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15 Things You Didn't Know About George Orwell's Book "1984"

The mark of a good novel is how well it resonates with different people throughout time. When George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four (also published as 1984), he had been imagining what was the far future. That year has since come and gone, but the story that Orwell wrote remains relevant. So much so that Orwell’s popular hit is once again a bestseller, following the remarks of Kellyanne Conway in reference to “alternative facts.” The NY Times reports that Amazon has sold out of the dystopian novel and the books have been in high demand at local bookstores. According to Slate, the popularity of 1984 has also inspired an upcoming Broadway show after the same name. These 15 facts about Orwell’s 1984 just might surprise you!

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15 The idea of Big Brother comes from Orwell's book

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While the reality show Big Brother has nothing to do with Orwell or his book, the idea of a Big Brother surveillance state comes directly from his dystopian tale. Orwell’s concept of Big Brother is an all-seeing government that keeps intimate tabs on everything that citizens do and think. Nothing is private because the government has everyone under constant surveillance. The citizens of Oceania, one of the three superstates, must obey what the mysterious 'Big Brother' requires of them, or pay severe consequences.

Thoughts have been criminalized and any thoughts that lead toward rebelling against the regime can result in execution. This world is very dystopian and dark, nothing like the reality TV show. Yet, the idea of being under surveillance at all times is what drives the show, Big Brother. Orwell shows how terrifying it can be to not have the right to privacy, and how utterly soulless the world would be if our very thoughts could be used against us.

14 The novel was published between two famous wars

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Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1948, following World World II. Hitler’s propaganda techniques and totalitarian regime had resulted in one of the worst wars in history. Europe still needed to deal with the aftermath of Hitler’s atrocities, only for the Cold War to begin in 1949.

What was the Cold War? America and the Soviet Union had fought alongside each other during WWII, but America disagreed with Russia’s leader, Stalin, on his violent control of his country. Building the atomic bomb became a race (the “arms race”) in order to make weapons more powerful than one’s enemies. It would’ve been a scary time to be alive and Orwell created the world in his novel around the ideas and techniques he witnessed firsthand in both wars.

13 Orwell wrote the book while staying at a Scottish farmhouse

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George Orwell’s friend and editor, David Astor, gave him the keys to his gorgeous home in Jura—a Scottish island tucked away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Orwell had just lost his wife. He was heartbroken and grieving, but he still wanted to get this manuscript done. He’d known Astor for several years from working for Astor’s newspaper, The Observer. Their longtime working relationship became a friendship and Astor wanted to help Orwell in any way he could.

So, he handed him the keys to a private home on a remote Scottish island. According to Jura’s website, deer and other wildlife outnumber the people population. There are about 5,500 deer to the 200 people who currently live on the island. The population during Orwell’s era may have been even smaller.

12 1984 has made the banned book list more times than you can count

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Stalin held book burnings of Orwell’s 1984. The book, he believed, gave a negative view of communism. Anyone caught reading it would have been arrested. Yet, in a little school in Jackson County, Fla., the book was banned for being “pro-communism.” Wait...WHAT? Yes, Orwell had no idea that his book would cause so much controversy on several sides of the issue.

Nineteen Eighty-Four ranks around the fifth most challenged book, according to Mid-Continent Public Library, and has become a favorite during Banned Books Weeks across America. Orwell’s tale of an all-seeing government that seeks to control every aspect of its citizens’ lives serves as an ominous warning to anyone who reads it. Some groups find that to be threatening to their worldview or to their sensibilities; thus, the book has been banned on many occasions.

11 It was a bestseller soon after it was published, too

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The popularity of dystopian fiction is nothing new. Humans get a thrill over the possibility of their demise and the new release of Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949 had been no exception. In the UK, hardback book sales for Nineteen Eighty-Four reached over 50,000 soon after it was first published. People who survived WWII, or had heard about it, wanted to read about an alternate timeline in which the bad guys had basically won, taking over our entire lives.

It might have been a science fiction novel, but the themes within it made sense to people. The book published in New York five days after its UK release and soon reached more than one-third of a million in sales in the United States. And today, it has become a bestseller again.

10 Room 101 in the novel was inspired by a real room

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Room 101 features prominently in Nineteen Eighty-Four as the place where people receive re-education and punishment for their thought crimes. This room is the propaganda room and you never leave it the same as you came in. The protagonist, Winston Smith, knows all about propaganda because it is his job to change recorded history to suit the message of the Party; he is the guy who spreads falsehoods to the citizens to shape their thoughts the way the government wants.

Scholars speculate that Room 101 was inspired by Orwell’s work at the BBC’S Broadcasting House during World War II. The infamous room has since been immortalized in plaster by Turner Prize-winner, Rachel Whiteread, in 2003, according to BBC News. The original room no longer exists.

9 Orwell used to do propaganda (which is why it features so much in his story)

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Propaganda campaigns can include news stories and advertisements that have a particular slant and often rely on unsubstantiated information for the purpose of misleading its intended audience. If propaganda cites actual facts, then it finds a way to lead its audience to come to a wrong conclusion in order to justify a particular belief system or action. Case studies, like those conducted at Stanford University, show how effective propaganda can be in leading people a certain way and the role media plays, or can play, in relaying false information for groups.

George Orwell fully understood the techniques because he had worked for the propaganda machine BBC Empire Service during WWII. In his diary, he described this part of the job as distasteful and wrote that the whole department was “something halfway between a girls’ school and a lunatic asylum, and all we are doing at present is useless, or slightly worse than useless.”

