‘Goodness comes from within… Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.’
Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (1962) is an enduringly fascinating novel, and not simply because of the controversy surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation. From the first page I was entranced by the novel’s playful language. The Nadsat of Alex’s gang, or his ‘droogs’, is a uniquely inventive literary creation. Burgess’ neologisms seem to roll off the tongue, granting an empowering quality to Alex’s language. Nadsat lends itself especially well, perhaps unsurprisingly, to the crafting of insults:
‘How are thou, thy globby bottle of cheap, stinking chip-oil? Come and get one in the yarbles, if you have any yarbles, you eunuch jelly thou!’
I think Alex’s language is so effective because it appears to combine two contradictory modes of speech: it’s both heavily formal and Shakespearean (‘How are thou’), yet simultaneously direct and evocative, as demonstrated by the almost-onomatopoeiac effect of ‘globby’. I can’t imagine hearing that word, even in the most innocent of contexts, and believing it to mean anything positive.
Without Nadsat, A Clockwork Orange would be a far lesser novel, as the use of this dialect assists in the characterisation of Alex. As his narration navigates the reader through Burgess’ dystopian vision of England, it’s crucial that his voice is a powerful one.