Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Hillsdale Library display for Orwell

For the month of September, I’ve been given use of a display niche at the entrance to the Hillsdale Branch Library. I’ve chosen to devote it to George Orwell.

With the help of librarian Tom French, I installed the display this morning.

The little exhibit showcases several books from my personal library and a green Remington 3 portable typewriter from my collection. Orwell used a Remington 3, although his was a no-nonsense black one, no doubt flaked with cigarette ashes.

The “news peg” for the exhibit is the 60th anniversary of the publication of “1984.”

If I can introduce just one or two young readers to Orwell, I will consider the exhibit a success.

Here are short descriptions I’ve included in the case:

George Orwell and “1984”

Sixty years ago, George Orwell’s dark, political novel “1984” was published. In it, Orwell, whose real name was Eric Arthur Blair, warns of a totalitarianism rooted in manipulating language — and hence history and thought itself. The totalitarian language was called “Newspeak.” It turned meaning on its head. For instance, people were taught that “war” meant “peace.” “Hate” meant “love.” The book has given us such lasting terms as “Big Brother” and “doublethink.”

Orwell wrote the book in 1948 as he was dying of tuberculosis. Here’s how the American author Garrison
Keillor describes Orwell’s experience writing “1984.”

Orwell knew he didn't have much time left to write the book, so he wrote constantly, even when his doctors forbade him to work. They took away his typewriter [Exhibitor’s note: The model was a Remington portable similar to the one shown here]. When he switched to a ballpoint pen, they put his arm in plaster.

When he finished it, he told his publisher that 1984 was too dark a novel to make much money, but it became an immediate best seller.

He died a few months after it was first published, but it has since been translated into 62 languages and has sold more than 10 million copies. With all of his work still in print in so many different
languages, critics have estimated that every year 1 million people read George Orwell for the first time.

Orwell said, "The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns ... instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink." And he said, "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."

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

A fascination with Orwell

Dozens of books have been written about George Orwell. These are just a few.

Orwell, who died at age 46, threw himself into his short life, forcing himself to live at its most challenging extremes.

He wrote about all of it, whether it was serving as a colonial police officer in Burma (“Burmese Days,” “Shooting and Elephant” and “A Hanging”). living in poverty in Paris and London (“Down and Out in Paris and London”), exploring the coal miner’s plight, above and deep below ground (“The Road to Wigan Pier”), or fighting, and nearly dying, in the Spanish Civil War (“Homage to Catalonia”).

Through it all, he sought to find the essence of his experience and to convey it to others. To read Orwell is to come face to face with life’s complexities, paradoxes, dangers and enigmas.

Two generations of writers have revered his work — and his life. They see in Orwell an uncompromising spirit whose vision and writing ranged from the grit of poverty, to the defilement of language and meaning (which we have come to call “Orwellian”), to the plight and fragility of democracy.

Nearly 60 years after his death, Orwell continues to provoke. His writing raises profound, often disturbing questions about our world. As we seek answers, we remain deeply engaged with Orwell and his writing.

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Blogger Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Beautfully, beautifully done. 1984 is one of my four or five favorite novels because of its grim and entertainingly intellectual intersction of SF and human commentary. I often wonder what Orwell would have thought of things if he'd lived into his 80s or 90s.

5:20 PM  

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