgess was to build upon this methodology substantially when he
began his long progress towards an Apollonian mode. Following the
breakthrough experiment of MF, and the reflected (though not reflexive) exploration of alternative realities in Beard’s Roman Women, Burgess
resurrected this use of narratological avatars in ABBA ABBA. Although
the text proper has no formal narrator, the appendix of translations
of Giuseppe Belli’s poetry is attributed to Joseph Joachim Wilson,
who happens to have been “born in Moss Side in 1916” (ABBA, 87).
Burgess’s slender narrative about the putative encounter between the
dying John Keats and the Romanescu poet Belli also features a character who does not appear in Severn’s account and must be considered entirely invented. This is the go-between who introduces the two
poets, Giovanni Giulielmi, whose name approximately translates as John
Wilson, Burgess’s birth name. ABBA ABBA, therefore, introduces two
new forms of Burgessian avatar in addition to the narrator form trialled
in Nothing Like The Sun. J.J. Wilson functions as an editor avatar, preparing (and translating) Belli’s poems for publication, while Giulielmi’s role
is functionally homodiegetic; unlike the peering Mr. Burgess, he actually
takes full part in the narrative.
Thereafter, Burgessian avatars proliferate. “John B. Wilson, BA” fulfils
the role of editor of The End of the World News, existing outside the narrative proper in an apologetic foreword, in addition to a putative author
who bears a fictionalised similarity to Burgess himself (as well he might).
Burgess here posed as his own literary executor. In Mozart and the Wolf
Gang, Anthony and Burgess comment upon the various literary forms
presented within the narrative and debate the legacy of Mozart himself.
262 J. Clarke
This in turn reprises the interview and catechism sections of part one of
1985, where a narrative voice which is demonstrably Burgess asks itself
questions, or rather, splits itself into two, one “young” and one an “old
man”, to discuss Orwell and the legacy of 1984.5 This process culminates
in A Dead Man in Deptford, which features a homodiegetic Burgessian
avatar in the form of narrator Jacke Wilson, as well as an authorial intrusion from a higher diegetic plane when the “true author speaks” at the
narrative’s conclusion.
In the debate about Burgess’s liminality on the cusp of modernism
and postmodernity, which was largely initiated by and partially answered
in Roughley’s Anthony Burgess and Modernity essay collection, the clearly
postmodernist nature of Burgess’s use of avatars has not been sufficiently
addressed. As David Lodge asked, “was Burgess among the last of the
literary modernists, or among the first of the postmodernists, in English
fiction?” (Modernity, xviii). If Lodge is correct in asserting that Burgess
was both simultaneously, then one of his most notable postmodernist
characteristics is his reflexive intrusion into his own fictions.
As Kim Worthington has identified, “autobiography is of particular
critical interest because it provides a model for the manner in which we
(re)write the self in acts of self-conceptualization”.6 In the poststructuralist era, in response to theory’s problematising of authoriality itself,
one of postmodernist fiction’s responses was to incorporate the fictiveness of the author into its texts. This has proved to be an occasional but
persistent trope in anglophone fiction, especially among authors such as
Martin Amis, Paul Theroux and Will Self, who all acknowledge having
been generally influenced by Burgess.
Authorial intrusion did not originate with postmodernism, however.
Both Chaucer and Cervantes appeared as characters in their own narratives. However, what distinguishes postmodernist use of authorial avatars
from that of previous eras is the particular quality of estrangement that
it provokes. Postmodernist avatars go beyond a simply knowing inculcation of the author as character within the text. They serve to destabilise
5 Burgess’s debt here may be equally weighted between modernism and postmodernism
as this format derives from both Joyce’s use of catechism in the “Ithaca” section of Ulysses,
and Donald Barthelme’s dialogue between Q and A in “Kierkegaard Unfair to Schlegel”
(The New Yorker, October 12 1968.).
6 Self as Narrative: Subjectivity and Community in Contemporary Fiction, Kim
Worthington, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1996, p. 20.
the ontology of the text, foregrounding its fictional quality in a deliberate act of overt diegesis. Whereas authorial avatars of previous eras, up to
and including Somerset Maugham’s cameo in The Razor’s Edge (1944),
may possess a ludic, even ironic quality, they lack the capacity to estrange
the reader from the narrative in the manner triggered by postmodernist
authorial avatars’s overt insistence on their own fictiveness. Chaucer or
Maugham function as just one more character on the same level of fictive play as the others in the dramatis personae of their respective texts,
thereby implying the possibility of a roman á clef and a potential route
back to autobiographical mimesis. By contrast, Burgess’s avatars (like
those of Amis, Coetzee or the other authors who came after him) are
deliberately, strenuously diegetic.
In response to the poststructuralist pronouncement of the death
of the author, postmodernist fiction writers responded by recalibrating
authorial control of the narrative, effectively relinquishing responsibility
for the texts they simultaneously create and inhabit. Since the technique
has its origins in centuries past, the lineage of this trope in its descent to
Burgess may well be convoluted and multifaceted.
However, two particular source texts could have influenced Burgess’s
own extensive usage of this more radical, estranging variant. Burgess was
strongly influenced by Flann O’Brien, and wrote often in praise of his
metafictional experimentation in At Swim-Two-Birds, which is included
in his list of Ninety Nine Novels. Similarly, Burgess, who often referred
to himself as the “English Borges”, greatly admired his Argentinian
counterpart, whose 1960 short story querying the integrity of authorial
identity, “Borges and I”, might similarly have influenced Burgess’s own
exploration of fictional identity and its ramifications. Further exploration
is needed to tease out these and other issues of agon and legacy in relation to Burgess’s metafictionality.
In describing the poststructuralist problem that suggests how the
act of communicating the self leads to extra-personal violation, Kim
Worthington notes that “if ‘me’ is recognizable only as the subject
of another’s thought (albeit that this thinking other may be a past or
alternative ‘I’), then my intuition of myself is always tainted by otherness. I am always the mutilated victim of my own reflexive questing,
framed in the language of others”.7 Yet it is this very phenomenon of
7 Worthington,
p. 152.
264 J. Clarke
the “mutilation”, diminution, or, as evoked by Derrida in Writing and
Difference, the elusiveness of the communicated self, that Burgess turned
into a positive, by framing the self that he as author perceived and communicated alongside other fictional selves of great figures from history,
especially canonical figures from English literature.8 As those figures—
Keats, Shakespeare, Marlowe, among others—are mediated and hence
“mutilated” or diminished by Burgess’s narrative (and often narratorself), so was Burgess himself as a result of the intrusion of his avatars into
the text. In this manner, he ludically elevated himself to the pantheon of
the canon, while simultaneously accepting that if the mere communication of such figures is by definition a mutilation of their selves, it is one
that he, as author, was prepared to enter and share.
The cumulative effect of so many Burgesses—Jacke Wilson, Mr.
Burgess, John J. Wilson, Giovanni Giulielmi, John Wilson BA, Anthony
and Burgess9; the nameless debaters, including “Mr. er–” in 1985; even
the Little Wilson and Anthony Burgess of the volumes of “Confessions”—
becomes ultimately transformative. Burgess actively embraced the fictionalising function of writing his self and, in doing so, produced a
transcendent resolution of the depressing poststructuralist conclusion
that all such writing is a reduction of, or violence committed upon, the
self. Burgess effectively responded to the poststructuralist despair of linguistic inauthenticity by transforming himself into a fictional character
that was endlessly mutable and intertextual, existing in one fiction after
another, leading to the inevitable conclusion that this fictional Burgess
has continued to appear in novels even after the death of the physical
Burgess, emerging in works by A.S. Byatt, Paul Theroux, Erica Jong, Nina
Fitzpatrick and Philippe Sollers.10
8 The position that the act of self-conscious observation eternally divides the self, which
observes from the self which is observed, rendering the observation something less than
the self in entirety, is one shared by other poststructuralist critics, including Lacan and
9 From A Dead Man in Deptford, Nothing Like The Sun, ABBA ABBA, The End of the
World News, and Mozart and the Wolf Gang respectively.
