by CHAD EAGLETON
I took a strange and winding route back to reading Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. For some time now, I’ve been trying to construct a biography of forgotten crime writer Shane Stevens. Stevens is perhaps best remembered today for the homage Stephen King paid him in his novel The Dark Half. Before the secretive Stevens disappeared completely from the public eye, he wrote six novels under his own name and two under a pseudonym. His fourth novel was titled Rat Pack and billed by publishers as “The American Clockwork Orange.”
Rat Pack began with a Nov 28, 1971, New York Times article called, “The Rat Packs of New York.” Stevens opens the article by profiling the case of a young medical student who cuts through Central Park with his girlfriend on their way home. Four black youths accost the couple for a quarter. When the student tries to ignore them and keep walking, one of them shoots him in the back.
This incident is Stevens’s catalyst to discuss the history of juvenile delinquency in New York, tracing it from the early youth gangs that arose after WWII, through the street explosion of drugs and easy guns, to their state when he originally wrote his piece.
Stevens wants to dispel the myth that gang culture was and is about race. The racial lines that separate gang from gang, criminal from criminal, according to Shane, is a racism of pure chance. He argues that those lines were really neighborhood lines drawn by the uncaring hand of poverty. Money was the issue when Stevens is writing, and it’s still the issue now.
The difference, Stevens writes, is the way the situation has changed. The old gangs fought and robbed mostly among themselves, but now circumstances have devolved further into disparate opportunism void of turf, rank, or purpose. It’s now ‘whatever I can get, wherever I can get it.’ The money changing hands is no longer neighborhood money, moving from person to person but always within strict boundaries. Instead it comes from anywhere and goes everywhere due in a large part to the widening racial tensions that mask the true issues of poverty and class, both of which always fuck young people the hardest.
In the course of his investigative piece, Stevens befriends and interviews four youths he calls: Jumper, Wolfie, Chester, and Johnny Apartment. He follows them and learns about their lives. They are the human face of his argument and a year later, shadows of that foursome protag Stevens’s fourth and shortest novel.
Rat Pack follows four Harlem youths over the course of a single New York City night as they look for the big score that will finally help them escape their soul-crushing poverty and the misery of living in the uptown ghetto. As night falls, Jumper, Wolfie, and Chester are luring homosexuals to a deserted area in Central Park. Mugging proves to take too long and to return too little reward for so great an effort the effort.
The pack moves their hunt.
En route through the park the threesome stumble across a porn director shooting an X-Rated feature. They intimidate the director and his underage star for cash before continuing and adding another to their number, Johnny Apartment.
The pack is moving, always moving, moving through the city, hunting, watching, searching, and waiting. They commit theft, robbery, assault, rape and murder for survival, bootless rage, and the promise of escape. Their bank roll rises and falls like the whine of a subway train. Each one “wants a lot of money; thinks, knows, that only with money will he ever be wanted, needed.”
Power exchanges dictate and escalate their crimes. That’s how they’ve experienced and experience the world. Everything is on the level of power.
The gang breaks into an empty courthouse only to find a white repairman working the night shift. Alone, he’s not a single white man, but all white men. While they may be powerless against the system, a system they don’t understand, a system that seems against them at every turn, a system they perceive as white, they are not powerless against him. They put him on trial and judge his entire race by proxy.
Found guilty, the gang beats and robs him.
At a street fair in an Italian neighborhood, the Pack is jumped by an even larger gang of youths. The only way they can escape punishment for their perceived crimes, the perceived crimes of their race, is by seizing the momentary distraction of a distant siren, tossing the night’s earnings, and then fleeing down the block.
The gang is right back where they started. Broke and out of options.
But their lives, their entire understanding of the world, are based on power. By the rate of fair exchange, they must hunt for someone to punish in return. Someone weaker.
The pack finds a young and attractive white girl walking home alone. They stalk her back to her apartment, moving from alleyway to alleyway, parked car to parked car, like a pack of wolves before blitzing her in a vicious home invasion.
The pack takes her and her aged mother captive. They do want money, but thievery is not enough. Not to their understanding. The exchange rate must be paid in full. To them one final exchange must take place. The ultimate and unforgivable exchange, the exercise of not intimacy, but dominance—rape.
Stevens deepens the tragedy of all of these scenes, twisting the knife after its found flesh. He moves easily among each of the characters’ thoughts without any narrative break or sluggish pacing. For the Rat Pack, each interaction with another sex, another race, another class is marked by a tragic and mutual misunderstanding.
