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A Dead Man in Deptford

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  1,265 ratings  ·  122 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 1993)
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Average rating 3.81  · 
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 ·  1,265 ratings  ·  122 reviews

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Aug 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
An excellent biographical novel about Christopher Marlowe, though containing about 300% more buggery than I usually look for in a historical novel.
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
Dec 22, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a very complex book. I loved the voice, the vagueness of the theme and the music of the sentences, but ask me what it was all about, I wouldn't be able to tell you with a straight face what it was. I don't know if that makes it a great work of literature, or it's just me who needs to reread it? What I know is it's probably the least fulfilling Burgess I've read.
A Dead Man in Deptford is one hell of a book. Imagining the fascinating life and early death of Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe – Elizabethan playwright, poet and alleged spy – on opening I was a little worried that the language might be too dense (’tis written in the parlance of the time) but before long I was putting off sleep to read more while gleefully noting all of my new favourite olde words and pretty much wanting to roll around in the wonderful writing.

While studying at Cambridge, although mu
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
Jul 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Kathe Koja
Jul 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the book that turned me on to Christopher Marlowe. Witty as rapier repartee, earthy as dirt under your nails, heartbreaking and funny and so, so beautifully written it's an ongoing treat just to graze through . . . I can't say enough about this book. Most of us know Burgess from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, but do yourself the favor of a lifetime and read this too.
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
David B
Dec 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Oct 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Marlowe: more fun than Shakespeare since 1564.

An excellent book, even better the second time around. The quasi-Elizabethan prose is strange but compelling, and since everything about Marlowe is rather ambiguous anyway the illusive (and allusive) language suits the subject matter very well indeed. I will have to head to Deptford at some point and take him a bunch of flowers, plus the Orpington and District Archaeological Society website informs me that Scadbury Manor, site of his slightly shitty

This was the last novel Burgess wrote before he died, sometime in the early 90's. As you might expect, it's raucous, bawdy, and linguistically complex. What you might not expect so much (given the unfortunate fact that most people think of him as merely the Clockwork Guy, which is true indeed but aesthetically unjust) is that it's also erudite, witty, historically informed and philosophically engaged.

There isn't a lot necessarily known for sure about Marlowe, though the quality of his plays and
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Marlowe's The Tragical History of Dr Faustus is one of my all-time favourite texts even though it has to be one of the most frustrating given that neither the A or B text is fully Marlowe's because he was too busy being Kit Marlowe. Typically dead at 29 (although there are some who dispute this and claim he was the 'real' Shakespeare, his exact contemporary) following a brawl in a Deptford Tavern, Kit's life provides Burgess in his last published novel a great canvas of buggery, booze and backst ...more
Oct 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: marlowe fans. burgess fans.
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.
Apr 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical-fic
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.
Nov 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Derek Bridge
Feb 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Beatitiful language: Burgess transcends. Honest, forthright sexuality: Burgess understands. Unengaging, overly complex story: two out of three isn't bad.
May 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Burgess makes me think of E.M. Forster in his way of capturing language of social groups. Even when he fabricates the language he's very convincing. He had to do at least to some extent since the setting is in Christopher Marlowe's time and the circles he ran in. Burgess covers a wider range and Forster smaller but deeper.

Anyhow, this illuminating book has reawakened my interest in older modern English literature.

My one, umm, I don't know if it's something I like or dislike, observation is that
Nov 08, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Good grief, can't believe I finished this. Or that I didn't abandon it. It was like wading through treacle. Although things picked up over the last 60 pages, which is what saved it from a 1 star review!
Nov 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dazzlingly well-researched*, verbally playful, literary spy thriller about Christopher Marlowe. I know! That's some hybrid. And it really is. The depth of this novel's world-building, as the kids are calling it, is astonishing. I was grateful that I was reading it with access to Google. I found myself stopping every few pages to look up some offhand cultural/historical reference or recondite bit of Elizabethan criminal argot. If I had read this when it came out in 1993, I would've missed so much ...more
Jun 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Justin Neville
May 04, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
Frustratingly, I decided to bail on this book when I was about two-thirds of the way through, which is a really bizarre thing for me to feel compelled to do. I would normally either give up earlier or stick with it to the end once I'd got that far.

I just realised that I couldn't give a sh*t anymore and felt I was reading the words but making no sense of them or getting anything out of them and almost anything else I could think of doing would be far more profitable.

i actually enjoyed the book fo
H Lofthouse
Nov 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An absolute gem of a book. Its primary seduction is derived from the splendour and beauty of its prose, which flows on artfully throughout and weaves a rich tapestry of Elizabethan life, with its joys and misfortunes so deftly portrayed as to situate the reader in an extreme state of immersion. The plot is based upon what is historically known about Christopher Marlowe, affectionately referred to throughout as Kit, with the rest filled in and padded out by Burgess’s creative genius.

Kit as protag
Feb 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
The Final Chapter
Jan 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1993
Low 4. 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 ser ...more
Raile Bell
May 27, 2014 rated it liked it
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
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

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 Eng

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