George Orwell’s 1984 was published in the UK on this day in 1948. The transposition of years in the title was probably intentional, because the book was in part a reflection of his view of the world after World War II. He once described the book as a depiction of what the world would be like if atomic war did not wipe out mankind.
I read the book and others like it growing up, and it helped to form something of an underlying skepticism of government for me, along of course with the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon and Watergate. At the same time, I also recognized that 1984 was written as a warning and with the encouragement for us to do better.
When the year 1984 came and went, the then-waning Cold War was the only genuine comparison that I saw between the book and the actual year. The book seems much more prescient today, now 70 years later.
Certainly, two-way video now pervades our personal space. Technology has rendered personal privacy less and less an option, often without our knowledge. Outright lies presented as truth are today’s doublespeak. Government seeks to control sex by limiting it to procreation. Distant war is now taken as the norm. The very book itself has been banned at times and in places. And we seem to go about our daily lives as if we accept all this, or at least as if we are powerless in its face.
Orwell wrote 1984 after his wife died during a routine operation. Much of the book was written during a time on the Scottish Isle of Jura, which included one of its coldest of winters. While there, Orwell was diagnosed with TB, still then incurable. His struggles with writing the book while in this condition are described in a Guardian article from ten years ago.
Orwell died on January 21 of 1950. He is buried in a small churchyard under his true name, Eric Blair. Given his latter days, it is little wonder that his last book is so bleak and seemingly hopeless. And yet still, we are here to mark today. May there be many more days like this to stop, reflect and perhaps to make 1984 more fiction than fact.