The Pack thinks the blue collar worker has it easy. He’s white. Opportunities fall in his lap at every turn. He’s obviously flush with cash and drunk with power. He moves easily and thoughtlessly through life doing what he wants. But, to the white repairman, it’s the Pack who has it easy. They don’t want for anything. They just lounge around all day, carefree while collecting government checks full of his money. They’re black, he thinks, they’ve had everything handed to them while he’s done nothing but a life spent busting his ass. Both sides never recognize that they’re both wronged in the same way. They’re caught up in the blinders of color. Color covers class.
It’s the same at the street fair. It’s always the same and it’s always sad.
The home invasion and sexual assault is the worst. The pack believes the white girl wants it. She’s a girl and look how’s she dressed. The make-up. The short skirt over that tight, little ass. Look how she’s walking, walking alone at night, at this hour. You know what she’s looking for, right? Besides, everyone knows all girls want it, even if they won’t admit it.
And the Pack? Well, shit, they’re black, right? Everyone knows black men hunger after white women, wanting a tender piece of the master’s milky daughter.
Even the victim’s aged mother isn’t guiltless. When the gang first threatens the assault, one of them suggests “doing the mother too” or, at least, making her watch. The daughter, knowing she’s powerless physically, tries to direct the situation as best she can, hoping to spare her mother the trauma of rape and watching her daughter’s rape. With no other choice, she coaxes the gang into the other room with just her.
The daughter’s sacrifice is lost on the mother. When the bedroom door closes, she wishes her daughter would just kill herself. Throw herself out the window, smashing and crashing down into the alley, dying in a bloody and broken, but virginal heap. Not killing herself can only mean that her daughter must like it. Must want it. That she’s done this before. That she’s tramped it up with men and some of them, heaven forbid, have been black.
And the gang moves on.
Finally, as the long night draws to a close, the pack attempts one last score and this is where everything goes bad for them. A single woman stands on a platform waiting for an elevated train. All the pack has to do is reach out, reach right there and grab that purse. That expensive-looking purse and they’ve got it, one more easy score that’ll put them over the top.
This crime, the simplest of all their crimes and in some ways the most innocent, goes horribly wrong. It lights the match that sets the entire novel aflame, igniting a frantic and frenzied conclusion that sets New York City ablaze with flashing red and blues thanks to a single purse.
In trying to construct a biography of the close-mouthed Stevens, I’ve had to rely a lot on references made in his work, names mentioned in the dedications of his novels. Sometimes too, to better understand his work, I’ve read other books within the genre that were written around the same period. Stevens’s first novel, Go Down Dead, also deals with gang life in Harlem and this triggered a gang novel binge: Warren Miller’s The Cool World, Harlan Ellison’s The Web of the City and Memos from Purgatory, David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade, Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land, Richard Price’s The Wanderers, and way too much Hal Ellson.
And finally Anthony Burgess. I hadn’t read A Clockwork Orange since I saw the movie many, many years ago. What really struck me about going back to the novel, especially following reading so many other books that tackled gang life directly, honestly, and concretely in very real ways was how underwhelmed I felt by Burgess’s novella. Probably the single strongest thing about the work is the made-up slang—Nadsat. At the beginning, it’s very off-putting. You’ve got to stick with it for a couple of pages before you begin to find the rhythm and pick things up by context, then the entire thing really sings. I’ll admit it: it’s a brilliant way to keep your novella from being dated and also get away with writing about really horrible acts of violence and rape.
I think it’s safe to say that nearly everyone, at least nearly everyone under a certain age, if they’ve read the book at all, only came to it after they saw the film. I know I did. Burgess, I suspect, knew this too and I think it explains a lot of his resentment about being the “Clockwork Orange guy” and having to be the one to defend the movie while Kubrick maintained his aloofness. I honestly believe a lot of the endurance of A Clockwork Orange comes from the film and its place in cinematic history, more so than any depth or continued resonance in the material. Burgess’s novella is so detached and removed from the characters and the world, it’s impossible to have any emotional connection. The 1971 adaptation is of huge historical importance in terms of movie violence. Kubrick’s film originally received an X-rating before some scene-trimming got it down to an R. While it passed intact through British censors, the film received so much flack and so many mentions in criminal cases, Kubrick had it pulled from UK distribution until after his death.