10 “The fictional afterlives of Anthony Burgess”, parts two to six, Jim Clarke, http://, and following. Accessed 10 December 2013.
Burgess’s Narratology and Postmodernism
Burgess’s emergence as a character within his own texts is an overtly
metafictional construction, and originated while he still exclusively
embraced a Dionysian mode of creativity. Nothing Like The Sun features
a nested narrative, the putative life of Shakespeare framed as a drunken
lecture by a Burgessian avatar called “Mr. Burgess”. Although this narratological technique was subtle and not evident to many readers or
reviewers, it nevertheless overtly presents the Will Shakespeare within
the text as a fictional creation, a profoundly anti-mimetic position only
partially undermined by the naturalism of the narrative and the reassertion of much of its speculative content in Burgess’s later non-fiction text
The novel contains a series of elisions of the levels of diegetic narrative, focused on the process of artistic, and especially literary, creativity.
Will’s youthful vision of Cleopatra, his future literary creation, is bilocated on a river Avon which “glowed like Nilus” (NLTS, 6). As with
the pennyworth of prophecy he purchases from the crone Old Madge,
these conflations of realities, “fact” with fiction, creator with creation,
present with future, all emanate from manifestations of the Burgessian
Goddess figure. Burgess’s Dionysian deity presides over all the metafictional events within the text. While he is engaged in “a burning hell
of pleasure” (NLTS, 156) with Fatimah in a chthonic sexual tryst that
probably leads to his eventual infection with both syphilis and poetic
inspiration, Mr. Burgess and his students intrude upon Shakespeare’s
story literally from above. Fatimah, the physical embodiment of Will’s
youthful Cleopatran vision, literally merges with him even as his own
creator encroaches upon the narrative. Burgess’s metafictional strategy in
Nothing Like The Sun is to elide the distinction between distinct levels of
nested narrative, merging creation with creator multiply within the same
zone of narratological reality.
Enderby also experiences this elision of diegetic levels. Like Will, his
death in The Clockwork Testament is conflated with a different narrative level, though where Will’s death merges with the alcoholic collapse
of his own narrator, Enderby’s heart attack in the penultimate chapter coincides with the abrupt interruption of his own imagined poetic
drama of Pelagius, transposed on to television by his dying mind, by a
266 J. Clarke
Wakean thunderclap.11 The Clockwork Testament was Burgess’s attempt
to fictionalise the experience he underwent following the release of
Stanley Kubrick’s controversial cinematic adaptation of A Clockwork
Burgess’s proxy, Enderby, cannot truly be considered an avatar of
Burgess himself within the text, due to the existence of and continuity
from the previous two novels in which he features.12 However, the latter
two novels of the Enderby quadrilogy, crucially written after Burgess’s
encounter with structuralism and the writing of MF, demonstrate a much
closer relationship between Enderby and his creator. In The Clockwork
Testament, Enderby discovers by accident the creative potential for eliding fact with fantasy within philosophical possible worlds while giving a
lecture on minor Elizabethan dramatists:
He wrote to his astonishment the name Gervase Whitelady. He added, in
greater surprise and fear, the dates 1559–1591. He turned shaking to see
that many of the students were taking the data down on bits of paper. He
was committed now: this bloody man, not yet brought into existence, had
to have existed. (Enderby, 417)
Enderby even has a vision of Whitelady, but this does not function quite
in the same manner as his later dying vision of Pelagius and Augustine,
nor in the way that Will prophetically foresees Cleopatra. He is entirely
aware that Whitelady is fictional, his own creation, and indeed even seeks
to formulate a justification for his creation:
Enderby saw that he could always say that he had been trying out a new
subject called Creative Literary History. They might even write articles about it: The Use of the Fictive Alternative World in the Teaching of
Literature. (Enderby, 419–420)
The final Enderby volume likewise engages with metafictionality on two
levels. As in the previous volume, Enderby finds himself conflated with
11 Burgess
later reversed this in order to pen a further sequel, Enderby’s Dark Lady.
recounted the last day in his [Enderby’s] life, which was not too dissimilar from
the continuing days of my own … He, like me, is a visiting professor under threat from
black students. Like me, he carries a swordstick … Like me, he is visited by a mad lady who
threatens murder”. (YHYT, 285–286).
12 “This
his own creation, which is furthermore his fictionalised version of an
historical person. His death in The Clockwork Testament elides with the
fantasised appearance of his poetical creations, Pelagius and Augustine,
on television. In Enderby’s Dark Lady, as the title suggests however, he
elides with his own version of Shakespeare when he is forced to step into
play the role on stage.
Both Enderby and Will Shakespeare are Burgess’s creations, though
Shakespeare is based on the few facts known of the historical Shakespeare.
This historical Shakespeare is conflated with an avatar of Burgess, also
a fictional construct, in Nothing Like The Sun. Enderby in turn creates
poetic versions of Pelagius and Augustine, and his death is conflated with
their own end within the poem/television hallucination. There are then
three further Shakespeares, created by Enderby, who appear in Enderby’s
Dark Lady. These feature in the two short stories, putatively written by
the poet, which bookend the novel, and the theatrical version Enderby
creates and then performs within the text proper. In that act of performance, Enderby merges with his own creation, who is also an evocation
of the historical Shakespeare.
In the latter of the two stories included in the text, a SF narrative,
Shakespeare receives inspiration for his dramatic works in the form of
time-travelling fans from the future, who come bearing the very scripts
which he then claims as his own. The paradox invoked here is a staple
of time-travel SF, but more importantly the story when it first appeared
under Burgess’s own name (thus generating a further conflation of
Burgess and Enderby) was entitled “Muse”. This closing stratagem in a
novel that presents a series of metafictional elisions between levels of narrative can be read as a wry commentary upon Burgess’s own previous
Dionysian mode of creativity, which involved a simplistic model of divine
The very existence of the novel plunges the entire Enderby mythos
into ontological uncertainty, since the character died at the end of The
Clockwork Testament. In a prefatory note, Burgess sought to explain this
sudden reversal of misfortune in terms of reader demand, but simultaneously called into question the ontological integrity of fictional characters
themselves. “It seems that fictional characters, though they sometimes
may have to die, are curiously immune to death,” he stated, before
268 J. Clarke
asking “Is Don Quixote dead or alive? Is Hamlet? Is Little Nell?”13 In
conversation with Melvyn Bragg, Burgess explained further:
Characters tend to be autonomous. The view of the novelist as someone
who shoves characters around like chessmen or manipulates them like puppets is totally false. Once a character has been conceived, and he’s usually
conceived at a very deep level of the mind, then in a sense he exists, and I
tried to kill this character off in a novel because I was fed up with him. I
didn’t want anything more to do with him. Then I realised belatedly that
you cannot kill off any character…
I can excuse myself in practical terms by saying that this character is living
a kind of hypothesis anyway. He had two possible paths open to him. He
had to go to America. If he went to New York he would die. If he went to
Indianapolis, he would live… Either story is true. Both stories, no. Either
story is true but not both.14
This places Enderby’s career in a form of suspended uncertainty. Burgess
refused to assert the primacy of either narrative—the death in New York
or the theatrics in Terrebasse—over the other.15 Yet, as he also accepted,
they cannot co-exist. They are conflicting possible worlds both inhabited by Enderby. This contradictory multiplication of fates is the most
postmodernist of metafictional forms. It arises, among other instances, in
John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), wherein Fowles
presents three possible endings which each exclude the possibility of the
others. It is understandable that Enderby himself suspects his own fictionality after invoking the existence of Gervaise Whitelady (Enderby,
422). In fact, he is living out scenarios experienced by his own author
in both texts. In Enderby’s Dark Lady, where he, like Burgess, wrote for
the theatre in Indiana, he queries his own inspiration to cast a “genuine
negress” as Shakespeare’s love interest:
13 Enderby’s Dark Lady, or No End to Enderby, Anthony Burgess, Hutchinson, London,
1984, p. 7.
