Essays on Politics and Literature

By Bernard Crick | Go to book overview

Eleven
Reading Nineteen Eighty-Four As Satire

From Robert Mulvihill, ed. Reflections on America, 1984: an Orwell Symposium ( University of Georgia Press, London: 1986).

Nineteen Eighty-Four has been read with amazingly diverse interpretations. Serious people have seen it as a deterministic prophecy, as a conditional projection, as a humanistic satire of events, as nihilistic misanthrophy, as a libertian socialist satire of power in general, as predominantly an attack on the Soviet Union. At times the reader needs to be reminded that it is a novel and not a monograph or tract. Anthony Burgess has seen it as a comic novel. For a man who cultivated the skills and reputation of plain living, plain thinking and plain writing, this diversity of reception, this propensity to be body-snatched by nearly everyone (except the Communists), is at least curious.

Partly Orwell brought the trouble on himself. The book is indeed a novel, but specifically a satirical novel and it is also the most complex and ambitious work he ever undertook, probably too complex for its own good, both aesthetically considered (compared to Animal Farm, for instance) and in the crowded jostle of its substantive ideas. Orwell appeared to use satire and parody synonymously. In the now well-known press release he issued after reading the first reviews of Nineteen Eighty-Four, he denied that he was saying that 'something like this will happen,' but that 'Allowing for the book being after all a parody, something like Nineteen Eight-Four could happen.' 1 And in his letter to an official of the United Automobile Workers, also worried at some of the American reviews, he says: 'I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily will arrive, but I believe (allowing of course for the fact that the book is a satire) that something resembling it could arrive.'2 In the same letter he called it a 'show-up' of the 'perversions to which a centralised economy is liable and which have already been partly realised in Communism and Fascism.' And in the letter to his publishers about the 'blurb,' he had said that he was 'parodying . . . the intellectual implications of totalitarianism,' which he then links, as in the press release, to the

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Essays on Politics and Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vi
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • Foreword ix
  • One - Literature and Politics 1
  • Two - The Political in Britain's Two National Theatres 20
  • Notes 47
  • Three - Young Writers of the Thirties 48
  • Four - Koestler's Koestler 62
  • Five - Hannah Arendt: Hedgehog or Fox? 72
  • Six - Beatrice Webb as English Diarist 78
  • Seven - Words 85
  • Notes 92
  • Eight - My LSE 93
  • Nine - Reading The Observer as a complex text 106
  • Notes 116
  • Ten - On the Difficulties of Writing Biography in? General and of Orwell's in particular 117
  • Eleven - Reading Nineteen Eighty-Four As Satire 133
  • Notes 163
  • Twelve - Animal Farm For Schools 166
  • Thirteen - Orwell and English Socialism 192
  • Notes 207
  • Fourteen - On the Orwell Trail 209
  • Notes 224
  • Fifteen - Wedekind's 'Spring Awakening' 225
  • Sixteen - Horvath's 'Tales From the Vienna Woods' 231
  • Seventeen - Pinter's 'No Man's Land' 239
  • Eighteen - Polly By Gaslight 245
  • Nineteen - David Edgar Catches Peter Jenkins' Ear at the Barbican 251
  • Twenty - Barrault at the Barbican 254
  • Index 257
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