Kubrick’s artistic vision, not Burgess’s, produced an explosive that blasted through our collective conscious. The wounds from his masterful aestheticism of violence have healed, but we’re still left with the shrapnel in our skulls.
Kubrick, I think, understood how our brain processes threats. And violence, even when it’s not being done to us, is a threat. When presented with a threat we focus on it, then our brain floods our body with hormones to help us address said threat, whether tiger or strange tribesman. Society has progressed past the days of the savage wild, but our brains continue operating in the same manner. It’s what makes stress so difficult in the modern age. The mind still perceives modern threats like they were all tigers. The tiger, however, was easier. The tiger offered three possible outcomes: the tiger killed you, you killed the tiger, or you escaped. All three brought an end. The threats of the modern world are intangible, stressors that don’t really have an immediate foreseeable ending (like your relationship, your job, money, etc).
This is why portions of Kubrick’s film continue ghosting through our pop culture, even as the film itself becomes less seen and recognizable. You can find other artists and creators riffing on the work, even without operating in a dystopian near future or even understanding the source material. The famous opening slow-mo scene of Reservoir Dogs was done first in A Clockwork Orange. Both the Ramones and Rob Zombie have talked about the car Alex and his droogs steal: the Durango 95. Heath Ledger’s much lauded performance as the Joker is pure Clockwork Orange pastiche. An episode of the spy spoof Archer borrowed The Ludovico Technique. And the most recent Simpsons in a Halloween episode riffed on the film as well. Hell, even some images, like the droogs’ outfits, have taken on a life of their own, apart from an understanding of the film. They are recognizable without being necessarily understandable contextually.
A Clockwork Orange directed by Stanley Kubrick.
But does that make it worthwhile artistically or do we still remember it mostly for the door the film opened. I think it’s liking losing your virginity. It wasn’t the best sex, but you remember it.
Something important to keep in mind is that the film runs counter to the book. Despite hitting all the same plot points, Kubrick crafted a very different vision for Alex and his droogs. In his essay for The New Yorker, “The Clockwork Condition,” Burgess even calls it, “a very close film interpretation.” These little differences, like Alex using a cane instead of a razor, add up to a big difference when it comes to the tone. Many people try to attribute this to the “missing” 21st Chapter, Alex’s so-called “redemption,” but I think that’s bullshit, plain and simple.
Supposedly, Kubrick was unaware of the 21st Chapter until after writing the screenplay. I find this hard to believe. A number of scripts were written and rejected before Kubrick’s, including one by Burgess himself. But whether Kubrick was or was not aware, it doesn’t really matter because I think he would have ended with Alex the sociopath anyway. Not only do I think that’s a true read of book—Alex as sociopath without a redeeming quality—but Kubrick’s vision of man has always been an ignoble one. His cinematic dystopia is a very dark film about how everyone’s self-interest fucks us and in turn our society.
Watch Kubrick’s adaptation again and notice how everyone is corrupt—every single person. I mean across the board. There’s not a single character Alex interacts with who doesn’t want something from him or try to manipulate him for their own ends. Even the characters from the book who don’t want anything from Alex, the ones who want to help him just because it’s the right thing to do, they become smarmy in Kubrick’s hands, avatars of his favorite theme—a corrupt human nature makes a corrupt society.
Kubrick’s adaptation destroys any hint of Burgess’s free will theme, at least as Burgess “intended” it, and the attempt to place blame on the State. Film Alex chooses to undergo the Ludovico technique, Book Alex does not. What happens as a result of the Ludovico technique is Alex’s fault on every level in the film; he would have never experienced everything that happens in the second half if he hadn’t volunteered to undergo the treatment so he could get out of prison earlier. In the book, the indignities Alex suffers upon release are still truthfully all a result of his past actions but Alex not being able to defend himself was not readily a choice he made—at least according to Burgess. Kubrick’s Clockwork too presents a very different image of the government. Neither book nor film gives a clear picture of the State, who runs it, how they came into power, what are their policies other than the Ludovico Technique (a technique mind you that we only ever see applied to a robber, rapist, and murderer)? But visually we get the sense of the film world of A Clockwork Orange having slid from socialism to totalitarianism. The film government also appears stronger and more cohesive.
The only “positive” changes that “improve” a character are done to Alex. Even then, it’s fairly obvious, that those changes were probably to ensure the film was made. Film Alex is two years older than Book Alex. And Film Alex is also played by a nearly thirty-year-old Malcolm McDowell. Kubrick also changes a hard-to-stomach scene where Alex drugs and rapes two ten-year-old girls into a much different sexual encounter between three consenting young adults.