14 “Anthony Burgess and Melvyn Bragg, in conversation”, ICA Talks, Institute of
Contemporary Arts, London, 23 March, 1984. Audio recording at
Arts-literature-and-performance/ICA-talks/024M-C0095X0101XX-0100V0 accessed 16
January 2014.
15 The fictional Indiana town in which Enderby’s Dark Lady is set, based on Indianapolis,
as he inadvertently revealed in the discussion with Melvyn Bragg cited above.
A dark lady was not necessarily a black lady. A chill fell on Enderby. He had
been corrupted in advance, he had wanted a black lady, and nobody had
questioned his assumption. (97)
The nature of this corruption derives from his own creator, with
whom in these texts he has become elided. Just as his poems are actually Burgess’s, so his desire to cast April Elgar in his play derives from
Burgess’s own thesis that Shakespeare’s dark lady was a woman of colour in Nothing Like The Sun. Enderby, not unlike Ronald Beard, inhabits possible worlds that reflect upon and deviate from Burgess’s own
Kenneth Toomey, Burgess’s last great Dionysian protagonist, also
experiences an ontological uncertainty in his relationship with his creations. He attempts to write a pseudo-autobiographical novel, which
for obvious reasons bears some resemblance to Earthly Powers itself.
As Enderby did to Burgess, his characters rebel in a metafictional manner. Toomey recalls them “from their brief sleep” in order to continue
writing, as if they were indeed somehow autonomous. This autonomy
is suddenly asserted when they begin a debate “about the novel which
contained them, rather like one of those cartoon films in which anthropomorphic animals get out of the frame and start abusing their creator”.
Toomey’s own avatar, the eponymous Walter Dunnett, is confronted
with his own fictionality, but remains encoded within the Dionysian
modality of divine inspiration. Dunnett’s colleague Diana intuits the
existence of their creator, Toomey:
“A novelist friend of mine,” Diana Cartwright said, “affirmed that a satisfactory novel should be a self-evident sham to which the reader could
regulate at will the degree of his credulity.”
“A sham, eh?” Walter Dunnett said. “Even when there are verifiable historical personages in it? Like Havelock Ellis and Percy Wyndham Lewis and
Jimmy Joyce?”
They’re not the same as they would be in real life. The whole thing’s a
fake. We’re fakes too. We’re saying what he wants us to say. (EP, 520–521)
Diana’s insistence on her own fictionality appears to contradict the very
agency with which she insists upon it. In identifying her own ontological
status, she exercises an agency that denies Toomey’s ability to enforce his
270 J. Clarke
own artistic vision upon his creations. However, this is easily resolved,
again within the Dionysian mode, Toomey simply destroys the foolscap
page. Toomey’s own metafictionality has already been noted. His memoirs, entitled Confabulations, conflate fact with fantasy within the further
fictionalising framework of his novelist’s impetus to shape and construct
Burgess’s Dionysian heroes function within a paradigm that insists on
creativity stemming from a higher diegetical level, even when, in his later
career, this is complicated by a postmodernist metafictionality. There
remains a contrast here with Burgess’s Apollonian heroes, for whom the
will to create arises from within, driven by a desire to perfect the reality in which they inhabit. Burgess’s Apollonian protagonists seek to construct their own universes, and hence do not intuit their own fictionality,
even as they progress towards embodying it.
Amid the welter of fictional Mozarts in Mozart and the Wolf Gang,
there is not one who queries their own reality, even when located within
opera scripts or an imaginary heaven. By contrast, this is left to (equally
fictional) avatars of the author, playing the role of reader, to deride these
texts as insufficiently mimetic to the historical Mozart. Whereas Mozart’s
ambition to be the greatest of composers is expressed in a series of
panoramic iterations, that of Kit Marlowe in A Dead Man in Deptford
is mediated in a single narrative by the Burgessian avatar Jacke Wilson.
Wilson’s evocation of an anachronistic Schrödingerian uncertainty at the
outset alerts the reader to the ontological instability of what follows. This
places the novel firmly within the bounds of metafiction as described by
Patricia Waugh:
In a sense, metafiction rests on a version of the Heisenbergian uncertainty
principle: an awareness that “for the smallest building blocks of matter, every process of observation causes a major disturbance”, and that it
is impossible to describe an objective world because the observer always
changes the observed.16
Wilson’s attempt to speak for Kit is therefore an act of ventriloquism,
as indeed all attempts to fictionalise or biographise historical personages
must be. Yet in revealing this methodology at the outset, couched in a
16 “What is Metafiction and Why are They Saying Such Awful Things About it?”, Patricia
Waugh, in Metafiction, ed. and intr. Mark Currie, Longman, London, 1995, p. 41.
conceit borrowed from twentieth-century physics, Burgess places his
otherwise traditionally shaped narrative within a postmodernist frame of
ontological instability. Its quality of diegesis is further emphasised at the
conclusion, when the “true author”, another Burgessian avatar claiming additional authority and privilege over Jacke Wilson, intervenes to
freeze-frame the narrative at a Carlylean eternal and all-encompassing
There are, therefore, two deviations in Burgess’s aesthetics that
emerge from his encounter with structuralism. The first is the provocation of a literary response to critical theory, resulting in a postmodernist
approach to narratology, which in turn generated a deliberate instability of his narrative ontology itself. Thus Burgess’s literary style could be
argued to have traversed the topology from the sort of high modernist
aesthetic found in novels like A Vision of Battlements to a much more
postmodernist ludic style. Susana Onega has argued that British historiographic metafictional authors fall into two generations: “The older one
including Golding, Fowles, Durrell and Byatt, goes back to the 1950s
and 1960s and provides the link between modernism and postmodernism”.17 However, it is actually Burgess who provides the most thorough
and developed bridging of these historicised aesthetic modes.
If post-Saussurian thought—such as Bakhtin in The Dialogic
Imagination18—posits that language (in literature as elsewhere) is the
jointly created territory of he who speaks (or writes) and he who listens
(or reads), then Burgess, quite understandably rejecting the Barthesian
notion of the author’s death, instead posits a joint territory of author
and subject. However, this is not to state that the Burgessian hero is
always Burgess, nor his narratives all autobiographies. Instead, Burgess
entered his own texts as an observer, often playfully indicating the nature
of this fictiveness by naming himself in the narrative, a methodology
later borrowed and popularised by authors whom he influenced, such as
Paul Theroux and Martin Amis.19 Burgess merged the author with the
17 “British historiographic metafiction”, Susana Onega, in Metafiction, ed. and intr. Mark
Currie, Longman, London, 1995, pp. 94–95.
18 The Dialogic Imagination, Mikhail Bakhtin, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael
Holmquist, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1981.
