by Jared C. Lobdell
Extrapolation, Winter 1996
Northrop Frye has pointed out (158-239, passim) the congruence between and among seasons, cityscapes, and the four great patterns or mythoi of literature: spring, village, and comedy; summer, country-town, and romance; autumn, baroque city, and tragedy; winter, megalopolis, and satire. A pastoral can move its idealized figures across the landscape in any season, and what I am calling a stone pastoral can move its idealized figures across the cityscape in any season. The cityscape in this case is London; the three pastoralists are G. K. Chesterton in The Napoleon of Notting Hill, George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange; and I believe the three mythoi, in order, are Romance, Tragedy, and (surprise!) Comedy.
In company with others, I once thought Nineteen Eighty-Four a Menippean satire, but I have since changed my mind. I also thought A Clockwork Orange satire, but that was before I read the twenty-first chapter. Yet all three of these "stone pastorals" were intended to satirize, and all three, being dystopic, are to that extent a version of satire. In fact, all three are intended to satirize H. G. Wells, and (I suppose coincidentally) all three begin in or about the year 1984. Moreover, Burgess's London is very like Orwell's: I suppose a nadsat in Orwell's London would say things like "bolshy great yarblockos to thee and thine" - in fact, that is why I take leave to put Burgess's "near-future" (as of 1962) in 1984. It is Orwell's London seen from the bottom.
Chesterton put his near-future in 1984 himself. In The Napoleon of Notting Hill, published in 1904, he says, "When the curtain goes up on this story, eighty years after the present date, London is almost exactly like what it is now" (13). To be sure, most of the action takes place later, but it is in Chesterton's 1984 that Auberon Quin becomes King of England. As my readers will remember, this passage dating the novel comes at the end of an introduction in which Chesterton suggests that twentieth-century England will play its old game of "Cheat the Prophet" and gives H. G. Wells as the first prophet to be cheated (10). "Thus, for instance, there were Mr. H. G. Wells and others, who thought that science would take charge of the future; and just as the motor-car was quicker than the coach, so some lovely thing would be quicker than the motor-car; and so on forever. And there arose from their ashes Dr. Quilp, who said that a man could be sent on his machine so fast around the world that he could keep up a long chatty conversation in some old-world village by saying a word of a sentence each time he came round."
Thus far, perhaps, the mode is satirical. Certainly the intention is. But then Chesterton goes on to write, "And it was said that the experiment had been tried on an apoplectic old major, who was sent round the world so fast that there seemed to be (to the inhabitants of some other star) a continuous band round the earth of white whiskers, red complexion and tweeds - a thing like the ring of Saturn" (10). Now this is wonderful nonsense, and it is absurdity by extrapolation of present trends, but it is too wonderful and too absurd to be satire. Similarly, when Chesterton ventures to go down those mean streets where a man must go, they go twisting away from him like fabulous creatures: "The day was dull. . . . The morning was wintry and dim, not misty, but darkened with that shadow of cloud or snow which steeps everything in a green or copper twilight. . . . The load of heaven and the cloud is like a load of waters, and the men move like fishes, feeling that they are on the floor of a sea . . . the carriages and cabs themselves resemble deep-sea creatures with eyes of flame" (15-16).
To be sure, as William Blissett has noted (107-13), the character of Auberon Quin is a satire on Max Beerbohm, to the extent that even Graham Robertson's illustrations of The Napoleon of Notting Hill are illustrations of Max Beerbohm. But in the end Auberon Quin, the king who for a laugh restores the ancient heraldry of the boroughs of London (rather a spurious ancient heraldry, like a Kelmscott King at Arms), and Adam Wayne, the Provost of Notting Hill who takes him seriously, are the twin halves of Chesterton himself. And after Auberon and Adam come together in the wreck of their fortunes, we come into what Frye has called the penseroso phase of Romance. Indeed, Chesterton noted early on in the book that "adventures happen on dull days, and not on sunny ones. When the chord of monotony is stretched most tight, then it breaks with a sound like song" (16): in short, it is Romance, not Satire, that springs from Dullness.
Nevertheless, Chesterton set out to satirize something. In fact, he set out to satirize several things - not only H. G. Wells and the motorcar as progress, but also Edward Carpenter and the return to nature and Tolstoy and the Humanitarians (I will quote this passage shortly: it is far more prescient than the Wells-Quilp-redfaced major passage); also Cecil Rhodes and the progress of the British Empire, Benjamin Kidd and the concern for the future, William Force Stead and future Anglo-American union, and Sidney Webb and the doctrine of progress to a new order. In fact, as these examples make clear, what Chesterton was satirizing was the Idea of Progress. That is why his London of 1984 is his London of 1904. But notice that for Chesterton the opposite of Progress is not Regress but Stasis. He lacks Swift's savagery, or even Burgess's - or even Orwell's. I suspect that he failed to distinguish between the Wellsian utopia of the machine (which is evident and which he specifically attacks) and the Wellsian utopia of Progress (which is apparently less important to attack than the Idea of Progress generally).
