The Clockwork Condition: lost sequel to A Clockwork Orange discovered
Unfinished manuscript found among Anthony Burgess’s papers was described by the author as ‘a major philosophical statement on the contemporary human condition’
A lost “sequel” to Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, in which the author explores the moral panic that followed the release of Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of his novel, has been found among papers he abandoned in his home near Rome in the 1970s.
The unfinished manuscript of The Clockwork Condition was written by Burgess in 1972 and 1973, after Kubrick’s 1971 adaptation of A Clockwork Orange was accused of inspiring copycat crimes, prompting the director to withdraw it from circulation. The 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange, Burgess’s most famous work, is set in a dystopian future, where teenager Alex and his gang revel in “ultraviolence” until the state sets about his re-education.
The manuscript of The Clockwork Condition, which Burgess describes as a “major philosophical statement on the contemporary human condition”, had been left by the author in his home in Bracciano in the 1970s. When Burgess died in 1993, the house was sold, and the archive eventually moved to the Burgess Foundation in Manchester, where director Andrew Biswell came across it in the process of cataloguing.
Biswell called the sequel remarkable, and said it would shed “new light on Burgess, Kubrick and the controversy surrounding the notorious novel”.
According to the academic, Burgess’s only public reference to The Clockwork Condition was in a 1975 interview, when he said it had not been developed further than the idea stage. In fact, it runs to 200 pages, and is a mix of typewritten drafts, notes and outlines.
“This is a very exciting discovery,” said Biswell, who is also professor of modern literature at Manchester Metropolitan University. “Part philosophical reflection and part autobiography, The Clockwork Condition provides a context for Burgess’s most famous work, and amplifies his views on crime, punishment and the possible corrupting effects of visual culture. It also casts fresh light on Burgess’s complicated relationship with his own Clockwork Orange novel, a work that he went on revisiting until the end of his life.”
Burgess writes in the manuscript of how the 1970s are a “clockwork inferno”, with humans no more than cogs in the machine, “no longer much like a natural growth, not humanly organic”. Humanity is “searching for an escape from the bland neutrality of the condition in which they find themselves”, he says, in a work that he envisaged as a philosophical piece of writing structured around Dante’s Inferno. Burgess had planned sections with titles including “Infernal Man”, trapped in a world of machines, and “Purgatorial Man”, trying to break out of the mechanical inferno.
In one section, he reveals how he came up with the title for A Clockwork Orange: he first heard the phrase, he writes, in 1945, when he heard “an 80-year-old Cockney in a London pub say that somebody was ‘as queer as a clockwork orange’”.
“The ‘queer’ did not mean homosexual: it meant mad. The phrase intrigued me with its unlikely fusion of demotic and surrealistic,” writes Burgess. “For nearly 20 years, I wanted to use it as the title of something. During those 20 years I heard it several times more – in Underground stations, in pubs, in television plays – but always from aged Cockneys, never from the young. It was a traditional trope and it asked to entitle a work which combined a concern with tradition and a bizarre technique. The opportunity to use it came when I conceived the notion of writing a novel about brainwashing.”
Burgess had hoped that surreal photographs and quotations from other writers on the topics of freedom and the individual would supplement his text, but as the project grew more ambitious, he found himself struggling to complete it.
“Eventually Burgess came to realise that the proposed non-fiction book was beyond his capabilities, as he was a novelist and not a philosopher. It was then suggested that he should publish a diary under the title The Year of the Clockwork Orange, but this project was also abandoned,” said Biswell.
“Instead he wrote a short autobiographical novel, which also features clockwork in the title – The Clockwork Testament. Published as an illustrated novel in 1974, the book engages with the same thematic material he had intended to use in The Clockwork Condition.”
Biswell said that “in theory” it would be possible to create a publishable version of The Clockwork Condition. “There is enough material present in the drafts and outlines to give a reasonably clear impression of what this lost Burgess book might have been,” he said. He has already been contacted by publishers keen to release it.
“It’s not every day you find a lost work,” he said. “It’s not complete, but at 200 pages, it’s a meaty draft.”
The archive has also thrown up around 40 unpublished short stories by Burgess, which Biswell hopes will be published at some point. “Some of them are quite early, from the 1960s when he was not that well known,” he said. “The best of them are very good.”