19 In such novels as Money and London Fields. This trend, termed ‘auto-bio-graphy’ by
critic Brian McHale, can also be seen in the works of Salman Rushdie, Will Self and Adam
Thirwell, who also wrote in the aftermath or under the influence of Burgess.
272 J. Clarke
narrative itself, so that the act of writing himself becomes in a real sense
the generation of self and identity. In the ongoing creation of this identity, Burgess translates John Keats, encounters James Joyce, sleeps with
Christopher Marlowe and even merges into William Shakespeare.
This also begs the question as to whether Burgess’s ultimate fictional
creation was the transformation of John Wilson into Anthony Burgess
himself. In rewriting his own self, as well as the canonical figures of
Anglophone literary history, Burgess managed to subvert the ludic
transgressions of postmodernism back to the high modernist paradigm
with which he self-identified, thus demonstrating by way of his fiction
his long-held conviction that postmodernism was no more than a subset
of modernism. His reaction to structuralist thought deviated from that
of his contemporaries in that he sought a mode to express the authorial
connotations of such thinking, ultimately generating for himself a secondary mode of creativity that derived much of its potency from its dialectical relationship with his original artistic method. Anthony Burgess
thus straddled and continues to bridge the porous boundary of modernism and postmodernism, while simultaneously questioning the form and
expression of the will-to-create itself.
Works by Anthony Burgess
Burgess, Anthony, A Vision of Battlements (New York: W.W. Norton and Co.,
Burgess, Anthony, Time for a Tiger (London: Heinemann, 1956), repr. in The
Malayan Trilogy (London: Minerva, 1996).
Burgess, Anthony, Enemy in the Blanket (London: Heinemann, 1958), repr. in
The Malayan Trilogy (London: Minerva, 1996).
Burgess, Anthony, as Wilson, John Burgess, English Literature: A Survey for
Students (London: Longmans, Green, 1958).
Burgess, Anthony, Beds in the East (London: Heinemann, 1959), repr. in The
Malayan Trilogy (London: Minerva, 1996).
Burgess, Anthony, The Right to an Answer (London: Heinemann, 1960).
Burgess, Anthony, The Worm and the Ring (London: Heinemann, revised ed.
1970, orig. pub. 1961).
Burgess, Anthony, The Doctor is Sick (London: Heinemann, 1960, repr.
Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972).
Burgess, Anthony, Devil of A State (London: Heinemann, 1961, repr. London:
Hutchinson, 1983).
Burgess, Anthony, One Hand Clapping (London: Peter Davies Ltd., 1961, repr.
Burgess, Anthony, A Clockwork Orange (London: Heinemann, 1962).
Burgess, Anthony, A Clockwork Orange (New York: W.W. Norton and Co.,
Burgess, Anthony, A Clockwork Orange, ed. Mark Rawlinson (New York: W.W.
Norton and Co., 2011).
© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2017
J. Clarke, The Aesthetics of Anthony Burgess,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-66411-8
274 Bibliography
Burgess, Anthony, The Wanting Seed (London: Heinemann, 1962, repr. New
York: Ballantine, 1964/1970).
Burgess, Anthony, Honey for the Bears (London: Heinemann, 1963, repr.
London: Pan, 1965).
Burgess, Anthony, Inside Mr. Enderby (London: Heinemann, 1963), repr. in
Enderby (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982).
Burgess, Anthony, The Eve of Saint Venus (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1964,
repr. London: Hamlyn, 1981).
Burgess, Anthony, The Eve of Saint Venus (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1964,
repr. London: Arena, 1987).
Burgess, Anthony, Nothing Like the Sun (London: Heinemann, 1964).
Burgess, Anthony, Nothing Like the Sun (London: Penguin, 1982).
Burgess, Anthony, Nothing Like the Sun (London: Vintage, 1982).
Burgess, Anthony, “A Foreword”, in Nothing Like the Sun (1982 ed., repr.
London: Vintage, 1992).
Burgess, Anthony, A Vision of Battlements (New York: W.W. Norton and Co.,
Burgess, Anthony, “Silence, Exile and Cunning”, in The Listener, vol. 73, no.
1884, 6 May 1965.
Burgess, Anthony, “The Manicheans” in The Times Literary Supplement 3340, 3
March 1966.
Burgess, Anthony, “Letter from England”, in The Hudson Review, vol. XIX,
August 1966.
Burgess, Anthony, “On Being a Lapsed Catholic”, in Triumph, vol. 2, no. 2,
February 1967.
Burgess, Anthony, Tremor of Intent: An Eschatological Spy Novel (New York:
Norton 1967, repr. New York: Ballantine, 1967/1972).
Burgess, Anthony, Enderby Outside (London: Heinemann, 1968), repr. in
Enderby, (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982).
Burgess, Anthony, “If Oedipus had read his Lévi-Strauss, in Urgent Copy:
Literary Studies (London: Jonathan Cape, 1968), pp. 258–261 (First published: Book World 26 November 1967).
Burgess, Anthony, “Dr. Rowstus”, Urgent Copy: Literary Studies (London:
Jonathan Cape, 1968), pp. 161–166 (First published: Anthony Burgess, “Dr.
Rowse meets Dr. Faustus”, Nation, 1 February 1965, pp. 115, 117–118,
cited in Jeutonne Brewer, Anthony Burgess: A Bibliography [Metuchen, NJ
and London: Scarecrow Press], p. 66).
Burgess, Anthony, The Novel Now (London: Faber and Faber, 1968, repr. 1971).
Burgess, Anthony, Urgent Copy: Literary Studies (London: Jonathan Cape,
Burgess, Anthony, “The Muse: A Sort of SF Story”, in The Hudson Review, 20th
Anniversary Issue, vol. 21, no. 1, spring 1968, pp. 109–126.
Burgess, Anthony, “Genesis and Headache”, in Thomas McCormack, ed.,
Afterwords: Artists and Their Novels (New York: Harper Row, 1969), pp.
Burgess, Anthony, Shakespeare (London: Jonathan Cape, 1970, repr. London:
Vintage, 1996).
Burgess, Anthony, “Durrell and the Homunculi”, The Saturday Review, 21
March 1970.
Burgess, Anthony, MF (London: Jonathan Cape, 1971, repr. Harmondsworth:
Penguin, 1973).
Burgess, Anthony, “Thomas Robert Malthus 1766–1834”, in The Horizon Book
of Makers of Modern Thought, intr. Bruce Mazlich (New York: American
Heritage Publishing, 1972).
Burgess, Anthony, Joysprick: An Introduction to the Language of James Joyce
(London: 1973, repr. New York: Harvest and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
Burgess, Anthony, The Clockwork Testament, or: Enderby’s End (London: HartDavis, MacGibbon, 1974) repr. in Enderby, (Harmondsworth: Penguin,
Burgess, Anthony, Napoleon Symphony: A Novel in Four Movements (London:
Jonathan Cape, 1974).
Burgess, Anthony, “Introduction” in The White Company, Arthur Conan Doyle
(London: Murray, 1975).
Burgess, Anthony and the Editors of Time-Life Books, New York (Amsterdam:
Time-Life Books, 1976, repr. 1977).
Burgess, Anthony, A Long Trip to Teatime (London: Dempsey & Squires, 1976).
Burgess, Anthony, Moses: A Narrative (London: Dempsey & Squires, 1976).
Burgess, Anthony, ABBA ABBA (London: Faber and Faber, 1977).
Burgess, Anthony, Beard’s Roman Women: A Novel (London: Hutchinson,
Burgess, Anthony, 1985 (London: Hutchinson, 1978, repr. London: Arrow,
Burgess, Anthony, Ernest Hemingway and his World (London: Thames and
Hudson, 1978).
