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Authors: Anthony Burgess

Tremor of Intent

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Tremor of Intent

Tremor of Intent

An eschatological spy novel

Anthony Burgess

A complete catalogue record for this book can be obtained
from the British Library on request

The right of Anthony Burgess to be identified as the author
of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Copyright © 1966 Anthony Burgess
Introduction copyright © Andrew Biswell, 2013

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored
in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means,
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise,
without the prior written permission of the publisher.

First published in 1966

First published in this edition in 2013 by Serpent's Tail,
an imprint of Profile Books Ltd
3A Exmouth House
Pine Street
London EC1R 0JH

ISBN 978 1 84668 920 8
eISBN 978 1 84765 894 4

Printed by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

J. McMichael M.B., Ch.B.

But between the day and night
The choice is free to all, and night
Falls equally on black and white.


The worst that can be said of most
of our malefactors, from statesmen to
thieves, is that they are not men
enough to be damned.


Introduction by Andrew Biswell

The dust jacket of the first American edition of
Tremor of Intent
, subtitled ‘An Eschatological Spy Novel', contains a useful note by the author: ‘Eschatology (Greek
– last) is the term theologians – and theological writers – use to designate the ultimate realities: God, the Devil, Hell, Heaven.' When he came to write the jacket copy for this hardback edition, Anthony Burgess took care to spell out the novel's wider intentions: ‘The reader may take this new Burgess novel on any level he likes – as a Secret Service entertainment gone mad; as a serious study of the reasons why men defect from the West to Russia; as an examination of the morality of espionage; as a Chinese box full of surprises – or quite simply as one of the most challenging novels in recent years.' It is clear from Burgess's account that what he set out to accomplish in
Tremor of Intent
was an unexpected blend of literary genres, including spy fiction in the Ian Fleming style, the mid-century Catholic writing of Graham Greene, and experimental writing in the tradition of James Joyce.

Burgess had been thinking about writing a novel called
Tremor of Intent
for at least nine years before he published a spy novel under that title in 1966. It appears that he had been carrying the title around in his head, waiting to find a suitable novel to which he could attach it. In a letter to James Michie, his editor at Heinemann, dated 29 January 1957, he announced that the third volume of his Malayan trilogy, eventually published as
Beds in the East
, would be titled ‘Tremor of Intent'. (He encountered a similar problem with
A Clockwork Orange
– a phrase that Burgess said he had overheard in a
London pub in the early 1940s, for which he did not find an appropriate story until 1962.) Interviewed by Peter Duval Smith on BBC radio on 4 January 1966, Burgess said that
Tremor of Intent
– ‘a clinical title […] a title I've wanted to use for many years' – was supposed to suggest ‘the total objectivity, coldness, lack of humanity which I believe pervades the secret service today'. There are references in the text to tremors of fear and anticipation, and to the tremor of the assassin's finger just before he pulls the fatal trigger. We might also think of the excessive drinking depicted in the novel, which could induce the medical condition known as
delirium tremens
. But there is another hidden meaning to the title, which points to another set of tremulous intentions on the part of the novel's hero, and Burgess takes care not to disclose the details of these to the reader until the final page. It is only on a second reading, when we are equipped to respond to small clues in the text which foreshadow the outcome of the story, that the full meaning of the title becomes clear. And of course it is entirely appropriate to an espionage novel that even its title should be a kind of riddle or secret code.

The novel's beginnings are deceptively simple. A British secret agent named Denis Hillier sets off on a mission into Soviet Russia to bring back Edwin Roper, a rocket scientist and old schoolmate of his who has defected. Both men have been educated at a Catholic boarding school in the north of England, and Hillier writes about their shared history in the opening chapter. It emerges that Roper has been doubly betrayed, first by his unfaithful German wife, Brigitte, and later by Hillier himself, who has also had a brief affair with Brigitte. But there are other betrayals and reversals about to emerge as Hillier embarks by sea on a British passenger ship called the
, named after the famous topographical poem by Michael Drayton. The vessel turns out to be full of suspicious characters and potential traitors, such as the sybaritic international businessman, Mr Theodorescu, and his alluring secretary, Miss Devi. Even those on board who appear to be most English may have
something to hide. The
can be thought of as a kind of allegory for the divided Europe of the Cold War, as it sails into an uncertain future which is likely to be far from harmonious. It is possible that Burgess was thinking back to the claustrophobic atmosphere of
Stamboul Train
, an early thriller by Graham Greene, which takes place in the sealed environment of the Orient Express and, like
Tremor of Intent
, features a crucial episode set in Istanbul, a city which Burgess had never visited.

