Novelist and critic Burgess was a polymath, a man with immense stores of erudition on history, music, art, religion, philosophy - whatever caught his fancy and lodged in his very capacious mind. He also had a good journalist's knack of being able … see full wiki
A posthumous omnibus collecting the late topical prose of twentieth-century England's most colorful novelist/essayist/poet/critic/playwright/linguist/translator/composer was at least so crucial as inevitable! Among those brief articles collected in this handsome volume: a glowing, penetrative overview of Alice in Wonderland and its mathematician fictionist; address of A Clockwork Orange's final, metanoiac chapter, excised in its American editions until 1986; effluent, graphic praise for the magnificence of imagination invested in Gaudí's edifices, (deliberately?) contemporaneous with Teshigahara's filmic documentary of the Catalan master architect's oeuvre; pleasantly personal inquiries of British Francophilia and the interminably unsteady Anglo-French alliance and cultural exchange; conspectus of ancient Hebrew punning and irony as a foundation of Ashkenazim prevalence in modern comedy; laudatory acknowledgment of Orson Welles' indisputable genius as a master craftsman of his medium whose cunning resourcefulness trumped his financial restrictions; acknowledgment of Hamlet as theatrical genius manifest in its every thrilling part rather than its rather disjointed whole; one anecdote of maddening inconveniences suffered by the author on what ought have been a luxurious trip by Concorde from Nice to San Juan; stated esteem for J.R.R. Tolkien's prowess as a scholar of Anglo-Saxon linguistics oppugnant to Burgess's dim view of Tolkien's popular fiction and its sexless Germanic paradigm; nostalgic regret for the diminution by prejudicial curtailment of itinerant lifestyles in postwar Europe; tepid contempt for both Iron Lady Thatcher's authoritarian inclinations and the dysfunctional socialist government that hers supplanted; frustration concerning and grudging admiration for forceful Francophone chauvinism and grammatic stringency on two continents; one thoroughly modern summary history of European royalty in praise of nominal monarchy and jeering dismissal of republicanism; reverence for Kipling's exhaustive pencraft and unparalleled intuition in service to empire; an amused, bemused observation of Cartesian predominance in the French perspective that subordinates reality to abstraction; reserved regard for the singular history and society of a gloomy, nebulously morbid Venice characterized by grandeur and decrepitude; a favorable description of debut novel A Vision of Battlements, its vicissitudes of publication and the experiential influence imparted to it by Burgess's military service on the Rock of Gibraltar; so much more that a literary critique can scarcely convey the fullest scope of the accomplished polymath's purview.
Ultimately, this compilation is perhaps better assessed in discussion than by review, especially for those enthusiasts of Burgess and his favored subjects. Nonetheless, it is wonderful, addictive reading throughout. Organized by folk story preservationist Ben Forkner - whose introduction and section prefaces prove elegant, if unmemorable - the book's contents are grouped thusly: Genius Loci - stories and evaluations of travel, language and locale; In Our Time (and Other Reflections) - monographs of contemporary issues; Ars Poetica - treatises of artists and exceptional specific works; Anniversaries and Celebrations - writings providing illumination for the Burgessian nigh-obsession with the jubilee and especially centenary, for which those of Kipling, Ravel, Chaplin, Hopkins, among others - but especially beloved Joyce - are honored. Britain's last great Catholic adored music, literature, and above all, language itself. These formerly "uncollected writings" serve as yet another reminder of Burgess's erudition and love for lingual, artistic and cultural exploration...and juxtapositional comparison.
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