8 1984 is in the public domain in other countries, but not in the US

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Every country has their own law when it comes to copyright terms. When a book is under copyright, it can’t be copied or downloaded for free and can only be distributed by a publisher that holds the copyright for the work. The works of a person who has died will still be protected under copyright law for several years after their death. Nineteen Eighty-Four had been published in 1949. In the United States, copyright law for works published between 1923 and 1963 are protected for 95 years after publication. This means that 1984 won’t be in public domain in the US until 2044. If you live in Argentina, Australia, Canada, South Africa or Oman, though, you can get a copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four in the public domain now.

7 Orwell wrote the novel while deathly ill

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Orwell might have been working on his novel in a lovely secluded home on a remote island in Scotland, but he was still absolutely miserable. He suffered from tuberculosis (TB), which affects the lungs and leads to death if untreated. People with TB will cough up blood, experience night sweats, lose weight and have bouts of fever. Orwell did not go to the hospital during the time he was working on Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Oh, no, he decided to tough it out and work on his book. The peace and quiet of the island perhaps helped to soothe him compared to the hustle of the city, but being as deathly ill as he was meant writing the book and pausing mid-sentence to cough blood into a handkerchief.

6 A letter he wrote reveals why he wrote 1984

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On May 18, 1944, George Orwell penned a letter to Noel Wilmett to describe his idea for his next novel (which became Nineteen Eighty-Four). Orwell discussed how the ideas that drive men like Hitler and Stalin live on long after the authoritarians pass on and new men rise up to their place. He believed that fighting for independence of thought and action would be a constant battle and not easily won, if won at all.

In his letter, Orwell wrote: “Everywhere the world movement seems to be in the direction of centralized economies which can be made to ‘work’ in an economic sense but which are not democratically organised and which tend to establish a caste system.” He supposed that if Hitler were to win the war, he wouldn’t be able to make “two and two equal five,” but in his vision for the novel, he believed that such a possibility existed. The good news is that Orwell also believed that the totalitarian process could be reversed.

5 The concept of "alternative facts" featured heavily in the novel

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Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the US President, said on an interview with Chuck Todd for Meet the Press that the administration relies on “alternative facts.” According to NPR, that phrase stood out and reminded people of George Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty-Four. Her interview is one reason that Nineteen Eighty-Four has reached bestseller status on Amazon again.Washington Post reporter Karen Tumulty is attributed for being one of the first to make the connection between “alternative facts” and 1984.

In the novel, the government uses “doublespeak,” which accepts two contrary ideas as fact. Citizens are told to believe that “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.” These falsehoods allow Big Brother to control the citizens by getting them to accept their circumstances without question. It muddies the truth so that people believe the lie, often to their detriment. 

4 Orwell died soon after writing this book

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George Orwell, whose real name was Eric Arthur Blair, died about seven months after his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was published. He had been born in India, served on the military in Burma, worked for the BBC, wrote many journalism pieces and several books and died from tuberculosis in a hospital in London. He was only 46 on January 21, 1950 when he passed away. Having gone without treatment for his TB, his body could no longer handle the disease. According to BBC, Orwell had told his plans for the future to one of his friends before suffering from internal hemorrhaging and being rushed to the hospital. TB had ravaged his body and the future books he would have written never were to materialize. The island had aggravated his TB, they suspected, as well as working long hours on writing the novel.

3 It was almost titled "The Last Man in Europe"

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Picking a title for a book can be a daunting task. Titles get people to look at the book. If you have a terrible title, your book might be ignored. It won’t matter how good it is if no one reads it. Orwell had wanted to name his new novel 'The Last Man in Europe.' But, Frederic Warburg, Orwell’s publisher, thought the other title didn’t have enough punch to it for getting sales. Orwell needed to settle on a year to place the story in as well and once he chose 1984, so it became the title of the book. In 1949, the year 1984 seemed to be the far future and got the attention of book lovers.

2 Some of the most popular quotes from the book can be found on Twitter

Some of the best tweets are simply quotes from movies, books and famous people in history. Instead of commenting directly on something happening in the world, posting a quote can say it for you and get the message across. It can open discussion about the current state of affairs. It also allows you to provide commentary without coming up with your own take. Sometimes, what someone else says is much better than you can come up with on your own.

Quotes from books show how relevant people think the book is at a certain point in time; so, it’s no wonder that quotes from Orwell’s two most popular books Animal Farm and 1984 have been popping up all over the place in social media. Quotes from the book 1984 have been making their rounds on Twitter since the election and increased in frequency after Conway’s “alternative facts” statement.

1 1984 is the last book Orwell ever wrote

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Orwell’s most famous works are Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Over the years of his life, he published six novels, three nonfiction books and numerous news articles and essays. His lesser novels include Burmese Days (1934), A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935), Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936) and Coming Up For Air (1939). He relied on his own experience and in-depth research to come up with the atmosphere and setting for each of his novels.

His nonfiction books include Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), in which he lived in poverty to fully understand it, The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) and Homage to Catalonia (1938). Like most of his other work, he poured himself into writing 1984. It ended up being the last novel he ever wrote.

Sources: nytimes.com, slate.com, nydailynews.com, theguardian.com, isleofjura.scot, mymcpl.org,  dailymail.co.uk, news.bbc.co.uk, biography.com, web.stanford.edu, copyright.cornell.edu, medlineplus.gov, thedailybeast.com, npr.org, news.bbc.co.uk, historyguide.org, twitter.com, history.com

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