This Day In Writing History
On March 5th, 1954, Under Milk Wood, the classic play by the legendary Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, was published in London, England - four months after the author's untimely death. The "play for voices" was originally written for BBC radio.
Under Milk Wood features an omniscient narrator who invites the audience to listen to the dreams and thoughts of the people who live in the small, seaside Welsh village of Llareggub.
The Welsh-sounding name Llareggub is actually a crude English phrase - bugger all - spelled backwards. It's a classic example of Thomas' sense of humor and love for wordplay.
Who lives in Llareggub? The twice married Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard's husbands are both dead - so she nags their ghosts. The blind Captain Cat dreams of his seafaring adventures and his long dead love, Rosie Probert.
Dai Bread, the village baker, who has two wives, (one for the day and one for the night) dreams of harems. Polly Garter pines for her dead lover and dreams of babies. Meanwhile, Nogood Boyo can't be bothered to dream at all, and Organ Morgan is obsessed with his music.
Those are just some of the over five dozen characters in the play, as Thomas paints funny, affectionate, sensitive, and sometimes disturbing portraits of people he had grown up with in the seaside Welsh village of his childhood.
Under Milk Wood had already been commissioned and paid for in advance by the BBC. Thomas turned over his handwritten manuscript to a professional typist. After the typed copy was returned to him, he lost it.
He phoned his BBC producer to report the loss and told the man that if he could find the missing manuscript, he could keep it. The producer did find it - in a Soho pub - resulting in legal wrangling over the rightful ownership after Thomas died.
Not long after he lost and regained his manuscript for Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas embarked on his final American tour, where he participated in the first reading of his play on May 14th, 1953, at the Poetry Center in New York City. His health had already begun to deteriorate.
Several months later, he would die at the age of 39. At first, Thomas was thought to have died of a cerebral hemorrhage, but then there were reports that he had been the victim of a violent mugging.
Thomas had been an alcoholic notorious for his drinking binges, so some said that he drank himself to death. Others claimed that he died of drug addiction, or succumbed to diabetes complications.
Actually, Thomas died from a severe case of pneumonia, which resulted in swelling of the brain due to lack of oxygen. He had been plagued with breathing problems for some time and used an inhaler. The autopsy showed that his liver was in surprisingly good condition, but there were signs of alcohol poisoning.
In his book Fatal Neglect: Who Killed Dylan Thomas?, author David N. Thomas (no relation) claimed that Dylan Thomas really died from medical malpractice at the hands of his personal physician, Dr. Feltenstein.
Feltenstein had misdiagnosed Thomas' severe pneumonia as delirium tremens and given him morphine. Then, to cover his tracks, he pressured other doctors to conclude that Thomas died from complications of alcoholism.
Quote Of The Day
"An alcoholic is someone you don't like who drinks as much as you do." - Dylan Thomas
Today's video features a complete performance of Dylan Thomas' classic play Under Milk Wood by actor Roger Worrod. Enjoy!
Thursday, March 5, 2015
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On March 4th, 1952, the legendary American writer Ernest Hemingway completed the manuscript for his classic final novel, The Old Man and the Sea. The novel would first be published in Life magazine that same year.
Written while Hemingway was living in Cuba, The Old Man and the Sea was his favorite work, and with good reason. His previous novel, Across the River and Into the Trees (1950) was savaged by the critics.
They said that Hemingway was washed up as a writer - he had become a parody of himself. The Old Man and the Sea proved them wrong. It was the comeback novel of the decade, a success he desperately needed.
Hemingway's thrilling tale of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman far out in the Gulf Stream, who struggles to reel in a giant marlin, won him tremendous praise by critics, who compared his novel with Melville's Moby Dick and Faulkner's The Bear.
The Old Man and the Sea also won Hemingway the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature. I first read it when I was thirteen and in the eighth grade. My English teacher assigned the class to read this amazing book. I loved it and became a big Hemingway fan. I still am.
The Old Man and the Sea was first adapted as a feature film in 1958, starring Spencer Tracy as Santiago. Tracy's performance earned him an Oscar nomination.
Still, the film was a disappointment to Ernest Hemingway, who believed that Tracy was miscast - he looked like a rich old white actor, not a poor, aging Cuban fisherman.
A 1990 TV movie adaptation, starring Anthony Quinn as Santiago, proved to be even worse, with Quinn's solid performance undermined by a bad script and a low budget.
