Homage to Orwell
Monday, July 14, 2003
8. REAL MINISTRY OF TRUTH
After leaving University College Hospital we walked the short distance to the University Senate House on Malet Street. During World War Two this building was used as the Ministry of Information and is undoubtedly the model for the Ministry of Truth in 1984:
"Four buildings towered vast and white above the grimy landscape. They were startingly different from any other objects in sight. They were enormous pyramidical structures of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, 300 metres into the air. So completely did they dwarf the surrounding architecture that from the roof of Victory Mansions you could see all four of them simultaneously... The Ministry of Truth, Winston's place of work, contained, it was said, three thousand rooms above ground level, and corresponding ramifications below."
Now read what W. J. West says about the Senate House in his book, The Larger Evils: Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Truth Behind the Satire:
"One building stood clear of all others; it was the tallest building in London apart from St Paul's Cathedral. ...Designed by the architect Charles Holden as the central administrative building of the Univeristy of London it resembled similar buildings in the Soviet Union. ...During the war, this was the headquarters of the Ministry of Information. All censoring systems were co-ordinated here. Its telegraphic address was 'Miniform'."
Orwell's wife Eileen worked at the Ministry of Information in the Censorship Department from 1939 to 1942. During part of that time they lived in a modern eight-storey block of flats at 111 Langford Court near St John's Wood. This was the model for Victory Mansions in 1984. When the Orwells lived at Langford Court it was crammed with 1930s refugees and "the hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats". From his window Orwell could see the Ministry of Information, just like from his window Winston could see the Ministry of Truth. It being wartime the government controlled everything that went out over the airwaves and into print on the pretext of "national security". The Minister of Information, a close confident of Winston Churchill, was Brenden Bracken, known throughout the ministry as B.B.". His department so effectively spread pro-Soviet propaganda that throughout Britain Stalin came to be seen as a benevolent ally.
Orwell came up against "the anonymous directing brains" at the Ministry of Information in March 1944 when he couldn't find a publisher for Animal Farm. It was considered too anti-Stalin and anti-Communist for Britain, and America didn't want it either. Then when he finally did find a publisher, Frederick Warburg, it still wasn't printed due to the wartime shortage of paper. It wasn't until August 1945 - a year and a half after he'd finished writing it - that Animal Farm was finally published. By that time Eileen had been dead for five months and wasn't able to share in the happiness of its success. She had been a major help to Orwell in the planning of it. She used to sit up in bed at night to read what he had produced during each day. The trauma Orwell endured over the suppression of Animal Farm contributed to the emotions so powerfully expressed by Winston in 1984, published four years later in June 1949. And like Eileen before him, Orwell didn't live to enjoy the worldwide acclaim that followed.
If you look very closely toward the bottom left-hand corner of my photo of the Senate House, you'll see a tiny white t-shirt draped over their big black sign. That's my t-shirt, the one that says "1984 is HERE" and which I created as a present for Orwell's 100th birthday. You can hardly see me because I blend in with the dark shadows but the shirt is very bright. I'm symbolically flying Orwell's flag there, claiming this building for the cause of truth.
go next to 9.BOOKLOVER'S CORNER or back to HOMAGE INDEX
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