He is unfortunately off the mark in his attack on the progress of machines. They did progress, from the motorcar to the airplane, which did go faster, to the spacecraft, which in fact moved rapidly enough around the world for, say, Major Walter Schirra to pass over a number of old-world villages several times a day and to have conversations with them (if not quite in the way Chesterton suggested). He is on the mark with Tolstoy and the Humanitarians, who "said that the world was growing more merciful, and therefore no one would ever desire to kill. And Mr. Mick not only became a vegetarian, but at length declared vegetarianism doomed ('shedding,' as he called it finely, 'the green blood of silent animals'), and predicted that men in a better age would live on nothing but salt. And then came the pamphlet from Oregon (where the thing was tried), the pamphlet called 'Why should Salt suffer?' and there was more trouble" (11ff).
The reason this is on the mark, at least from the point of view of those who agree with Chesterton, is that the animal rights defenders we have still with us. Things have not changed, and the point of his satire is that things do not change. In a sense, his object of satire is not Progress but linear extrapolation for prophecy; in fact, it might be said that his object of satire is Prophecy rather than Progress. Hence this absurd prophecy of London in 1984.
There is a poem he wrote touching on this:
If men should arise and return to the noise and time of the tourney,
The name and fame of the tabard, the tangle of gules and gold,
Would these things stand and suffice for the bourne of a backward journey,
A light on our days returning, as it was in the days of old?
Nay, there is none rides back to pick up a glove or a feather,
Though the gauntlet rang with honour or the plume was more than a crown:
And hushed is the holy trumpet that called the nations together
When under the Horns of Hattin the hope of the world went down.
It is you that have made no rubric for saints, no raiment for lovers,
Your caps that cry for a feather, your roofs that sigh for a spire:
Is it a dream from the dead if your own decay discovers
Alive in your rotting graveyard the worm of the world's desire?
When the usurer hunts the squire as the squire has hunted the pheasant,
As sheep that are eaten of worms, where men were eaten of sheep:
Now is the judgment of earth, and the weighing of past and present,
Who scorn to weep over ruins, behold your ruin and weep.
Have ye not known, ye fools, that have made the present a prison,
That thirst can remember water, and hunger remember bread?
We went not gathering ghosts, but the shriek of your shame is arisen
Out of your own black Babel, too loud, and it woke the dead.
(Collected Poems 77-79)
Now, like most of Chesterton's verse, the whole is not as good as the sum of the parts, and the last two lines do not "work" in the way the others do - too overwritten, for one thing. (The same can be said of the second two lines in the third stanza quoted, and in quite a number of lines not quoted.) But the point of the lines is the point of The Napoleon of Notting Hill insofar as it has a serious point. The businessmen and politicians of the present are imprisoned in the present, and the way out is through the rising and returning, through discarding the Idea of Progress. Note the reference to the Enclosure Movement in which men were eaten of sheep. Note that the progress from squires hunting pheasants to moneylenders hunting the squires is scarcely a welcome progress: indeed, it may be compared to another poem in which Chesterton laments that it may be the squire "was stricken; it may be after all, he was stricken at Waterloo"(165).
This speaks to the nature of Progress and anti-Progress, but not so much of utopia and dystopia, for Chesterton is incapable of creating a dystopia: there is no such thing as a dystopia in purple and gold (not even Byron can imagine that). Yes, Chesterton looks at the antitriumphs of reason and does not believe in the utopia of Reason - but that is not because he does not believe in Reason itself (or himself, or herself). Yes, the Chestertonian Romance occasionally returns to urban reality (Napoleon 100-101). But listen:
Then the head [of the column] plunged into the network of narrow streets on the other side [of Holland Park Avenue], and the tail and myself came out on the great crossing. When we also had reached the northern side and turned up a small street that points, crookedly as it were, towards Pump Street, the whole thing felt different. The streets dodged and bent so much that the head of our line seemed lost altogether: it might as well have been in North America. And all this time we hadn't seen a soul . . .
But, though the little streets were all deserted (which got a trifle on my nerves), as we got deeper and deeper into them, a thing began to happen that I couldn't understand. Sometimes a long way ahead . . . there broke suddenly a kind of noise, clattering, and confused cries, and then stopped. Then, when it happened, something, I can't describe it - a kind of shake or stagger went down the line, as if the line were a live thing, whose head had been struck. . . . Then we recovered, and went on through the little dirty streets, round corners, and up twisted ways. The little crooked streets began to give me a feeling I can't explain - as if it were a dream. I felt as if things had lost their reason, and we should never get out of the maze. . . . The streets were quite well-known streets, all down on the map. But the fact remains. I wasn't afraid of something happening. I was afraid of nothing ever happening - nothing ever happening for all God's eternity. (101)
Until, of course, a bus comes along, heraldically colored - but no, that's a different story, of a different town. Here we have excellent description, of the line of soldiers (for want of a better word) moving through the London streets and the feeling it invokes - and then (which is what I wanted you to listen for) we have the sudden Chestertonian twist so that we see it sub specie aeternitatis. From blood in the streets in the town of London (at least ahead of us, when the line is struck), we are suddenly invited to contemplate eternity.
