George Orwell's Landmark Novel '1984' Hits 64-Year Anniversary

Big Brother. Thought-crime. Thought police. Room 101. Newspeak. These and other phrases derive from one notable piece of English fiction: Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Saturday marked the 64th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell's dystopian masterpiece, released June 8, 1949.

Orwell himself would die the following year, never knowing the fullest extent to which his work would still influence the world's view on the dangers of totalitarianism and power.  In addition to the words and phrases taken from the novel's pages, the term "Orwellian" was coined to describe anything considered disturbingly repressive.

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The novel would be adapted to film twice (including one version produced and released in the title year) and serve as the inspiration for books, television, and news analysis.  Several songs and a much acclaimed Apple commercial also owe their inspiration to the dystopian novel about a near future dominated by totalitarianism.

Indeed, in Britain there is even an annual literary award known as the Orwell Prize, an honor bestowed upon those who have effectively made "political writing into an art."

"The Last Man in Europe"

Born Eric Arthur Blair on June 25, 1903, in Motihari, Bengal, British India, his famous pen name derived from the patron saint of England and the Orwell River in the English county of Suffolk.

Eton educated, Orwell served in the Burma Imperial Police before resigning and becoming a journalist. In the 1930s, he went to Spain to fight as part of a Marxist militia against the Fascist forces during the nation's three year Civil War.

Orwell was a prolific writer, having written news articles, book reviews, political essays, and fiction works. In addition to "1984," Orwell also wrote Animal Farm, an allegorical tale notable in its own right.

Near the end of his life, Orwell began to write his most famous work. Slowly losing a battle to TB, he initially titled his manuscript "The Last Man in Europe."

Published mere months before his death, Nineteen Eighty-Four was heralded a classic even in its own time with Winston Churchill having reportedly read it twice. An irony since, according to a colleague of his, Orwell modeled his fictional world with its three super-states off of the Tehran Conference of 1944, of which Churchill was a participant.

Orwell's work also influenced the longstanding academic debate over objectivism versus relativism. Peter Novick, a historian who once wrote an extensive book on the history of the objective method in America titled That Noble Dream, observed Orwell's impact on the debate.

"Throughout the postwar decades totalitarianism continued to be identified with relativism," wrote Novick, "George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four…was particularly important in furthering this association."

"In Nineteen Eighty-Four the protagonist's occupation, under the ideal-typical totalitarianism of the future, was rewriting history, turning unwanted historical actors into 'unpersons', stuffing truth down the 'memory hole.'"

Of the criticism Orwell received for his novel, one came from a contemporary named Evelyn Waugh, who visited Orwell several times as he battled illness.

Waugh, as well as later political analysts and social commentators, took issue with the absence of spiritual religion in Orwell's vision of the future.

"'What makes your version [of the future] spurious to me is the disappearance of the church," said Waugh, as reported by the UK Daily Mail.

"Disregard all the supernatural implications if you like, but you must admit its unique character as a social and historical institution. I believe it is inextinguishable."

Continuing Relevance

To this day, whenever a government does something seen as deceptive, whenever an agency looks to expand surveillance of private citizens, or whenever a massive entity appears to change factual stories through language, allegations of acting "Orwellian" are not far behind.

Both the Bush and Obama Administrations have had critics claim that they are acting like Big Brother and good odds exist that future presidential administrations will experience likewise.  Of immediate note would be the National Security Administration surveillance scandal, which according to a recent story by the Los Angeles Times led to a surge in purchases of the book.

"Sales of Orwell's classic have risen an astonishing 5,771% as of Tuesday morning, with a current sales rank of 213, up from 12,507 just a few days ago. A different edition of the novel has even made it onto Amazon's top 100 bestsellers list," wrote Jenny Hendrix of the Times.

"Big Brother is watching. And people are reading."

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