Saturday, May 30, 2009


Photograph: George Orwell (Public Domain)

George Orwell's 1984 was challenged in Jackson County, FL in 1981, because Orwell's novel was "pro-communist and contained explicit sexual matter," according to the American Library Association.

Now a recent Guardian article by Robert McCrum tells "the compelling story of Orwell's torturous stay on the island where the author, close to death and beset by creative demons, was engaged in a feverish race to finish the book."

According to the article, Orwell was very ill, as he grappled with the "demons of his imagination" in a borrowed cottage in Scotland. The idea for the story had been percolating in Orwell's head since the Spanish War but he claimed that he was inspired by the Tehran Conference of 1944 where he believed, "Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt consciously plotted to divide the world," according to a colleague at "The Observer" Isaac Deutscher. 1984 is a much darker novel than Animal Farm, a novel which brought him much fame but also unwelcome attention.

A random act of violence in his flat and later, the death of his wife during a routine operation and his own poor health, as well as the bleak period that was post-war Britain, were circumstances which he faced prior to the writing of 1984. The publisher of "The Observer" offered Orwell a holiday at his cottage which Orwell agreed to with enthusiasm, craving the isolation so that he could concentrate on writing.

He struggled from 1947 until his death in 1950, explaining to his publisher in May 1947 that he was in "wretched health." By October he had completed a rough draft when Owell, his son Richard, and others who were returning from exploring the coast in a small boat almost drowned in a whirlpool. Orwell, a heavy smoker whose cough worried his friends, became seriously ill. He began to write at a feverish pace until November 1947 when he was hospitalized with TB, a condition for which there was no cure at that time. The publisher of "The Observer" arrange for an experimental drug -- streptomycin -- to be sent from the US. While the TB symptoms disappeared, Orwell suffered horrible side effects like throat ulcers, blisters in the mouth, hair loss, peeling skin and the disintegration of toe and fingernails.

As he was completing his hospital stay, he received a letter from his publisher, urging him to complete the novel by the end of the year, if not earlier, so he promised to deliver the manuscript in early December 1948. He ended up writing from his bed. When it came to retyping the completed but almost unreadable manuscript, it fell to Orwell, despite being too weak to walk in mid-November. According to the writer of the article, Orwell, "Sustained by endless roll-ups, pots of coffee, strong tea and the warmth of his paraffin heater, with gales buffeting Barnhill, night and day, he struggled on."

Once he had forwarded the manuscript, he checked into a sanatorium saying, ""I ought to have done this two months ago but I wanted to get that bloody book finished."

Nineteen Eighty-Four was published on June 8, 1949 in Britain.

Orwell died on January 21, 1950 at the age of 46.

Join us in reading banned and challenged books. The Banned Book Challenge continues until June 30. Set your own goal.

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