Not long thereafter, Adam Wayne's saving remnant saves Notting Hill, and for twenty years King Auberon ("Gaffer Auberon" he becomes) and Provost Wayne reign and rule over their lands: the king reigns over England, and the provost rules over Notting Hill. But there comes a day, the twenty-first anniversary of the battle, when there is a great league of enemies against Notting Hill, and when Adam Wayne proclaims that Notting Hill will be defeated because its company deserves defeat - whereupon the king enlists to trail a halberd in the army of Notting Hill. The defeat duly occurs: "The day was cloudy when Wayne went down to die with all his army in Kensington Gardens" is how the chapter "The Last Battle" begins (146). And then, in the end, the small man (who is Auberon) and the large man (who is Adam, but also very like Sunday) talk with each other in their defeat. Listen; it is Auberon talking and Adam answering:
"Yet nothing can alter the antagonism - the fact that I laughed at these things and you adored them."
"I know of something that will alter that antagonism. . . . The equal and eternal human being will alter that antagonism, the human being . . . whom mere geniuses like you and me can only worship like a god. When dark and dreary days come, you and I are necessary, the pure fanatic, the pure satirist. We have between us remedied a great wrong." (157-58)
Yes, the small man is Max Beerbohm, and the large man is G. K. Chesterton. But when Auberon and Adam go forth together at the end, it is in fact the reintegration of Chesterton's own being, not the linking of his and Max's. The story is a psychomachia - which is why sex is entirely absent: all the important characters are within Chesterton and therefore male. You will note that I have subtitled this study "Three Men on the Side of the Horses" - even when there are women present, these are men's worlds, perhaps too much so for the artistic achievement (but on that, we shall see).
In any case, we have, with men only, a Romance in which there is no romantic interest. But a psychomachia seems virtually the perfect vehicle for satire. Why then do we begin with a satire and end with a romance: indeed, using Frye's terms, why do we begin with Satire and end with Romance? Why do we begin with "Cheat the Prophet" and end with "You have a halberd and I a sword, let us start our wanderings over the word. For we are its two essentials. Come, it is already day. In the blank white light Auberon hesitated a moment. Then he made the formal salute with his halberd, and they went away together into the unknown world" (158)?
No more than Sunday in The Man Who Was Thursday could Chesterton keep from bounding like a no-longer-captive balloon over the streets and fields of London and England. His Auberon Quin is so shortsighted that colors in his sight are detached from objects and take on a heraldry of their own. A Chestertonian Progress of Dullness is no less wild and wonderful than any other Chestertonian Progress, and the Romance bounds away from the Satire and over the fields and far away. The fact that Auberon Quin was initially a satire on Max Beerbohm is no longer significant to us or to the would-be satirist.
But Chesterton was not the only would-be satirist of 1984 whose creation escaped from him and became something other than he intended. The same is true of George Orwell, though his satire, slapdash as it sometimes is (written by a dying man and not nearly so neatly worked out as Animal Farm), escapes not into Romance but into Tragedy.
Orwell simply transposed the last two numbers of the year in which he was writing - 1948 - and created a myth, or a year of mythic proportions. But no more than other myths did this spring full-blown from the head of Zeus. We did not seek sources or analogues for The Napoleon of Notting Hill, but it may be worth our while to do so for Nineteen Eighty-Four. If we seek sources and analogues for Nineteen Eighty-Four, we come first of all to Yevgeny Zamyatin's We. Orwell describes Zamyatin's society: "They live in glass houses [this was written before television was invented], which enables the political police, known as the 'Guardians,' to supervise them more easily. . . . their usual recreation is to march in fours while the anthem of the Single State is played through loudspeakers. . . . The teller of the story . . . falls in love [this is a crime, of course] with a certain 1-330 who is a member of an underground resistance movement and succeeds for a while in leading him into rebellion" (Collected Essays 4:73). Eventually the narrator undergoes treatment to remove his imagination (the source of his rebellion), "after which it is easy for him to do what he has known all along he ought to do - that is, betray his confederates to the police" (74).
Professor Lewis has suggested an overemphasis on sex in Nineteen Eighty-Four in comparison with Animal Farm (101-04). The origins in Zamyatin may explain any emphasis on sex, and the presence of a not-very-strong love interest has its partial outcome in a kind of untidiness but also in opening the door to tragedy - indeed, to Tragedy. As far as this point is concerned, I note that in an essay published during the 1984 celebration of the novel, Elaine Hoffman Baruch suggested that Orwell really was not especially interested in Winston Smith's "Golden Country" - far less than Zamyatin was in the land beyond the Green Wall (Howe, ed., 47ff). But I think this point had best be examined in connection with the strong image of the male world that pervades Chesterton and Burgess and, for that matter, Lewis. The view that there is an overemphasis on sex in Nineteen Eighty-Four suggests to me that the viewer may have thought any emphasis an overemphasis.
