The masterpiece that killed George Orwell
In 1946 Observer editor David Astor lent George Orwell a remote Scottish farmhouse in which to write his new book, Nineteen Eighty-Four. It became one of the most significant novels of the 20th century. Here, Robert McCrum tells the compelling story of Orwell’s torturous stay on the island where the author, close to death and beset by creative demons, was engaged in a feverish race to finish the book
Robert McCrum - 10 May 2009
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
Sixty years after the publication of Orwell’s masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, that crystal first line sounds as natural and compelling as ever. But when you see the original manuscript, you find something else: not so much the ringing clarity, more the obsessive rewriting, in different inks, that betrays the extraordinary turmoil behind its composition.
Probably the definitive novel of the 20th century, a story that remains eternally fresh and contemporary, and whose terms such as “Big Brother”, “doublethink” and “newspeak” have become part of everyday currency, Nineteen Eighty-Four has been translated into more than 65 languages and sold millions of copies worldwide, giving George Orwell a unique place in world literature.
“Orwellian” is now a universal shorthand for anything repressive or totalitarian, and the story of Winston Smith, an everyman for his times, continues to resonate for readers whose fears for the future are very different from those of an English writer in the mid-1940s.