BURGESS HAS YIELDED ONE OF FIC­TION’S GREAT FIRST-PER­SON NAR­RA­TORS

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - David Free

plete. The re­ally clear thing is that Burgess, at this point in the novel, sim­ply needs Alex to re­gain his free­dom of moral choice.

This brings us to the ques­tion of the book’s end­ing. The novel’s tough-minded de­fence of free will de­mands, you would think, a tough­minded con­clu­sion.

If so­cial con­di­tion­ing is worse than let­ting vil­lains freely choose evil, it would seem only fair that Alex, re­stored to his nat­u­ral con­di­tion, should freely choose evil. And at the end of the book’s sec­ond-last chap­ter, that is pre­cisely what Alex does.

But Burgess be­lieved that a novel, to dis­tin­guish it­self from a mere fa­ble, had to show moral growth in its pro­tag­o­nist. He there­fore added a fi­nal chap­ter in which Alex abruptly ma­tures and re­nounces vi­o­lence. Burgess’s first Amer­i­can pub­lisher found this coda un­con­vinc­ing and lopped it off. So did Kubrick. Burgess later im­plied they were fool­ish for do­ing so. But An­drew Biswell, in his valu­able in­tro­duc­tion to this new edition, re­veals that Burgess had early qualms about his fi­nal chap­ter. On the type­script he la­belled it an ‘‘ op­tional epi­logue’’.

He was right to doubt its value. He wanted the book to be more than just a fa­ble, but the ar­ti­fi­cial­ity of that last chap­ter proves that a fa­ble is what it is — a bril­liantly writ­ten one, but a fa­ble nonethe­less. It says scarier things about vi­o­lence than Burgess wanted it to. By the time he wanted Alex to change, so the novel could say some­thing more nu­anced, it was too late. Alex had ac­quired a vivid life of his own. The novel had slipped out of its au­thor’s con­trol. Words have a way of do­ing that, even when gen­er­ated by a mas­ter — or, per­haps, es­pe­cially then.

A Clock­work Orange

Mal­colm McDow­ell as Alex in Kubrick’s 1971 film of

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