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A Dead Man in Deptford

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  782 ratings  ·  69 reviews
With A Dead Man in Deptford, Burgess concluded his literary career to overwhelming acclaim for his re-creation of the Elizabethan poet Christopher Marlowe. In lavish, pitch-perfect, and supple, readable prose, Burgess matches his splendid Shakespeare novel, Nothing Like the Sun. The whole world of Elizabethan England—from the intrigues of the courtroom, through the violent ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published March 21st 2003 by Da Capo Press (first published December 31st 1992)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,706)
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Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
This was, I think, Burgess' last published novel, and a fine one it is, too. Years after his Shakespeare novel, NOTHING LIKE THE SUN, he goes back to the same era to tackle Christopher Marlowe, the wild, wayward brawler and Master of Arts who went one step further than Thomas Kyd in expanding the scope of English drama with his rollercoaster tales of doomed overreachers and his sonorous lines, like bells tolling in a tottering cathedral to a god or gods unknown. Burgess' immersion in the tone, e ...more
Craig
An excellent biographical novel about Christopher Marlowe, though containing about 300% more buggery than I usually look for in a historical novel.
Bruce
Aug 07, 2009 Bruce rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: patient readers; language nerds
Shelves: fiction
Patience and focus are required for this fictional rendering of the life of Christopher Marlowe. Burgess, using his version of Elizabethan English, has created a fascinating and atmospheric novel that gives a hair-raising impression of life under what was apparently the paranoid regime of Elizabeth I. Put aside your cinematic impressions of Elizabeth (i.e. Glenda Jackson or Cate Blanchett) --- this, I suspect, is a more nearly accurate portrayal of an era where fabricated evidence, often extract ...more
Kate O'Hanlon
I put off the ill-made disguise and, four hundred years after that death at Deptford, mourn as if it had happened yesterday. [...] But, as the dagger pierces the optic nerve, blinding light is seen not to be the monopoly of the sun. That dagger continues to pierce, and it will never be blunted.


This was just an utterly wonderful book. For the first 50 or so pages a barely paid any notice to the plot because I was so taken with the rich beauty of the prose.
I am of course, well disposed to like th
...more
Neale
Anthony Burgess’s novels often promise rather more than they deliver – not that they don’t deliver, it’s just that they promise so much. It’s the downside of being too clever, generous and prolific for your own good, I suppose. A remarkable writer, always interesting, invariably frustrating.

‘A Dead Man in Deptford’ is one of the exceptions. It promises, and it delivers, in equal measure. A late work, not overly long, it is the sordid and amoral story of Kit Marlowe, playwright. What is most rema
...more
Derek Bridge
The life of Christopher Marlowe, reimagined by Burgess. It has everything you expect of Burgess: complex, linguistically rich, scholarly, and unafraid to take up positions on Marlowe controversies from his sexuality to the circumstances of his death. It's hard work and, as ever with Burgess, many of the allusions elude someone like me, but I still found it enjoyable and rewarding.
Sharon
I must admit, it took me a couple of chapters to really get into A Dead Man in Deptford. Author Anthony Burgess takes advantage of his linguistic gifts in an unusual way with this book: he writes it in the style of Christopher Marlowe, the titular dead man.

Once I got what Burgess was about, I enjoyed the book immensely. The author takes us into the world of both Elizabethan theatre and politics (Marlowe was part of Sir Francis Walsingham's secret spy service) in an entertaining and educational w
...more
Steve
Burgess has vividly brought to life the Elizabethan dramatist and possible spy, Kit Marlowe, in this bawdy tale, set in the brothels and alehouses of the capital. The author attempts to unravel centuries of speculation and mystery, by seeking to answer whether Marlowe died in a tavern in deptford in a dispute over a bill or was it a politically-motivated assassination. Marlowe was known to keep company with some of Walsingham's coterie but doubt remains over whether he was on official service to ...more
John
Why haven't I read more of Burgess's novels? This guy was a very challenging, intellectually engaging writer. His books (thinking Clockwork Orange) force you to meet him on his terms, enter the world he is depicting. The thoughts and themes are often troubling, the characters inhabited by spirits that are often alien to the thinking of the reader. Who else can claim this sort of effect.

