Spanning more than eighty years of narrative, Earthly Powers offers a view of many pivotal events in twentieth century cultural and political history, taking in England, America, Malta, Italy, France, Germany, Monaco, Malaya (now Malaysia), Australia and Africa. Among other matters, the novel address the rise and fall of literary modernism, the failure of orthodox religion, suicide cults, blasphemy, pornography, apostasy, theology, miracles, the Holocaust, cannibalism, and the peristent problem of evil. These weighty historical abstractions are dramatised through the figures of Kenneth Toomey, an elderly writer who has been an eye-witness to many of the events that he narrates, and Carlo Campanati, the late Pope Gregory XVII, who is Toomey's brother-in-law.
Toomey is asked by the Archbishop of Malta to assist in the process of canonisation of Carlo Campanati by confirming that he witnessed a miracle performed by Pope Gregory, while he was still only Monsignor Campanati, in a Chicago hospital in 1929. Toomey subsequently looks back over his long life.
The novel was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1980 and took Burgess ten years to write. During the drafting process, the novel underwent many changes of title. It began as "The Prince of the Powers of the Air". In the later 1970s, it was known as "The Instruments of Darkness". In Burgess's letters, it is known as "Eternal Power", or "Absolute Power." Another possible title is "Not Peace But A Sword".
This series contains a file of incomplete drafts of the novel, an early list of characters in "Not Peace But A Sword", and a draft chronology of the life of the novel's narrator, Kenneth Toomey.
Source: "The Real Life of Anthony Burgess" by Andrew Biswell (Picador, 2005)