On the 68th anniversary of literary demigod George Orwell’s death, Palatinate Books pays homage to the author by examining different readers’ perspectives on his legacy.
Orwell’s Modern-Day Influence
by Ewan Jones
The staple of GCSE English classes around the country, George Orwell’s famous novels 1984 and Animal Farm have captivated audiences with visions of dystopian futures and allegorical environments since their release in the mid-20th century. Orwell is the best- selling author of the 20th century, leaving such a lasting impression that many of the words he created for 1984 have entered the public lexicon, such as “Big Brother”, the omnipresent totalitarian ruler of Oceania, and “doublethink”, which is the “acceptance of contrary opinions or beliefs at the same time”. In a stark reflection on the times we are living in, sales of 1984 shot up on Amazon’s bestseller list to a peak of 5th place in 2017 due to the actions of the Trump administration and most importantly the President’s counselor Kellyanne Conway. Conway became infamous for her quotes regarding ‘alternative facts’, very similar in manner to Orwell’s doublethink.
Orwell wrote many of his works, be they novels or essays, due to his fears of an imagined authoritarian state, where even language itself is controlled, rising in the near future. He wrote to inform his readers about possible outcomes of human progress, partly inspired from his daily life as a propaganda manufacturer for the BBC. Orwell was apparently “disgusted” by the work he did there, and left after only two years.
On the anniversary of his death this year, January 21st, it is important to remember and reflect on his pioneering works, utilising them as references to compare to our modern, information-saturated world and analysing whether perhaps ‘Orwellian’ ideas are present here and now.
Moving on from Orwell
by Jonathan Murden
On this day in 1950, George Orwell died of tuberculosis. Today, few figures are more commonly appealed to as touchstones for what it means to be a political writer. And yet equally – perhaps precisely because of this renown – few figures have done so much damage to the way in which Anglophone commentators understand the relationship between literature and politics. His insistence that the purpose of language is merely a vehicle for the expression of ideas is not only lazy and unimaginative – as if words were just labels we stick on the world around us, rather than tools for persuading, provoking, evoking response – but also relies on the assumption that ‘ordinary people’ can’t understand more ‘sophisticated’ writing.
One has to remember that despite his pretensions, Orwell was not actually working class – his condescending assessment of the ‘ordinary people’s’ literary comprehension has no basis in experience, unless one counts his patronising outings in working class areas when, ‘if he called his dad he could stop it all’ (Common People, Pulp). He spoke of this as ‘going native’, a particularly troubling turn of phrase when considers that his family income income came from plantations in Jamaica, at that time still a British colony, and Orwell himself worked as an imperial police officer in Burma. That contemporary commentators turn to his depiction of totalitarianism in 1984 to understand such basic principles as ‘politicians lie’ says more about their own classist and imperialist assumptions and biases than it does about his own insights. Sixty-eight years after his death, if we want to write well about politics, it is time to move on from George Orwell.
by Rachel Catterall
“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength”
What if? This combination of two simple words has been the stimulus behind many of the most revered political thrillers and dystopia in the literary canon. 1984 came into fruition after Orwell asked, what if Britain embraced the tantalian creeds of the mid-20th century fate? From this inquiry came a deeply affecting warning against a world subjugated by mass media control and government surveillance. 1984 is the story of Winston Smith, a disenchanted member of the Party. He, along with his lover Julia, search for emancipation from the omnipresent eyes of Big Brother. But in a world without the freedom to think, the last two individuals are doomed to failure.
1984 is a political statement and it continues to resonate decades after its publication. It is hardly surprising that a week after Donald Trump’s inauguration and Kellyanne Conway’s comments that the administration was issuing “alternative facts”, that 1984 became the best-selling novel on Amazon. Political leaders have always tried to manipulate the truth and it is impossible when they do it as publicly as Trump not to remember Winston’s assertion that “in the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it”.
While Orwell’s warning against unrestrained state control is a central conceit of the novel, to regard 1984 as merely political omits its incredible power as a literary story. It is also a suspenseful thriller, bursting with a palpable atmosphere of fear amidst a state-controlled world. Crucially it is also a love story and a breath-taking one at that. Winston and Julia’s first encounter, a note passed silently between containing a passionate declaration of love, fuses romance and danger in a way that could rival any Austen introduction. The final meeting, the Hemmingway-esque clipped dialogue were words fail to say what is felt is just as tragic as Winston’s acquiescence to Big Brother. Orwell deserves much recognition for his perceptive political warning but he also deserves literary credit for what is a profoundly moving political thriller about love, fear and freedom.
Photograph: vfutscher via Flickr