A Clockwork Orange

Title:Nineteen Eighty-Four
Location:London, United Kingdom
Published:June 8, 1949
Genre:, ,
Print Run:26,575


A Clockwork Orange is a novel by , published by in 1962.

First Edition Identification Points

All of the following points must be present to ensure a true first edition / first printing.

  • The copyright page has the following text:

William Heinemann Ltd

First Published 1962

© Anthony Burgess, 1962
All rights reserved

  • Front flap of dust jacket has the price “16s” at the bottom right
  • Dust jacket is purple with a design by Barry Trengrove
  • Front cover of dust jacket has image of a boy saying “yarbles, bolshy great yarblockos to thee and thine” on an orange speech bubble

Publication History

Anthony Burgess (pen name of John Anthony Burgess Wilson) was a talented linguist who was interested in Russian language and literature. His publishing company William Heinemann sent Burgess to Leningrad on a work trip in the summer of 1961, hoping he might write a travel book about Soviet Russia. Instead, the non-fiction piece was dismissed in favor of a novel that began to take shape. Burgess and his wife Lynne witnessed gangs of violent, well-dressed youths in Leningrad who inspired the Nadsat (which is the Russian suffix meaning “teen”) language in the book. But the genesis for the inspiration for the novel is more complicated than that. During World War II, a then-pregnant Lynne had been beaten and raped by a gang of American deserters; she would later miscarry. Also, before leaving England Burgess had contemplated writing a novel about British gangs using slang but was worried that the language would be out of date by the time the book had been published. He was also reviewing novels for various publications at the time, which would include a number of popular dystopian and utopian works. The philosophy in A Clockwork Orange can be seen as a response to the mechanistic determinism present in certain novels of that era, especially B. F. Skinner’s utopian novel Walder Two. Burgess also felt that lawless youths in his novel were an international phenomenon; he visualized the setting as “a compound of my native Manchester, Leningrad, and New York.”

As for the title, Burgess claims he heard the phrase “as queer as a clockwork orange” in a London pub in 1945 and assumed it was Cockney slang. He liked the juxtaposition of the lively and organic orange versus the mechanical, cold and disciplined clockwork. No researcher has been able to find mention of the phrase before Burgess’ publication of it, but he claims not to have created it himself. Burgess would later claim he wrote the novel in about three weeks, and indeed his literary agent Peter Janson-Smith submitted the typescript to Heinemann on September 5th, 1961 (it was started in mid-late summer). The publishers internally debated how to promote the book, which had the dual issues of being inaccessible due to the slang and also offensive (or possibly unlawfully obscene) due to the heavily-featured scenes of sex, drug-use, and violence. After some small changes, Heinemann published A Clockwork Orange for 16s on May 14th, 1962 in a print run of 6,000 copies. The reviews were mixed and the book sold poorly, apparently only having sold 3,842 copies by the mid-1960s. There was no second printing of this edition.

As for the length of the novel, Burgess says he purposefully crafted the book in three sections of seven chapters as an intentional nod to the age of 21 being generally recognized as a milestone age in human maturation. The reality was more ambiguous, however, as he left a handwritten note in the original typescript after chapter 20: “Should we end here? An optional “epilogue” follows.” Burgess’ editor James Michie included the “epilogue” or 21st chapter in the UK release of the novel. The American editor Eric Swenson at W. W. Norton decided to omit that last chapter when they published A Clockwork Orange in 1963, which seriously changed the tone of the novel. Swenson says that he came to this decision with Burgess’ blessing, but Burgess would later regret allowing this version to be released. In 1970-1, Stanley Kubrick adapted a film from the American version of the novel (with no 21st chapter). Burgess initially praised the adaptation, but changed his tune when Kubrick later published an illustrated novel entitled Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Burgess disliked the director’s attempt to claim sole ownership of the novel and even went so far as to publish a negative review of the book in character as Alex (the book’s protagonist). His views on the film and even the novel itself became more negative as the popularity of the work grew and Burgess came to see that it would be his best-known work.