Burgess, Anthony, Man of Nazareth (New York: McGraw Hill, 1979).
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Bibliography (Metuchen, NJ and London: Scarecrow Press, 1980).
Burgess, Anthony, Earthly Powers (London: Hutchinson, 1980).
Burgess, Anthony, “Carlyle and Friends”, New York Times, Books Section, 22
March 1981.
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Burgess, Anthony, Ninety Nine Novels (London: Allison and Busby, 1984).
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Hutchinson, 1984).
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Arrow, 1987).
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an opera libretto, a film script, a schizophrenic dialogue, a bewildered rumination, a Stendhalian transcription, and a heart felt homage upon the bicentenary
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ABBA ABBA, 18, 55, 98, 126, 145,
158, 161, 162, 164, 166, 167,
170, 252, 261, 264. See also
Achebe, Chinua, 96
A Clockwork Orange, 3, 5, 10–12,
31, 41, 42, 46, 49, 54, 65, 66,
75, 76, 101–103, 118, 125, 133,
144, 145, 205, 228, 266. See also
A Clockwork Testament, 110
ACO, 104. See also A Clockwork
A Dead Man in Deptford, 9, 18, 55,
62, 66, 73, 79, 99, 110, 119,
126, 175, 176, 183, 189, 224,
225, 227, 228, 230, 234, 235,
239, 241, 245, 251, 262, 264,
A Defence of Poesie, 230
A Defence of Poetry, 119
Adorno, Theodore, 58
Virgil, 112
Aeneid, 93
Aeschylus, 57, 60, 137
Aesthetic, 12, 14, 15, 19, 20, 22,
23, 42, 49, 50, 53, 55, 56, 61,
63, 66, 75, 76, 81, 126, 127,
132, 159, 176, 182–184, 187,
190, 193, 198, 202, 203, 208,
210–213, 249, 250, 257–260
Aggeler, Geoffrey, 6–8, 39, 46, 50, 54,
185, 259
Aldiss, Brian, 195
Amis, Kingsley, 196, 259
Amis, Martin, 18, 262, 263, 271
A Mouthful of Air, 225
Amundsen, Roald, 145
Analogue, 13
Anatomy of Melancholy, 85
Anaximander, 29, 33
Andreas-Salome, Lou, 92, 194
Anglicanism, 89
Anthropologist, 68, 135
Anthropology, 96, 97, 129, 130, 133,
134, 160
© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2017
J. Clarke, The Aesthetics of Anthony Burgess,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-66411-8
294 Index
The Scope of Anthropology, 138
Any Old Iron, 13, 59, 175, 202, 204,
206, 207, 211–213, 222, 223. See
also AOI
AOI, 205, 209. See also Any Old Iron
Apollonianism, 13–15, 41, 56–59,
62–64, 66, 67, 70–73, 75–90,
92–97, 99, 103–105, 108,
109, 111, 116, 118–120, 123,
125, 126, 134, 137–140, 144,
146–150, 159, 160, 162–165,
168, 169, 172, 173, 175–177,
179, 183, 184, 186–190, 193–
195, 198–203, 204, 209, 210,
212–214, 223–225, 227–232,
235–237, 239–246, 248–250,
252–255, 257, 261, 270
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young
Man, 26
Apuleius, 229
Aquinas, 34
Aristotelian, 46, 62, 230, 231
Arthur, King, 204
Ashbery, John, 151, 161
Atheism, 28, 29, 31, 66, 72, 110, 163,
225–229, 233, 234, 236, 237,
Attila the Hun, 17, 55, 145, 204
Auden, W.H., 151
Musée des Beaux Arts, 151
Augustinianism, 9–12, 27, 34–42, 43,
46–49, 53, 54, 56, 63, 65, 73,
77, 128, 132, 133, 165, 167,
169, 180, 182, 186–190, 199,
236, 266, 267
Pelagianism, 64
Auteur theory, 146
Autobiography, 4, 10, 13, 17, 26, 44,
76, 77, 114, 128, 166, 175, 178,
201, 202, 225, 258, 259, 262,
269, 271
A Vision of Battlements, 5, 8, 10, 12,
53, 55, 75–77, 83, 91, 181, 183,
245, 258, 261, 271
Baines, Richard, 226, 227, 234, 238
Bakhtin, Mikhail, 271
Barthelme, Donald, 262
Barthes, Roland, 135, 139, 253, 271
CameraLucida, 156
Bataille, Georges, 58
Battlements, 79, 81, 84
Baudrillard, Jean, 222
Beard’s Roman Women, 13, 83,
125, 126, 145, 150, 151, 154,
157–159, 161, 162, 166, 167,
172, 187, 188, 222, 259, 261.
See also BRW
Beckett, Samuel, 48
Beethoven, Ludwig Van, 101, 102,
145, 147, 216, 228
Belastagui, Nuria, 117, 118
Belli, Giuseppe Gioachino, 16, 126,
145, 158, 162, 165–167, 169,
170, 173, 261
Bellow, Saul, 205
Benson, Robert Hugh, 34
Benveniste, Émile, 264
Berkeley, George (Bishop), 209
Bernard Shaw, George, 16
Biswell, Andrew, 2, 5, 10, 68, 145,
245, 254, 259
Bloom, Harold, 6, 7
Boas, Franz, 226
Bonaparte, Napoleon, 17, 171
Bond, James, 145
Borges, Jorge Luis, 263
Boyd, William, 3, 178
Boytinck, Paul, 7
Breughel, Pieter (the elder), 151
Brewer, Jeutonne, 7
British Empire, 1
Bronte, Emily, 84
Brown, Craig, 10
Bruno, Giordano, 32, 33, 43, 71, 227,
228, 232, 237, 240–243, 251
BRW, 155, 160. See also Beard’s
Roman Women
Buddhism, 27, 28, 96, 141
Buelens, Yves, 92
Burgess, Anthony, 1, 5–11, 13, 17, 19,
20, 23–26, 28, 31, 32, 34, 36,
39, 44, 46–48, 53, 84, 92, 111,
113, 114, 117, 127, 138, 140,
142, 143, 145, 149, 156, 157,
170, 180, 188, 201, 213–215,
219, 223–225, 243, 246, 248,
253, 257–259, 261, 262, 264,
268, 272
Burke, Edmund, 47
Burton, Robert, 85, 88
Byatt, A.S., 188, 259, 264, 271
Byrne, 9, 12, 55, 73, 175, 243–245,
248, 251–255
Byron, George Gordon (Lord), 243
Beppo, 167
Childe Harolde’s Pilgrimage, 243,
249, 250
Don Juan, 243
Calvin, John, 47, 243, 249, 251
Camus, Albert, 48
Cape, Jonathan, 117
Cardinal Newman, 34
Carlyle, Thomas, 144, 146, 148, 160,
168, 194, 201, 203, 243, 271
Sartor Resartus, 149
Carol Oates, Joyce, 51
Carter, Jimmy, 192
Catholic Christianity, 36
Catholicism, 1, 4, 11, 23–26, 28,
32–34, 43, 45–47, 49, 51, 54,
69, 70, 88, 93, 127, 128, 133,
180–182, 226–228, 260
Catullus, 84, 185
Celestius, 37
Cervantes, Miguel
