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Christopher Thurley

Christopher Thurley
Responses to the Culture and Politics of the United States of America in the Novels and Nonfiction of Anthony Burgess

To provide a critical account of the British author Anthony Burgess’s engagement with the culture and politics of the United States of America. Burgess travelled extensively in the USA for lecture tours, professorships, visiting author positions, book tours, and other artistic engagements. This enquiry involves original research into archived documents, audio recordings of lectures, unpublished letters and journalism. The dissertation will deploy this new material in a close analysis of six post-1960 novels and non-fiction books by Burgess.

Even before he first visited America in 1966, Burgess utilized American backdrops, issues and characters to infuse contemporaneity into his story frameworks. An examination of the journalism and fiction he produced before 1966 suggests that America was the source of ideas and products which were facile and potentially destructive to European enlightenment ideals. In One Hand Clapping (1961), America is presented as a mythical enchantress, invading the parochial minds of England with its ersatz products, ideas, and media. Despite these criticisms, Burgess later saw America as a place of literary experimentation and growth, which was more congenial than Britain to its writers and thinkers. To apprehend Burgess’s often contradictory presentation of America, this dissertation will analyze and contextualize six of his novels produced between 1971 and 1984, in order to make a detailed statement about how they represent American culture and politics. There is a distinct shift in literary content, tone, and purpose in his writing after 1966, the year in which Burgess first visited America. Before 1966, his novels largely focused on satire against British cultural life (The Worm and the Ring, One Hand Clapping, The Right to an Answer) or dystopian science fiction (A Clockwork Orange, The Wanting Seed). After 1966, Burgess’s writing became more experimental and expansive, signalling the influence of an American literary scene which extended the boundaries of literary potential.


Research Degree: PhD, Full-time
Department: English Literature
Funded: The International Anthony Burgess Foundation