Gaston College instructor Christopher Thurley opens students’ minds by introducing them to the works of Anthony Burgess
Christopher Thurley, English Instructor and Coordinator of the Writing Center at Gaston College, recently returned from a week in the United Kingdom. The trip was in conjunction with work on his doctoral dissertation on Anthony Burgess.
Thurley is a Distance Education student and Ph.D. candidate at Manchester Metropolitan University, and his dissertation on Burgess, the British author best known for his dystopian satire “A Clockwork Orange,” is entitled “Responses to the Culture and Politics of the United States of America in the Novels and Nonfiction of Anthony Burgess.” Thurley’s advisor is Dr. Andrew Biswell, the Director of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation and Burgess’s biographer.
While in Manchester, Thurley visited the University and the Foundation to do research, attend events, speak to visiting students from Kingston University London, and be interviewed for a podcast/vlog/archival project. He is expected to defend his dissertation in the Summer/Fall of 2021.
In February 2011, Thurley joined Gaston College as a part-time Writing Coach in the Writing Center. He became a full-time English Instructor and the Assistant Coordinator of the Writing Center in 2014, and in January 2018, he became the Writing Center Coordinator, while continuing as an English Instructor. As Coordinator, Thurley supervises eight professional Writing Coaches and a clerical
assistant. He is also responsible for submitting FTE (full-time equivalent) reports, managing the budget, training coaches in writing center pedagogy, and organizing schedules. Under his leadership, the Writing Center was named Center of the Year by the North Carolina Tutoring and Learning Association in 2018.
Thurley has been teaching Burgess at Gaston College since 2014. His interest in Burgess started when he was a teenager and saw Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange,” which is closely based on Burgess’s novel of the same name. “After I saw the film,” he said, “I immediately asked my parents for the book and read it several times, thinking it was one of the most interesting pieces of literature I had ever come across. After that, I kept returning to the bookstore to buy other books by
Burgess that I could find (‘The Wanting Seed,’ ‘The Doctor Is Sick,’ ‘Tremor of Intent,’ ‘Honey for the Bears,’ and ‘Nothing Like the Sun’) because I found his writing to be so humorous and yet intellectual and intriguing.”
By the time Thurley was a senior in college, he had made the decision to write his senior thesis on Burgess, and that paper was accepted to present at a conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2009. There he met the Burgess scholars he continues to work with today. His interest in Burgess continued to grow and he has continued to write about the author, presenting his papers at various conferences and expanding his network of Burgess Scholars and friends.
Articles and essays by Thurley have been featured in many publications, and his article, “Alex as the Product, Producer, and Consumer of Art in the Dilapidated State in Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange,” will appear in the forthcoming “A Clockwork Orange and Beyond: Critical Essays on Anthony Burgess,” to be published by Manchester University Press. At a Burgess conference in Angers, France, in 2014, Thurley presented a paper he wrote about Burgess’s short story “1889 and the Devil’s Mode.” That paper was published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing in 2017 and was then translated into French and republished by Presses Universitaires de Rennes in 2019.
Thurley has been the recipient of many grants and honors, including the David Gray Chair Library Fellowship from the University of Buffalo, which allowed him to visit their archives in search of Burgess Materials, the International Anthony Burgess Foundation’s Doctoral Bursary, which is paying for Thurley’s doctorate, and numerous travel grants and stipends that help facilitate his doctoral studies.
A wide range of topics such as “Violence, Crime, and Reform in ‘A Clockwork Orange,’” “Kafka as Gregor and the Human Similarities to Bugs in the Metamorphosis,” “Hawthorne, Miller, Vonnegut, and Darwin: Literature, Science, and Logic,” “Teaching Science in the English Classroom,” “Digitizing the Modern Writing Center,” and “Peer Versus Professional Tutors,” has been covered in
presentations Thurley has given throughout the United States and internationally.
“My study of Burgess has not had much of an impact on my work in writing centers,” said Thurley, “but Burgess has had a profoundly significant influence on how I teach, what I teach, how I think about issues, concepts and ideas, and my own reading and writing. Any serious reader of Burgess knows that his work opens up a lot of different pathways for discussion and introduces his readers to a myriad of themes, ideas, authors, concepts, cultures, etc.”
Jonathan Williams was strongly influenced by Thurley’s classes on Anthony Burgess. “Being a student of Mr. Thurley and having the opportunity to learn about Mr. Anthony Burgess was an amazing opportunity,” he said. “Mr. Thurley is a wonderful teacher. He is down to earth and he is very passionate about the literature he studies. In my case, we were able to study Burgess’s novel ‘A
Clockwork Orange.’ This was very enlightening to me as to some of the horrendous events that are or may take place in our society. It highlights how someone who enjoys committing violent acts, the character Alex, can be punished by others and forced to change their ways. It exposes the reader to the internal conflicts and mindset of someone ill-favored in society, and how in the end they will always be themselves and choose the path they enjoy. A person such as this may not even realize that what they are doing is morally wrong, as long as they obtain the pleasure they desire. This work highlights humanity’s freedom of choice. I am very thankful for having the chance to be a student of Mr. Thurley. By introducing me to works like ‘A Clockwork Orange,’ Mr. Thurley has helped show me the true power that literature possesses and the priceless knowledge that authors like Mr. Burgess
are trying to share.”
Now studying at Appalachian State University, Lexie S., a former student of Thurley’s, was also powerfully affected by learning about Burgess. “When I too Mr. Thurley’s class, he shared bits of Burgess in all his lectures,” she said. “We ended up reading ‘The Doctor Is Sick’ and doing a paper in which we chose to explore one of the many layers in the book. During this same class, I did an honors paper for Mr. Thurley as well, and I read ‘A Clockwork Orange’ for it. It was both frustrating because of the Nadsat (a fictional vocabulary used by the teenagers in the novel), and amazing because of all the themes available to explore. The one thing I can say about Anthony Burgess is that he puts a lot of thought and effort into his plots. He is a genius writer in the way that he is informed about many topics and can create an entire story around one idea. The controversial topics or language he will use in his writing show him to be fearless in what he writes about. I think all perspectives should be explored and Burgess does that flawlessly. He provides deeper understanding with his work and you don’t even realize until you’re done reading and you start reflecting.”
As for Thurley, he continues to be inspired and influenced by Burgess. “Burgess demands that his readers come to his work with a wide knowledge of literature to make sense of what he is playing with,” said Thurley. “He introduced me to and got me acquainted with dozens of philosophers/theorists like Kant and Strauss, authors such as Joyce, Lawrence, Shakespeare, Hemingway, Roth, Bellow, and Mallarmé, and other cultural icons and artists like Debussy, Mozart, Beethoven, Warhol, Bonaparte, Trotsky, and Houdini.” By sharing his passion for the work of Burgess with his students, Thurley has given them an invaluable opportunity to expand their intellectual horizons and their curiosity about society and culture.
(L-R) Visiting undergraduate students from Kingston University London Dr. Andrew Biswell and Christopher Thurley each gave a talk and answered questions on the topic of violence, criminality, and reform in A Clockwork Orange. The novel written by Anthony Burgess, published in 1962