George Orwell Now!

Preface by Richard Blair, Son of George Orwell

by Richard Lance Keeble (Volume editor)
©2015 Textbook X, 235 Pages


George Orwell remains an iconic figure today – even though he died in 1950. His dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four depicts a Big Brother society in which the state intrudes into the most intimate details of people’s lives – and, not surprisingly, it became a constant reference point after Edward Snowden’s revelations. The word «Orwellian» is constantly in the media – used either as a pejorative adjective to evoke totalitarian terror or as a complimentary adjective to mean «displaying outspoken intellectual honesty». Interest in Orwell’s life and writings – globally – continues unabated.
Beginning with a preface by Richard Blair, Orwell’s son, George Orwell Now! brings together thirteen chapters by leading international scholars in four thematic sections:
• Peter Marks on Orwell and the history of surveillance studies; Florian Zollmann on Nineteen Eighty-Four in 2014; Henk Vynckier on Orwell’s collecting project; and Adam Stock on ‘Big Brother’s Literary Offspring’
• Paul Anderson «In Defence of Bernard Crick»; Luke Seaber on the «London Section of Down and Out in Paris and London»; John Newsinger on «Orwell’s Socialism»; and Philip Bounds on «Orwell and the Anti-Austerity Left in Britain»
• Marina Remy on the «Writing of Otherness in Burmese Days and Keep the Aspidistra Flying»; Sreya Mallika Datta and Utsa Mukherjee on «Reassessing Ambivalence in Orwell’s Burma»; and Shu-chu Wei on Orwell’s Animal Farm alongside Chen Jo-his’s Mayor Yin
• Tim Crook on «Orwell and the Radio Imagination»; and editor Richard Lance Keeble on «Orwell and the War Reporter’s Imagination»
Peter Stansky, in an afterword, argues that Orwell is now more relevant than ever before.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface: An In-Depth Look into Orwell’s Complex Mind
  • Introduction: Orwell Now: Nothing Less Than a Cultural Icon
  • Section One: Orwell, Big Brother—and His Little Nephews
  • Chapter One: George Orwell and the History of Surveillance Studies
  • Chapter Two: Nineteen Eighty-Four in 2014: Power, Militarism and Surveillance in Western Democracies
  • Chapter Three: A Portrait of the Artist as a Collector: Tracing Orwell’s Collecting Project from Burma to Big Brother
  • Chapter Four: Little Nephews: Big Brother’s Literary Offspring
  • Section Two: Orwell, the Literary Canon—and Further Explorations
  • Chapter Five: In Defence of Bernard Crick
  • Chapter Six: Trust the Teller and Not the Tale: Reflections on Orwell’s Hidden Rhetoric of Truthfulness in the London Section of Down and Out in Paris and London
  • Chapter Seven: Orwell’s Socialism
  • Chapter Eight: Sectarians on Wigan Pier: George Orwell and the Anti-Austerity Left in Britain
  • Section Three: Orwell: International Perspectives
  • Chapter Nine: First Encounters and the Writing of Otherness in Burmese Days and Keep the Aspidistra Flying
  • Chapter Ten: ‘Pukka Sahibs’ and ‘Yellow Faces’: Reassessing Ambivalence in Orwell’s Burma
  • Chapter Eleven: Critiquing Communist Dictatorship East and West: George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Chen Jo-hsi’s Mayor Yin
  • Section Four: Orwell and the Journalistic Imagination
  • Chapter Twelve: George Orwell and the Radio Imagination
  • Chapter Thirteen: Orwell and the War Reporter’s Imagination
  • Afterword: Why Orwell Is More Relevant Today Than Ever Before
  • Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

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An In-Depth Look into Orwell’s Complex Mind


Although my father, George Orwell, died in January 1950 at the comparatively early age of forty-seven, his writing continues to provoke discussion and comment to this day. Indeed, his legacy expands with the passage of time, and he has been widely read and argued over by academics, writers and readers ever since.

The genesis of this outpouring of material about Orwell began in the early seventies as unauthorized biographers, frustrated by the refusal of his widow, Sonia, to allow anything to be written about him, for fear of saying something controversial, finally started to write unauthorized biographies. Eventually Sonia had to give in and go against his wishes as laid down in his will, that no biography be written and commission the late Professor Sir Bernard Crick to undertake his ‘official biography.’ Although he had full access to all his papers and the result was an outstanding success, Sonia was not happy with the outcome. But then, in 1980, Sonia, having just fought and won a legal battle to regain full control of Orwell’s copyright, died—and this freed up the literary executor of the estate to fully exploit the copyright to responsible writers such as Crick, publishers and film makers.

