nineteen eighties

“Hiç kuşkusuz, ne zaman izlendiğinizi anlamanız olanaksızdı. Düşünce Polisi'nin, kime ne zaman ve hangi sistemle bağlandığını kestirmek çok zordu. Herkesi her an izliyor da olabilirlerdi. Çıkardığınız her sesin duyulduğunu, karanlıkta olmadığınız sürece her hareketinizin gözetlendiğini varsayarak yaşamak zorundaydınız; zorunda olmak ne söz, artık içgüdüye dönüşmüş bir alışkanlıkla öyle yaşıyordunuz.”




-Big Brother/The Party, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Letter Explaining Why Orwell Wrote 1984

To Noel Willmett

18 May 1944
10a Mortimer Crescent NW 6

Dear Mr Willmett,

Many thanks for your letter. You ask whether totalitarianism, leader-worship etc. are really on the up-grade and instance the fact that they are not apparently growing in this country and the USA.

I must say I believe, or fear, that taking the world as a whole these things are on the increase. Hitler, no doubt, will soon disappear, but only at the expense of strengthening (a) Stalin, (b) the Anglo-American millionaires and © all sorts of petty fuhrers° of the type of de Gaulle. All the national movements everywhere, even those that originate in resistance to German domination, seem to take non-democratic forms, to group themselves round some superhuman fuhrer (Hitler, Stalin, Salazar, Franco, Gandhi, De Valera are all varying examples) and to adopt the theory that the end justifies the means. Everywhere the world movement seems to be in the direction of centralised economies which can be made to ‘work’ in an economic sense but which are not democratically organised and which tend to establish a caste system. With this go the horrors of emotional nationalism and a tendency to disbelieve in the existence of objective truth because all the facts have to fit in with the words and prophecies of some infallible fuhrer. Already history has in a sense ceased to exist, ie. there is no such thing as a history of our own times which could be universally accepted, and the exact sciences are endangered as soon as military necessity ceases to keep people up to the mark. Hitler can say that the Jews started the war, and if he survives that will become official history. He can’t say that two and two are five, because for the purposes of, say, ballistics they have to make four. But if the sort of world that I am afraid of arrives, a world of two or three great superstates which are unable to conquer one another, two and two could become five if the fuhrer wished it.1 That, so far as I can see, is the direction in which we are actually moving, though, of course, the process is reversible.

As to the comparative immunity of Britain and the USA. Whatever the pacifists etc. may say, we have not gone totalitarian yet and this is a very hopeful symptom. I believe very deeply, as I explained in my book The Lion and the Unicorn, in the English people and in their capacity to centralise their economy without destroying freedom in doing so. But one must remember that Britain and the USA haven’t been really tried, they haven’t known defeat or severe suffering, and there are some bad symptoms to balance the good ones. To begin with there is the general indifference to the decay of democracy. Do you realise, for instance, that no one in England under 26 now has a vote and that so far as one can see the great mass of people of that age don’t give a damn for this? Secondly there is the fact that the intellectuals are more totalitarian in outlook than the common people. On the whole the English intelligentsia have opposed Hitler, but only at the price of accepting Stalin. Most of them are perfectly ready for dictatorial methods, secret police, systematic falsification of history2 etc. so long as they feel that it is on ‘our’ side. Indeed the statement that we haven’t a Fascist movement in England largely means that the young, at this moment, look for their fuhrer elsewhere. One can’t be sure that that won’t change, nor can one be sure that the common people won’t think ten years hence as the intellectuals do now. I hope 3 they won’t, I even trust they won’t, but if so it will be at the cost of a struggle. If one simply proclaims that all is for the best and doesn’t point to the sinister symptoms, one is merely helping to bring totalitarianism nearer.

You also ask, if I think the world tendency is towards Fascism, why do I support the war. It is a choice of evils—I fancy nearly every war is that. I know enough of British imperialism not to like it, but I would support it against Nazism or Japanese imperialism, as the lesser evil. Similarly I would support the USSR against Germany because I think the USSR cannot altogether escape its past and retains enough of the original ideas of the Revolution to make it a more hopeful phenomenon than Nazi Germany. I think, and have thought ever since the war began, in 1936 or thereabouts, that our cause is the better, but we have to keep on making it the better, which involves constant criticism.

