Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Earthly Powers, a novel on which Burgess worked for more than a decade, is structurally intricate in the way that Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1865-1869) is intricate. Burgess’ intimate and formal knowledge of music has motivated much of his writing, particularly his anti-utopian satire A Clockwork Orange (1962), in which the onomatopoeic qualities of the novel demonstrate the author’s ability to bring together the musicality of language and the formal structure of music into a book that resonates with the rhythmic patterns of speech. His more recent novel, The Pianoplayers (1986), again makes considerable use of musical structure, which Burgess considers a reflection of the quintessential structures in life and in human activity.

Added to Burgess’ knowledge of music is his keen understanding of the structural intricacies of James Joyce’s work, much of which the author demonstrates in Here Comes Everybody: An Introduction to James Joyce for the Ordinary Reader (1965; published in the United States in 1965 under the title Re Joyce).

It is significant in Earthly Powers that Kenneth Toomey was first seduced as a boy a week short of his fourteenth birthday in Dublin on June 16, 1904, the day on which the events in Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) take place in the same city. For Toomey, this day marked the loss of innocence, and Burgess clearly implies by his choice of...

(The entire section is 500 words.)