In my English Lit course, we get to choose three texts for the coursework section of our grade. We’ve just started to look at our comparative coursework, which uses two of our three texts (we already completed the other one). I decided to look at Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World.
Now, I’ve already read both of these books, but I read BNW for a project I did last year, so I had a good grasp of that novel from certain angles already. I read 1984 over summer with the intention of using it in my coursework; what I hadn’t bargained for was how interesting the lives of Orwell and Huxley actually were.
In order to do this coursework, we have to have background knowledge of the context etc. of the novels, so it makes sense to know a bit about the authors. Now, I studied Animal Farm, another famous Orwell book, for GCSE, and to be perfectly honest, I thought it was a terrible book. Terribly executed, weirdly structured, and definitely boring. It made me very hesitant to read 1984 just because I thought it might be the same, but I decided that it was probably a book I ought to read.
I’m very glad I did.
Let me just say, this isn’t a review of 1984. Choosing this book led me to quite an interesting history lesson. The first thing I found out, researching for my coursework, was that Huxley and Orwell actually knew each other. I don’t know whether this is common knowledge or not, but my English teacher didn’t know this either. There’s a lot similar between their dystopian books, yet they’re still extremely different works.
Photo from http://www.penguin.com.au
Orwell, considering my first impression of him being that of a terrible writer, has turned out to be a very interesting man, whose real name was Eric Blair. Upon learning more about him, not just the basic ‘he was a communist’ garble that most people say offhand, he seems like a much more complex individual than I gave him credit for to begin with. To write a book criticising communism in such a way as he did in Animal Farm is slightly confusing for someone who is generally known as supporting the movement, but his perceptions on the way humanity will descend into madness in 1984 confirms his complexity as a person. He seemed to reject all political ideals – capitalist, imperialist, communist, totalitarianism (although it’d be disturbing if he supported that one…).
I’ve also grown quite a respect for this man. I think a lot of people know he died of tuberculosis, but he wrote the entirety of 1984 with TB, bedridden for the most part. He tried experimental drugs which did look like they worked, but had a relapse. I read an article the other day quoting this book as the book that killed him. He claimed he didn’t have some strange compulsion to write his last book the way other writers claim, but he’s still remembered as having worked tirelessly, even feverishly, on 1984.
Before that, though, he’d worked on propaganda for the BBC during WW2, unable to fight because he failed the medicals. But Orwell seems to make it very clear he hated propaganda. He is labelled as having been anarchist, but he also pointed out the flaws in that, too.
When I consider all I’ve learned about Orwell, there are a few words which come to mind: he was complex, as I’ve already said. He was definitely intelligent. Driven. He may have been opinionated. To some he may have appeared indecisive or silly for rejecting so many political ideas and changes. But I think he’s someone who should be respected, even now, for being who he was. Huxley once labelled 1984 as ‘profoundly important’, which it is. It’s infinitely better than Animal Farm, and full of ideas which have heavily influenced the time since – Big Brother came from it. People are sceptic about how close to reality the CCTV aspect of his book has become. It’s a strange and wonderful book, and I think he was a strange and wonderful person.