So, then let’s be honest about A Clockwork Orange. Strip away the sci-fi veneer and the weird slang, what do you got? Another gang novel. Honestly, a fairly standard and rather dull juvenile delinquent novel jacked-up on despicable violence, cloaked in slang terms, and then outfitted with some ham-handed Catholic moralizing.
Burgess’s inspiration, I think, is pretty clear—though there was, I believe, at one point, an attempt by him to cite as inspiration a riot that broke out between Mods and Rockers, a riot that occurred a full two years after he banged out his novella. With their “waisty jackets” and “off-white cravats,” the descriptions of the droogs’ clothes is purely a twist on the Teddy Boy, UK’s snappier-dressed answer to the “greaser.” We’re talking working class kids dressed like Edwardian gentlemen, dancing to rock ‘n’ roll, and causing trouble.
The subculture hit national awareness in the UK when the film Blackboard Jungle arrived in 1956. With Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” playing over the final credits, some rowdy teenagers took to the aisle of a south London theatre and started dancing. Staff intervened. The teenagers answered with switchblades and a riot.
The worry over this new juvenile delinquent situation reached fevered pitch with the 1958 Notting Hill Race Riots. Like any tense racial situation, Notting Hill began economically—poor whites confronted with an influx of poor blacks, mostly immigrants, into their neighborhood. Race is ever a good mask for the class war and this was certainly no exception.
The worst racial violence ever seen in the UK began when several white youths, reportedly mostly Teddy Boys, interjected themselves in an argument between Swedish-born Majbritt Morrison and her Jamaican-born husband Raymond. After exchanging slurs, a fight broke between the whites and some friends of Raymond.
The following night, some youths spotted Majbritt leaving a blues dance. The gang followed her and taunted her before striking her with a bottle and an iron bar. This was the final spark the neighborhood needed to erupt into nearly five days’ worth of violence.
Any obvious nod to current events and any attempt to examine youth violence or gang violence for that matter, or even just violence itself, in a meaningful way ends with the droogs’ clothes.
Burgess’s story begins at the Korova Milk Bar. Again, strip away the cosmetic appeal of the imagery—white liquids spiked with strange narcotics—and what do you have? Our lead character drinking milk like a kid. When the gang finishes their milk, they go to beat up a nerd: “There was a doddery starry school-master type veck, glasses on…He had books under his arm and a crappy umbrella and was coming round the corner from the Public Biblio…” That is followed by some general “stealing and roughing” then hiding out until the heat dies down. When questioned by the cops, the droogs answer with raspberries … “handed them a bit of lipmusic: brrrrzzzzrrrr.”
Once clear with the coppers, the Alex and his droogs rumble with another gang, then steal a car and drive it out to the country for a home invasion and a rape (in perhaps the most supreme show of juvenile behavior, referred to as the “old in-out”). Here Burgess spells his authorial intent out pretty clearly to save himself the trouble of actually demonstrating it, and perhaps gives us a wee bit of insight into his own persecution complex. While terrorizing the writer F. Alexander, Alex has a look at the book he’s writing called—wink, wink, nudge, nudge—A Clockwork Orange. The passage the young sociopath reads aloud is:
“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—”
See, this is a book about deep things.
After raping Mrs. Alexander, the droogs return to their milk bar, because, you know growing boys or something. Over a glass of spiked mammary liquid, the gang argues and fights with each other over, yes, prepare yourself for it…classic music and opera, because those are high-minded things that show Alex is a worthwhile being despite his constant and reasonless rapes, beatings, and killings.
On their next break-in, the droogs turn on their leader. Dim beats Alex with a chain and leaves him for the police. Alex is sentenced to fourteen years in a terrible prison filled with merciless guards and rape-eager inmates. Eventually, he manages to make friends with the prison chaplain and gets a job playing the music for Sunday Services.
After getting blamed for killing an inmate, Alex is selected for the Ludovico Technique, a type of brainwashing utilizing associative learning. The process fulfills its goal—prevent Alex from committing acts of violence. Burgess then steps in, again, this time as the chaplain, to explain to us what this means, the State is robbing him of his free will. However, it has a few unintended consequences: it renders him completely incapable of violence, even for self-defense, and it also leaves him incapable of enjoying classical music without suffering the same negative physical response.
