Review of ‘Fifty Years of A Clockwork Orange’ by Debbie Headdey

As a true fan of A Clockwork Orange I was extremely excited to attend the lecture on the cult classic phenomenon; reverently held at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation and marking the fiftieth anniversary of its creation, the event had the potential to inspire and educate the full room of eager recipients. However I felt the content was somewhat disappointing, rather than any tribute to the novel itself as most of the talk was given to the context in which it was written, and as a nineties child many of the names and feeble jokes went straight over my head despite my knowledge of history and politics.

On entering the building I was greeted with numerous friendly faces and kindly offered a free glass of wine; many were standing together chatting about the novel, Burgess and the lecturer, creating a stimulating and vibrant atmosphere. After taking my seat I was pleased to see the hall was almost full and we were promptly introduced to our lecturer, Dominic Sandbrook, and his many accolades. His opening statement set a precedent I feel for the lecture as he began, to a room of Burgess and A Clockwork Orange fans, talking of Burgess’ hatred for his novel and how it ‘dogged’ him his entire life, a recurring theme which in fact ‘dogged’ the lecture itself.

Sandbrook’s historical knowledge was detailed, interesting and expertly delivered. He informatively created an image of broken Britain where violence and teenage culture were prominent and at the forefront of public concern. Hopes that this would lead into information on the novels creation fell short as he continued to talk of politics, education and recreation of the sixties; mainly focussing on the emergence and destructive nature of the teenage culture. Despite this not being what I would have liked to have heard it did create a comprehensive image of a dystopian society that is mirrored in Burgess’ novel thus providing some understanding of its origins. Sandbrook talked far more about Kubrick’s film version of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ than the book itself; providing details of its creation, reception and aftermath whilst informing the audience briefly of the little effect of the novel. This did lead to an interesting discussion on how Kubrick’s alterations changed the concept of the book but so superficially was this touched upon I couldn’t help feeling robbed from a concept I thought would be central. Sandbrook continued in this style of repeating history whilst simply flirting with the themes and characters of A Clockwork Orange.

Toward the end of the lecture Sandbrook commented that A Clockwork Orange is a book really only read by the young, when we are ‘idealistic’ and have books on our shelves by the likes Kerouac and Burrows. As part of the younger generation and the fact I am indeed idealistic and have an extremely worn copy of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road on my bookshelf I was upset to see him reduce a novel which resonates so strongly within thousands and has influenced many literary styles and ambitions, to no more than simply part of the teenage culture, a group who’s condemnation had been a most frequent topic of his talk. The concluding concept of the lecture was that if we wished to see Burgess’ idea of a dystopian society we need only look around today; a powerful idea I felt unfortunately had no real backing as Sandbrook had barely touched upon Burgess’ intentions but rather the state of the society within which he lived.

The question and answer session started between Sandbrook and the foundations director; thinking this would stir the most interesting and possibly controversial debates proved redundant as the discussion turned almost puerile. They conversed on matters such as Burgess’ dislike of The Beatles and, somewhat distastefully, Jimmy Saville and his correlations to the text. However when questions were opened to the audience many inquisitive, intellectual and interesting concepts were put forward and queried, all of which Dominic Sandbrook answered competently.

I was sadly disappointed with the event as a whole, I had high expectations for the evening and was rather annoyed that a lecture supposedly celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of A Clockwork Orange barely made reference to it; however that might just be because my young, idealistic mind truly loves the text and therefore wanted to hear about Alex, his droogs and milk with knives rather than the food which was eaten in the sixties. I came away with some new knowledge and a renewed desire to talk nadsat but felt a text and author, which hold so much resonance in literature, weren’t done justice.

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