“One of the scariest books I’ve ever read.” The novel “1984” through the eyes of the author and his contemporaries

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In his book “The Ministry of Truth. How the novel “1984” became the cultural code of generations “ British journalist and writer Dorian Linsky is trying to figure out who the author of George Orwell’s novel was and how he came to the thoughts and conclusions that many continue to quote. Did you know, for example, that Orwell did not believe in the success of his novel until the last moment?

So why 1984?

There is a popular theory (so popular that many do not even realize that it is just a theory) that the title of the novel is an inversion of 1948. Let’s not forget that the theory has no confirmation. This assumption was first made by the American publisher Orwell, and it seems too sweet and limited – as too simple, flat and one-sided joke. Scientists have made other assumptions. On the centenary of the founding of her school, Eileen wrote a poem entitled “The End of the Century: 1984”. The action of GK Chesterton’s political satire “Napoleon of Nottinghill”, written in 1904, in which the author laughs at the art of divination, begins in 1984. This year is also an important date in the novel “Iron Heel”. But all this is just conjecture, which remains conjecture even after reading all the draft versions of the novel, which Orwell still called “The Last Man in Europe.”

First he wrote “1980”, then “1982”, and only after that the number “1984” appeared. So one of the most significant dates in the literature was introduced into the novel at the very last stage.

It is important that Orwell wanted to write about the not too distant future. Many utopias begin at least a hundred years after they were written, or in just a few years. 1984 is not very far removed from 1949, but it has been removed enough so that the events described in it can in principle take place. Orwell chose the year and place of London to show that everything he writes about can happen, and soon enough.

At the beginning of the novel, we learn that Winston is thirty-nine years old, so he was born in 1944 or 1945 and is almost the same age as Richard Blair. It is possible that Orwell wanted to portray a world in which his son would be a middle-aged man. A lot can happen in thirty-five years.

Thirty-five years before the novel was published, a wonderful summer of 1914 took place

Franz Ferdinand was alive, Orwell himself would soon be eleven years old, and concentration camps and the atomic bomb were science fiction.

But in reality, the action of the novel may not take place in 1984. When Winston starts keeping a diary, he realizes that he is not at all sure what year it is, because “it is currently impossible to pinpoint a date in one or two years.”

Therefore, the first line of Winston’s diary may already contain incorrect information. Orwell tells the reader that no one and nothing can be trusted in this book, including the calendar.

In the months leading up to the publication of the novel, in conversations and correspondence with friends, Orwell tried hard to downplay the novel. In his letters, he called it a “damn book,” a “terrible book,” or “a good idea wasted.” He wrote to Warburg: “I am dissatisfied with the book, but I cannot say that I am completely disappointed… I think the idea is good, but I could have written it better if I had not had TB.”

Orwell was worried that he could not make money because of his illness (he called his tuberculosis an “expensive hobby”) and thought the new novel would earn around £ 500: “I don’t think this book will sell much.” .

So how seriously can we take Orwell’s words that he “wrongly blinded” his novel?

He always deliberately underestimated his works, partly out of modesty, unwillingness to be overly positive, and partly because he really doubted his abilities. From “Burmese Days” he “wanted to vomit”, “Priest’s Daughter” was “a good idea I locked up”, and “Swallowing Air” was “nonsense”.

Orwell argued that every book, just like every revolution, is a defeat, and wrote that “any life, if viewed from the inside, is a series of defeats.”

In his notebook, which he kept in the hospital, he wrote about twenty lost years and unfulfilled promises. When Orwell was very busy (which happened most often), he was constantly worried that his energy and talent would not be enough, that “I am lazy, do not have time to quit my job and generally produce very little.” It seemed to him that the writer’s life was full of excitement.

In reality, no one (except for the voice in his own head) had ever considered Orwell a loser, but on the other hand, if it weren’t for that voice, he would have done so much less.

All three years of working on the novel, Orwell was in a terrible physical condition, so it is not surprising that the novel could have turned out better. At Secker & Warburg, editor Roger Senhouse read the novel and found only one flaw – some confusion about when Winston was arrested. Orwell confessed to Julian Simons that his scene with Room 101 was “childish.” Indeed, this scene is somewhat reminiscent of the works of Montague Rhodes James and Allan Poe, that is, writers who were very fond of Orwell as a child. The novel may not be perfect, but there are no serious mistakes in it, which could be explained by poor health or the fact that the writer was in a hurry.

The pessimism of the novel is not tedious, but energetic and intense

The manuscript struck Warburg on the spot. He received reviews of the book from a man who gave the novel a rehearsal to understand how best to promote the book on the market. The reader was shocked: “This is one of the scariest books I have read… Orwell leaves no hope, not even the slightest glimpse. This book is 100 percent pessimistic, except for the idea that if humanity could come up with “1984,” it might be able to avoid it. “

The first reader of the novel, like Warburg himself, made several mistakes in the interpretation of the novel, which were later made by others. One of these mistakes was the assumption that Orwell had lost faith in socialism. The second mistake is to explain the pessimism of the novel by the fact that its author was ill: “I believe that such a book could be written only by a person who, at least for a while, but lost hope.”

Despite this, Warburg was very positive about the book. His colleague in the book business, David Farrer, agreed with him, writing: “Orwell managed to do what Wells could not do: create a fantasy world so real that the reader is engaged by the fate of his characters.”

Farrer was confident that the novel would be a bestseller, and if the publisher could not sell at least fifteen thousand copies, all of them “will have to be shot.”

Secker & Warburg wasted no time. Even before leaving Orwell, Orwell rejected Senhaus’s text on the back cover of the novel, which said the book was a “thriller novel with elements of a love story” rather than a serious attempt to “parody the intellectual consequences of totalitarianism.” Fortunately, there was no need to rewrite anything in the text of the novel, and Orwell would not be able to do so due to his health.

In February and March he was sent a signal edition of the novel, and the writer compiled a list of friends and those to whom he would like to send the first copies. Among these people were Aldous Huxley and Henry Miller. The writer suggested that the publisher ask Bertrand Russell to write the text on the back cover, which Russell eventually did. Orwell would hardly approve of the idea of ​​an American book publisher who asked to write the text on the back cover of FBI Director John Edgar Hoover. A letter to Hoover from the publisher read: “We hope that you will help readers pay attention to this novel, which can contribute to the fight against totalitarianism.” Hoover, of course, renounced this honor and immediately ordered a dossier on Orwell instead.

Orwell struggled with all attempts to change anything in the text of the book. He flatly refused to allow the American publishing house Book-of-the-Month-Club to publish a text without an afterword about the novelty and Goldstein’s book, although Warburg warned the writer that they could lose 40,000 pounds in total book sales. All those who thought that these essayistic parts of the book did not matter much did not understand the purpose of the writer. People tried to misinterpret the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four even before it went on sale.

Cover image: diuno / Shutterstock / Fotodom

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