Earthly Powers

Earthly Powers

First edition
Author Anthony Burgess
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Hutchinson
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 678 pp
ISBN 0-09-143910-8
OCLC 7016660
823/.914 19
LC Class PR6052.U638 E2 1980b

Earthly Powers is a panoramic saga of the 20th century by Anthony Burgess first published in 1980. It begins with the "outrageously provocative"[1] first sentence: "It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me."

On one level it is a parody of a "blockbuster" novel, with the 81-year-old hero, Kenneth Toomey (allegedly loosely based on British author W. Somerset Maugham),[2] telling the story of his life in 82 chapters. It "summed up the literary, social and moral history of the century with comic richness as well as encyclopedic knowingness", according to Malcolm Bradbury.

The novel appeared on the shortlist for the Booker Prize in the year of its publication but lost out to William Golding's Rites of Passage.[3] In an October 2006 poll in The Observer, it was named joint third for the best work of British and Commonwealth fiction of the last 25 years (along with Ian McEwan's Atonement, Penelope Fitzgerald's The Blue Flower, Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled, and Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children).[4]

Plot summary

On his eighty-first birthday, retired gay writer Kenneth Toomey is asked by the Archbishop of Malta to assist in the process of canonisation of Carlo Campanati, the late Pope Gregory XVII and his brother-in-law. Toomey subsequently works on his memoirs, which span the major part of the 20th century.



References to historical events

The novel includes coverage of:

Since it is an integral theme of the novel that the protagonist is an unreliable narrator,[6] the work highlights the fallibility of memory by including many deliberate factual errors, as explained by Burgess in the second volume of his autobiography, You've Had Your Time. These may be found on almost every page of the novel, and vary in subtlety from inaccuracies of German grammar to deliberately contrary re-writings of history.

However, the yellow badge would not be introduced in Germany before 1 September 1941.
Actually the Jewish merchant Friedländer had been her stepfather and thus made her Magda Friedländer. Before industrialist Günther Quandt married her in 1921, on request of her mother's first husband, Dr. Ritschel, Magda was registered as his daughter. After her divorce from Quandt in 1929 Magda married Goebbels in 1931 and bore him six children. In 1934 the Goebbelses settled on the island of Schwanenwerder buying cheaply from persecuted Jews.
That the premiere of Hans Westmar had actually, as the novel states, been attended not only by Goering but also by Wilhelm Furtwängler is unlikely.


  1. "An arresting opening". Telegraph. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  2. Liukkonen, Petri. "Anthony Burgess". Books and Writers ( Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 10 February 2015.
  3. "The Booker Prize 1980"., The Man Booker Prize website. Retrieved 5 May 2016.
  4. Robert McCrum, What's the best novel in the past 25 years?, Guardian, 8 October 2006. Retrieved 18 March 2012.
  5. Earthly Powers at The International Anthony Burgess Foundation. "Earthly Powers is Anthony Burgess's supreme achievement as a novelist. An enthralling, epic narrative that spans six decades of history, that spotlights some of the most vivid events and characters of the twentieth century, it is a novel about the nature and origins of evil." Vintage Classics, 2010. Retrieved 18 March 2012.
  6. Chapter 82: "I shall call it, I think," I said "Confabulations." "That's a wet sort of title." "Well, consider. In psychiatry, according to this dictionary here, it means the replacement of the gaps left by a disordered memory with imaginary remembered experiences believed to be true. Not that I see the difference. All memories are disordered. The truth, if not mathematical, is what we think we remember."
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