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Celebrating 70 Years of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four

Posted on 28th May 2019 by Mark Skinner
Don't let the thought police know but George Orwell's seminal Nineteen Eighty-Four is 70 this June. In this blog we revisit the book, the world it reflected and the legacy it bequeathed, before making a few other suggestions for dark, dystopian reading.

In 1947, when George Orwell settled down to write Nineteen Eighty-Four on the Scottish island of Jura, the world was in a constant, terrifying state of flux. Still reeling from the enormity of a conflict that had leveled cities and decimated populations, the confused, dispossessed masses found themselves pawns in a desperate struggle for a new global order. Soviet Communism was beginning to flex its muscles against American Capitalism, whilst Britain, once the Empire-building envy of the world, was mired in austerity and exhaustion. Indian independence had opened the floodgates for rapid decolonization and brutal civil war in China would facilitate the rise of Mao Zedong in Asia.

Against this global backdrop Orwell, a pioneering political journalist well used to recording the plight of the impoverished and disenfranchised in Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia, began to craft a richly atmospheric novel that encompassed totalitarianism in both its Fascist and Communist forms. In the alternate 1984 Britain has been subsumed into a super-state called Oceania, governed by an authoritarian political party led by the omnipotent Big Brother. In Oceania facts and history are endlessly malleable and our chief protagonist, Winston Smith, works in the Ministry of Truth, twisting reality to fit the party’s requirements. The apparatus of government is extensive and includes such concepts as Doublethink, Thoughtcrime and Newspeak; phrases which have since become part of the British political lexicon. It is Winston’s self-awakening and attempted rejection of Big Brother’s tyrannical regime that forms the core of the narrative.

Published seventy years ago to near-universal acclaim, Orwell’s masterpiece proved astonishingly prescient in its deconstruction of the autocratic Soviet system. Whilst there had been excellent literary dystopias before Nineteen Eighty-Four, none had felt quite so all-encompassing and chillingly credible. Its cultural legacy was immense; very quickly it became routine to refer to real-life dictators as Big Brothers and any shadowy surveillance state as Orwellian. Even today, after the collapse of Communism in the west, Nineteen Eighty-Four’s nightmarish vision of political oppression rings ominously true for many people around the world.

To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and to recognize the power and prophecy of the finest alternate political worlds, we have compiled a list of five other great literary dystopias that entertain and inform in equal measure, as well as an enlightening new ‘biography’ of the sacred text itself. 


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The most prescient of modern dystopias is 70 years old this year and, in this meticulously researched and argued ‘biography,’ journalist Dorian Lynskey evaluates just what makes George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four so compellingly relevant to the modern political landscape. A timely reminder of the power that great fiction can wield.
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OneState is a society predicated on mathematical principle and any creativity or independent thinking is brutally stamped out. But when D-503 discovers that he possesses a soul the revelation sets in motion a chain of events that threaten OneState’s very existence. Suppressed for decades by the Soviet authorities, We pioneered the concept of the literary ‘superstate.’
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Wyndham’s richly envisioned dystopia is an intensely human story, trading in nuanced body horror and hysterical fear of the ‘other’. In a post-apocalyptic landscape rife with superstition, mutation is regarded as blasphemy and anybody physically ‘abnormal’ relentlessly persecuted. A poignant story of acceptance which finds room for hope and devotion despite its world’s manifold terrors.
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A short, scalpel sharp novel, A Clockwork Orange takes the totalitarianism of Orwell and ramps up the nihilism and ultraviolence. Alex and his teenage droogs rampage around a futuristic dystopia, committing appalling acts of brutal cruelty. The unfolding story unpacks issues of social conditioning and psychopathy with infinite style.
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Hoban was a highly versatile prose stylist, equally at home writing children’s books as he was constructing this post-nuclear environment. Narrated by the eponymous Riddley in a broken, primal vernacular, the novel is a chilling exercise in the power of myth and the fallacy of progress and quite unique in the annals of speculative literature
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Bursting with themes and ideas, Station Eleven is a literary novel that uses the architecture of dystopian fiction to ask searching questions about art and life, survival and decay. Mandel skillfully details the relationships between a group of travelling actors before and after a flu pandemic wipes out 99% of the world’s population.
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