Don Quixote, 268
Chapman, George, 118
Chaucer, Geoffrey, 262
Chettle, Henry, 226
Chevalier, Tracy, 151
Girl with a Pearl Earring, 151
Christian doctrine, 5
Christianity, 14, 28, 32, 34, 39, 45,
46, 50, 52, 56, 57, 64, 69, 83,
87, 96, 113, 199, 237, 255
Churchill, Winston, 204
Clarke, Jim, 244, 251, 264
Classicism, 169
Coale, Samuel, 6–8, 16, 43, 47, 48,
50, 52, 53, 67, 147, 236
Coetzee, John Maxwell, 263
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 84, 165
Colonialism, 27, 55, 95, 96, 158
Confessions, 36
Copernicus, Nicolaus, 240, 242
Copy, 59
Corneille, Pierre, 47
Counterpoint, 82, 100, 191, 192,
Crace, Jim, 29–31
Cromwell, Oliver, 71
Cronin, Archibald Joseph, 205
Cubism, 224
Dante, 93, 94
Dead Man, 228, 229, 231, 232, 236,
237, 240, 242, 243
de Bergerac, Cyrano, 195
296 Index
Debussy, Claude, 100, 127
de Cervantes, Miguel, 262
Deconstructionist, 130
Dee, John, 71
Defence of Poesie, 231
Defence of Poetry, 253
Defoe, Daniel, 195, 196
Deleuze, Gilles, 14, 22, 58
DeLillo, Don, 17
de Montaigne, Michel, 209
Derrida, Jacques, 14, 58, 264
Writing and Difference, 264
de Sade, Donatien Alphonse François
(Marquis), 209, 211, 235, 252
de Saussure, Ferdinand, 128, 129, 271
Descartes, René, 62
Deutsch, Helene, 15, 195
De Valera, Éamon, 204
Devereux, Robert (Earl of Essex), 242
Devil of a State, 8, 13, 28, 94, 102,
DeVitis, A.A., 6–9, 45, 48, 259
di Bosio, Gianfranco, 150
Dickinson, Emily, 15
Dionysianism, 13–15, 41, 56–63,
85, 66, 67, 69, 70, 72, 73,
75–80, 82–84, 86–90, 92–97, 99,
102–106, 109, 112–115, 118,
123, 125, 126, 133, 134, 136,
137, 141, 142, 146, 148, 150,
159, 160, 162–164, 168–173,
175, 177, 179, 184–187, 190,
193–197, 199, 200, 202–205,
209–211, 231, 237, 239–242,
244–248, 250, 251, 253–255,
257, 260, 261, 265, 267, 269,
Disregard, 70
Dix, Carol M., 7, 45
Doctor Faustus, 227
Donoghue, Denis, 212
Duino Elegies, 92
Durrell, Lawrence, 143, 144, 271
Eagleton, Terry, 20
Earthly Powers, 3, 5, 12, 16, 28, 44,
54, 55, 92, 99, 110, 125, 132,
133, 175–178, 180, 182–184,
188, 212, 236, 238, 241, 250,
269. See also EP
Eckhart, Meister, 141
Eco, Umberto, 222, 259
Eden, Robert Anthony, 204
Einstein, Albert, 194
Eisenstein, Sergei, 152
Elgar, Edward, 245
Eliot, Thomas Stearns, 76, 252
Ellis, Havelock, 269
Empson, William, 221
Enderby Outside, 83, 90, 105, 250,
Enderby quadrilogy, 3, 89
Enderby, F.X., 12, 16, 18, 40, 41,
67, 68, 70, 75, 80, 83, 89, 98,
99, 104–114, 121–123, 131,
133, 142, 185–187, 242, 248,
252–255, 257, 260, 265, 266,
268, 269
Enderby’s Dark Lady, 114, 266–268
England, 1, 24, 46, 121, 128, 197
Enlightenment, 46, 209, 227, 240
EOTWN, 195–197, 199, 200. See also
The End of the World News
EP, 179, 181, 185, 187–191, 237,
239. See also Earthly Powers
Epicureanism, 47, 226
Ernst, Haas, 152
Esther Petix, 49
Euripides, 60, 61
Existentialism, 23, 48–50, 52, 92
Feminism, 15, 65
Finnegans Wake, 127, 130, 216, 217,
221, 255
Fitzpatrick, Nina, 264
Flame Into Being, 202, 214, 246, 247
Florio, John, 171
Flusser, Vilém, 154, 159
Forster, Edward Morgan, 3
Foucault, Michel, 14, 58
Folie et Déraison, 14
Fowles, John, 268, 271
The French Lieutenant’s Woman,
Frazer, James George, 68, 82,
134–136, 186, 255
Free will, 11, 34, 36, 38, 39, 42, 47,
49, 53, 54, 56, 65, 81, 82, 86,
101, 103, 104, 132, 142, 144,
Freud, Sigmund, 17, 55, 92, 127,
145–147, 192–195, 199, 217,
246, 250
Futurism, 200, 240
Gandhi, Mohandas K., 182
Gautier, Théophile, 20, 189
Gay, 175
homosexuality, 184, 185
Gershwin, George, 218
Ghosh-Schellhorn, Martina, 7, 47, 48
Giacchino Belli, Guiseppe, 18
Gibraltar, 77, 78, 258
Giuseppe Belli, 55
Gluck, Christophe Willibald, 218
Gnosticism, 44, 46
Golding, William, 271
Gottlieb Baumgarten, Alexander, 19
Grade, Lew, 145, 166
Graves, Robert, 67–70, 110, 111,
113, 182, 251
Greene, Graham, 25, 29, 32, 34, 36,
43, 201
Greene, Robert, 16, 110, 226
Grétry’s, André-Ernest-Modeste, 205,
Guattari, Félix, 22
Haas, Ernst, 151, 156, 160
Habermas, Jurgen, 14, 58
Hall, Radclyffe, 190
Hamlet, 100
Handel, George Frideric, 25, 214
Hariot, Thomas, 225, 227, 229
Harrison, Harry, 196
Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 43, 50, 51, 53
Hegel, George Wilhelm, 19, 33, 47,
Hegelian, 157
Heidegger, Martin, 14, 58
Hemingway, Ernest, 2, 18
Heraclitus, 29, 33, 49
Herbert, George, 111
Here Comes Everybody, 32
Hero-Worship and the Heroic in
History, 146
Herschel, John, 152
Himmler, Heinrich, 17
Hinduism, 27, 33
Hobbes, Thomas, 47, 54
Hölderlin, Friedrich, 57
Homer, 57, 92, 105, 149
Homosexuality, 30, 53, 54, 63, 66,
80, 87, 90, 120, 140, 141, 144,
181, 180, 182, 183, 187, 188–
190, 198, 231, 233–239, 245
Honey for the Bears, 13, 45, 53, 102,
144, 175, 236, 261
Hopkins, Gerard Manley, 41
Hughes, Ted, 67, 240
Human, All-too-human, 56, 101
Humanism, 108, 109, 200
Hume, David, 47, 210
Hutcheon, Linda, 258
298 Index
Huxley, Aldous, 141, 188
Hyperion, 164
Impressionism, 101
Inside Mr. Enderby, 71, 105, 144,
Isherwood, Christopher, 156, 161,
A Berlin Diary, 155
Goodbye to Berlin, 156
Islam, 26–28, 243, 254
Jackson, Kevin, 68
Jakobson, Roman, 128, 129, 134
James, Henry, 223
James, Montague Rhodes (M.R.), 38
Jansen, Cornelius, 36, 47
Jansenism, 43, 47
Jefferson, Thomas, 47
Jesus Christ, 17, 28–31, 37, 42, 55,
65, 82, 93, 145, 146, 150, 160,
183, 190, 193, 203, 229, 226,
237, 238, 254
Jones, John, 162
