Earthly Powers

Earthly Powers

Infobox Book |
name = Earthly Powers

image_caption = Penguin edition
author = Anthony Burgess
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United Kingdom
language = English
genre = Historical novel
publisher = Hutchinson
release_date = 1980
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 678 pp
isbn = ISBN 0-09-143910-8

"Earthly Powers" is a panoramic saga of the 20th century by Anthony Burgess first published in 1980. On one level it is a parody of a "blockbuster" novel, with the 81-year-old hero, Kenneth Toomey (allegedly based on British author W. Somerset Maugham [ [ Anthony Burgess ] ] ), telling the story of his life in 81 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.

Plot summary

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


*Toomey's break with the Roman Catholic Church, which regards his homosexuality as an intrinsically disordered state
*the marriage of his sister Hortense to composer Domenico Campanati
*Domenico's brother Don Carlo's ascent to the papacy
*gay rights
*The relationship between Love and Lust
*terminal illness and euthanasia


*United States
*Tangier, Morocco

References to historical events

*The Great War
*the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic
*the rise of fascism in Italy
*Nazi Germany
*World War II
*post-colonialism in Africa

Disguised references to historical events

* The fictional Carlo Campanati becomes Pope Gregory XVII. This name was allegedly the one to be adopted by Giuseppe Siri, who four times failed to be elected Pope in controversial circumstances. The dates of Carlo's papal election (1958) and death (June 3, 1963) correspond to those of Pope John XXIII, as does his general appearance. However, many of Campanati's achievements and attributes are shared by the real-life Pope Paul VI, who, like Carlo, was Archbishop of Milan before his election. Other concordances between Carlo and Paul VI include his dealings with Mussolini's government, his support for Jews escaping the Nazis, his arguments against contraception and priestly marriage, and his world travels during his papacy. Carlo's plan for an ecumenical reorganization of the church is reflected in both John XXIII, who called the Second Vatican Council, and in Paul VI, who opted to continue the council after John's death.
* The Jonestown mass suicide of 1978 is presented in the form of a fictional group called the "Children of God" (not to be confused with the new religious movement of the same name). While the basic premise of the incident is retained in the novel (charismatic religious leader leads a group of disenfranchised followers to ritual suicide), many of the details are changed. In the novel, the mass suicide takes place in 1963, not 1978, in a compound located in the Mojave desert of California, not Guyana, and the congregation is given cyanide tablets, rather than the now-infamous poisoned Kool-Aid.



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