A Blissful Afternoon Spent with Anthony Burgess’ Original Manuscript for ‘A Clockwork Orange’

7 Dec

Hamilton, ON

It’s been 50 years since the publication of Anthony Burgess’ cult classic, ‘A Clockwork Orange’.  I’ve always been a huge fan of both the book and Kubrick’s film adaption and naturally, I was shocked to recently hear that my school, McMaster University, has had the original manuscript in its archives since 1967. They bought it at the time for a mere $250. To add some perspective, a first edition of the book recently fetched $15,000. Rather giddily, I went to check it out.

The manuscript is littered with Burgess’ own notes and doodles. Written in a computer-less era, the painstaking nature of revision is evident by the number of words crossed out and replaced by a more suitable option. Being Croatian, I had no trouble deciphering the Slavic words Burgess used to create the slang found in the novel, Nadsat. Creating it appeared to be a struggle, though. There are repeated cases of Burgess writing Russian words in the margin, labouring to put an original spin on them. It was incredible to take a look at the lengthy writing process. Holding the great sheaf of typewritten pages in my hands, I could feel the considerable heft of the work and I immediately got the scope of how much work is put into a novel, something that is hard to grasp now, when most writers begin composing their work on computers. Overall, it was an incredible experience to realize the sweat, blood, and tears that went into producing such a beloved piece of literature.

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