Published in 1962, Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange is set in the future and narrated by fifteen-year-old Alex in Nadsat—a language invented by Burgess and comprised of bits of Russian, English, and American slang, rhyming words, and "gypsy talk." The British edition of the novel contains three sections divided into seven chapters, for a total of twenty-one chapters, the number symbolizing adulthood. The original American edition, however, contains only twenty chapters, as the publisher cut the last chapter because he felt it was too sentimental. A new American edition came out in 1987 with the expunged chapter restored. Although Burgess claimed that the book is neither his favorite nor his best, A Clockwork Orange helped to establish his international reputation, owing largely to Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of it in 1971. The novel's title alludes to the Cockney saying, "as queer as a clockwork orange," which means that something can appear to be natural, but on the inside it is actually artificial. Burgess's novel explores issues such as the relation between evil and free will, and the state's role in human affairs.
Burgess, a self-avowed anarchist, visited Leningrad (in what was then the Soviet Union) in 1961 and was appalled at the degree to which the communist state controlled people's lives. He based the character of Alex and his band of thugs ("droogs" in Nadsat) on Russian and British gangs of the 1950s and 1960s. The Russian stilyaqi, or style-boys, reminded Burgess of the teddyboys, a macho British youth subculture. "Inspiration" for a violent scene in the novel stems from an incident in 1943 when a group of AWOL (absent without leave) American soldiers attacked and raped Burgess's then-pregnant wife, Llewela Isherwood Jones, in London, killing their unborn child. Though his wife died more than two decades later, Burgess attributed her subsequent alcoholism and death from cirrhosis of the liver to that incident.