The now defenseless Alex is released from prison. Some of his old victims take their revenge, and worst of all for Alex, he discovers his old henchman Dim and his enemy, rival gang leader, Billy Boy are now cops. The uniformed thugs pick Alex up, drive him out to the country and beat the hell out of him. Luckily, a battered Alex is rescued by F. Alexander, who doesn’t recognize him from the home invasion two years prior.
The writer and his three colleges think to use Alex against the State, turning his plight into a type of martyrdom … until Alex berates the writer in Nadsat. With Alex identified as the rapist and murderer of F. Alexander’s wife, the political dissidents come up with a new plan that will provide revenge while still using Alex as a martyr: lock him in a room and blast classical music until he kills himself.
Alex succumbs to their assault and flings himself out the window. Too bad for the political dissidents, he survives. While unconscious, a political struggle ensues—we never have a clear sense of this or what either of the sides stand for, just that the current administration survives. At the State’s behest, Doctors reverse the Ludovico Technique in exchange for the little bastard’s endorsement, and this where Kubrick’s film version and the US editions of the book ended…until 1986.
The “lost chapter” picks up with Alex several years later. He’s running with a new gang and up to the same old shenanigans, only now, he’s a little bored with the whole thing. (This doesn’t surprise me in terms of the narrative—I was a little bored by this point too.) Apparently, our psychopathic narrator is simply tired of the old ultra-violence. Much like with the rest of the novella, we don’t really know exactly why, and we never actually see him actually living a different life, just thinking about it.
But that’s okay because in the new foreword to the 1986 unabridged edition, Burgess gladly explains it for us, “What happens in the twenty-first chapter? You now have the chance to find out. Briefly, my protagonist grows up.” He is then kind enough to point out how clever he is because this “growing up occurs” in the 21st chapter.
And that’s really part of the problem of why A Clockwork Orange is so lacking. So much of the novella, like most of his work, is really about Burgess proving how much smarter than us he is.
After squabbling with his new gang, Alex heads toward home. En route, he chances upon one of his original droogs. Pete now has a family and is on his way with his wife to a friend’s house for game night. They chat for a minute before everyone heads their separate ways. This could be a very powerful scene about choice and what happens when robbed of choice. Unfortunately, we know even less about Pete than we do about Alex. Pete just is the way Pete is, as Burgess wants him to be.
Alex resumes his trek home, contemplating how much he’d like a wife and eventually a son of his own. However, it’s tinged:
“But then I knew he would not understand or would not want to understand at all and would do all the veshches I had done, yes perhaps even killing some poor starry forella surrounded with mewing kots and koshkas, and I would not be able to really stop him. And nor would he be able to stop his own son, brothers. And so it would itty on to like the end of the world …”
Burgess ever maintains his intellectual bubble to ensure his emotionally-removed distance. Alex’s thoughts about a future son are Burgess’s way of saying, “It’s alright, you know, boys will be boys.” And this is supposed to be Alex’s redemption.
Returning to his New Yorker essay, Burgess wrote that: “In the British edition of the book—though not in the American, nor in the film—there is an epilogue that shows Alex growing up, learning distaste for his old way of life, thinking of love as more than a mode of violence, even foreseeing himself as a husband and father. The way has always been open; at last he chooses to take it.” I have to disagree with that assessment. Burgess is lying to himself as much as he is lying to us. That may be what he intended for Chapter 21 to show but it doesn’t succeed. Because again, we don’t actually see him choosing anything. Alex just thinks about it.
Like the rest of the novella, the supposed redemption is yet another place where Burgess presents us with something, then tells us what it is, without it actually being that thing. It’s like me giving you a plate of spaghetti and telling you this is desert. There’s never any real expression of guilt or a shift in maturity for Alex. Just a dissatisfaction, and dissatisfaction does not equal maturity. Dissatisfaction makes you human or at least as close as Alex can come to human. Worse still, Alex’s dissatisfaction, despite the heavy-handed and rather silly minutia of a random picture of a baby, never receives any real focus until he meets Pete. And that focus, based on the rest of Alex’s psychopathic behavior—by this point he’s stolen, beaten, and raped lots of people for no reason and with no explanation other than why not; Alex himself even admits early on, “But, myself, I couldn’t help a bit of disappointment at things as they were those days. Nothing to fight against really. Everything as easy as kiss-my-sharries”—comes off as just another example of his antisocial personality disorder; I think Millon and Davis would probably refer to Alex here as a “covetous sociopath.”