Jong, Erica, 250, 264
Journalism, 1–4, 23, 24, 86, 87, 94,
102, 104, 125, 132, 145, 195,
205, 244
Joyce, James, 2, 17, 18, 24, 26, 27, 32,
40, 55, 130, 133, 188, 191, 214,
216, 217, 221, 262, 269, 272
Finnegans Wake, 2, 27, 32, 41, 266
Ulysses, 32
Joysprick, 32
Juan, Don, 249
Kabbala, 143
Kabir, Sant, 141
Kant, Immanuel, 19, 162, 163
Karantzakis, Nikos, 30
Keats, John, 12, 16–18, 55, 160, 162,
164–166, 168–173, 251, 257,
261, 264, 272
The Fall of Hyperion, 164
Hyperion, 171
Kepler, Johannes, 195
Kermode, Frank, 109, 131, 138, 139,
Kierkegaard, Søren, 222, 262
Kingdom of the Wicked, 12, 126, 193
Klein, Melanie, 195
Kubrick, Stanley, 3, 101, 125, 145,
193, 266
Kyd, Thomas, 16, 110, 226
Lacan, Jacques, 264
Lawrence, David Herbert, 2, 51, 170,
214, 246, 247
The Man Who Died, 246
The Plumed Serpent, 170
Women in Love, 246
Leibnitz, Gottfried Wilhelm, 165
Leigh Hunt, 121
Lennon, John, 105
Homosexuality, 86
Levin, Harry, 226, 242
Levings, Anthony, 257–259
Levi-Strauss, Claude, 126–139, 143,
144, 148, 149, 158, 172
The Apotheosis of Augustus, 135–138
Lew Grade, 31
Lewis, Percy Wyndham, 269
Lewis, Roger, 10, 17, 83, 132, 159,
165, 178, 179, 244, 259
Little Wilson and Big God, 26, 105,
201. See also LWBG
Lodge, David, 259, 262
Lorca, Federico Garcia, 205
Lucretius, 81, 181
Luther, Martin, 47, 146
LWBG, 24, 27, 28, 247, 258. See also
Little Wilson and Big God
Lyotard, Jean-François, 50, 58
Mailer, Norman, 29, 43, 50–53
Malaya, 27, 95–99, 260
Malayan Trilogy, 75, 76, 91, 95, 97,
Malta, 132, 188
Maltese, 177
Malthus, Thomas Robert, 198, 236
Mani, 34, 35, 52, 66
Manicheanism, 10, 26, 28, 30, 35, 36,
38, 43, 44, 46, 47, 49, 51, 57,
79, 186
Manicheism, 5, 6, 8, 11, 23, 33, 34,
37, 39, 42, 45, 48–50, 52, 53,
58, 66, 128
Man of Nazareth, 12, 28–31, 126,
Markowska, Martyna, 151, 152
Marlowe, Christopher, 12, 16, 17, 55,
56, 62, 66, 110, 119, 120, 143,
160, 176, 184, 224, 225–239,
241–245, 251, 257, 264, 270,
Doctor Faustus, 120, 143, 226
Edward II, 234
The Massacre at Paris, 234
Tamburlaine, 231
Marx, Adolf Bernhard, 220
Marxism, 20, 21, 59, 65
Marx, Karl, 47
Mathews, Richard, 7, 8, 46
Maugham, William Somerset, 176,
263. See also The Razor’s Edge,
McCulloch, Diarmuid, 230
McLuhan, Marshall, 143
Melville, Herman, 50, 51, 53
Mendelssohn, Felix, 247
Metafiction, 258, 263, 265, 266, 270
MF, 5, 18, 73, 104, 125–127, 130–
133, 138–145, 176, 198, 199,
201, 207, 245, 261, 266
Michelangelo, 181, 184
Middlemarch, 190
Milner, Andrew, 20
Milton, 71
Modernism, 1, 11, 16, 18, 20, 21, 86,
88, 90, 127, 150, 173, 177, 189,
215, 262, 271, 272
Mopsuestia, 37
Morris, Robert K., 6–8, 45
Moses, 55, 126, 144–146, 149, 150,
193, 227
A Narrative, 17, 147
Mosley, Oswald, 183
Mossad, 207, 211, 212
Mozart and the Wolf Gang, 9, 13, 17,
73, 175, 213–215, 218, 221,
222, 225, 242, 245, 246, 261,
264, 270
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, 3, 17,
200, 205, 206, 213–216, 218–
225, 229, 244–247, 261, 270
Napoleon, 55, 145–150, 160, 164,
165, 214
Napoleon Symphony, 5, 28, 79, 126,
142, 144, 149, 164, 193, 201,
216–218, 220, 221
Nationalism, 204–206
Neoplatonism, 33, 71, 149, 184, 242
Neuroscience, 178
New York, 2, 7, 140, 152, 166, 192,
193, 196, 214, 268
300 Index
Nicholas of Cusa, 32, 33
Nicholl, Charles, 176, 224, 241
Niehardt, John, 82, 83
Nietzsche, Friedrich, 13–16, 41, 56,
57, 59, 60, 63–65, 69, 70, 72,
73, 75, 76, 78, 82–84, 86, 90,
92, 94, 101, 102, 105, 137, 160,
182, 194, 227, 228, 240
Dawn, 16
The Birth ofTragedy, 13
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 16
Twilight of the Idols, 61
Untimely Meditations, 16
Nietzschean, 71, 179, 258
Ninety Nine Novels, 20, 173, 263
NLTS, 115–119, 121, 122, 231. See
also Nothing Like The Sun
Nothing Like The Sun, 5, 18, 55, 68,
70, 71, 75, 84–86, 89, 90, 98,
108, 110, 111, 113–115, 133,
137, 142, 144, 169–171, 176,
187, 214, 225, 226, 230, 238,
240–242, 245, 247, 251, 260,
261, 264, 265, 267, 269. See also
NS, 147, 148
Nunquam, 143
O'Brien, Flann, 263
At Swim-Two-Birds, 263
Oedipus the King, 131
Onassis, Aristotle, 145
1985, 17, 40, 145, 215–217, 221, 262
On Heroes, 146
Original Sin, 12, 34, 36, 37, 39, 42,
43, 47, 53, 54, 56, 66, 88, 110,
132, 185, 186, 238, 242
Orwell, George, 16–18,
145, 217, 262
Nineteen Eighty-Four, 170, 262
Otto, Walter, 15
Outside, Enderby, 17
Paglia, Camille, 15, 16, 57, 58, 61–67,
69–71, 73, 75, 78, 84, 86, 88,
90, 93, 96, 99, 100, 109, 112,
113, 115, 117, 122, 142, 182,
185, 209, 210, 231, 235, 236,
240, 241, 249
Sexual Personae, 142
Paine, Thomas, 47
Paris, 128, 184
Parmigianino, 151
Pascal, Blaise, 47, 209
Pater, Walter, 21
Pelagianism, 5, 9–12, 31, 34, 37–43,
46–49, 53, 54, 56, 65, 66, 71,
77, 103, 128, 132, 133, 164,
165, 167, 168, 180, 183, 184,
187, 188, 190, 199, 265–267
Percy, Henry (Duke of
Northumberland), 227, 229
Perennialism, 141
Pervigilium, 88, 89, 181
Pervigilium Veneris, 85
Petix, 50
Petrarch, 173
Philips, Paul, 11, 219
Plato, 19, 62, 67, 87, 88, 91, 117,
159, 165
Plutarch, 186
Polo, Marco, 145
Postcolonialism, 1, 96
Postmodernism, 11, 17, 18, 20,
50, 224, 258, 262, 263, 265,
Poststructuralism, 14, 58, 129, 258,
Prometheanism, 9, 55, 77–79, 81,
131, 147, 148, 183, 187, 189
Proust, Marcel, 62
Psychiatry, 106, 177
Psychoanalysis, 14, 15, 19, 45, 81,
127, 195, 199
Psychology, 178
Purcell, Henry, 25
Pynchon, Thomas, 17, 50
