"I do not believe that the kind of society I describe
necessarily will arrive, but I believe that something resembling it could arrive.
Totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere."
~ George Orwell speaking about 1984
His novel, in other words, was not a prophecy, but a warning.
It was while living on Jura that Orwell wrote what is considered the most important novel of the twentieth century, 1984. But his need to get to "a very ungettable place" so that he could write in peace took a great toll on his health. The sacrifice he made to write 1984 was his life.
Here's an excerpt from GEORGE ORWELL, BATTLING BIG BROTHER, by Tanya Agathocleous that explains it well. Page 89-95:
"...In spring 1947, back on Jura, Orwell started working on the book that was to make him a legend. Nineteen Eighty-four was both a vision of the future and a collage of his past experiences. The futuristic novels he had read, such as Brave New World by his onetime teacher, Aldous Huxley, influenced him to some extent. But the world he created also drew on his persecution in Spain, his abhorrence of Stalin's Russia, his experience at the BBC, and the real-life gloom and squalor of postwar England. It was a nightmairish world ruled in Fascist form, with the will of the individual erased entirely by the repressive forces of the state. The grimness of Nineteen Eighty-four's vision was summed up by one of its characters, who said, 'If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever'." Originally Orwell was thinking of calling his new novel The Last Man in Europe, but nothing in the process of writing Nineteen Eighty-four, it turned out, went unrevised. Instead, the novel was a struggle for Orwell from start to finish. He was sick and getting sicker, but determined to produce another masterpiece. At the end of 1947, he had finished a first draft but thought it a 'ghastly mess'."
"Orwell was himself in bad shape. He had managed to hold onto the dregs of his health until a draft was completed, but thereafter declined rapidly. Wrenching coughing episodes overcame him, and again he was coughing up blood. He was forced to leave Jura and check into Hairymyres Hospital on the Scottish mainland. There, doctors told him that he had advanced tuberculosis of the left lung. Forbidden to engage in any taxing activity, he was kept in the hospital for seven long months. Denied the use of his typewriter, he begged friends to keep him supplied with pens, and whiled away the hours doing journalistic writing and jotting down thoughts for a second draft of Nineteen Eighty-Four. David Astor, anxious to help his gravely ill friend, arranged to have a new tuberculosis drug, streptomycin, sent over from the United States (antibiotics such as this one were still in the early stages of development and very hard to obtain). The treatment seemed to help. Despite numerous alarming side effects, such as the loss of patches of skin, Orwell finally felt stronger and healthier."
"Soon he was able to go home. Though he had been strongly advised against returning to Jura in his enfeebled condition, he made his way back there anyway, determined to finish his novel at any cost. He worked at it with a frantic intensity that distressed those around him. Not even his sister, Avril, who had taken over Susan Watson's role as Richard's caretaker, was able to slow him down. In November 1948 he finally declared the book finished."
"The manuscript still needed to be typed, however, and Orwell wanted to supervise the task. He told his publisher, 'I can't send it away because it is an unbelievably bad manuscript and no one could make head or tail of it without explanation'. Needless to say, he was unable to get a typist to come to the island to perform the task. Doggedly, he determined to do the job himself and, using the last ounce of his strength, plugged away at his typewriter until it was done."
"One month later the manuscript was sent to Fredric Warburg in London. In the wake of Gallancz's rejection of Animal Farm, Orwell had asked to be released from his contract with his old publisher. Sensing that his new novel would be as important and controversial as the last, he wanted it to be published by the man who had always stood behind him: Warburg. Gollancz finally decided that it was only fair to let him go, and Warburg became his official publisher."
"The work had left Orwell dangerously ill again, and this time he went to a sanatorium in Gloucestershire, far away from Jura. There, Warburg came to see him and congratulate him on his achievement. He had been so excited about the novel that he had written an appreciative report about it for his office colleagues. Together, Orwell and Warburg decided to call the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. It was published simultaneously in London and New York in June 1949, and was an instant success."
"Nineteen Eighty-four is set in a hideously repressive, desolate future world where war is a constant fact of daily life, any form of creativity is suppressed, and gin lunches are served at government canteens to keep employees 'happy'. The story focuses on the demoralizing existence of a character named Winston Smith, who works for the government of Oceania - an immense superpower bloc - in the province of Airstrip One, formerly known as England. The government's inhumanity is summed up by the three Party slogans that justify its daily misdeeds:"
'War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength''
"'Big Brother', the sinister Party leader, 'watches' individuals from posters plastered on every available city wall and inspires fear and a slavish love in his subjects by holding 'Two Minutes Hates': political rallies in which his televised image stirs crowds into murderous frenzies directed at enemies abroad."
"Winston's job for the 'Ministry of Truth' is to support the Party by publishing lies that cover up the state's abusive methods. As well as the past, the state controls the present, by monitoring all individuals through two-way TV screens stationed in homes and workplaces. Any evidence of rebellion is follwed up by a visit from the 'Thought Police' and the eventual 'elimination' of rebels. Despite the state's vigilant efforts at mind control, Winston - as he goes blankly through the mind-numbing routine of hate speeches and enforced exercise classes - begins to have rebellious thoughts and looks for others to share his lonely vision of a better world. He finds a partner in Julia, a fellow civil servant, and together the two endeavor to find a way to oppose Big Brother and his oppressive regime. Their quest is ultimately doomed. The Party fiendishly second guesses their actions and tortures them into confessions and mutual betrayal. Orwell's imagination had never been darker, nor more vivid, than it was in this final novel."
"Orwell once said that Nineteen Eighty-four would have been a better book if he had not been so ill while writing it, but the public obviously did not agree with him. The New York Times Book Review called it 'the most contemporary novel of this year', and renowned critics Lionel Trilling and V. S. Pritchett joined in the chorus of praise. Orwell's success as an author was sealed; the news of his fame spread rapidly and publishers around the world were soon clamoring for translations. The Book-of-the-Month Club, following up on its success with Animal Farm, was eager to make Orwell's latest novel one of its selections. But this time they wanted to edit the novel, cutting out the appendix Orwell had written on 'The Principles of Newspeak' as well as 'The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, by Emmanuel Goldstein'...Despite the large sum of money at stake, Orwell refused to make the changes, feeling that they would alter the meaning of his book. Eventually the book club agreed to publish it anyway, much to the writer's satisfaction."
"With the success of Nineteen Eighty-four, Orwell was again the subject of controversy. Various critics accused him of undermining socialism and satirizing the newly elected British Labour Party. Warburg, in defense of Orwell, issued a press statement, bluntly stating that the book was not an attack on socialism. Orwell himself answered queries with equal frankness. In one letter, he wrote: 'I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily will arrive, but I believe that something resembling it could arrive. . .Totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere.' His novel, in other words, was not a prophecy, but a warning."
"In recent years, reports have surfaced that Orwell was so wary of the possibility of totalitarianism in England in the 1940s that he sent a list of possible communist sympathizers to the British Foreign Office stating that those on the list 'should not be trusted as propagandists'. Clearly, Nineteen Eighty-four was his one-man effort at counterpropaganda..."[end of quoting from GOBBB, by Agathocleous]
go back to index at PILGRIMAGE TO ORWELL
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~