Posted by Claus B. Storgaard on April 10, 2002 at 06:11:40:
In Reply to: Why was G.Orwells 1984 originally called The Last Man in Europe and why did it change? posted by Polly on March 28, 2002 at 14:06:51:
[An article swiped from the net]
Was 1984 inspired by Orwell's wife?
By PETER FOSTER in London
One of English literature's most enduring riddles has taken a fresh twist with the rediscovery of a poem written almost 65 years ago by George Orwell's first wife.
Ever since Orwell's bleak picture of a post-war totalitarian state was published in 1949, scholars and lay readers alike have argued over why he chose the year Nineteen Eighty-Four for its title.
Suggestions have ranged from the attractively simple, for example, the reversal of the last two digits of 1948, the year Orwell completed the book, to obscure literary references and inventive calculations by numerologists.
But the real reason may be contained in a poem entitled End of the Century 1984 written by Orwell's first wife, Eileen O'Shaughnessy, who died in 1944. It was composed in 1934, 15 years before the novel appeared, and was recently rediscovered by the Times Literary Supplement.
The poem was written to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Sunderland Church High School in north-eastern England where O'Shaughnessy had been a pupil in the 1920s. It looks back over the last 50 years and forward to school's centenary in 1984.
Although written before Orwell and O'Shaughnessy met, scholars have identified striking similarities between images in the poem and Orwell's own vision of the future in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Peter Davison, the editor of the 20 volume complete works of Orwell, sees a possible forerunner of Orwell's Big Brother in the line describing scholars tuning thoughts to "Telepathic Station 9/From which they know just what they ought".
Similarly, O'Shaughnessy's vision of a world of "mental cremation" where "Shakespeare's bones are quiet at last" is echoed in Orwell's vision of personal freedom eradicated by Thought Police and pornographic media.
Michael Shelden, author of Orwell: the Authorised Biography and professor of English Literature at Indiana State University, believes that Orwell might have been paying hidden tribute to his late wife when he chose the title of his novel.
"Scholars are agreed that Eileen had a great influence on Orwell, particularly when he was writing Animal Farm, and she is often credited with giving Orwell's work a fresh sense of humour at this time.
"Of all the writers in his generation, Orwell was probably blessed with the most intelligent wife and I can see them discussing this poem and it sticking in Orwell's mind.
"The book was originally called The Last Man in Europe but Orwell changed it at the request of his publisher in America. Perhaps this was his way of paying a silent tribute to Eileen after her death for all the help she provided with Animal Farm."
Professor Davison, who is now working on the second edition of Orwell's complete works, said the discovery would not alter his own theories about the inspiration for the title of Nineteen Eighty-Four. "It would not surprise me at all if Orwell recalled Eileen's poem, although there is no evidence to prove it either way," he said.
"Few people realise that in the earliest manuscript Orwell set the book in 1980 but moved the dates, first to 1982 and then, finally, to 1984."
Professor Davison's own complex theories revolve around Orwell's age when the Second World War broke out in 1939 - he was 36 - and believes he was looking forward to a nominal date for the start of a third world war.
"I believe that when he started the final draft he was looking forward to the time when his son Richard would also be 36, that date being the original starting point for the novel, 1980.
"But perhaps we could imagine Orwell packing up his finished manuscript on the island of Jura ready for the publisher and stumbling across an old copy of the magazine and saying 'my God, let's call it 1984'. It's a nice thought, at least."
Bernard Crick, Orwell's other major biographer, was much less convinced that the poem offered any fresh clues as to why Orwell picked on the year 1984.
He is familiar with most theories on Orwell's inspiration, however obscure. They include references to 1984 in chapter 21 of Jack London's 1907 novel The Iron Heel, while in a 1976 edition of the Journal of Peasant Studies, the author, one R E F Smith, argues that Orwell borrowed the title from a story by a Russian called Chayanov.
"I don't think Mr Smith's argument would have got him through the doors of even the most rudimentary police court and I am no more convinced by this poem. It seems to me this is pure coincidence," said Mr Crick.
"Orwell always remained enigmatic about the reasons behind titles. Unfortunately I am a great believer in common sense and the one I go for is the simplest, the reversing of the date in 1948."
- The Daily Telegraph