Lewis may have been partly right that a stick other than sex to beat Big Brother with would have been better - certainly using a different stick might have been tidier. But this was the one at hand, and it was at hand because Zamyatin had brought it to hand. Of course, Lewis's condemnation is quite probably overstated, but he was a perceptive critic, and if he saw this as artistically messy or inessential, perhaps it is. But would we rather have a perfect satire or an imperfect tragedy? If we look at the public perceptions of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, I think we can find the readers' reaction.
Now, in one sense, we clearly know that Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopia - as Lewis says, the genre of "those nightmare visions of the future which began, perhaps, with Wells's Time Machine and The Sleeper Wakes" (104). We know that Orwell intended it as a satire, though I think it falls more neatly into another category. Nevertheless, the intent sheds light on the so-called dystopic genre. The first point I would make is that the nature of a dystopia depends on the nature of the utopia that inspired it, if "inspired" rather than "despired" is indeed the proper word.
To put it another way, one who is satirizing must be satirizing something: it is perhaps the mark of a great satire, and perhaps of a great dystopia, that it outlasts the thing satirized, the utopia confounded. Thus Animal Farm will outlast the perversions of Socialism it satirized (at least I hope it will continue to be read, lest they come back upon us), and the character of Emmanuel Goldstein in Nineteen Eighty-Four has largely outlasted the Lev Davidovich Bronstein it rests upon and caricatures. Who can remember what Swift was satirizing, but Gulliver lives on. For that matter, the Two Englands that lie at the root of the Wellsian Eloi and Morlocks are more forgotten than they. And we have already looked at Auberon Quin and Max Beerbohm, a case in which the satire ended before the book ended.
Just as Chesterton's satire of Beerbohm became Romance in The Napoleon of Notting Hill, so Orwell's satire of Stalin and Trotsky and their ilk became Tragedy. But it was conceived as satire, perhaps even - as I once thought it was - as Menippean satire, in which the people are given the reality of ideas, are "idealized," as it were. This ties in with Lewis's observation that "Gulliver is a commonplace little man and Alice a commonplace little girl. . . . To tell how odd things struck odd people is to have an oddity too much" (60). (And this has something to say about Orwell's success and Chesterton's failure, but of that, more anon.) It ties in because the archetype is revealed in the commonalty, one might say in the commonplace-ness, of the characters.
It has been argued, particularly by James Blish, that science fiction is the peculiarly twentieth-century form of satire, and "near-future" fiction would therefore be a special case of prophecy as satire. Prophecy is certainly one possible function of science fiction, but it is not the most important among many functions. I believe that Nineteen Eighty-Four qualifies as science fiction at least to the extent that Big Brother is a creation of modern technology and could not exist without it - which fulfills at least one part of Asimov's or Sturgeon's or Heinlein's definition of science fiction. Certainly Nineteen Eighty-Four, when it was written, was near-future fiction. But the book takes no pleasure in the science for the sake of the science: it is a machine in the old sense. The key is in Orwell's comment on Zamyatin, that his people live in glass houses (rather than being observed by two-way television sets), because television has not yet been invented and Zamyatin does not foresee it.
Perhaps a remark by Aldous Huxley is apposite here. He is, in later life, commenting on the absence of atomic energy in his Brave New World: "The oversight may not be excusable; but at least it can be easily explained. The theme of Brave New World is not the advancement of science as such; it is the advancement of science as it affects human individuals" (ix). Now I disagree with much of what Huxley says in this "Foreword" (really an Afterword), and much of it is disingenuous; but he does set it out that the utopia to which his dystopia replies is not at all the same (not even of the same species) as the utopia to which Orwell's dystopia replies. Huxley's is, if anything, the common utopia of science fiction and the march of science: Orwell's is the utopia of Lincoln Steffens's "I have been to the future and it works" or of Karl Marx's vision, or even Bernard Shaw's. Or that of H. G. Wells.
Bringing up Wells may seem to add confusion rather than bring enlightenment here, but it should help link Orwell's creation to Chesterton's and make the nature of that creation clear. The confusion is engendered by the fact that Orwell's book is very much in the antiutopian tradition that is also an anti-Wellsian tradition. But in fact, of course, Wells's own utopianism turns dystopian, not only in When the Sleeper Wakes but even in The Time Machine. We should note that Orwell himself recognized how Huxley had provided, so to speak, the "anti-machine" answer to Wells's utopianism of the machine - the same utopianism with which Chesterton began his attack (Orwell, Wigan Pier 225). Orwell himself supplies, we might say, the "antireason" answer to Wells's utopianism of human reason.
