A Clockwork Orange Author Anthony Burgess's Favorite Dystopias

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Although he was an accomplished playwright, literary critic, and essayist, author Anthony Burgess—who was born 100 years ago today—is best known for writing the dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, which director Stanley Kubrick adapted for the big screen nine years after its 1962 publication. While A Clockwork Orange is considered one of the most important books of the 20th century, it is deeply influenced by big titles written by other iconic authors, including Aldous Huxley and George Orwell. In his 1984 book Ninety-Nine Novels: The Best in English Since 1939, Burgess listed his five favorite dystopian novels. We've excerpted some of Burgess's analysis below; you can read his complete thoughts on The International Anthony Burgess Foundation's website.


"The narrative presents, with great accuracy and power, the agony of American troops in the Pacific campaign. A representative group of lower-class Americans forms the reconnaissance patrol sent before a proposed attack on the Japanese-held island of Anopopei. We smell the hot dishrag effluvia of the jungle and the sweat of the men... The futility of war is well presented. The island to be captured has no strategic importance. The spirit of revolt among the men is stirred by an accident: the patrol stumbles into a hornets’ nest and runs away, dropping weapons and equipment, the naked leaving the dead behind them. An impulse can contain seeds of human choice: we have not yet been turned entirely into machines."


“This is one of the few dystopian or cacotopian visions which have changed our habits of thought. It is possible to say that the ghastly future Orwell foretold has not come about simply because he foretold it: we were warned in time... Whether Orwell himself, were he alive today, would withdraw any part of his prophecy (if it is a prophecy) we do not know. he was mortally sick when he made it, admitting that it was a dying man’s fantasy. The memorable residue of Nineteen Eighty-Four, as of Brave New World, is the fact of the tenuousness of human freedom, the vulnerability of the human will, and the genuine power of applied science."


"This is no Orwellian future. It is a world incapable of the dynamic of tyranny. Even the weather is always cool and grey, with no room for wither fire or ice. The state motto is ‘Every valley shall be exalted.’ This is a brilliant projection of tendencies already apparent in the post-war British welfare state but, because the book lacks the expected horrors of cacotopian fiction, it has met less appreciation than Nineteen Eighty-Four."


"For forty years his readers forgave Huxley for turning the novel form into an intellectual hybrid — the teaching more and more overlaid the proper art of the story-teller. Having lost him, we now find nothing to forgive. No novels more stimulating, exciting or genuinely enlightening came out of the post-Wellsian time. Huxley more than anyone helped to equip the contemporary novel with a brain."


“England … after nuclear war, is trying to organize tribal culture after the total destruction of a centralized industrial civilization. The past has been forgotten, and even the art of making fire has to be relearned. The novel is remarkable not only for its language but for its creation of a whole set of rituals, myths and poems.”

[h/t Open Culture]