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Anthony Burgess: Inside Mr. Enderby
Though this story is about a not very successful poet, it is surprisingly similar to A Clockwork Orange, at least in theme. Like Alex, Mr. Enderby – we never know his first name, though his wife briefly endows him the name of Harry – clearly does not fit into society. He is a poet maudit, fit for no other profession but unable to make much of a success at poetry. He lives in rented digs in a South coast resort town, keeps his poems in the bath, does all his work sitting on the toilet, has bad relations with his landlady and limits his social contacts to the people at the local pub. He is so out of touch with the world – he never reads newspapers, indeed, does not seem to read anything, and does not own a television – that he does not seem to know what a pop singer is. Moreover, things seem to go wrong for him. While he has a meagre private income, he is generally short of money. When opportunities do come – a fifty guinea poetry prize, an opportunity to write poetry for a women’s magazine – he generally makes a mess of them, insulting the donors and generally making himself unpleasant.
Then Vesta Bainbridge comes into his life. She is the editor of the women’s magazine who offers him a (paid) home for his poetry in the magazine (Fem is its name). After throwing up over her and making a fool of himself, he declines. Vesta – widow of a famous racing driver – is not to be deterred. Unable to be famous herself, she wants the reflected glory of fame and now that her racing driver is dead Enderby is her target. She takes hold of him, carries him off to Rome and then tries to make a Catholic of him. Enderby revolts and surreptitiously escapes but not before she has spent most of his money, leaving him penniless. When he tries suicide, we move rapidly into A Clockwork Orange territory as the well-meaning doctors try to make him a more useful member of society, even changing his name.
However, while A Clockwork Orange is sinister and black, this novel is hilariously funny and the cantankerous, confirmed bachelor, misanthropic Enderby is a wonderful creation whom we cannot help feeling sympathy for, even as he farts, belches, throws up, insults, gets into fights, flees and pontificates. Of course, Burgess is saying, the system has no use for people who are different, however different may be defined. We must all be happy conformists or society has no use for us. Fortunately, Enderby survives and will live to fight another day in other novels.
First published 1963 by Heinemann