But we can say more than that. We can say that Orwell's dystopia, like Chesterton's dystopia (if that is what it is), is fundamentally a reply to all utopias of progress. In doing that, I believe we are lifting Orwell from the level of a Huxley to the level of a Swift. In fact, Orwell, like Swift, begins by satirizing the idea of human perfectability: his remarks on "Wells, Hitler and the World State" may be quoted here:
On the one side science, order, progress, internationalism, aeroplanes, steel, concrete, hygiene: on the other side war, nationalism, religion, monarchy, peasants, Greek professors, poets, horses. . . . There survives somewhere or other an interesting controversy which took place between Wells and Churchill at the time of the Russian Revolution. Wells accuses Churchill of not really believing his own propaganda about the Bolsheviks being monsters dripping with blood etc. but of merely fearing that they were going to introduce an era of common sense and scientific control, in which flag-wavers like Churchill himself would have no place. Churchill's estimate of the Bolsheviks, however, was nearer the mark than Wells's. The early Bolsheviks may have been angels or demons . . . but at any rate they were not sensible men. They were notintroducing a Wellsian Utopia but a rule of the Saints . . . a military despotism enlivened by witchcraft trials. (Collected Essays 2:142-43)
Orwell's sympathies were, like Swift's, on the side of the Greek professors, poets, and horses.
Wells had an antiutopian tinge, but it was cautionary and intermittent, and he was a utopian also. Chesterton attacked his utopianism of Progress and his utopianism of the machine, but Chesterton could no more stick to dystopia than concerned, Chesterton aims at Progress and hits the machine, and in this area Wells is more right than he. Huxley (with his "Ford's in his Flivver") attacked Wells's utopianism of the machine, but not of Progress: Orwell saw not only that machines cannot make men into gods, not only that we need to be warned against the easy assumption that utopia is the natural result of our strivings, but that nothing in this world can make men into gods, and utopia, as the name denotes, is not and never will be anywhere in this world.
The public has never taken Animal Farm to its heart as it has taken Nineteen Eighty-Four. Beast-fable is a recognizable form of Satire: it is not easy to recognize the genre of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is certainly less perfect, whatever it is, than Animal Farm. It is certainly derivative. But there must be reasons for its greater success, and I believe I can suggest what they are, adding to what I have already suggested.
First, Orwell, like Arthur Clarke with 2001, chose a year within the ken of his audience, much more than Chesterton in The Napoleon of Notting Hill. Second, he gave his lovers just enough character and individuality but not too much - enough to make them believable but not enough to violate Lewis's dictum that those who see strange sights must not themselves be strange. Second, writing what was intended to be a Menippean novel of ideas, he created in Big Brother and newspeak ideas of mythic proportions, and in both O'Brien's character and the ending in which Winston Smith is truly brainwashed (as we now call it), he followed his invention to its Euclidean conclusions. But third, and perhaps most important, as I have already suggested, making for an untidy creation, yet striking the deepest chord of response in his readers, he dared introduce sex and love and pathos and the fall of a good man into a satire and thus created what was not in the end Satire (Frye's capitalization here) but Tragedy.
Listen: "White always mates, he thought with a kind of cloudy mysticism. Always, without exception, it is so arranged. In no chess problem since the beginning of the world has black ever won. Did it not symbolize the eternal, unvarying triumph of Good over Evil? The huge face gazed back at him, full of calm power. White always mates" (238). Is that Orwell's O'Brien or Chesterton's Sunday? Listen: "'What are the stars?' said O'Brien indifferently. 'They are bits of fire a few kilometers away. We could reach them if we wanted to. Or we could blot them out. The earth is the center of the universe. The sun and the stars go round it'" (219). Is that Orwell's O'Brien or Lewis's Green Witch in The Silver Chair? Listen: "Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement's" (147, passim). The effect of the London children's rhyme is to bring Orwell's near future into the reader's present, but that is not its only effect.
Chesterton? Lewis? Nursery rhymes? Indeed and indeed, Orwell's strength is the strength of Old England. The failure of the proles, as Winston Smith perceives it, is the failure to remember a coherent history - a coherent English history. Is it accidental that O'Brien is not quite an Englishman, or perhaps is not at all an Englishman? Is it accidental that Orwell has kind words for Chesterton's and even Belloc's vision of a sturdy independent peasantry for England and for the Chesterbellockian perception of the joint failure of managerial capitalism and managerial socialism (Collected Essays 4:163)?
