Nineteen Eighty-Four

“Nineteen Eighty-Four: A dystopian novel (1949) by George Orwell (1903-50). The book comprises a prophecy of the totalitarian future of mankind, portraying a society in which government propaganda and terrorism destroy human awareness of reality. It is generally thought that Orwell named the novel by reversing the last two figures of the year in which it was written, 1948, but an article by Sally Coniam in the Times Literary Supplement of 31 December 1999 proposed another theory. In 1934 Orwell’s first wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy, published a poem, ‘End of the Century 1984,’ in The Chronicle, the school magazine of Sunderland Church High School, where she had been a pupil in the 1920s. The poem was written to mark the school’s 50th anniversary, looking back then forward to the future and to the schools centenary in 1984. It seems likely that Orwell could have adopted the year accordingly, although for him it was a random date. Support for this lies in the poem’s mention of ‘telesalesmanship’ and ‘Telepathic Station 9,’ terms strangely modern for their time, which seem to prefigure Orwell’s own ‘Newspeak,’ teleprogrammes,’ and ‘telescreen.’

Following the publication of Orwell’s novel, the year 1984—until it came and went—was long regarded as apocalyptic, and as such was even entered in the Oxford English Dictionary. Appropriately enough, a film version entitled 1984 starring John Hurt and Richard Burton was released in 1984.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

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