(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Tremor of Intent is ostensibly a spy thriller containing most of the conventional characters and devices of the type, often taken to comic extremes. Yet Anthony Burgess’ American subtitle is “An Eschatological Spy Novel,” and this theological concern with death, Hell, judgment, and the fate of the soul moves the novel beyond its generic features into emphatic Christian allegory.

British agent Denis Hillier is aboard the Polyolbion on a gastronomic cruise to Yarylyuk in the Crimea, where he is to force or persuade the defector Edwin Roper to return to Great Britain. Hillier creates a lengthy unwritten letter to his director, recapitulating his relationship with Roper as Catholic schoolboys and in early manhood, detailing his prior rescue of Roper from his whorish German wife, Brigitte. In quick order, Hillier encounters the ingratiating steward Richard “Ricky” Wriste; the sultry Indian beauty Miss Devi; her employer, the pederastic and gluttonous Mr. Theodorescu; the blonde and innocently perverse Clara Walters; and her frighteningly knowing brother, Alan. Hillier’s cover (he is posing as a typewriter technician) is penetrated by Alan and by Theodorescu, who bests him in an epic eating contest and, after Hillier’s exotic sexual engagement with Miss Devi, elicits secret information from him.

After the departure of Theodorescu and Miss Devi from the Polyolbion, Hillier’s sexual and paternal attraction to Clara escalates,...

(The entire section is 445 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In the first part of Burgess’s Tremor of Intent, the protagonist is a secret agent named Hillier, who wishes to retire and who suffers from the “two chronic diseases of gluttony and satyriasis.” He recounts his memories of his childhood and young adult relationship with Roper, a British scientist. Hillier has been sent, on this last mission before retirement, to recover Roper from the Soviet Union.

Many of Burgess’s standard themes appear in this part of the book: the role of the church and religion, the duality of good and evil, the nature of free will, and the infidelity of wives. Roper and Hillier address many of these topics themselves, but Roper also discusses the philosophical issues with others. Roper’s wife, a German girl whom he married after World War II, is unfaithful, and Hillier, ostensibly in the name of Roper’s honor, beats her lover (just before Hillier has sex with her himself). Though at the beginning of the novel Hillier is on a cruise ship on his way to recover Roper, it is not until part 2 that the action of the novel actually takes place on the cruise ship.

In part 2, where the parody of the spy genre begins in earnest, Hillier meets the siblings Alan and Clara Walters, who will aid him in his attempt to get Roper and who will save Hillier’s life. Young Clara represents the innocent female in the novel, and, though Hillier will ultimately have relations with her, he spends much of the novel avoiding sexual contact with her, trying to convince himself that his feelings toward her are paternal. He readily...

(The entire section is 643 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Aggeler, Geoffrey. Anthony Burgess: The Artist as Novelist, 1979.

Aggeler, Geoffrey. Critical Essays on Anthony Burgess, 1986.

Coale, Samuel. Anthony Burgess, 1981.

DeVitis, A. A. Anthony Burgess, 1972.

Morris, Robert K. The Consolations of Ambiguity: An Essay on the Novels of Anthony Burgess, 1971.