I can recall reading Nineteen Eighty-Four not long after it came out - perhaps two, certainly no more than three, years after publication - and I can recall what passage made perhaps the greatest impression on me:
. . . the few scattered survivors from the ancient world were incapable of comparing one age with another They remembered a million useless things, a quarrel with a workmate, a hunt for a lost bicycle pump, the expression on a long-dead sister's face, the swirls of dust on a windy morning seventy years ago; but all the relevant facts were outside the range of their vision. They were like the ant, which can see small objects but not large ones. And when memory failed and written records were falsified - when that happened, the claim of the Party to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted, because there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard against which it could be tested. (79)
What desolation there was to me in that phrase "and never again could exist." The same point is made in Animal Farm, but without the elegiac tone, without the pathos. Both books, in Robert Nisbet's phrase, recognize the knowledge of the past as "an indispensable foundation of freedom" (180). That he shares this with Chesterton is obvious. That he shares it with Burgess will, I hope, become so. What Orwell shares with the great Tory Radical Swift and with Chesterton and Burgess, but what Wells did not have, and Huxley did not have, is the sense of the past and the English scene.
"It was in the Park, on a vile, biting day in March, when the earth was like iron and all the grass seemed dead and there was not a bud anywhere except a few crocuses which had pushed themselves up to be dismembered by the wind" (Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four 239). That is the scene of the final meeting with Julia. Or this: "He was in a narrow street, with a few dark little shops interspersed among dwelling houses. Immediately above his head there hung three discoloured metal balls which looked as if they had once been gilded" (79). That is the scene for the buying of the diary.
These are two of the important points in the plot-line, and perhaps they frame the tragedy of Winston Smith's reversal of fortune. They are, I think, the result of Orwell's intense visualization of the event, which is (as Nikolaus Pevsner has told us) part of the Englishness of English art; it is certainly part of Orwell's art. He may indeed be saying, in his Englishness, "My Country, Right or Left." Meanwhile, and always, there is his lament for the temps perdu, and in that lament is pathos and an unexpected strength.
But let us now turn to the matter of genre. I have spoken of Winston's reversal of fortune. I have spoken of Nineteen Eighty-Four as tragedy. I suggest that Orwell's devotion to England, and his sense of England lost, brought tragedy out of satire. Indeed, in Frye's sense, Tragedy out of Satire. We now have two problems. One is Burgess's place in all this. The other, connected with this, is that we have had an equally famous work (for Orwell) or a more famous work (for Chesterton) to compare with Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Napoleon of Notting Hill, but Burgess's place depends on which version of A Clockwork Orange we look at. There is neither an equally nor more famous work by Burgess with which to compare A Clockwork Orange.
In the United States, at least, the book has been called a satire since it first appeared in 1962: the New York Times called it "a savage satire on the distortions of the single and collective minds" (quoted on dustjacket), which, unfortunately, is the kind of remark that leads one to wonder if its author is listening to what he is saying. One does not need to satirize the distortions: one uses the distortions to satirize the thing distorted, perhaps by a kind of Euclidean projection. But A Clockwork Orange surely appears to be a satire, and specifically a satire on Progress. (One wonders if there is something else to satirize in this and adjacent ages.) Though what they say is not altogether right, those who have called the book a satire are surely not altogether wrong: that is our first impression of what it is. And if the last chapter is omitted, that is also our last impression.
But as it is significant that The Napoleon of Notting Hill ends on the twenty-first anniversary of the battle, so it is significant that the final chapter of A Clockwork Orange is the twenty-first chapter. For he himself has said it: "Twenty-one is the symbol of human maturity, or used to be, since at twenty-one you . . . assumed adult responsibility. . . . Novelists of my stamp are interested in what is called arithmology, meaning that number has to mean something in human terms when they handle it" (Burgess vi). We have said that The Napoleon of Notting Hill is a psychomachia, and when Auberon and Adam go off together on the twenty-first birthday, it is an end to the Romance of growing up, or perhaps of the Romance of Youth. But with A Clockwork Orange the twenty-first chapter is an end to the Comedy of Youth.
Some comedy! I can hear the response, though it is true that William Burroughs spoke of the 1962 edition of A Clockwork Orange as "a very funny book" - "a fact that" he said "may pass unnoticed" (dustjacket copy) - but this also is rather to miss the point, particularly since he had the twenty-chapter version and since the mythos of Comedy is made evident by the twenty-first chapter. Moreover, I do not think that anyone conscious of the deviation of masculine and feminine worlds could consider this other than a very limited comedy, or the blackest of Black Comedy. Women in Alex's world are young ptitsas to be raped or starry ptitsas to be murdered for fun: a male world, and not, I should say, the best of male worlds.
Nevertheless, just as Chesterton was incapable of producing Satire in 1904, and the pathos of his invented world cast Orwell into the mythos of Tragedy in 1948, so Burgess, a kind of Chestertonian Orwell, or Orwellian Chesterton, was led into Comedy, however Black, by a taste for neat ends and neat endings. For that is the mode of Comedy. You will recall how chapter I begins:
"'What's it going to be then, eh?'
"There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry. The Korova milkbar was a milk-plus mesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like, things changing so skorry these days and everybody very quick to forget, newspapers not being read much neither."
