The Cornelius Quartet

The Cornelius Quartet[1] is the collective name for the Jerry Cornelius novels by Michael Moorcock, although the first one-volume edition was entitled The Cornelius Chronicles. It is composed of The Final Programme, A Cure for Cancer, The English Assassin and The Condition of Muzak.[2] The collection has remained continuously in print for 30 years.

The Cornelius Quartet
Cornelius chronicles.jpg
cover from the first edition
AuthorMichael Moorcock
Original titleThe Cornelius Chronicles
CountryUnited States
SeriesJerry Cornelius
GenreLiterary fiction
PublisherAvon Books
Publication date
Media typePrint (Paperback)
Pages974 pp
LC ClassPZ4.M8185 Cq 1977 PR6063.O59

The four novels are set in an ever shifting, yet always fashionable, alternate "multiverse" of anarchist revolutionaries and English popart turmoil. They chart the adventures of a wide range of recurring characters, notably Jerry Cornelius and his sister Catherine, Una Persson and Colonel Pyat. The books are neither straight science fiction nor pure fantasy, Moorcock himself commented "Much of my work borrowed from the iconography and vocabulary of science fiction in the 1960s but I would not, for instance, classify the Jerry Cornelius tetralogy as a genre work".[3]

The Complete Review said that it comprised "an arc of Jerry Cornelius-adventures, from the (fairly) straightforward action-adventure of the first, The Final Programme, to the metaphysical summa of The Condition of Muzak." It observes that "Cornelius is a superhero, but a flawed one. He is indestructible and yet has weaknesses. He is both a former Jesuit and a physicist. Party-animal and solitary soul. By the end of the tetralogy he is a messiah – yet another role he is not ideally suited for."[4]

Reviewing the 974-page volume, Matthew Wolf-Meyer noted its influence on a host of contemporary artists in music and literature, writing that :

"It would be impossible to deny the profound influences that Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius novels have had, not only on the genres of science fiction and fantasy, but also popular music, film, and television. Or it might simply be that Moorcock was so perfectly in tune with the advent of postmodernism that he anticipated in his writing, in his mood, what was to come, and all the material that seems to derive from The Cornelius Quartet, in actuality, derives from the zeitgeist instead. In reading the collection, for the reader at the cusp of the 21st century, it acts as a historical piece, positing the genealogical influence of a series of more contemporary works, from Bryan Talbot's graphic novel Heart of Empire to David Bowie's album Outside; Jerry Cornelius is that common source for much of contemporary postmodern (British) popular art."[5]

Moorcock wrote "A note on the Jerry Cornelius Tetralogy" in 1976 in which he outlined the 'disciplined logic' which underpinned the work as a unified whole.

"Part of my original intention with the Jerry Cornelius stories was to 'liberate' the narrative; to leave it open to the reader's interpretation as much as possible – to involve the reader in such a way as to bring their own imagination into play. This impulse was probably a result of my interest in Brecht – an interest I'd had since the mid-fifties.
Although the structure of the tetralogy is very strict (some might think over-mechanical) the scope for interpretation is hopefully much wider than the conventional novel. The underlying logic is also very disciplined, particularly in the last three volumes. It's my view that a work of fiction should contain nothing which does not contribute to the overall scheme. The whimsicalities to be found in all the books are, in fact, not random, not mere conceits, but make internal references. That is to say, while I strive for the effect of randomness on one level, the effect is achieved by a tightly controlled system of internal reference, puns, ironies, logic-jumps which no single reader may fairly be expected to follow."[6]

In an interview for "The Zone" science fiction magazine, Moorcock later commented that the stories in the Cornelius saga were "more criticism and commentary on their times than they were celebration, I knew there wasn't enough hard political infrastructure to make the sentiment come true. I said while it was happening that I knew it was a Golden Age. I sensed it couldn't last."[7]

The collection was first published as "The Cornelius Chronicles" in 1977 by Avon Books[8] and a revised version under this name appeared in 1979 with an introduction by John Clute. It first appeared under the title of "The Cornelius Quartet" in 1993 in Britain and 2001 in the United States. It was published as "Les Aventures de Jerry Cornelius" in France.[9] The current American edition ISBN 978-1-56858-183-5 was published by Four Walls Eight Windows in June 2001. The collection was republished in 2013 by Gollancz with some further revisions.


  1. ^ "Michael Moorcock chronology". Retrieved 30 November 2007.
  2. ^ Willett, Ralph (March 1976). "Moorcock's Achievement and Promise in the Jerry Cornelius Books". Science Fiction Studies # 8 = Volume 3, Part 1. Retrieved 30 November 2007.
  3. ^ "Michael Moorcock Biography – Michael Moorcock comments:". Retrieved 30 November 2007.
  4. ^ "The Complete Review".
  5. ^ " reviews". Archived from the original on 30 September 2009. Retrieved 30 November 2007.
  6. ^ "In Lighter Vein: A note on the Jerry Cornelius Tetralogy". TerminalCafe. 1976. Archived from the original on 17 January 2008. Retrieved 30 November 2007.
  7. ^ "The Zone interview". Retrieved 30 November 2007.
  8. ^ "The Cornelius Chronicles 1st published". Retrieved 30 November 2007.
  9. ^ "Amazon Franch first entry". ISBN 2841721337. Missing or empty |url= (help)