Amongst all these new opportunities were many writers who wanted to do their own biographies, and this has led to a plethora of new and interesting interpretations of Orwell’s work. Perhaps the most prolific scholar of Orwell has been Professor Peter Davison, whose masterly editing of all Orwell’s novels, essays and collected works was a labor of love. This has been followed by subsequent editions of particular aspects of Orwell’s prodigious output, such as his essays and diaries. In the last decade or so there have been many other publications on various aspects of his life and writings. ← ix | x →

One would, therefore, think that after all this time there would be little else to discover about the workings of Orwell’s mind. How wrong can one be because Professor Richard Lance Keeble, of the University of Lincoln, has put together and contributed to an anthology of essays written by enthusiastic and knowledgeable scholars of Orwell. This collection, which ranges from analysis of his novels to the relevance of what he wrote all those years ago to today’s world of intrusive surveillance, is an in-depth look at how his mind worked and why he is still so widely read.

Although Orwell has become an ‘icon,’ many people may argue that perhaps he was not always right. Informed argument is no bad thing and can lead to lively debate. There are some writers who like to misinterpret his works, either deliberately or otherwise, in order to further their own interests and this can mislead readers. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it is very difficult to put it back again. But they have to ask themselves the question: ‘Will I be remembered in years to come?’ The answer may well be: ‘Not in the same way as Orwell has been remembered.’

Indeed, Orwell was a man who set out to inform the world of what people didn’t want to know in a simple, clear message in order to alert them to the dangers of not questioning the motives of governments and large organizations who wish to manipulate events for their own benefit. This anthology is, therefore, another important piece of the jigsaw that helps us to understand the complex mind of the man that was George Orwell.

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Orwell Now: Nothing Less Than a Cultural Icon


George Orwell today is nothing less than a cultural icon. Indeed, the persistence of George Orwell and ‘Orwellian’ as reference points in contemporary mass media is remarkable. I typed a number of names into the LexisLibrary database of London-based ‘broadsheet’ newspapers covering three months of issues of the Guardian, Observer, Times, Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph and Independent on Sunday. These were the results:

William Shakespeare 1,342; J. K. Rowling 502; George Orwell 358; Virginia Woolf 204; Will Self 171; Hilary Mantel 163; Charles Dickens 161; Salman Rushdie 112; Margaret Atwood 93; Nick Davies 91; Leo Tolstoy 88; George Eliot 67; Ian Fleming 57; Margaret Drabble 49; John Updike 44; Gore Vidal 33; Erich Maria Remarque 23; John Berger 22; Noam Chomsky 20; Doris Lessing 15; Simone de Beauvoir 15; E. L. James 8; P. D. James 7; Jack London 7; Arundhati Roy 2.

While the LexisLibrary results have to be seen as not 100 per cent reliable, these figures are still fascinating. Orwell’s position is high—and his presence in the media is enhanced still further in other ways. For instance, the word ‘Orwellian’ is very prominent: it is used as a pejorative adjective to evoke totalitarian terror, the falsification of history by state organized lying; the use of euphemistic language to camouflage morally outrageous ideas and actions. Occasionally ‘Orwellian’ is used as a complimentary adjective to mean ‘displaying outspoken intellectual honesty, like Orwell.’ I typed ‘Orwellian’ into LexisLibrary for the same period and it came up 77 times; in Google it registered 1,350,000 hits (see Keeble 2014a). ← 1 | 2 →

For instance, on 9 July 2014, the Guardian columnist Owen Jones wrote: ‘Twenty-seven Palestinians are reported to have died in Gaza and mercifully no Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets—and yet the BBC opts for the Orwellian “Israel under renewed Hamas attack.”’ On 1 August, an obituary of the novelist Dan Jacobson, in The Times, spoke of his ‘Orwellian aversion to jargon and frivolous writing.’ In The Times on the following day, Janice Turner wrote about seeking seats in a train ‘where Orwellian screens won’t blast me with entertainment packages.’ And in the Daily Telegraph, of 16 August 2014, a report by Jeremy Warner was headlined ‘Amazon facing Orwellian nightmare’ (ibid.).

After the NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden in June 2013 revealed through the London-based Guardian and other international news media details of the massive global surveillance systems operated by intelligence agencies in the United States and United Kingdom, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four—and its description of a Big Brother society in which the state intrudes into the inner-most parts of everyday life—was a constant reference point globally. Sales of the book, in fact, rose 6,000 per cent on Amazon immediately after the revelations (Capon 2013).


Orwell’s legacy can still cause heated controversies in the media. In a highly publicized spat in his BBC ‘Points of View’ contribution on 31 August 2014, the award-winning novelist Will Self took issue with Orwell when he wrote (in the essay, ‘Politics and the English language,’ of 1946): ‘Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilisation is decadent and our language—so the argument runs—must inevitably share in the general collapse.’ As I argued at the time (Keeble 2014b):

For Self to dare to accuse Orwell of being a ‘talented mediocrity’ backed by a present-day ‘language police’ who seek to impose ‘good old-fashioned prejudices’ on a ‘living, changing’ tongue adds just that necessary bit of controversy to thrust the whole kerfuffle high into the headlines.

