Rereading 1984 | Literature, May 2019

This is an important contribution to Orwell studies and a timely introduction to the man and his most famous achievement; anyone with an interest in Orwell will appreciate Rodden’s insights and reflections.

redstarLynskey, Dorian. The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984. Knopf. Jun. 2019. 368p. notes. index. ISBN 9780385544054. $26.95 ; ebk. ISBN 9780385544061. LIT
Since its 1949 UK publication, George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984 has received steady critical attention. Consider Irving Howe’s 1984 Revisited and On Nineteen Eighty-Four, ed. by Abbott Gleason and others. Journalist Lynskey (33 Revolutions per Minute) aims to bring this assessment up-to-date with his new novel “biography,” its strength lying in its first part, which meticulously outlines Orwell’s life and influences, followed by portraits of figures such as H.G. Wells and Yevgeny Zamyatin (We), and their impact on the writer. Lynskey probes Orwell’s book reviews and the “As I Please” columns he wrote for the Tribune, arguing they provided a “kind of workshop” for the later novel. He then deals with the aftermath of Orwell’s early death in 1950 and traces the familiar territory of the Cold War, McCarthyism, and the fall of the Soviet Union, including valuable new material about the work’s adoption by popular culture (e.g., British TV’s The Prisoner and the reality show Big Brother), concluding with Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and its similarities to 1984’s “Two Minutes Hate.”
VERDICT
While similar in approach to William Steinhoff’s George Orwell and the Origins of 1984 , this is an important contribution to Orwell studies and a timely introduction to the man and his most famous achievement. —Thomas Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA

Rodden, John. Becoming George Orwell: Life and Letters, Legend and Legacy. Princeton Univ. Jul. 2019. 264p. notes. index. ISBN 9780691182742. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780691190129. LIT
Rodden (Univ. of Texas; The Cambridge Companion to George Orwell) here updates George Orwell: The Politics of Literary Reputation and Scenes from an Afterlife: The Legacy of George Orwell with the intent to separate Orwell (1903–50) the writer from the posthumous literary icon. Rodden briefly introduces the author’s life and works, then delves into his enduring relevance, citing the renewed interest in 1984 following the election of Donald Trump. Although Rodden is frequently repetitious, there is much to recommend here. Writing at length about Orwell’s famous essay “A Hanging,” he examines the unexpected embrace of Orwell by the Catholic Church; the similarities among Orwell, Albert Camus, and now-obscure French writer Jean Malaquais; the early commercial successes of Animal Farm and 1984 (crediting a 1954 BBC TV version); and reflects on his own study of “reputation history” and personal relationship to Orwell. As a self-described “recovering utopian” in tune with his subject’s utopian skepticism, ­Rodden’s outlook on democratic socialism will resonate with our current political environment.
VERDICT Anyone with an interest in Orwell will appreciate Rodden’s insights and reflections. Young scholars will do well to heed his suggestion for further research on Orwell’s connections to Asia. —Thomas Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA

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