In this book, we enter the action via the interior monologue of a third-rate, gay Elizabethan stage actor who i
...more
Larry
A powerful novel about the life of Christopher Marlowe. Burgess' use of language is wonderful.
Nigel
Marlowe has always somehow been more interesting than Shakespeare. The Bard is established canon, taught in schools, safe and accepted and familiar. Marlowe is more secret and dangerous and obscure by comparison. Atheist, homosexual, spy, who wrote the ultimate play of damnation for knowledge, he lurks in the shadows of Elizabethan England, his death a mystery never to be solved. Burgess sheds a little light on the shadows, but it's a fictional light, for what that's worth, itself a kind of shad ...more
Moonglum
This is a book about Christopher Marlowe, based on 'The Reckoning' by Charles Nicholl.

I thought that this book was extraordinary in that it conveys the 'vibe' of what it might be like to be in Elizabethan England. It accomplishes this through an immersion in detail and amazing original prose that could only have been written by Anthony Burgess. The prose is not Elizabethan, but instead is a sort of Elizabethan Nadsat-- an invented a slang that combines Elizabethan and modern English so that it
...more
Micha
I found this book accidentally in a used book shop. I was in a phase where I was completely in love with Burgess. I was also completely in love with Marlowe. So you can imagine when I find a book by Burgess about Marlowe...

It was an excellent story, and I liked it was hardly all flattery. Marlowe's life does make for an interesting book. A wonderful read in Burgess' style, capturing Elizabethan England, and a world of spies, barfights, and some of the world's most beautiful poetry.
Mark
A much better book than I had expected, the story of Christopher (Kit) Marlowe, playwright and poet, contemporary of Wm. Shakespeare, and spy. The latter more a matter of some financial obligation he takes on as a means of keeping himself in coin, and yet, "The Service" something he is never quite allowed to quit, either, once he has seen and been sickened by how much blood has spilled as a result of his own machinations on its behalf. Indeed, the entire ring of men about Sir Francis Walsingham, ...more
Raile Bell
Incredibly difficult to begin reading, in large part because of the formatting. The language--specifically the dialogue--can be somewhat denser than Burgess' usual, making it a bit challenging to work your way into at first. This is not a book that you can just pick up and go a few pages, then set down and pick up later and put down, etc. Or you CAN, but I wouldn't recommend it.

That said, once you're into it, you realise what a fantastic work it is.

I won't go into too much detail because I'm ave
...more
Jakey Gee
[Had this on the 'London Novels' list for ages].

Very evocative and an impressive stylistic feat. Captures the odour, filth and butchery of the time (so *that's* what hung, drawn and quartered means). Quite tough at points keeping up with who's who (being an Elizabethan social climber is exhausting), but it all still flows. Think 'proto-Wolf Hall'. Worth a look.
David
A poignant, atmospheric novel about the last days of the playwright Christopher Marlowe, who was killed in a brawl in a tavern in Deptford, probably assassinated in connection with spying activities. Burgess's language is rich and evocative as usual and nuanced to the Elizabethan style, and transports one back to the scenes and rumbustious, violent times.
J
Burgess’s final novel is a lovingly crafted account of Kit Marlowe’s life and death. Written in a period style, he had trouble getting this novel published. But his love for his subject is ever apparent, bringing tears to this reader and an appreciation for the man ever in Shakespeare’s shadow for over four hundred years.
Sylvia
I took this book with me to Costa Rica in 1996- it was one of the only english books available to me for a long time, and it tookk forever to get through. I remember it being pretty dry. But it will always be memorable because it took so long to read.
Isabel
I read this when I was living in digs in Deptford. Simply brilliant. Turns out Marlowe's final resting place was behind my digs. Always liked this book.
Nicki Markus
I loved A Dead Man in Deptford from the very first page. Burgess' prose style really evokes the period and he makes a Kit a memorable and loveable character; I just adored him from start to finish. The prose style does make this a little stodgy at times, considering it is only a short novel, but I didn't find that a detraction in this instance. If anything, I had to remind myself it was only fiction a couple of times, and I ended the book with a desire to read some more scholarly works on Marlow ...more
Cerisaye
I am not sure I would have persevered with this novel had I been reading rather than listening to the audiobook version, which is excellently performed. The language has an Elizabethan flavour, rich and ripe but rather dense so it takes a while to get into. At first I wasn't sure half the time what characters were saying, and my confusion was never entirely dispelled, but for all that, Burgess' renowned clever way with words gives his story authenticity without resort to the Gadzooks! and Odds-b ...more
Kathleen
Enjoyed this novelization of Christopher Marlowe's brief, brilliant career. This reminded me a great deal of Colm Toibon's novelization of Henry James's life, The Master, as far as bringing a fairly static historical author to detailed, tragic life; though, I don't read that many fictionalized biographies, so it's possible they're all like this (the successful ones, at least).

