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From late 1983 to early 1985 writers for newspapers and magazines, radio and television pursued the truth about George Orwell and Nineteen Eighty-Four, racing around and giving tongue like a great pack of foxhounds. Furthermore, large numbers of academics, American, English, and Continental, joined the pursuit. In George Orwell and "Nineteen Eighty-Four" Peter Stansky lists a few of the prominent scholarly chases: "A science fiction conference in Antwerp which has the book as its theme; a more staid conference at the home of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg; a conference at the Smithsonian in Washington emphasizing the future; another in Washington concerned with the past and the man; and the present gathering of scholars and critics at the Library of Congress at the end of April, the month in which the novel begins."
George Orwell and "Nineteen Eighty-Four" consists of the papers that Stansky and seven other Orwell experts read at the Library in 1984, together with discussions after the papers and a selected, annotated bibliography of publications on Orwell through 1984. That Orwell was always a cat who walked by himself is amply demonstrated by Alfred Kazin's " 'Not One of Us': George Orwell and Nineteen Eighty-Four." His title is taken from the answer he received when, during World War Two, he asked the British Labor Party secretary what he thought of George Orwell. Kazin notes that in the course of his writing life Orwell attacked "intellectuals on the left, the ex-left, the would-be left, and the ideological right," and as the secretary's answer indicates, he was in turn attacked and rejected. He had proved his sympathy for the ordinary man not only by writing but also by fighting on his behalf in Spain. But the secretary knew that he had gone to Eton and later served with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. Kazin remarks that Orwell was a pamphleteer in the tradition of Swift and Paine and the finest one in the first half of the twentieth century.
In "Nineteen Eighty-Four: Politics and Fable" Denis Donoghue notes several books that influenced Nineteen Eighty-Four but concentrates on the novel We, by [End Page 668] the Russian Zamyatin, and three books by the American James Burnham, The Managerial Revolution, The Machiavellians, and Struggle for the World. Zamyatin showed Orwell "how he might move beyond the allegory of Animal Farm" and gave him hints for plot and characters. He is perfectly right, even though We, compared with Nineteen Eight-Four, seems to be made of something like ectoplasm. Besides the sources from Russia, Donoghue recognizes some from England: the British Ministry of Information and the BBC, the Atlee government, and extensive details of British life "before, during, and after the War." From Burnham, Orwell got the oligarchy of Nineteen Eight-Four and the three superpowers instead of Zamyatin's one.
Anybody who still thinks that Orwell gazed into a crystal ball to write Nineteen Eighty-Four should be convinced by Jeffrey Meyers' "Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel of the 1930s" that he looked steadily around him. In the Thirties, Meyers recalls, there were depressions all over the world; wars in Manchuria, Ethiopia, and Spain before there was global war; the rise of Fascism and Nazism; famine in the Ukraine; the murder of Trotsky; the great purge trials. By 1948, the year in which Orwell finished his novel, Russia controlled Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia was expelled from the Comintern, the Berlin airlift began, etc. Events in Orwell's own life give special credibility to Nineteen Eighty-Four. Of all the major writers who went to Spain, only Orwell "fought as a common soldier, was wounded, and survived to record his experiences."
In "Orwell: The Man" Jenni Calder takes as her point of departure...