I first published the novella A Clockwork Orange in 1962, which ought to be far enough in the past for it to be erased from the world’s literary memory. It refuses to be erased, however, and for this the film version of the book made by Stanley Kubrick may be held chiefly responsible. I should myself be glad to disown it for various reasons, but this is not permitted. I receive mail from students who try to write theses about it, or requests from Japanese dramaturges to turn it into a sort of Noh play. It seems likely to survive, while other books of mine that I value more bite the dust. This is not an unusual experience for an artist. Rachmaninoff used to groan because he was known mainly for a Prelude in G Sharp Minor which he wrote as a boy, while the works of his maturity never got into the programmes. Kids cut their pianistic teeth on a Minuet in G which Beethoven composed only so that he could detest it. I have to go on living with A Clockwork Orange, and this means I have a sort of authorial duty to it. I have a very special duty to it in the
Let me put the situation baldly. A Clockwork Orange has never been published entire in
But they were not important to my
Let us go further. The rest of the world was sold the book out of
What happens in that twenty-first chapter? You now have the chance to find out. Briefly, my young thuggish protagonist grows up. He grows bored with the violence and recognizes that human energy is better expended on creation than destruction. Senseless violence is a prerogative of youth, which has many energy but little talent for the constructive. Its dynamism has to find an outlet in smashing telephone kiosks, derailing trains, stealing cars and smashing them and, of course, in the much more satisfactory activity of destroying human beings. There comes a time, however, when violence is seen as juvenile and boring. It is the repartee of the stupid and ignorant. My young hoodlum comes to the revelation of the need to get something done in his life – to marry, to beget children, to keep the orange of the world turning in the rookers of Bog, or hands of God, and perhaps even create something – music, say. After all, Mozart and Mendelssohn were composing deathless music in their teens or nadsats, and all my hero was doing was razrezzing and giving the old in-out. It is with a kind of shame that this growing youth looks back on his devastating past. He wants a different kind of future.
There is no hint of this change of intention in the twentieth chapter. The boy is conditioned, then deconditioned, and he foresees with a glee a resumption of the operation of free and violent will. ‘I was cured all right,’ he says, and so the American book ends. So the film ends too. The twenty-first chapter gives the novel the quality of genuine fiction, an art founded on the principle that human beings change. There is, in fact, not much point in writing a novel unless you can show the possibility of moral transformation, or an increase in wisdom, operating in your chief character or characters. Even trashy bestsellers show people changing. When a fictional work fails to show change, when it merely indicates that human character is sent, stony, unregenerable, then you are out of the field of the novel and into that of the fable or the allegory. The American or Kubrickain Orange is a fable; the British or world one is a novel.
I do not think so because, by definition, a human being is endowed with free will. He can use this to choose between good and evil. If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange – meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State. It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil. The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities. This is what the television news is all about. Unfortunately there is so much original sin in us all that we find evil rather attractive. To devastate is easier and more spectacular than to create. We like to have the pants scared off us by visions of cosmic destruction. To sit down in a dull room and compose the Missa Solennis or The Anatomy of Melancholy does not make headlines or news flashes. Unfortunately my little squib of a book was found attractive to many because it was as odorous as a crateful of bad eggs with the miasma of original sin.
It seems priggish or pollyannaish to deny that my indention in writing the work was to titillate the nastier propensities of my readers. My own healthy inheritance of original sin comes out in the book and I enjoyed raping and ripping by proxy. It is the novelist’s innate cowardice that makes him depute to imaginary personalities the sins that he is too cautious to commit for himself. But the book does also have a moral lesson, and it is the wry traditional one of the fundamental importance of moral choice. It is because this lesson sticks out like a sore thumb that I tend to disparage A Clockwork Orange as a work too didactic to be artistic. It is not the novelist’s job to preach; it is his duty to show. I have shown enough, though the curtain of an invented lingo gets in the way – another aspect of my cowardice. Nadsat, a Russified version of English, was meant to muffle the raw response we expect from pornography. It turns the book into a linguistic adventure. People preferred the film because they are scared, rightly, of language.
I don’t think I have to remind readers what the title means. Clockwork oranges don’t exist, except in the speech of old Londoners. The image was a bizarre one, always being used for a bizaare thing. “He’s as queer as a clockwork orange” meant that he was queer to the limit of queerness. It did not primarily denote homosexuality, though a queer, before restrictive legislation came in, was the term used for a member of the inverted fraternity. Europeans who translated the title as Arvania a Orologeria or Orange Mécanique could not understand its Cockney resonance and they assumed that it meant a hand grenade, a cheaper kind of explosive pineapple. I meant it to stand for the application of a mechanistic morality to a living organism oozing with juice and sweetness.
Readers of the twenty-first chapter must decide for themselves whether it enhances the book they presumably know or is really a discardable limb. I meant the book to end in this way, but my aesthetic judgement may have been faulty. Writers are rarely their own best critics, nor are critics. “Quod scripsi scripsi” said Pontius Pilate when he made Jesus Christ the King of the Jews. “What I have written I have written.” We can destroy what we have written but we cannot unwrite it. I leave what I wrote with what Dr. Johnson called frigid indifference to the judgement of that .00000001 of the American population which cares about such things. Eat this sweetish segment or spit it out. You are free.