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This article is taken from PN Review 38, Volume 10 Number 6, May - June 1984.

1948 and 1984 Julian Symons

This is the text of the second George Orwell Memorial Lecture, given in London on 25 February 1983.

Let me begin by giving an indication of the shape of this lecture and the ground it will cover. I'm going first to look backwards at Orwell's book 1984 to show the roots from which it sprang, the contemporary influences that worked on him. Then the latter part of the talk will deal with the relevance of the book to the society we live in now, and I shall have something to say about the book's quality of prophecy. Prophecy, I believe, was something not at all in Orwell's mind when he was writing. He was concerned with what was for him the present, not the future.

But if he was concerned with the present, yet still wanted to set the book in the future, why choose the year 1984? Why not set the work six hundred years ahead like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, or choose the year 2000 - or perhaps 2001? The answer is simple. Orwell had rejected the original title, The Last Man in Europe, perhaps because it gave too much away, or was too near to what we should now call science fiction. The first draft was completed in October 1947, the finished work in 1948. The title he chose was simply an inversion of the last two figures. 1948 became 1984.

Yet the inversion wasn't just a matter of ...


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