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Earthly Powers

are, Lady Chatterley

carlo toomey hospital burgess

a novel by Anthony Burgess, published in 1980. Narrated by Kenneth Toomey, an ageing homosexual and celebrated novelist, the story covers six decades and a vast geographical area. It is driven by a strong moral anger belied by the wit and humour of much of the book and the acknowledged decadence of its narrator. The first part portrays a society flawed and fallen, made evident in the developing tragedies of early twentieth-century Europe. The Catholic Church, though frequently invoked at points of suffering or squalor, is not presented as arbiter or remedy. Among the gallery of fictional and historical characters few are admired by Toomey, although his sister Hortense and his brother-in-law, the priest Carlo, become important. The first climax comes when the young Toomey meets Philip Shawcross, a doctor in a hospital in Malaya, and develops a strong, non-sexual love for him. Cursed by a Malay whose son dies at the hospital, Shawcross becomes dangerously ill. Carlo conducts an exorcism but the curse is lifted too late for Shawcross, who dies. Nevertheless, for the first time Toomey has acknowledged an intense non-sexual love, and for the first time—in the person of Carlo—human evil has been countered by religious certainties. This invasion of light into the darkness of the novel's world is one of its major structural pivots.

Carlo, ministering to his dying brother in Chicago, blesses a dying child, who recovers miraculously. Yet Burgess presents Carlo ambiguously: his rapid rise in the church is shown to be due to ambition, and Carlo appears to have little theological or pastoral insight. In strong contrast to Carlo is Godfrey Manning, leader of an extreme religious sect which he leads into an act of mass suicide/massacre. Toomey visits the sect in search of his niece who is a convert. The final ironic twist of the novel is that the child miraculously healed by Carlo in the Chicago hospital was none other than Godfrey Manning. Burgess refuses to portray good and evil in human beings as absolute. As Toomey ages in his own story and his sexual powers wane, evil is seen to be less what people do than what people are. By the inclusion of real events (the wartime broadcasts of P. G. Wodehouse, the Lady Chatterley trial, etc.) and real people (Norman Douglas, Rudyard Kipling, etc.), the theological subtext is made contemporary and given currency.

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