Literary Daybook, May 14

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
May 14, 2002 11:00PM (UTC)
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Today in fiction

On May 14, an account of the death of Sir Charles Baskerville appears in a newspaper.
-- "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1902)
by Arthur Conan Doyle

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1962, Anthony Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange" was published. Burgess wrote over 50 books, dozens of musical compositions, many scripts for television and radio, and countless newspaper and magazine articles. Though many do not think it his best novel -- the vote seems to go to "Earthly Powers" (1980) -- "A Clockwork Orange" made Burgess internationally famous, perhaps largely due to the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film and the controversy that arose concerning its violence. Some found the book prophetic of our social breakdown; some blamed it as the cause of same or an attempt to capitalize; some dismissed it, and Burgess, because of it: "Anthony Burgess is a literary smart aleck whose novel 'A Clockwork Orange' last year achieved a success d'estime with critics like William Burroughs, who mistook his muddle of sadism, teddyboyism, jive talk and Berlitz Russian for social philosophy."

Burgess thought it his least favorite book, and he hated the movie -- which dropped his last chapter, as did some editions -- but he did not think he was in a muddle over meaning:


"The book was called 'A Clockwork Orange' for various reasons. I had always loved the Cockney phrase 'queer as a clockwork orange,' that being the queerest thing imaginable ... I saw that this title would be appropriate for a story about the application of Pavlovian, or mechanical, laws to an organism which, like a fruit, was capable of colour and sweetness."

Having had to write the book "in a state of near drunkenness in order to deal with material that upset me very much," Burgess was unhappy with those who thought him a promoter of violence: "I am not, but I am committed to freedom of choice, which means that if I cannot choose to do evil nor can I choose to do good. It is better to have our streets infested with murderous young hoodlums than to deny individual choice." And better violence in the streets than death by television, says antihero Alex to his droogs, as they head out "for a yell or a razrez or a bit of in-out-in-out in the dark":

"... and in the windows of all the flats you could viddy like blue dancing light. This would be the telly. Tonight was what they called a worldcast, meaning that the same programme was being viddied by everybody in the world that wanted to, that being mostly the middle-aged middle-class lewdies. There would be some big famous stupid comic chelloveck or black singer, and it was all being bounced off the special telly satellites in outer space, my brothers."


-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

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