The following article is by no means a comprehensive literary guide it is merely a personal assessment of important literature, which is associated with George Orwell either on a direct level or concerning similar topics. I believe to fully understand and appreciate Orwell's work it is necessary to study the books which influenced him and which were influenced by him. It also aims to alert Orwell fans to underrated and obscure writers whose work deserves credit and recognition.
"WE" by Yevgeny Ivanovich Zamyatin (1884-1937)
This grim dystopian work is the most identifiable influence on Orwell's 1984,a fact he readily acknowledged. Recognized as a classic the work caused the author to be exiled from his native USSR during Stalin's Terror. He died in Paris.
"Winter in Moscow" by Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-90)
A refreshingly honest critique of Stalinist horror based on first hand evidence in the USSR. Muggeridge was a socialist and a close friend of Orwell's who called his work "brilliant but depressing". He worked as a Moscow correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, which resulted in his disillusionment with Communism. Additionally Orwell noted that Muggeridge regarded the 20th century as a "cesspool filled with barbed wire" but disturbingly seemed to enjoy that fact.
"Utopia" by Sir Thomas More (1478-1535)
The work which spawned the concept of Utopia (meaning "no place"); the ideal organized state which Orwell turned on it's head with the dystopia (meaning "bad place") 1984.
"Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
The novel continually paired with 1984 as the greatest attacks on totalitarianism although it centers not really on politics or language but science. Personally I find 1984 superior, as Brave New World is not as terrifying. It is very prophetic however both in the sense it predicts cloning and the domination of the world by America both of which he attacked. His novel "Island" is a more optimistic satire of Utopia and his essay Ends and Means deals with a subject Orwell (and later Camus) obsessed over.
"Darkness at Noon" by Arthur Koestler (1905-83)
This novel ranks both as terrifying and politically insightful as 1984. It follows the trial and execution of an old Bolshevik called Rubashov under Stalin's Terror and show trials. It is based on the fate of Nikolai Bukarin the apple of Lenin's eye and head of Comintern.
Koestler and his wife died in a suicide pact.
"The Prince" by Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)
Essentially a guide how to be a dictator as followed by Stalin and Hitler much of which forms the basis of Big Brothers role in 1984. It regards humanity as inherently corrupt and worthless and recommends the best (and cruelest) means of securing a stable state.
The author became associated with the devil due to his brutality and inhumanity in such works as Marlowe's "Jew of Malta".
"Antigone" by Sophocles (496-406BC)
This deals with Oedipus' daughter Antigone who buries her dead brother against all the authority and ruthlessness of a totalitarian state.
"One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-)
Based on first hand experiences of a Soviet labour camp for which he received the Nobel prize and exile from the USSR. His "Gulag Archipelago" is a masterpiece.
"Requiem" by Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)
Magnificent poem based on the suffering of the Russian people under Stalin. Her husband was executed and her son imprisoned by the Bolsheviks. The "party's" response to her epic masterpiece was to label her in the words of Zhdanov "half nun half whore" and exile her.
"A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess (1917-93)
Futuristic totalitarian nightmare, which has interesting parallels with 1984; the abuse of language and the use of "ultraviolence" which reawakens the last third of 1984.
"The Insect Play" by Karel Capek (1890-1938)
Better known for inventing the phrase and concept of robots Capek wrote this prophetic satire on totalitarianism, which would engulf his native Czechoslovakia within 20 years.
"Crowds and Power" by Elias Canetti (1905-94)
A depressing sociological study showing how the masses can easily succumb to totalitarianism, grimly reminiscent of the "Two minute hate" in 1984.
"The labyrinth of Solitude" by Octavio Paz (1914-98)
Disciple of Orwell against dictatorship by the left and right and fervent defender of the rights of the individuals against orthodoxies in his native Mexico. He is also deeply concerned with the truth of history as Orwell was.
"The Rebel" by Albert Camus (1913-60)
Examines paradoxes of rebellion, the nature of power and the helplessness of humanity in a meaningless Godless universe from an existential perspective. Like Orwell he actively fought against Fascism as leader of the Socialist Partisan group Combat in Nazi occupied France. His masterpiece is either "the Fall" or "Exile and the Kingdom".
Notable critiques of Soviet Totalitarianism include "The Thaw" by Ilya Ehrenburg (1891-1969)
, "The Great Terror" by Robert Conquest (1917-), "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" by Milan Kundera (1929-) "Return from the USSR" by Andre Gide and "A Part of Speech" by Joseph Brodsky (1940-) who was arrested for parasitism.
"For whom the bell tolls" by Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
One of the lost generation of American writers he fought for the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. He revealed later that he had encountered Orwell as part of the Internationale Brigade and had sent soldiers to ensure Orwell was protected from Communist 5th brigades. "For whom the bell tolls" remains a tragic masterpiece based on the war. Hemingway remained a socialist who settled in Cuba as a friend of Fidel Castro. He committed suicide in 1961.
"The Drowned and the Saved" by Primo Levi (1919-87)
Like Orwell Levi fought against Fascism of the Italian variety. Captured as both a Jew and a Socialist he was sent to Auschwitz. His account of the concentration camp is remarkably humble yet unbelievably harrowing. He explores the dehumanizing nature of power and violence and the helplessness of the individual against totalitarianism. Levi committed suicide in 1989.
"The Need for Roots" by Simone Weil
Simone Weil fought for the anarchists, like Orwell, in the Spanish Civil War and like Orwell did not kill anyone. She stepped into a pot of boiling oil in the trenches and had to be removed from the frontline just before her entire unit was massacred. As a Jew she reluctantly fled from Nazi occupied France to England joining the French Resistance. She contracted TB and died on virtual hunger strike as a protest against the holocaust. She wrote the "Need for Roots" on her deathbed asserting the fact we have declared the rights of man but ignored the obligations.
In Part Two I shall examine authors whom Orwell praised or derided, authors who attacked German totalitarianism and writers who investigated poverty as Orwell did in "Down and Out in Paris and London".
Darran Oisin Anderson