Study Guide

The Wanting Seed

By Anthony Burgess

The Wanting Seed Introduction

Shmoopers, we're willing to bet that if you've heard of Anthony Burgess, it's because of his novel A Clockwork Orange. Violent, disturbing, and utterly unafraid of posing difficult moral questions, A Clockwork Orange is the kind of book that can provoke strong reactions in readers. Lucky for you (or not so lucky, depending on your point of view), The Wanting Seed is much the same.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Burgess churned these babies out at roughly the same time, or maybe it's that Burgess is just man who likes to get your goat, but either way, his books can strike some nerves!

In the late 1950s, Burgess was diagnosed with a fatal tumor (a misdiagnosis, as it turned out), and he wrote hard and fast to produce paid work while he could. A Clockwork Orange and The Wanting Seed were both published in England in 1962, and American editions of both novels followed close behind. Although it was A Clockwork Orange that went on to become the novel that most people associate with Burgess's name, The Wanting Seed gets its fair share of attention, too.

Preoccupied with sexuality, death, State control, warfare, nationalism, racial hybridity, population control, and the indescribable elements that characterize human nature, The Wanting Seed is by turns satirical, witty, provocative, and—for many readers, in many ways—downright offensive. In short, this novel is a smorgasbord of subject matter for debate, hard thinking, deep critique, and all the other good things that make literary analysis so much fun.

What is The Wanting Seed About and Why Should I Care?

In case you've been asleep for the past couple of years, let us fill you in on a fun little fact about human beings: there are roughly 7 BILLION of us on the planet.

That is a lot.

When The Wanting Seed was first published, there were less than half that many of us on Earth, and already people were worried that if the human race got too much bigger, there wouldn't be enough food and resources to go around. In fact, even way back in the early 19th century, when some guy called Thomas Malthus was alive, overpopulation and resource exhaustion were anxiety-producing topics—not the kind of thing you'd want to bring up at a dinner party, say.

The Wanting Seed imagines a dystopian, futuristic England in which heterosexuality and reproduction are actively discouraged by the State. People all over the world have barely enough to eat and barely enough space to chew it in, yet despite all of the State's anti-reproduction propaganda and pro-infanticide indoctrination, the babies seem to keep on coming.

If you think that demographics is a weird theme for a dystopian novel, check out the website of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement and see what you make of that. Fact is: the sustainability of the human race is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and although The Wanting Seed may be dated, its subject matter is not.

The Wanting Seed Resources


The International Anthony Burgess Foundation
Folks, the man has a foundation. Check out its "About Anthony Burgess" pages for a crash course on his life and works!

Movie or TV Productions

A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Although The Wanting Seed never made it to film, Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of A Clockwork Orange is an Oscar-winning cult classic.

Articles and Interviews

Anthony Burgess Interviewed for The Paris Review
A meaty interview that ranges widely over literature, religion, politics, and lots more!

Anthony Burgess's Last Interview in The Guardian, 1993
Looking for a quick read with answers that a short and sweet? Look no further!

Anthony Burgess on Book Reviewing and the Importance of Reading Books
A lecture that Burgess delivered at the Dartington 'Ways With Words' Festival in 1992.


BBC: Face to Face Television Interview with Anthony Burgess (1989)
Listen to the man talk about his life and works in his own words!

Let's Talk About Sex
Want to watch Anthony Burgess debate the significance of sex with American feminist Andrea Dworkin? Of course you do! (Warning: this broadcast contains intellectual discussion of the merits of the F-word.)


Burgess's 'A Manchester Overture', 'Symphony in C', and Blooms of Dublin
As you read up on Burgess's work in composition, have a listen to these extracts from 'A Manchester Overture', 'Symphony in C', and Blooms of Dublin!


The Man, The Myth, The Legend
Anthony Burgess knew how to work a cravat.

The Norton Edition of The Wanting Seed
Women don't lay nest eggs, but WHATEVER! It's symbolic!

Eggy Ballantine Books Edition
We're sensing an egg theme here!

Legs-for-Breakfast Ballantine Books Edition
We just . . . don't even know.

The Penguin Books Edition
Everyone loves a good cook-out!