The novel has its origins in Burgess's own single-sex Catholic schooling between the ages of eleven and eighteen at Xaverian College in Manchester. The college was run by the Xaverian Brothers, a teaching order whose members were not ordained, though they were required to take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The character of Father Byrne in the novel (named after Margaret Byrne, Burgess's hated Irish step-mother) is based on Brother Martin, the real-life headmaster of Xaverian College when Burgess was a student there in the 1920s and 1930s. The fictional headmaster gives a memorable sermon against lust as the deadliest of the available sins:

‘All the evil of our modern times springs from unholy lust, the act of the dog and the bitch on the bouncing bed, limbs going like traction engines, the divine gift of articulate speech diminished to squeals and groans and pantings. It is terrible, terrible, an abomination before God and His Holy Mother. Lust is the fount of all other of the deadly sins, leading to pride of the flesh, covetousness of the flesh, anger in the thwarting of desire, gluttony to feed the spent body to be at it again, envy of the sexual prowess and sexual success of others, sloth to admit enervating day-dreams of lust. Only in the married state, by God's holy grace, is it sanctified, for then it becomes the means of begetting fresh souls for the peopling of the Kingdom of Heaven.'

Brother Martin's real name was Eugene MacCarthy, and he was said to be a distant relative of the actor Seymour Hicks. He
was himself a failed actor, and Burgess remembers his frequent bouts of histrionics in the first volume of his autobiography,
Little Wilson and Big God
(1987). In fairness to Xaverian College, it must be said that Burgess admired many of his teachers, including Brother Campion, whose French lessons contained regular digressions about French cuisine, and Bill Dever, a Liverpool Irishman who introduced the young Burgess to the writing of James Joyce.

Although Burgess had intellectually rejected Catholicism at the age of sixteen in 1933, he remained emotionally attached to the faith of his fathers, and his self-identification as a renegade northern Catholic whose family was mostly Irish continued to shape his attitude towards protestant England and English culture more generally. As Hillier says of the north of England in chapter one, ‘It did not, sir, smell of Rupert Brooke's or your England.' The novel establishes that Hillier's England smells instead of incense, breweries, tanneries, canals, brick-dust, trams, corned beef hash, and hot pies with gravy. In other words, Burgess is deliberately rejecting the genteel Englishness of the village clock, and tea and honey on the lawn, as they had been nostalgically described in Brooke's poem, ‘The Old Vicarage, Granchester'.

Burgess's thinking about Englishness was strongly shaped by his sense of being an outsider, for reasons of geography, ethnicity, accent and religion. In
Tremor of Intent
he addresses the problem of whether a Catholic (even a lapsed one) can ever be a loyal and normal English citizen. How far, the novel asks, is it possible for an English Catholic to reconcile the cultural authority of London and the south of England with the spiritual authority of Rome? Burgess's overwhelming feeling, which he shared with many of his co-religionists, was that the English Catholics would always be, to a greater or lesser extent, foreigners in their own country, and that they could never enjoy a true sense of home or belonging. This helps to explain
Burgess's decision to live outside England after 1968, when he moved with his second wife and family first to Malta, then to Rome, then to Monaco and the south of France. In the novel, Hillier also finds that he is more at home in Catholic Ireland than in the England of his birth. Burgess suggests that a sense of detachment from the mainstream of English culture has caused Hillier to become a spy and Roper to become a defector to the Soviet Union.

Despite Burgess's misgivings about his own Englishness,
Tremor of Intent
has its feet firmly planted in the tradition of the Anglo-Irish novel. The writer to whom it owes the most obvious debt is Ian Fleming, whose James Bond novels had been read and enjoyed by Burgess since the publication of
Casino Royale
in 1953. Fleming is one of the writers considered in Burgess's non-fiction book
Ninety-Nine Novels
(1984), a personal selection of the best post-war fiction. Writing on the occasion of Bond's twenty-fifth anniversary in 1988, Burgess celebrated the enduring figure of the international agent, famous for drinking vodka martinis and ‘cold love-making with other men's wives'. In his general introduction to the Coronet series of James Bond reprints, Burgess identified Bond as a hero-figure who seemed to defy the austerity of post-1945 Britain, when the Empire was declining and meat and sugar were rationed. There is an element of self-identification between Burgess and Fleming, since both men had come to the writing of popular novels in their middle years. Yet Burgess was aware of the growing distance between Fleming's novels and the series of films which threatened to displace them in the popular imagination. ‘Bond,' he wrote, ‘is often compared facially to Hoagy Carmichael, the composer of ‘Star Dust', a song hit of the nineteen-twenties, but for very young readers the name ought to be glossed in a footnote. Bond belongs to history, and these are historical novels.'

Above all, Burgess's essay is keen to make the case for Fleming as a literary artist, who had created a character of near-mythical proportions, comparable with Shakespeare's Falstaff or Conan Doyle's
Sherlock Holmes. When Burgess speaks of Fleming's fiction as a ‘banquet of the senses', it is legitimate to think of the eating competition between Hillier and Mr Theodorescu in
Tremor of Intent
, where food and drink are consumed in enormous quantities until the loser is forced to vomit. Burgess could not have begun to write his novel if he had not possessed a detailed knowledge of Fleming's implausible plots and larger-than-life characters. It is interesting to note that, when Burgess was asked to write a James Bond film script by the producers of
The Spy Who Loved
Me in 1977, he resurrected the character of Mr Theodorescu from his own spy novel.

BOOK: Tremor of Intent
5.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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