I don’t think anyone since Shakespeare has contributed quite as many sayings and allusions to the English language as Orwell.   And the most remarkable thing is that most of them come from only two relatively short books.  Orwell was not a prolific writer and he died at a much earlier age than most of us would have wanted him to.

1984 is so well known that it hardly seems worth even trying to review it.  Everyone already knows the basic story even if they haven’t read it.  And it must be one of the most widely read serious novels of the twentieth century.  The basic motivation is a horror of the totalitarianism Orwell could see all around him.  It is set in a Britain ruled by a Communist style party that totally controls everything and is encroaching on the very thoughts of the inhabitants of the drab monotone world that it rules.

Orwell was a miserable old git and probably thought his book was prophetic of a future where totalitarianism would come to dominate the globe.  With the Soviet Union occupying half of Europe and wartime restrictions on liberty still fresh in the mind that was probably a reasonable enough assumption. While it remains a remarkably frightening book, reading it today tends to make you feel optimistic rather than pessimistic.  There are far more democracies now than there ever have been in the history of the planet.  Even in authoritarian countries there are calls for democracy showing that the human spirit is not as easy to crush as Orwell supposed.

There is still North Korea, but it is hard to think of anywhere else still ruled by a figure recognisable as any kind of Big Brother.  But for the most part, the future has not been one of a boot standing on a human face.  We are, it turns out, not so easily cowed.


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