Transformations of Language in Modern Dystopias

By David W. Sisk | Go to book overview

2
"Plus 'Parfaite' et Moins Libre"

Brave New World ( 1932) reacts against what Aldous Huxley saw as the utopian tradition's dangerously short-sighted assumptions, particularly those that inform much of the fiction of H. G. Wells. As with George Orwell and Anthony Burgess--modern writers who have considered themselves neither dystopian novelists nor science fiction writers--Huxley wrote more than one dystopia, as well as a straightforward utopia, Island ( 1962). 1 Of Huxley's far-ranging œuvre, Brave New World is the novel that most readers associate with his name and that commands the largest modern audience. 2 Brave New World is not the first great dystopia of the twentieth century, however. That honor belongs to Eugene Zamiatin's We, which was completed in 1921 but never published in his native Russia. Zamiatin's novel circulated around Europe for years, first in manuscript and later in published English, Czech, and French translations. 3 Zamiatin draws a stunning dystopic portrait of a far-future society where a dictator referred to as "The Benefactor" rules absolutely. All citizens are referred to by number; the protagonist and first-person narrator is called D-503. Orwell was acquainted with Zamiatin's novel, and elements of We can be found in Nineteen Eighty-four. Furthermore, "some critics have suggested that [ Huxley] also owes a great deal to Zamiatin's We. Huxley, though, denied having read We. There is no evidence, other than perhaps coincidental similarities between the two novels, to indicate Huxley borrowed from Zamiatin" ( Matter 1983, 106). Firchow notes that Zamiatin himself inquired into whether Huxley had read We, and discovered that he had not ( 1984, 121-22).

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