Everybody very quick to forget, and newspapers not being read - yes, we are in Orwell's world. When they destroy the books on cystallography and tolchock the starry prof type, Alex and his droogs read letters in his pockets, "some of them dating right back to 1960" (7), which is, by my calculations, all of twenty-four years before. When they put on masks, they are masks of Henry VIII, Shelley, Disraeli, and Elvis Presley - historical characters all. Even the books they destroy are scientific or philosophical (the eponymous Clockwork Orange being philosophical). And when Alex has passed through his treatment and then the treatment to counteract the treatment and says "I was cured all right" (179) - how does chapter 21 begin?
"'What's it going to be then, eh?'
"There was me, your Humble Narrator, and my three droogs, that is Len, Rick and Bully, Bully being called Bully because of his bolshy great neck and very gromky goloss which was just like some bolshy great bull bellowing auuuuuuuuh. We were sitting in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark winter chill bastard though dry." (180).
(In the back of my mind I hear someone reading the end of another novel, "Lord, it is an ambassador from Witchland and he craveth present audience" - the worm is biting his tail.)
But in the twenty-first chapter, there is a change. Inside the snug (the pub Duke of New York) "there were these starry ptitsas or sharps or babooshkas you will remember from the beginning, and they all started on their: 'Evening, lads, God bless you, boys, best lads living, that's what you are,' waiting for us to say [as Alex and his droogs said in the first chapter], 'What's it going to be, girls?'" But Alex decides to have a beer and go off on his oddy knocky while his droogs carry on with the violence for which they need the babooshkas to alibi them.
And when he goes off on his oddy knocky, he meets Pete, one of his droogs from the first chapter and first go-round:" 'This,' said Pete to the devotchka, 'is an old friend. His name is Alex. May I,' he said to me, 'introduce my wife?'" (188). Now Alex has already been seeing a vision of himself, an old man before the fire, dreaming dreams, and so he comes to a conclusion:
Youth must go, ah yes. But youth is only being in a way like it might be an animal. No, it is not just like being an animal so much as being like one of these malenky toys you viddy being sold in the streets, like little chellovecks made out of tin and with a spring inside and then a winding handle on the outside and you wind it up grrr grrr grrr and off it itties, like walking, o my brothers. But it itties in a straight line and bangs straight into things bang bang and it cannot help what it is doing. Being young is like being one of these malenky machines. (190)
So Alex is off on his oddy knocky on "this veshch of finding some devotchka or other who would be a mother to this son" (191), and "Where I itty now, O my brothers, is all on my oddy knocky, where you cannot go. Tomorrow is all like sweet flowers and the turning vonny earth and the stars and the old Luna up there and your droog Alex on his oddy knocky seeking like a mate. . . . But you, O my brothers, remember sometimes thy little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal" (191-92). In other words, it was Alex who was the clockwork orange all along. "Clockwork oranges don't exist, except in the speech of old Londoners. The image was a bizarre one, always used for a bizarre thing. 'He's as queer as a clockwork orange' meant he was queer to the limit of queerness [not necessarily homosexuality]. . . . I mean it to stand for the application of a mechanistic morality to a living organism" (x). Or a mechanistic immorality.
The love of Alex for his unborn son and, by extension and (I think) implication, for the mate who will be the mother of his unborn son - but this, if love, is a very male-domination kind of love - now supersedes the relentless interest in the old in-out and the shrieking ptitsas that have marked his adolescence. If Professor Lewis thought sex was intrusive in Nineteen Eighty-Four, I wonder what he thought, or would have thought, of sex in A Clockwork Orange? I cannot see his liking the book.
A while back I spoke of two characteristics that marked Chesterton and Orwell: intense visualization and a kind of Tory Democracy or Tory radicalism. I said they also marked Burgess. Now Burgess makes me see his scenes with only a few words, and many of them nadsat-words. This is a considerable achievement. Take the throw-away line about running over "odd squealing things" on the way home, or the car running out of gas. All the onomatopoetic language, which makes this poetry (and a poetry of youth) rather than prose, goes toward - rather than away from - intense visualization. I guess my argument is approximately that if I can see the scenes, Burgess has seen them intensely enough for them to flow through nadsat into my mind.
As for the Tory Democracy, the emphasis on the personal and opposition to the impersonal state is part of that, and obviously part of Burgess here. But, at least as important as this, there is a sense of the importance of the past, even the immemorial past. The references to the past in A Clockwork Orange are obvious, and some of them have been noted above. Besides these, we may note the remnants of biblical language, the parts of old cockney slang in the nadsat slang, the use of Beethoven's Ninth as a metaphor for Alex's inner spirit (inner man? inner malchick?). These all embody the past as metaphor and the past surviving in the present. It is not sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll for little Alex, but sex-drugs-and Beethoven's-Ninth. Note that we must be free to use history, even if we use it improperly. And as for the remnants of biblical language, I should like to have asked Mr. Burgess whether "Remember thy little Alex" resonated in his mind with "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, when the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh"? But perhaps this is a diversion from our present concerns.