The Old Man and the Sea would prove to be Ernest Hemingway's last great work of literature. Nine years after it was published, in July of 1961, Hemingway committed suicide with his hunting rifle after suffering from health problems and mental illness.
Ironically, even though he had previously voiced the Catholic belief that all suicides go to Hell, the Catholic Church ruled that Hemingway was not responsible for his suicide due to mental illness. He was therefore allowed to be buried in a Catholic cemetery.
Hemingway's father and two of his siblings had also committed suicide, and years later, his granddaughter, actress Margaux Hemingway, would take her life. Some believe that haemochromatosis, which ran in Hemingway's father's family, may have been the cause.
Haemochromatosis is a genetic disease that causes an excessive level of iron in the blood, resulting in damage to the pancreas and instability in the cerebrum - which can lead to depression and mental illness.
Quote Of The Day
"My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way." - Ernest Hemingway
Today's video features a complete reading of The Old Man and The Sea.. Enjoy!
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On March 3rd, 1926, the famous American writer James Merrill was born in New York City. His father, Charles E. Merrill, was a founding partner of the Merrill Lynch investment firm. As a young boy, James Merrill enjoyed a very privileged upbringing. He had a nanny who taught him French and German.
When Merrill was eleven years old, his parents separated. They would divorce two years later. As a teenager, Merrill attended the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, where he met and became friends with future novelist Frederick Beuchner.
When he was sixteen, his father surprised him by privately publishing a collection of his short stories and poems under the title Jim's Book. James Merrill would later regard this collection as an embarrassment.
In 1944, Merrill found himself drafted into the Army. He served an eight month tour of duty. When he returned, he resumed his interrupted studies at Amherst College.
One of his professors, Kimon Friar, who was also his boyfriend, privately published a collection of his poems in Athens, Greece. Only fifty copies of The Black Swan (1946) were printed, making the book one of the most sought after literary rarities.
James Merrill's first commercially published book was a poetry collection titled First Poems (1951). In 1953, after a performance of Merrill's play The Bait in New York City, the author met David Jackson, who would become his partner of four decades.
By 1955, they settled in Connecticut. During the first two decades of their relationship, they would visit Greece every year, vacationing in Athens. Merrill's writings often featured Greek themes, locales, and characters.
As a poet, James Merrill's style was elegant and witty. He was a master of wordplay, puns, and traditional poetic forms and meter, but he also wrote many works of free verse and blank verse.
By the 1970s, he had established himself as one of the finest poets of his generation. In 1973, he won the Bollingen Prize. His seventh poetry collection, Divine Comedies (1976), which included his famous narrative poem Lost In Translation, won him a Pulitzer Prize. Divine Comedies also included The Book of Ephraim.
The Book of Ephraim was the first part of a three-book epic poem that would be published first in installments, then in one complete volume as The Changing Light at Sandover (1983).
The 560-page epic poem, sometimes referred to as a postmodern apocalyptic epic, was supposedly the result of twenty years of Merrill's transcriptions of spirit voices channeled through a Ouija board at seances held by Merrill and his partner, David Jackson.
Merrill's friends, admirers, and the literary world itself were quite shocked by his interest in the occult. Whether the epic poem really was dictated by spirit voices is debatable.
There can be no doubt that the books contained in The Changing Light at Sandover represent one of the most dazzling - and longest - epic poems ever written. It won Merrill the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1983.
One volume, Mirabell's Books of Number (1979), won him the National Book Award for Poetry. The Library of Congress awarded him the first Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry for his 1988 poetry collection, The Inner Room.
Although trust funds established during his early childhood provided James Merrill with great personal wealth, he preferred to live modestly and use his wealth to fund his philanthropic endeavors.
He created the Ingram Merrill Foundation, (named after his mother and father) which subsidized literature, the arts, and public television.
He also provided financial assistance to his close friends, poet Elizabeth Bishop and celebrated experimental filmmaker Maya Deren, as well as anonymous donations to other writers and artists.
Though he was best known as a poet, Merrill also wrote three plays, two novels, and works of non-fiction including a memoir, A Different Person (1993).
In this classic memoir, James Merill painted a candid portrait of gay life during the 1950s and described his crippling bout with writer's block, for which he sought psychiatric help.
He died of AIDS-related complications in 1995 at the age of 68.
Quote Of The Day
"Strange about parents. We have such easy access to them and such daunting problems of communication." - James Merrill
Today's video features a rare recording of James Merrill reading his poem Voices from the Other World. Enjoy!
