Nineteen Eighty Four A Cold War novel par excellence

Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell's last, dystopian novel, has over the past sixty years probably been more influential than Animal Farm, certainly so in terms of its phrases and coinages passing into the common language. Published in Britain and the US simultaneously in June 1949, it sold over 400,000 copies in its first year alone, and confirmed Orwell's place in the modern literary pantheon.82 By drawing on his political understanding of the mechanisms of terror, psychological invasion and brainwashing, the author won widespread praise for having followed his brilliant essay on recent events in Russia with another that posed horrific questions for the future. 'Orwellian' was soon added to 'Kafkaesque' to describe the development of many a state and many a public vocabulary, up to and beyond 1984. By the final decade of the Cold War, the book had sold over ten million copies in paperback throughout the English-speaking world and existed in at least twenty-three other languages.83

Orwell intended Nineteen Eighty-Four to act as a warning against the threat of totalitarianism, whether from the right or left. However, so complex were its targets that nearly all commentators immediately seized on one theme to the exclusion of others. Orwell's most influential biographer, the political scientist Bernard Crick, argues that Orwell should have made his message clearer rather than trying to explain the novel's theme afterwards by press releases, and that by failing in this regard he made the book's confused reception unavoidable.84 Its application to the Cold War was similarly inevitable, especially in the light of the tumultuous events which had taken place in Eastern and Central Europe while Orwell had been writing the novel and on which it was thought he was commenting.85 The Soviet Communist party paper, Pravda, condemned Orwell for predicting such a 'monstrous future in store for man, [in which] he imputes every evil to the people', and issued an import ban on the book that lasted till the late 1980s. Accordingly, the novel acquired cult status among dissidents behind the Iron Curtain, where it was disseminated in a variety of ways, including balloon operations run by the Free Europe Press, the publication arm of the CIA-financed National Committee for Free Europe (NCFE).86 In the United States, arch-conservative Henry Luce's Time and Life magazines predictably saw it as a comprehensive anti-socialist polemic,87 while the radical, anti-Stalinist New York journal Partisan Review awarded Orwell its annual prize for the most significant contribution to literature, praising the book as 'the best antidote to the [Soviet] totalitarian disease' so far produced.88

Britain's IRD bought the rights to Nineteen Eighty-Four in a variety of languages, including Japanese, Polish, Chinese, French and Indonesian, while, in authorising payments for the translation rights to the book in 1951, US Secretary of State Dean Acheson singled out it and Animal Farm for having 'been of great value to the Department in its psychological offensive against Communism'.89 In these ways Nineteen Eighty-Four came to be used for the very purpose it warned against: propaganda for the maintenance of a super-state conflict. 'Whatever Orwell believed he was doing', argues literary critic Alan Sinfield, 'he contributed to the Cold War one of its most potent myths ... In the 1950s it [Nineteen Eighty-Four] was marvellous NATO Newspeak.'90

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