Since its publication 70 years ago, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has been regarded as one of the most significant novels of the modern age. It has influenced everyone from politicians to musicians, just as a White House spokesperson tells of “alternative facts.” The world we live in is often described as an Orwellian one, awash in inescapable surveillance and invasions of privacy.
D.J. Taylor is an award-winning author for his definitive biography of George Orwell. Now, in On Nineteen Eighty-Four (Abrams Press), he provides a comprehensive, captivating account of the origin and enduring power of this landmark dystopian novel. He delves deep into Orwell’s formative years to chart the novel’s origins and the real-life moments that helped to frame the novel’s distinctive authoritarian landscape.
Of the book’s first reviews in 1949, Taylor writes, “Terror. Fascination. Plausibility. Humanity’s heritage in peril…As the summer went on, and copies of the book began to be distributed around continental Europe and in the debatable lands beyond it, these rivulets of appropriation built into a tidal wave, the harbinger of an all-around media storm to which Orwell…was not immune.”
Taylor takes readers to the Scottish island of Jura where Orwell, coping with personal tragedy and rapidly declining health, struggled to finish writing the book. It was the dawn of the Cold War – a term Orwell coined – and Taylor elucidates the environment in which the novel was published. Then he examines Nineteen Eighty-Four’s legacy, including its impact on language and its role as a tool to understand our politics.
As for Orwell’s state of mind upon completion of the novel, Taylor writes, “Critical orthodoxy suggests that he was at the end of his physical tether and that Nineteen Eighty-Four’s horrors are a direct consequence of an inner turmoil fed by his mortal illness.”
But Orwell’s friend George Woodcock puts it another way, according to Taylor: “By writing about the terrors that obsessed him, he had got them out of his system. Now curiously enough, he was at peace.”
In a current climate where truth, surveillance, censorship and critical thinking are contentious, Orwell’s work is necessary – and Taylor’s work is remarkably timely.
On Nineteen Eighty-Four is available for pre-order and will publish on Oct. 22.
About D.J. Taylor:
D.J. Taylor is a British novelist, biographer and critic. His Orwell: The Life won the 2003 Whitbread Book Award for Biography. He contributes to a variety of publications on both sides of the Atlantic, including the Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement and the Wall Street Journal.
Find out more at his website.