Monday, March 2, 2015
My latest article for the local newspaper, Amigoe Express, is up.
Another article of mine was published in Amigoe Express (a Curaçao daily) and is at the newspaper's website.
Deb O’Neille Schubbe
Minnesota-based magazine editor (not for a publication about writing) found me through my blog, published an article of mine in January, and called yesterday with an opportunity for another assignment. When he first contacted me, he said he'd read a few articles on my blog, liked my style, and it seemed that I "knew a thing or two about writing." So he offered me an assignment to write something that had nothing to do with writing.
My new article will be published in the May issue of Connect Magazine.
Yesterday the 2015 issue of Montana, the Magazine of Western History, published by the Montana Historical Society, finally arrived in my mailbox. Inside the magazine is my, “In the Winner's Circle: How Montana Thoroughbreds Upset the Nineteenth Century's Racing Establishment.”
I’ve also received a $3,000 grant from Humanities Montana to further my research about late nineteenth century horse racing in Montana. The end product will be a nonfiction book proposal.
Oh, and one more thing, I just landed an assignment for EQUUS about, well, horse racing.
Theresa A. Cancro
Two poems are up this week. “Eventide,” on Leaves of Ink.
A haiku in A Hundred Gourds, Issue #4.2. Scroll down.
Friday, February 27, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On February 27th, 1807, the legendary American writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine. A child prodigy, he began his schooling at the age of three. At six, he was studying Latin and reading Miguel Cervantes' classic epic novel, Don Quixote.
Longfellow was thirteen when his first published poem, The Battle of Lovell's Pond, appeared in the Portland Gazette. Two years later, he enrolled at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. There, he met legendary writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, who became his lifelong friend.
After graduating in 1825 at the age of eighteen, he was offered a job as professor of modern languages at Bowdoin, on the condition that he travel to Europe to learn more languages. So, he embarked on a three-year European tour, where he became fluent in French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Portuguese.
While in Madrid, Longfellow met legendary American writer Washington Irving, who encouraged him to become a professional writer. Longfellow based his second book, a travelogue called Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea (1835), on his European tour.
Back in America, when he wasn't teaching at Bowdoin, he translated French, Spanish, and German textbooks. His first book, published in 1833, was a translation of the works of medieval Spanish poet Jorge Manrique.
In 1831, Longfellow married his childhood sweetheart, Mary Storer Potter. She died three years later from illness following the miscarriage of their only child. Her husband was devastated. At the time, he had been teaching languages at Harvard and had become fluent in Dutch, Danish, Swedish, and Icelandic.
After losing his wife, Longfellow threw himself into his work, mostly to escape his grief. He worked on more translations and began publishing the poetry collections that would make him famous, such as Voices in the Night (1839) and Ballads and Other Poems (1841).
To escape his loneliness, Longfellow socialized with fellow writers and scholars. In 1839, five years after he'd lost his wife, he found himself falling love again, with Frances "Fanny" Appleton, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. She wasn't interested in him.
Nevertheless, Longfellow determined to win her heart, writing to a friend, "Victory hangs doubtful. The lady says she will not! I say she shall! It is not pride, but the madness of passion." After a tumultuous seven year courtship, Fanny's dogged admirer won her heart.
It almost didn't happen when Longfellow published Hyperion, a Romance (1839), a novel inspired by their early courtship. The protagonist, Paul Flemming, a grief stricken American wandering through Germany, meets an Englishwoman named Mary Ashburton and determines to win her heart.
When Fanny learned that she was the inspiration for the character of Mary Ashburton, she was neither flattered nor amused. Longfellow wouldn't give up. When in a letter she finally agreed to marry him, he walked 90 minutes to her home rather than wait for a carriage.
The couple would remain together for eighteen years and have six children before tragedy struck again. In July of 1861, Fanny was trying to seal an envelope with hot wax when her dress caught fire. Her screams woke Longfellow from his nap, and he tried to save her.
Severely burned, Fanny was tended by a doctor who administered ether to her throughout the day and night. She died the next morning. Longfellow had been burned as well, but he would recover physically, growing a beard to hide his facial scars. Emotionally, he was destroyed.
Longfellow had used laudanum (a tincture of opium) to ease the pain of his burns; now physically healed, he used the drug to ease the pain of his depression. He feared that he might go insane and begged his family not to send him to an asylum. He determined to write again.