Yours sincerely,
Geo. Orwell

Enjoy some doubleplusgood facts about the background and behind-the-scenes of Nineteen Eighty-Four:

• The telescreens were based, vaguely, on the belief of early television audiences that since they could see people on the screen, the people in the screen could see them.

• Orwell originally intended for the book to be set in 1980, and then 1982, and then 1984 (an early draft proves this, as he crossed out year after year), each year progressing as the book took longer to write. Orwell was nuts about dates and timelines, as specific times or dates can be found in all of his novels. 1984 was special in several ways:

- His wife, Eileen O’Shaugnessey, once wrote a poem called End of the Century, 1984, a rather dystopian writing based on Brave New World and written in 1934.

- Orwell was a big fan of Jack London. The year 1984 is featured prominently in London’s own dystopian novel The Iron Heel.

- And, finally, 1984 might have also been picked because it takes place forty years after Orwell first conceived of wanting to write it.

• At the start of the novel, Winston Smith was thirty-nine, soon to be forty. He’s the same age as Orwell’s adopted son, Richard Blair.

• The book takes place over the course of about a year. It’s not explicitly said so and I have no definitive proof exactly (ALTERNATE FACTS!), but I worked tirelessly highlighting wherever passings of time happened and wrote up a timeline for it as best as I could.

• Orwell’s first inspiration, in 1944, was after the Tehran Conference where Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin discussed how the world would be divided up between three superpowers after World War II. His basic goal, as he told it, was to imagine British society being ruled by a Stalinist government.

“…was based chiefly on communism, because that is the dominant form of totalitarianism, but I was trying chiefly to imagine what communism would be like if it were firmly rooted in the English speaking countries, and was no longer a mere extension of the Russian Foreign Office.”

• The original title was The Last Man In Europe, which Orwell preferred but Nineteen Eighty-Four was more savy for commercial purposes.

•  The book was always meant to be grim, but it became just downright dismal as Orwell’s health took it’s toll on him. Winston’s torture is partly based on Orwell’s experiences (skeletal, hair falling out, etc.) with the new-at-the-time TB drug streptomycin. He was one of the first to be able to try the then experimental drug but it had adverse complications for him. Orwell was able to plead his case to import the drug to the Minister of Health himself.

• It’s not a very long book but it took quite a while to write it. Like was mentioned earlier, he conceived of it in 1944 but didn’t start writing until roughly 1946, as Orwell liked to spend some time thinking about his books before writing them. Churning out essays and other writings at a frightening pace (probably to keep extra busy after the death of his wife and to simply get paid), caring for Richard, his house on Jura called Barnhill, his inability to find a typist to get all the way out to Barnhill to type up his manuscript, and his illness caused the book to take forever to finally be sent to the publishers in December of 1948.

• The Ministry buildings, specifically the Ministry of Truth where Winston works, are based on Senate House (featured above) which is now part of the University of London. In Orwell’s time it’s where the Ministry of Information was located, and Orwell’s wife Eileen worked there for a short period during WWII for the Censorship Department.

• Winston’s work life at the Ministry of Truth was a grim parody of Orwell’s time at the BBC’s Eastern Service. Naturally Orwell didn’t take much to the rigid conformity of office life. Room 101 was a real room located at 200 Oxford Street, where the BBC was located during WWII. Orwell had to attend extremely boring meetings in Room 101. The Canteen at MiniTrue was based off the cafeteria, where Orwell took punishing joy in eating the flavorless processed food used during wartime. The place is now a Topshop.

• Orwell was partly inspired by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (more by Yevgency Zamyatin’s We though) and sent the author a personal copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four of which Huxley sent an appreciative letter back some months later. Huxley was Orwell’s French teacher at Eton for a semester but it is not known whether Huxley remembered his student.

• Lots of people know some Newspeak words, like doublethink, thoughtcrime, telescreen, unperson, and the names of the Ministries but some more of the interesting words are duckspeak (to quack like a duck or to speak without thinking), bellyfeel (a blind, enthusiastic acceptance of an idea), artsem (artificial insemination), crimestop (to rid oneself of unwanted thoughts), dayorder (Order of the Day), joycamp (Force labor camp) prolefeed (mindless entertainment to distract the masses) and ownlife (to enjoy a solitary existence).

• It’ll pass into the United States public domain in 2044, a hundred years after Orwell first conceived of the novel.