A Clockwork Orange is supposed to be about how being bad of your own free will is better than being good by force—because Burgess literally tells us so. The novella operates in a vacuum until Burgess comes in as author and a man of god to tell us that right at this moment it’s important. But we’re never given anything of it, we never get anything out of it. There’s no evidence. Because everything bad in the novel happens out of Alex’s choice. It’s all consequence. Even the Ludovico Technique is a consequence of Alex’s imprisonment, an imprisonment that happened due to his own actions. Everything he suffers after the Ludovico technique is even consequence. F. Alexander wouldn’t have tried to kill him if Alex hadn’t beaten him up, and raped and murdered his wife. The only thing Alex didn’t directly cause was the being unable to defend himself and the not being able to listen to classical music.
This creates, if you can separate yourself from Burgess telling you what it’s about and he did this time and time again over the years, a disconnect. Burgess tries to trick us by bestowing Alex with these classically positive traits that are meant to increase our opinion of him when he tells us what we couldn’t possibly understand otherwise. You know, Alex is clever, he appreciates beauty and fine things, and he’s aggressive. And oh, look, there’s classic music too, see, this book is learned, deep stuff; now, let’s move on to another rape.
Alex’s redemption is as hollow as the book itself.
Now, there’s an attempt later to make this a political book. Oh, the evils of the state imposing upon the free will given to us by God. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bigger bunch of bullshit. It’s just sloganism, and sloganism is about making a statement that’s vague but really just says something no one will ever disagree with. In Clockwork, we never have a clear idea of the State. Who are they? What are their policies? Were they elected? Did they take the government by force? Are they popular? (You can’t count F. Alexander because every single government has dissidents). The State in the novel is just a bogeyman. A name given a capital S and conjured to frighten with its Cold War echoes, an Iron Curtain allusion strengthened by the Russian basis for Nadsat. The State is a plot device, and it’s a device that it’s not nearly as sharp as needs be because while they do clearly violate Alex’s rights on a universal rights of man level, ultimately, because Burgess gave us a book of violence lacking real emotional resonance, all we know is they attempted a treatment on a vicious killer and rapist, who continued to be vicious and terrible once cured of the treatment, and offers us a redemption tempered with covetousness and a slipshod soliloquy about how we’ve always and will always be violent. Alex’s thoughts at the end have as much gravitas as an alcoholic telling you that you shouldn’t do drugs.
I think Burgess knew this. When the American editions of his novel finally included the cut chapter, he discussed his feelings of the work in general, made his ennui at still being “the clockwork orange guy” quite clear, discussed the circumstances surrounding the chapter being cut in the first place, and why Alex’s “redemption” is important. He writes something that’s very telling: “There comes a time however when violence is seen as juvenile and boring. It is the repartee of the stupid and the ignorant.”
Obviously, he’s talking about Alex’s “redemption.” Alex has grown up, according to Burgess, and realizes violence is dumb. It’s also still more indication of his frustration with being the Clockwork Orange guy who has to answer for the movie. But it’s also really what continues to strike me about the book.
I think it’s far more interesting and important than his shell game of free will and God.
Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange quickly, in just three weeks, and he wrote it for money. In his book Flame into Being: The Life and Work of D. H. Lawrence, he engages in a bit of self-reflection and admits boldly that A Clockwork Orange was “written a quarter of a century ago, a jeu d’esprit knocked off for money in three weeks …” When the America editions finally started including the 21st Chapter, he admits that’s why he never fought the omission. The American publisher, according to Burgess, wanted the book without the “redemption chapter” and Burgess wanted his check.
I think this is really what bothered Burgess so much about Clockwork. He wrote a fairly standard juvenile delinquent novel, churched it up with some sci-fi argot and a whole mess of violence and rape he got away with thanks to some clever use of slang, then he appeased his ego by telling us it’s really this deeply philosophical something or other. Then it got turned into it a movie he had to defend.
And he hated it, because, in his own words, violence is juvenile and boring.
Chad Eagleton is a Spinetingler Award nominee and a two-time Watery Grave Invitational finalist for his writing. He is presently a co-editor for the BEAT to a PULP webzine and a reader for Needle: A Magazine of Noir. Most recently, he completed work on Hoods, Hot Rods, and Hellcats, a 1950s-themed anthology featuring an introduction from counterculture legend Mick Farren. Currently, he is completing a biography of forgotten crime author Shane Stevens, tentatively titled The Darker Half.