By now, Longfellow had become the most famous poet in America, and one of the richest writers as well. He continued to write poetry collections and novels. In 1867, he published his greatest work as a scholar - a translation of Dante Alighieri's classic poem, The Divine Comedy.
Longfellow also devoted his later years to social causes. A prominent abolitionist, he protested slavery and supported the Union during the Civil War. He opposed a prewar compromise to allow slavery to preserve the union, but hoped that the Northern and Southern states could reconcile after the war ended.
As a poet, Longfellow was known as a master of lyric poetry. A versatile poet, he experimented with both traditional and free verse, using anapestic and trochaic forms, heroic couplets, ballads, sonnets, and blank verse - unrhymed iambic pentameter.
His greatest poems include Paul Revere's Ride, The Village Blacksmith, The Wreck of the Hesperus, and his classic epic poems, Evangeline and The Song of Hiawatha, which was based on Ojibwe tribal legends.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow died of peritonitis in 1882 at the age of 75.
Quote Of The Day
"The tragic element in poetry is like Saturn in alchemy — the Malevolent, the Destroyer of Nature; but without it no true Aurum Potabile, or Elixir of Life, can be made." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Today's video features a complete reading of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's classic epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha. Enjoy!
Thursday, February 26, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On February 26th, 1802, the legendary French writer Victor Hugo was born in Bensancon, France. He grew up during an important time in French history; when he was two years old, Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Emperor. By the time Hugo turned eighteen, the Bourbon Monarchy had been restored.
The opposing forces that shaped French history during this time were reflected in Hugo's parents. His father Joseph was an atheist and a high-ranking officer in Napoleon's army, while his mother Sophie was an extremely devout Catholic and Royalist.
Although Victor Hugo was close to his controlling mother, against her wishes, he married his childhood sweetheart, Adele Foucher. They had five children. Their first, Leopold, died in infancy. Hugo's eldest daughter, Leopoldine, died suddenly at the age of nineteen - shortly after her wedding.
Leopoldine and her husband were aboard a boat that capsized; she drowned, and her husband died trying to save her. Victor Hugo, traveling in the south of France with his mistress, was devastated when he read about Leopoldine's death in a newspaper. She had been his favorite daughter. He would write many poems about her life and death.
As a young writer, Victor Hugo's main influence was François-René de Chateaubriand, founder of the Romanticism movement in French literature. He vowed to be "Chateaubriand or nothing." Hugo's first book, a poetry collection titled Odes et Poésies Diverses, was published in 1822, when he was twenty years old.
It was well received and earned Hugo a royal pension from King Louis XVIII, but it was his 1826 poetry collection, Odes et Ballades, that established him as one of the greatest poets of his time.
Victor Hugo first made a name for himself as a novelist with his 1829 novella, Le Dernier jour d'un Condamné. (The Last Day of a Condemned Man). The story is narrated by a man condemned to death. He describes his life in prison and bears his soul to the reader.
He never identifies himself by name, nor does he reveal his crime, only hinting vaguely that he killed someone. On the day of his execution, he is reunited with his three-year-old daughter, but she doesn't recognize him. The novella would have a profound influence on great writers such as Albert Camus, Charles Dickens, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Two years after his novella Le Dernier jour d'un Condamné was published, Hugo released what would become his first classic full-length novel. Notre-Dame de Paris, best known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), was a huge critical and commercial success.
The tragic love story dealt with social injustice - the recurring theme in Hugo's prose. Set in late 15th century Paris, the novel tells the tale of Quasimodo, a deformed hunchback who lives in the Notre Dame cathedral, where he serves as the bell ringer.
The townspeople despise and shun him because of his deformities, and his adoptive father, a priest named Claude Frollo, mistreats him. Quasimodo soon falls in love with Esmeralda, a beautiful Gypsy dancer, who has captured the hearts of most men in town, including Claude Frollo.
Esmeralda's physical beauty is nothing compared to her inner beauty, as she is very kind and compassionate. When the lust-crazed priest sends Quasimodo to kidnap Esmeralda, he is caught, beaten, and ordered to remain out in the heat. Esmeralda brings him water.
When Esmeralda falls in love with Phoebus de Chateaupers, the captain of the King's Archers, the jealous Claude Frollo nearly murders him in a fit of rage, then frames Esmeralda for the crime. She is sentenced to be hanged, but Quasimodo saves her from the gallows and takes her to the cathedral.