Against whom is Burgess setting his dystopia? Once again, it is Wells and his myth of human progress. For unless we have here phylogeny recapitulating ontogeny, the only progress is individual growing up. There is no progress for the race: indeed, there is decline: "And then I heard the Ninth, last movement, with the slovos all a bit mixed-up like they knew themselves they had to be mixed-up, this being a dream: 'Boy, thou uproarious shark of heaven / Slaughter of Elysium / Hearts on fire aroused enraptured / We will tolchock you on the rot and kick your grazhny vonny bum'" (73).
But the line between dream and vision is not clear throughout the book, and this is vision of the present world set against the real past - "Joy thou glorious spark of heaven / Daughter of Elysium" ("Freude schone Gotterfunken / Tochter aus Elysium / Wir betreten feuertrunken / Himmlische dein Heiligthum"). It is hard not to see the movement from heavenliness and holy place to tolchocking on the rot as a kind of decline, not progress.
Burgess's U.S. publisher - and Stanley Kubrick, who followed his lead - saw the book as the satire that its tone implies and created the satiric fable that made Burgess famous by the simple means of dropping the last chapter. But Burgess could not write such a satire, though he wrote satirically and dystopically. The worm is not biting its tail, the world is not starting over again. Incipit vita nuova. The clockwork malchick has become a real man, not yet starry but at least beginning to grow up. The clockwork remedies, the mechanistic cure, were all futile as well as immoral. It is no accident that the last paragraph of the twenty-first or growing-up chapter uses the word "oddy knocky" (on his own, perhaps "oneself-ness") twice just in the lines quoted. The tremendous irony of this ironic Comedy is that none of the treatment was useful, none of the morality applicable, that the clockwork being was always on its way to becoming a real being.
But what of the clockwork world?
When I had my son I would explain all that to him. . . . But then I knew he would not understand at all and would do all the veshches I had done, yes perhaps even killing some poor starry forella surrounded by mewings kots and koshkas, and I would not be able to really stop him. And nor would he be able to stop his own son, brothers. And so it would itty on to like the end of the world, round and round and round . . . like old Bog Himself (by courtesy of Korova Milkbar) turning and turning and turning a vonny grazhny orange in his gigantic rookers. (191)
But note that this vision is partly by courtesy of the Korova Milkbar: the world as orange turned around forever in God's hands is a drug-induced vision. And note also that the vision is a working-out of the principle that those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And note also, of course, that the unborn child is to be a son who will likewise rape and kill. Perhaps this is what the masculine does before it is tamed betimes.
Alex's response to this vision is to turn his back on it and "do ye next thing." The sorting out and growing up is done. Alex is on the side of domesticity, in the springtime of his reordered world. Moreover, if you doubt that he is, like Swift, on the side of the horses, I suggest you look again at the yobs and yahoos he has left behind him in his growing up. But there is no way in which this can be viewed as redemptive comedy, and, in fact, the satire may be all the more bitter for the comedic ending. But A Clockwork Orange is nonetheless, in Frye's sense, Comedy.
We began with the four great mythoi - Spring and the village for Comedy, Summer and the country-town for Romance, Fall and the Baroque city for Tragedy, Winter and the megalopolis for Satire. London is the megalopolis, and all three writers began with megalopolitan London. But Chesterton found in it country-town boroughs, little city-states at war with each other. Orwell found in it parks and pawnshops and the remnants of Baroque London. And Burgess's hero (if that is what Alex is) goes from the Municipal Flatblocks and Stajas (State Jails) of the megalopolis to the tea-and-coffee mesto where he meets Pete and his wife. If not the village, this is the neighborhood in the midst of the megalopolis, which may be the best we can come to in Burgess's London of 1984.
An author who ties ends so neatly and writes with such ironic detachment from the world he portrays can only write Comedy. Romance is too untidy. Tragedy demands a different vision, perhaps even Rachel lamenting over her children. Certainly Tragedy demands that we be involved with the tragic hero, while Comedy demands detachment. Satire, too, demands a detached vision. But Satire will not abide sortings-out and happy endings. Besides which, the feeling at the end is the feeling of springtime, which is the season of Comedy. And all that calendar of Genre.
The London megalopolitan Satire remains to be written. It will necessarily be of a year other than 1984 if it is future fiction. It will be written by a Tory Democrat or Tory Radical, if past experience is a guide. It will be on the side of the horses. The city will be worldwide; all pastoral will be stone pastoral; the season will be the Fimbulwinter. I think perhaps it may be written by a woman, joining the men on the side of the horses.
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Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. 1963. New introduction, "A Clockwork Orange Resucked." New York: Norton: 1987.
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Frye, Northrop. The Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957.
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-----. Nineteen Eighty-Four. 1949. New York: Signet, 1950.
-----. The Road to Wigan Pier. 1937. New York: Pocket Books, n.d.
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