Five Fascinating Facts about George Orwell’s 1984

1. George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was published on this day, 8 June, in 1949. But this wasn’t the original title of the novel. According to the introduction to the Penguin Classics edition, Orwell initially planned to set the novel in 1980; this then became 1982, and finally 1984 (or Nineteen Eighty-Four, as the title is usually rendered).

Orwell12. Orwell named Room 101 after a conference room in BBC Broadcasting House. In this room, during the Second World War, he had to sit through tedious meetings when he worked for the Ministry of Information. Indeed, the Ministry also served as the inspiration for the Ministry of Truth, where the novel’s protagonist, Winston Smith, works. ‘Room 101’ has, of course, entered wider linguistic use as a term for something containing one’s pet hates or worst fears. Although the novel also popularised the terms ‘thoughtcrime’ and ‘thought police’, these did not originate in Orwell’s novel, and predated it by some fifteen years, first appearing in books about Japan.

3. An Italian translation of Orwell’s novel has the clocks striking ‘uno’ instead of thirteen because ‘Italian clocks don’t go up to thirteen’. That is, in the opening sentence, ‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen’ (the original joke being that clocks only strike up to twelve, of course). We’ve covered this in a previous post, but felt it was worth raising again here, as it’s such a great story.

4. At Eton, Aldous Huxley was Orwell’s French teacher. Thus the future author of one of the great dystopian novels of the twentieth century, Brave New World (1932), taught the future author of one of the other great dystopian novels of the twentieth century. Aldous Huxley was only nine years older than Eric Blair (the real name of Orwell). Blair reportedly selected his pen name George Orwell from a shortlist which also included P. S. Burton, Kenneth Miles, and H. Lewis Allways. We’ve compiled more interesting facts about George Orwell’s life here.

5. In 1978, Anthony Burgess wrote a novel called 1985 as a tribute to Orwell’s novel. The author of another dystopian classic, A Clockwork Orange (1962), offered this novel as a tribute to Orwell’s classic. The Wikipedia page for the novel offers a very comprehensive summary of the novel, which is now not widely read. (More facts about Anthony Burgess here.)

If you’re looking for a good edition of the novel, we’d recommend Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Annotated Edition. For more dystopian fun, check out our interesting Hunger Games facts about our facts about The Maze Runner.

Image: George Orwell and 1984, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

48 thoughts on “Five Fascinating Facts about George Orwell’s 1984”

  1. I’d always had the fond hope that Orwell picked ’84 as the reverse of the year he was writing the novel, 1948 (though it was published the year after). Ah well…

    Another dystopian writer, Philip K Dick, who was born in 1928, seemed to locate his novels’ futures in or around 1982. Intriguingly, he died in 1982, the very year that the film of one of best known of his books was released —Blade Runner — another strange date reversal.

    Great post. Of course, you could have mentioned that two of 1984’s cliches, Room 101 and Big Brother, have turned into mass entertainment shows on British tv, ironic indeed…

  2. Oh you ALWAYS find facts which are interesting! My favourite of this lot is the delicious connection between Huxley and Orwell, for, as you say, major dystopian novels which I pretty much read back to back with each other, initially, as the seemed to set up weirdly oppositional (but the SAME) views of a future of control. Big Brother dispenses pap and happy pills as much as it spies. You can spy on evidence of subversion and ‘wrongthink’ – and you can also define any evidence of discomfort with nuance, as some sort of ‘dysfunction’ via the diagnostic and statistical manual and then create versions of Prozac nations. Its a different approach to controlling the rich variety of ‘humankind’ existence

    Though I must admit, these days, to thinking that Orwell is much the better writer, there’s a gripping directness in his style, which I appreciate

  3. I must admit I prefer Animal Farm to 1984. I didn’t feel as much sympathy for Winston, as I did for the animals. Even though they were pretty much all in the same position.

  4. It’s always surprising how cloistered and set apart the high(est?) echelon of British cultural and imperial society was. I thought that sort of undemocratic division had been laid to rest a century before, but then you still get these little gasps of it. Go to one of the good schools, go to one of the good universities, then go work for the British Empire and then (hopefully) publish all the while you’re rubbing shoulders with a fairly insulated group of men (and sometimes women).

  5. I am so glad I tuned in tonight to see this– I’ve been out of blog world for a while, but I always make a point of keeping my emails for this site, knowing I’ll get to them at some point. As always, great info that’s worth passing on!

  6. I think Orwell wrote in a letter about choosing “1984” based on the year 1948 because much of the atmosphere of the novel is based on post-war London. It is a very contemporary novel in that respect. But other factors may have come into play. The fact that his adopted son Richard is the same age as Winston and 1984 is the year that both would turn forty. Also his late wife Eileen (she died a few months before “Animal Farm” was published) wrote her own poem called “End of the Century, 1984”. The year 1984 also features in a couple of older dystopian novels, such as Jack London’s “The Iron Heel” and GK Chesterson’s “The Last Napoleon of London”. And last but not least, Orwell’s original ORIGINAL title was “The Last Man in Europe” but his publishers felt “1984” was a better marketed title.

  7. I still think G.O. overdoes the violence in 1984. I prefer Animal Farm! Its on my list of top twenty non-naturalistic novels. Perhaps you’d like to add your own? ;-)

    • There’s a reason why “1984” is particularly more depressing than any of his other books: he was dying of tuberculosis. The final draft that we all know, and the re-typing of it, was done on the island of Jura, a beautiful but deadly place for someone with such bad lungs as Orwell. He literally crawled from his bed to the table. He was in and out of hospitals where new treatments left him skeletal and with his teeth and hair falling out. It wasn’t pretty.

      • Thanks for that. I always think it fascinating to see how real events influence what is written. Sometimes the writing transcends difficult circumstances and sometimes reflects circumstances.

  8. Hello,
    As a literary enthusiast, I hope you continue a series on writing that is being passed from one writer to another. There are four basic questions. Please see my last blog post. I’m very interested in your responses.


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