Telegraph columnist Gary Dexter sets out to uncover the stories behind the titles of 50 famous classics and comes up with some intriguing literary trivia. Extracts from the book appear in the Telegraph and the Independent.
One of the most intriguing questions (for us, anyway) is whether the orange in the title Anthony Burgess' famous dsytopian novel A Clockwork Orange was actually a play on the Malay word orang meaning man:
I'm very tempted to buy this Dexter's book! (And I blame Aswan because he sent me a link to it.) As Marcus Berkmann in the Spectator points out:
Anthony Burgess gave at least three possible origins for the title A Clockwork Orange, none convincing. The first was that he had overheard the phrase "as queer as a clockwork orange" in a London pub. He wrote in the introduction to the 1987 US edition: "The image was a bizarre one, always used for a bizarre thing."
Then, in an essay, "Clockwork Marmalade", published in 1972, he claimed he had heard the phrase several times, usually in the mouths of aged cockneys. But no other record of the expression in use before 1962 has surfaced. Several commentators have doubted it ever existed. Why an orange, in particular? Why not a clockwork apple? The phrase does not seem to have much wit or accuracy when describing something queer, odd or strange.
The second explanation was that the title was a pun on the Malay word orang, meaning man. Burgess taught in Malaya from 1954 to 1959. He wrote in Joysprick, his study of Joyce: "I myself was, for nearly six years, in such close touch with the Malay language that it affected my English and still affects my thinking. When I wrote A Clockwork Orange, no European reader saw that the Malay word for 'man' – orang – was contained in the title..." This conjuring of a clockwork man, central to the book's ideas, is clever, but sounds like an afterthought. Burgess wrote elsewhere that the orang echo was a "secondary" meaning – probably shorthand for a happy accident.
This leads to the third possibility, which is, as he wrote in a prefatory note, that the title is a metaphor for an organic entity, full of juice and sweetness, being turned into an automaton. This idea is built into the book. The story of Alex is one in which two unpleasant alternatives for future societies are contrasted. The first is one in which malefactors are allowed to exercise free will to torture and murder, and are, if caught, punished; the second is one in which they have their freedom of choice cauterised, resulting in a safe society populated by automata.
Burgess intended to contrast two ways of looking at the world, the Augustinian and the Pelagian. The Augustinian is that man's freedom is guaranteed, but original sin makes suffering inevitable. The Pelagian (heretical) view is that mankind is perfectible and original sin can be overridden. Burgess leant heavily towards the Augustinian side. The phrase "a clockwork orange", as representative of the Pelagian nightmare, appears in the book itself, in fact as the title of a book.
There is one other possibility. Did Burgess mishear that phrase in the pub? Terry's began making Chocolate Oranges in 1931. "Chocolate" and "clockwork" aren't homophones, but they might sound alike in a noisy pub. Perhaps Burgess misheard. Perhaps he knew it but liked what he had misheard. Perhaps – I speculate – he did not want to admit to the drab origins of his title.
No literary lavatory will be complete without a copy.