There, she would be safe under the law of sanctuary, but then the King vetoes the law and commands his troops to take Esmeralda from the cathedral. Claude Frollo betrays her and hands her over to them, then watches her hang.
Quasimodo kills the evil priest, then goes to the graveyard, where he climbs into Esmeralda's grave and dies with her. A year later, the skeletons of Esmeralda and Quasimodo are found locked in an embrace.
Victor Hugo's greatest novel was his legendary masterpiece, Les Miserables (1862), a dazzling 1,200+ page epic novel that took the author 17 years to write. Originally published in five volumes, Les Miserables opens in Digne in 1815, as poor peasant Jean Valjean is released from prison.
He served nineteen years - five years for stealing bread to feed his starving sister, plus an additional fourteen years for his frequent escape attempts. Forced to carry a passport that identifies him as a convict, Valjean finds himself scorned by society.
He becomes so angry and bitter that when the kindhearted Bishop Myriel takes him in, he steals the man's silverware, and later, a young boy's silver coin. The Bishop saves Valjean from the police and inspires him to repent and make an honest man of himself.
Valjean decides to return the silver coin he stole, then finds that the theft has been reported. Another conviction would result in a life sentence, so he goes on the lam. Using the alias Monsieur Madeleine, Valjean follows the Bishop's advice and reinvents himself as an honest, productive citizen.
All the while, he is pursued relentlessly by police Inspector Javert. Later, Valjean reveals his true identity when Javert mistakenly arrests an innocent man named Champmathieu whom he thinks is Jean Valjean.
When Valjean has a chance to kill Javert and escape, he refuses to do so, and for the first time, the policeman recognizes the immorality of the law to which he has dedicated his life. It drives him to suicide.
In addition to the story of Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, Les Miserables follows many other characters, who also face the specter of social injustice.
The novel, rightfully considered to be one of the greatest ever written, has been adapted numerous times for the stage, screen, and television, the most famous adaptation being a celebrated Broadway musical. The most recent film adaptation, released in 2012, is an adaptation of the Broadway musical starring Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean.
Victor Hugo would become involved in politics, where he would fight the social injustices he had written about. In 1841, King Louis-Philippe elevated him to the peerage, and he entered the Higher Chamber as a pair de France, (nobleman) where he spoke out against the death penalty and other forms of social injustice. He advocated freedom of speech and a free press.
Hugo soon tired of the monarchy and became a supporter of the Republican form of government. Thus, when the Second Republic was formed in France following the 1848 Revolution, Hugo was elected to the Constitutional Assembly and the Legislative Assembly.
When Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) seized total power in 1851 and established an anti-parliamentary constitution, Hugo openly denounced him as a traitor to France. The writer went into exile, living in Brussels and Jersey before settling in with his family on the channel island of Guernsey, where he would live until 1870.
While in exile, Hugo used his influence to help fight social injustice in other countries. He also wrote and published his famous anti-Napoleon III pamphlets, which, although banned in France, made a huge impact there. When Hugo returned to France in 1870, he was elected to the National Assembly and the Senate and hailed as a national hero.
Victor Hugo's writings were also influenced by his religious views, which changed radically over the years. At first, he was a devout Catholic like his mother, but then he grew disenchanted with the Church, which he perceived as being indifferent to the plight of the poor and the oppression of the monarchy.
The fact that Hugo's novels made the Pope's official banned books list didn't help; he also noted over seven hundred attacks on Les Miserables by the Catholic press. Hugo developed a lifelong seething hatred of the Catholic Church.
When his sons died, they were buried without a crucifix or priest, and Hugo's will stipulated the same for his own death. Despite his deep hatred of the Church and religion in general, Hugo was known to be a very spiritual man who believed in the power of prayer.
His last great novel, Quatre-vignt-Treize (Ninety-Three) was published in 1874. He died in 1885 at the age of 83.
Quote Of The Day
"It is from books that wise people derive consolation in the troubles of life." - Victor Hugo
Today's video features a reading of Volume 1, Part 1 of Victor Hugo's classic novel Les Miserables. Enjoy!
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On February 25th, 1917, the legendary English writer and composer Anthony Burgess was born. He was born John Burgess Wilson in Manchester, England. His confirmation name, Anthony, would be added to his legal name.
The next year, in November of 1918, Burgess' eight-year-old sister Muriel died of Spanish Flu, which had become a pandemic. Four days after his sister's death, his mother died of the disease. His aunt Ann (his mother's sister) raised him while his father worked as a bookkeeper and part-time musician.