Did not realize going in that this was a Burgess-book. Might have been a little more hesitant about diving in if I had k
...more
Madeline
Jul 21, 2011 Madeline rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nerds, but only bitchy ones
If you are the kind of reader who likes to be invested in the characters, you probably should skip this book - it's not about caring. It seems to me that A Dead Man in Deptford is mostly an intellectual exercise, which is why 75% of it is composed of arguments about abstract ideas. The remaining 25% is Marlowe having sex, although the math's wrong because these two things sometimes overlap with each other. Also, 100% of it is about language. (This is most obvious in the great delight Burgess tak ...more
Matt
"Treason, like loyalty, is a wide word; at length the two concepts become one."

This book took longer than usual for me to get into. I always enjoy Burgess, especially his historical fiction, but Dead Man in Deptford was rather tedious in several places, especially since I don't read Latin or French.

There's a scene where several men are sitting around and one of them makes a comment in Latin. Another replies that only the learned among them will have caught what was said. There's no need to rub i
...more
Laura
Jul 12, 2009 Laura added it
Shelves: maybe-later
I wanted to use this in my book group but felt it may be too challenging, since there is a lot of Elizabethan English that will need definitions. However, I began it again last night and it is quite amusing.

Ok, so I stopped reading this and I will be frank: too much blatant homosexuality. I know, I know, but it just became too pervasive. I have no problem with a reference here or there or even the full description but I don't read soft core, romance or the vampire stuff...so, hmm. Maybe just no
...more
Judith
Burgess does an incredible job of recreating Elizabethan England. His "voices" are true and ring out. I loved reading the novel - it fleshed out Marlowe as a person and gave light to his character in many ways.

I must say that a little better knowledge of some of the names would have helped; I'm not that well versed with all the "men of note" (and poets/actors) from that time, though some were familiar. But this did not do much to detract from the joy of reading this or from the fascination.

Burge
...more
David Bonesteel
Anthony Burgess is a masterful novelist whose playful sense of linguistics informs this wonderful novel that speculates about the life and death of Shakespeare's contemporary, the playwright Christopher Marlowe. Burgess has steeped himself in the history and language of Elizabethan times, and the result is a completely successful evocation of that era in all its beauty and horror, with its philosophic adventurers bravely seeking truth and its dogmatic religious authorities plunging nations into ...more
David B
Anthony Burgess is a masterful novelist whose playful sense of linguistics informs this wonderful novel that speculates about the life and death of Shakespeare's contemporary, the playwright Christopher Marlowe. Burgess has steeped himself in the history and language of Elizabethan times, and the result is a completely successful evocation of that era in all its beauty and horror, with its philosophic adventurers bravely seeking truth and its dogmatic religious authorities plunging nations into ...more
Bob
I'm usually compulsive about finishing books, but I've read several others since this got set aside a couple of weeks ago. Burgess tells the story of the life and death of Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe, his characters speaking in a mixture of approximated 16th century jargon mixed with a lot of Joycean wordplay that makes it heavy going. I think I picked up because I was thinking about Marlowe's The Jew Of Malta in connection with The Merchant Of Venice which I'm also working on - t ...more
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Anthony Burgess was a British novelist, critic and composer. He was also a librettist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, travel writer, broadcaster, translator, linguist and educationalist. Born in Manchester, he lived for long periods in Southeast Asia, the USA and Mediterranean Europe as well as in England. His fiction includes the Malayan trilogy (The Long Day Wanes) on the dying days o ...more
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“Blessed tree and blessed birds, that were to be neither saved nor damned.” 3 likes
“The entrant mooed like a calf but in insolence looked about him. Hew saw Kit. Kit saw him. Nay, it was more than pure seeing. It was Jove's bolt. It was, to borrow from the papists, the bell of the consecration. It was the revelation of the possibility nay the certainty of the probability or somewhat of the kind of the. It was the sharp knife of a sort of truth in the disguise of danger. Both went out together, and it was as if they were entering, rather than leaving, the corridor outside with its sour and burly servant languidly asweep with his broom, the major-domo in livery hovering, transformed to a sweet bower of assignation, though neither knew the other save in a covenant familiar through experience unrecorded and unrecordable whose terms were not of time and to which space was a child's puzzle.” 2 likes
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