Rachmaninoff, Sergei, 101
Racine, Jean, 47
Radclyffe Hall, 183
Raleigh, Walter (Sir), 225, 228, 232,
233, 227, 236, 237, 240–242
Rand, Ayn, 15, 58
Realism, 211
Real Life, 259
Reflections, 153, 154, 161
Rembrandt, 152
Rilke, Rainer Maria, 91–94, 179, 194
Duino Elegies, 93, 179
Roberts, Adam, 195
Robinson, David, 125, 145, 150–156,
158–162, 188. See also Reflections,
Romanticism, 47, 162, 169, 170, 209
Rome, 25, 111, 125, 150, 151, 154,
155, 159, 162, 165, 167–169,
171, 188
Rossini, Gioachino, 223
Rostand, Edmond, 195
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 47, 54, 65,
66, 211
Rushdie, Salman, 28, 271
Sadean, 212, 213, 253
Saint Augustine, 34
Saint Augustine of Hippo, 5
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, 141
Salieri, Antonio, 218, 219
Salome, Lou, 195
Sappho, 70
Sartre, Jean Paul, 48
Saussure, 132, 133
Schiller, Friedrich, 19
Schlegel, Karl Wilhelm Friedrich, 94, 262
Schoenberg, Arnold, 218, 223
Schopenhauer, Arthur, 208, 209, 212
Schrödinger, Erwin, 270
Schubert, Franz, 79
Schweitzer, Albert, 157
Science Fiction, 143, 195, 196, 199,
200, 267
Sci-fi, 251
Self, Will, 262, 271
Servetus, Michael, 251
Sexual Personae, 15, 16, 57, 61, 64,
67, 70, 210, 241. See also SP
Shaftesbury, 47
Shakespeare, William, 12, 16–18,
55, 56, 68, 70, 73, 86, 90, 99,
108, 120, 110, 111, 113–115,
117, 118, 122, 133, 142, 145,
160, 170–172, 187, 198, 214,
225–227, 230, 231, 234, 235,
238, 240, 242, 247, 257, 260,
264–268, 272
Hamlet, 191, 268
Henry IV Part II, 120
Love’s Labours Lost, 118
Syphilis, 169
Venus and Adonis, 90
Shelley, Mary, 143, 195
Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 161, 163
Shockley, Alan, 11, 216, 219, 220
Sidney, Philip (Sir), 73, 119, 223, 230,
231, 240, 242, 253
Sloterdijk, Peter, 14, 58
Sociology, 20
Socrates, 41, 59–61, 64, 69, 71, 72,
91, 228, 240
302 Index
Solipsism, 59, 142, 209, 211–213,
242, 252, 253, 255
Sollers, Philippe, 264
Sonnets to Orpheus, 92
Sons and Lovers, 246
Sophism, 47
Sophocles, 57, 60, 127, 131, 137
Sowell, Thomas, 157
Soylent Green, 196
SP, 88, 112, 115, 117. See also Sexual
Spengler, Erwin, 143
Spenser, Edmund, 243, 249
The Faerie Queene, 249
Spinoza, 165, 207–210, 212, 242
St Augustine of Hippo, 33
St Paul, 37
Stalin, Joseph, 204
Stendhal, 215, 219
Stinson, John J., 6, 8, 9, 131, 139
Stoicism, 38
Stravinsky, 127, 216
Structural Anthropology, 126, 128
Structuralism in Literature, 135
Structuralism, 44, 47, 126, 127, 129,
130, 132, 133, 137–139, 158,
173, 199, 255, 266, 271, 272
Stuart Mill, Edward Bellamy, 47
Stuart, James Charles (King of
Scotland and England), 233, 234
Surrealism, 141
Suvin, Darko, 195
Swift, Jonathan, 47
Syphilis, 113, 114, 120–122, 170,
235, 260, 265
Szarkowski, John, 154, 159
Taoism, 49
Taoism, Zoroastrianism, 33
Tarot, 116
Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich, 101
Thackeray, William, 250
The Beds in the East, 95, 99, 116
The Birth of Tragedy, 14, 16, 41,
56–60, 62, 69, 72, 76, 94, 95,
102, 105, 137, 160
The Clockwork Testament, 13, 39, 40,
54, 265–267
The Doctor is Sick, 91, 102, 161, 261
The End of the World News, 18, 92,
127, 148, 175, 191–194, 201,
216, 217, 221, 261, 264. See also
The Enemy in the Blanket, 28, 95, 97,
The Eve of Saint Venus, 12, 75, 76, 78,
85, 90, 103, 137, 181, 192, 193,
The Golden Bough, 82, 134, 136, 185
The Kingdom of the Wicked, 29
The Malayan Trilogy, 8, 12, 13, 28,
55, 76, 79, 258, 261
The Novel Now, 36. See also TNN
Theodorus, 37
The Pianoplayers, 13, 175, 202, 205.
See also TPP
The Raw and the Cooked, 128
The Right to an Answer, 4, 13, 91, 102
Theroux, Paul, 18, 259, 262, 264,
The Scope of Anthropology, 126, 127,
The Wanting Seed, 39, 40, 46, 53, 66,
144, 196, 197, 199, 236, 244.
See also TWS
The White Goddess, 67. See also WG
The Worm and the Ring, 13, 75, 91,
93, 110, 179, 261
Things Fall Apart, 96
Thirwell, Adam, 271
This Man and Music, 7, 20, 131, 138,
198, 201, 225
Time For A Tiger, 95, 97
Tolkien, J.R.R., 134
TPP, 203, 204. See also The
Tremor of Intent, 44, 46, 108, 127,
130, 131, 144, 206
Trilogy, 98, 100, 101
Tristes Tropiques, 127, 129, 136, 138.
See also TT
Trotsky, Leon, 55, 145, 147, 192–
195, 199, 217
TT, 135, 137. See also Tristes Tropiques
Tuberculosis, 95, 168–171
TWS, 198. See also The Wanting Seed
Ulysses, 40
Joyce, James, 262
Updike, John, 43, 50, 52, 53, 67
Urgent Copy, 7
Utopianism, 77–79, 168, 183, 207,
Valerius, Gaius, 185
Venus, 86, 88, 89, 103
Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro), 93,
Aeneid, 91
Voltaire, 62, 164
von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang, 79
Wagner, Richard, 13, 64, 91, 93, 101,
Walsingham, Thomas, 230, 231
Walsingham, Tom, 239, 251
Waugh, Evelyn, 25, 34
Waugh, Patricia, 32, 270
Welles, Orson, 152
Wells, Herbert George (H.G.), 194,
243, 246, 248
WG, 110, 113. See also The White
Wilde, Oscar, 246, 249, 252
Williams, Jeffrey, 258
Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 210, 211
Wittgensteinian, 213
Wolfson, Harry Austryn, 207, 208
Worthington, Kim, 258, 262, 263
Yates, Frances, 240, 241
YHYT, 4, 30, 45, 156, 159, 166, 167,
183, 194, 216, 217, 221, 259,
260, 266. See also You’ve Had
Your Time
You’ve Had Your Time, 193, 201. See
also YHYT
Yung-Chia Ta-Shih, 141
Zeffirelli, Franco, 29
Zhang, Longxi, 33
Zionism, 205, 207
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