Bruno Waterfield, Brussels correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, claimed Self’s tirade mixed ‘ignorance with snobbish disdain for the public’ (Waterfield 2014). Self rightly highlighted the way in which the English language, far from declining and being in a ‘bad way,’ is being constantly invigorated with the addition of new words and neologisms.1 Yet paradoxically Orwell himself gave to the English language a whole host of new words, phrases and striking aphorisms. He was the first person to use the phrase ‘Cold War.’ Other phrases and words he invented which ← 2 | 3 → have slipped effortlessly into everyday English include ‘Big Brother,’ ‘newspeak’ (and variants such as ‘nukespeak’ and ‘massacrespeak’); ‘doublethink’ (and variants such as ‘groupthink’); even ‘Room 101’ (the name of a television series of dubious quality)—all from his famous dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (of 1949).

Moreover, many of his aphorisms are regularly referred to in the media. For instance, there’s ‘During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act’ and ‘Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper.’ Others include: ‘Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defence against a homicidal maniac.’ ‘Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear,’ and ‘In our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics.” All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly and hatred.’ And there’s ‘The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.’ Indeed, while Orwell acquired international fame for his great novels Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four, he is perhaps best seen first and foremost as a journalist. All those aphorisms certainly combine some of the best elements of journalism: conciseness, originality and a sense of moral and political urgency.


Orwell is one of the most commented on and researched writers of all times. And yet Orwellian scholarship continues to thrive: 2013 saw the publication of a major new biography by Robert Colls, George Orwell: English Rebel (Oxford: Oxford University Press). While Orwell’s ‘Englishness’ may be considered an already over-worked theme, Colls’s text drew overall highly positive reviews. In the Guardian, another Orwell biographer, D. J. Taylor praised it as an ‘excellent, provocative addition to Orwell studies.’2 And in a 5,000-word essay in the New Left Review, Francis Mulhern commented that the book

… joins an already substantial body of commentary—his introduction lists some twenty predecessors, who themselves are only a sub-set of the much larger corpus of writing devoted to the man, the works and their afterlife. Where he differs from these is in his particular interest in Englishness, which has been his speciality as a historian over the past thirty-odd years. That too has been a busy field, and the result is a book of conspicuous learning, more than a quarter of its length given over to the scholarly apparatus. It is also, within its simple chronological scheme, a digressive book, here taking off to explore some aspect of a general situation, there pausing over some circumstance or consideration, as if wanting to find room for everything (Mulhern 2014).

Peter Davison’s magisterial 20-volume collection of Orwell’s writings continues to form the basis for a range of complementary texts: 2014 saw the publication of Davison’s Seeing Things as They Are: George Orwell’s Selected Journalism and Other ← 3 | 4 → Writings (London: Harvill Secker) which Alan Massie, reviewing in the Daily Telegraph, said provided a ‘treat on almost every page’ (Massie 2014). In my own review, I commented:

Orwell tended to look down on his journalism as ‘mere pamphleteering’ and a ‘lesser’ form of literature. He had a horror of hack reporting, despised the ‘dreary sub-world of the freelance journalist’ and maintained a constant attack on journalists as professionals … Yet in his essay ‘Why I write’ (of 1946) Orwell said he wanted ‘to make political writing into an art.’ This volume proves conclusively that Orwell succeeded in achieving just that (Keeble 2014c).


This particular volume sprang out of a symposium I organised at the University of Lincoln on Orwell’s life and works funded by some of the money from a National Teaching Fellowship award I had won in 2011. The first section incorporates a range of fascinating approaches to Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four. Peter Marks (who travelled over from Sydney, Australia, for the conference) examines the impact the text has had on the development of surveillance studies—particularly in the work of David Lyon, James Rule, David Rosen and Aaron Santesso, Sébastien Lefait, Simon Davies, Thomas Levin and John McGrath. But Marks points out that not all the responses from surveillance scholars have been positive: ‘Critics and theorists such as Gilliom and Monahan, Rosen and Santesso, and Goold and others come less to praise Big Brother than to chase away his specter as misleading or redundant, a distraction from the reality of a world dominated instead by Big Data.’ Against this, Marks argues that the novel still retains the power to provoke and instruct.

Next, Florian Zollmann argues that contemporary Western societies, politics and military strategies in many respects mirror the features as described in Nineteen Eighty-Four. He says:

Western democracies are afflicted by extreme wealth inequalities and poverty. Governance is conducted in agreement with the interests of the corporate-business elites and wealthy view. Power is subtly exercised by a deep state which represents the overarching interests of the business community—‘The Party.’

Moroever, Zollmann suggests, Western governments have been pursuing an extreme military agenda under the guise of liberal interventionism. NATO’s aggressive expansion into Eastern Europe and the Middle Eastern hemisphere has even evoked the possibility of a ‘World War III scenario’ in the not-so-distant future. ‘In short, does not all this suggest that we are living in times that warrant a comparison with Nineteen Eighty-Four?’ ← 4 | 5 →


X, 235
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (February)
Orwellian 1984 Big Brother NSA Snowden
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. X, 235 pp.

Biographical notes

Richard Lance Keeble (Volume editor)

Richard Lance Keeble has been Professor of Journalism at the University of Lincoln since 2003. He is the author or editor of 30 books on a wide range of subjects. In 2014 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Association for Journalism Education.


Title: George Orwell Now!