Introduced by Irvine Welsh
Illustrated by Ben Jones
Burgess's iconic novel, presented in a new edition introduced by Irvine Welsh.
‘Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.’ So says the prison chaplain, perhaps the only voice of reason in Anthony Burgess’s most celebrated work. Both a horrific satire of youth culture and an ingenious examination of social justice and government control, A Clockwork Orange has left an indelible, boot-shaped mark on the popular and literary culture of the late 20th century. Stanley Kubrick’s notorious 1971 film — with its iconic imagery and enduring controversies — has overshadowed a work whose philosophical paradoxes and astonishing linguistic invention are some of literature’s most inspired.
‘I do not know of any other writer who has done so much with language as Mister Burgess has done here’
Alex, ‘Your Humble Narrator’, and his droogs terrorise a nightmarish London of the near future. He describes his life of ‘britvas’ (razors) and ‘twenty- to-one’ (fun / gang violence) in Nadsat, an idiom fusing Cockney rhyming slang, corrupted Russian and invented polyglot constructions. The language is spellbinding, often Joycean: ‘trombones crunched redgold under my bed, and behind my gulliver the trumpets three-wise silverflamed’. As introducer Irvine Welsh writes, ‘the “Nadsat” spoken by Alex does more than draw readers to admire his linguistic craft: it compels them to traverse the mechanics of their own comprehension’.
The Folio Society's new edition of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, introduced by Irvine Welsh. Here illustrator by Ben Jones talks about this fascinating commission and how he went about separating the text from Stanley Kubrick's iconic 1971 film adaptation.
'My first impression of the book when taking it out of its packaging was how perfect it felt in my hands. The black alligator skin binding with its metallic orange illustration really highlights what you are about to experience while reading the book. The final production of the book has gone beyond my expectations'
Click here to read a blog post by Ben Jones, discussing his work on A Clockwork Orange.
This edition follows the restored text of 2012, which includes the 21st chapter excluded from early US editions of the book. Also featured here is an expanded glossary, compiled with reference to Burgess’s handwritten notes and letters to his editors. Comprehensive notes from Burgess’s biographer Andrew Biswell explore allusions in the text, including references to the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins. The binding simulates alligator skin, while Ben Jones’s sinister collage illustrations are reminiscent of cautionary fairy tales.
In the novel, Anthony Burgess creates a dissonant, hyper-real but easily recognisable world. The violence is slapstick and theatrical, the language a beautiful challenge that pays off within the first dozen pages and just keeps on giving. William S. Burroughs wrote: ‘I do not know of any other writer who has done as much with language as Mister Burgess has done here.’ The ‘Nadsat’ spoken by Alex does more than draw readers to admire his linguistic craft: it compels them to traverse the mechanics of their own comprehension, whereby they must deploy their grasp of syntax and dredge up any etymological knowledge they might possess as a means of determining the sense of those unfamiliar words from their contexts. The stylised uber-formality and recurring bathos of Alex’s voice renders this process both sinister and occasionally hilarious.
Alex and his droogs wander an out-of-kilter city in a dystopian future Britain. Published in 1962, when we ‘never had it so good’, according to Prime Minister Macmillan, A Clockwork Orange is both an endorsement of and riposte to the reactionary responses to the burgeoning youth culture and the moral panic that has attended gangs of supposedly lawless, feral young men since, well, for ever. In the post-war affluent TV age, the persistence and increasing stylisation of urban violence into youth cults seemed to present a new set of challenges to the bourgeois order. Burgess, almost a self-made reactionary, does what all great novelists and artists should do: antagonise bourgeois precepts, be they of the right or the left. With its exposé of the hypocrisy of rehabilitation, this is as much a political novel as Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.