He would later say that he believed his father resented him for surviving the pandemic that killed his sister and mother. When his father remarried, he was raised by his stepmother.
As a young boy, Anthony Burgess was a loner, despised by other children because he liked to dress well and could read before he started elementary school. Although his father was a musician, Burgess didn't care about music until he heard a dazzling flute solo while listening to classical music on the radio.
After the piece ended, a voice announced that he had been listening to Prélude à l'après-midi d'un Faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) by legendary French composer Claude Debussy. Awestruck, Burgess told his family that he wanted to be a composer.
Burgess' family refused to let him study music because there was no money in it. Music wasn't taught at his school, so when he was around fourteen, he taught himself to play the piano. Later, he enrolled at Victoria University of Manchester as a music major.
Unfortunately, the music department turned him down because of his poor grade in physics. So, he switched his major to English. While at university, Burgess met Llewela "Lynne" Isherwood Jones, whom he would marry after they graduated.
During World War II, Anthony Burgess served as a nursing orderly in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was disliked for his practical joking and anti-authoritarian nature. Once, he knocked off a corporal's cap; another time, he rebelled by deliberately overpolishing a floor to make the other men slip and fall.
In 1942, he asked for a transfer to the Army Education Corps. He excelled as an instructor, and though he loathed authority, he was promoted to sergeant. He was stationed in Gibraltar, where his talent for languages came in handy.
Burgess debriefed Dutch expatriates and Free French for army intelligence. His anti-authoritarianism got him into trouble again while on leave in a nearby Spanish town: he was arrested for insulting the fascist leader Generalissimo Franco. He was soon released.
While he was serving in the Army, his pregnant wife Lynne was attacked during the blackout by four GI soldiers who had deserted. She lost the baby, and the Army denied Burgess' request for leave to see her.
When Burgess left the Army in 1946, he had attained the rank of sergeant-major. He spent the next four years as a lecturer in speech and drama, then took a job as a secondary school teacher.
In 1954, he joined the British Colonial Service as a teacher and education officer. He was first stationed in Malaya, an experience that would serve as the inspiration for his first three novels.
The first book in the trilogy, Time For A Tiger, was published in 1956. The novel is set at the Mansor School in Kuala Hantu, where British resident teacher Victor Crabbe determines to neutralize the threat posed by a young communist student who has been influencing his classmates and indoctrinating them to join in his cause.
The second book in the trilogy, The Enemy In The Blanket (1958), proved to be controversial for, of all things, its cover art. Burgess was shocked and appalled by his publishers' choice for the book's cover art.
They had chosen an illustration of a Sikh rickshaw driver pulling a white man and woman in his rickshaw. This was unheard of in Malaya, and considered extremely insulting. Burgess found himself falsely accused of racism.
In 1962, Anthony Burgess published what is considered his greatest novel - a bold, brilliant, experimental work of dystopic science fiction. A Clockwork Orange The title comes from the British slang expression, "queer as a clockwork orange."
The novel is set in a dystopic fascist England of the future. The novel is narrated by its main character, Alex, a brilliant but psychopathic teenager who leads a gang of "droogs" that includes his friends Pete, Georgie, and Dim.
Alex and his gang meet at a milk bar, where they drink drugged milk to get them ready "for a bit of the old ultra-violence." One night, while joyriding in a stolen car, the gang breaks into an isolated cottage. They terrorize the couple that lives there, beating the husband and raping his wife.
When he's not out with his gang, Alex passes the time in his dreary home, escaping his poor excuse for parents by blasting the works of his favorite composer, "Ludwig Van," (Beethoven) and masturbating to violent sexual fantasies.
Later, Georgie challenges Alex for leadership of the gang, but is beaten in their fight and Dim's hand is slashed open. After putting down the rebellion, Alex takes his gang out for drinks at the milk bar.
Georgie and Dim have had enough, but Alex demands that the gang follow through with Georgie's plan for a "man-sized" job and rob a rich old woman who lives alone. The robbery is botched when the old woman calls the police - but not before she is assaulted and knocked unconscious.
The gang then turns on Alex, attacking him and leaving him to take the fall when the police arrive. The old woman later dies of her injuries and Alex is charged with murder. He's sent to a brutal prison to serve his time.
