60 Years Later, Orwell’s Vision Almost a Reality

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face— forever. –George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four – Fight Orwell’s vision, or get ready for a boot in your face!

60 years after Orwell wrote 1984 and was destroyed by the book, a chilling reminder that his sinister vision is almost reality
By Robert Harris
June 13th, 2009

Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in London on Wednesday, June 8, 1949, and in New York five days later. The world was eager for it.

Within 12 months, it had sold around 50,000 hardbacks in the UK; in the U.S. sales were more than one-third of a million. It became a phenomenon.

Sixty years later, no one can say how many millions of copies are in print, both in legitimate editions and samizdat versions. It has been adapted for radio, stage, television and cinema, has been studied, copied and parodied and, above all, ransacked for its ideas and images.

As I write, the Mail is reporting that ‘town halls are routinely using controversial Big Brother surveillance laws to spy on their own employees’; the Los Angeles Times is describing a Republican Party consultant as ‘a master of the black art of political newspeak’; The Village Voice is citing ‘a ripe example of doublethink’; and The Guardian is profiling a community leader ‘attacked as part of the PC thought police’.

I could cite hundreds more examples. Nineteen Eighty-Four may not be the greatest novel ever written, but it is certainly the most influential. Even at the time, people knew that something remarkable had occurred.

‘Momentous’, was how Lionel Trilling in The New Yorker hailed its arrival.

Nevertheless, publication day seems to have gone unmarked by any kind of celebration by George Orwell, the author – not surprisingly as he was that day cooped up alone in a stuffy wooden hut, 15ft by 12ft, in a TB sanatorium near Stroud in Gloucestershire, in the throes of being killed by his own creation.

‘I began to relapse about the end of September,’ he wrote to a friend. ‘I could have done something about it then, but I had to finish that wretched book, which, thanks to illness, I had been messing about with for 18 months and which the publishers were harrying me for.’

Working on the Hebridean island of Jura in the cold and damp, the worst possible climate for tuberculosis, Orwell had produced a manuscript illegible to anyone save its author.

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Learn more about Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.