Though Denis Hillier identifies himself as “a void, a dark sack crammed with skills,” his long-imagined letter demonstrates his youthful concern with free will, guilt, and evil, which continue to preoccupy him in his adult life and which lead to his (and Burgess’) central determination of life as “a bloody Manichean mess.” He sometimes employs religious terms for relatively mundane circumstances, but with increasing seriousness as the novel develops. His story is literally a pilgrim’s progress. He is branded, like Cain, from an earlier encounter, is leadingly described as “fallen Adam,” and on the Polyolbion drinks Old Mortality: Such associations are pointed.
When Hillier instructs Alan and Clara about his function as their father is dying, he also observes that “ultimate reality is a dualism or game for two players,” a contest between good and evil of which his agent’s activities are but a shadow: The old demarcations are blurred in contemporary life. Yet, sustained by a beatific and nearly sacramental concept of Clara, he also recognizes that “he was creaking towards a regeneration,” toward “that blessed world beyond politics” and the rituals of the espionage game. After Clara, he craves tenderness.
Hillier’s derogatory annotation of Roper’s memoir is part of his post-Yarylyuk determination to end his impostures and identify neutrality as evil, as residing “in the uncovenanted powers.” His three days’ wait for Theodorescu in Istanbul is his symbolic time in Hell before his resurrection. His heroic self-denial and self-purification before becoming a priest under a regimen of “work, discipline, obedience” complete his respiritualization, so that he can ultimately clarify good and evil to the grown Alan and Clara as “God and Notgod. Salvation and damnation of equal dignity, the two sides of the coin of ultimate reality,” and confidently claim that “the real war goes on in heaven.”
Edwin Roper has apparently defected from a profound but quixotic disillusionment with Great Britain, and his idealism and naivete are frequently assailed by Hillier. As a Catholic schoolboy Roper argued for a unified universe and the scientific approach to life; Hillier instead saw him becoming a thing, “a highly efficient artefact crammed with non-human knowledge.” This state precipitates...
(The entire section is 964 words.)