After serving a couple years in prison, Alex becomes an involuntary participant in an experimental rehabilitation procedure called the Ludovico Technique, which, in two weeks, is supposed to remove all violent and criminal impulses from the human psyche.
The prison chaplain is opposed to the Ludovico Technique, arguing that conscious, willing moral choice is a necessary component of humanity. Nevertheless, Alex undergoes the procedure.
For two weeks, in a horrific kind of aversion therapy, Alex's eyes are wired open and he is forced to watch violent images on a screen while being given a drug that induces extreme nausea.
Unfortunately, the soundtrack to the violent film presentation includes works by Beethoven, and Alex begs the doctors to turn off the sound, telling them that's a sin to take away his love of music, and Beethoven never did anything wrong. They refuse.
After the procedure is completed, Alex is brought before an audience of prison and government officials and declared successfully rehabilitated. They demonstrate how Alex is unable to react with violence even in self defense, and is crippled by nausea whenever he becomes sexually aroused.
The outraged prison chaplain again protests the Ludovico Technique, accusing the state of taking away Alex's God-given ability to choose good over evil. "Padre," a government official replies, "There are subtleties. The point is that it works."
Alex is released from prison, but his life plunges into a downward spiral. He finds that the Ludovico Technique has rendered him physically unable to listen to his Beethoven and incapable of defending himself from attack.
First, he is beaten by a former victim, then when the police are called, they turn out to be Alex's old gang member Dim and rival gang member Billyboy. They beat him, too.
Later, Alex is befriended by a political activist who turns out to be the man whose wife Alex had raped during the home invasion. When he finally recognizes Alex as the gang leader, he tortures him with the classical music he once loved.
Alex attempts suicide, and a scandal erupts. The embarrassed government agrees to reverse the Ludovico Technique in order to quell all the bad publicity. They offer Alex a cushy job at a high salary, but he looks forward to returning to his life of ultra-violence.
He forms a new gang, but after watching them beat a stranger, he finds that he has tired of violence. Alex contemplates giving up gang life, becoming a productive citizen, and doing what he secretly always wanted to do - start a family of his own. He wonders if his children would inherit the violent tendencies he once had.
In the U.S. edition of the novel, the last chapter was omitted by the publisher, who wanted the story to end on a dark note (with Alex looking forward to resuming his life of violence) because he believed that the original UK edition ending (with Alex realizing the errors of his ways) was unrealistic.
When the legendary English filmmaker Stanley Kubrick adapted the novel as an acclaimed feature film in 1971, he felt the same way, and based his screenplay on the U.S. edition of the novel. It was a huge critical and commercial success.
Featuring Malcolm McDowell in the career making starring role as Alex, the film was rated X for its original theatrical release. Though controversial for its explicit sexual content and extreme violence, the film won numerous awards and was nominated for several Oscars.
In the UK, the movie was passed uncut, but a conservative outcry erupted over the film's negative influence on teenage boys and dark humored sexual violence. It resulted in Kubrick and his family receiving death threats.
Their home was also besieged by protesters, so Kubrick withdrew A Clockwork Orange from circulation in the UK, and it wouldn't be seen there again for nearly thirty years, until after the director's death.
Today, both editions of A Clockwork Orange are available in the U.S., and it remains a classic work of literature, famous for its dazzling experimental narrative, wherein Alex speaks a lyrical dialect that combines English with modified Slavic and Russian slang expressions and words specifically invented by the author.
Burgess would go on to write more great novels, including The Wanting Seed (1962), Tremor of Intent: An Eschatological Spy Novel (1966), M/F (1971), and The End of the World News: An Entertainment (1982).
As a playwright, he would adapt A Clockwork Orange as a stage play; as a screenwriter, he wrote the screenplays for the popular TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977) and A.D. (1985) and contributed to the screenplays of feature films.
As a composer, his classical pieces were broadcast on BBC Radio. He translated Bizet's Carmen into English, wrote an operetta based on James Joyce's Ulysses called Blooms of Dublin, and a new libretto for Weber's opera, Oberon. He also wrote the book for the 1973 Broadway musical, Cyrano, basing it on his own adaptation of the Rostand play.
Anthony Burgess' other literary works included poetry collections, children's books, and non-fiction works. He died of lung cancer in 1993 at the age of 76.
Quote Of The Day
"A work of fiction should be, for its author, a journey into the unknown, and the prose should convey the difficulties of the journey." - Anthony Burgess
Today's video features Anthony Burgess being interviewed on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971. Enjoy!