Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Physically Returning to Orwell, Digitally

Following the suggestions of my professor Dr. Burton, I am returning to the basis of my research in China: George Orwell's text 1984. This return, however, is not the traditional sense of grabbing my personal addition and again scour the pages for appropriate quotes and references. Instead, this return is to examine the process of Orwell himself, to explore the text beyond the publicized page. Using the advancements technology has supplied, I have returned the the text as Orwell worked it: his manuscripts.

A very primal draft. One thing I find particularly interesting is Orwell's meticulous use of capped letters. In the official publication of 1984, the slogans of the party here represented--WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH--are capitalized, expressing deserved volume. The manuscript shows that Orwell intended this detail from the beginning. He meant for the slogans to scream.

This version is more formalized than the previous manuscript, or was, I suppose, before Orwell painted it with his pen; it is the first page of the first official draft. I had never appreciated the process Orwell undertook to collect his thoughts and ultimately finalize them to produce the finished novel. This page has been absolutely torn apart; Orwell took very seriously the thoughts he transmitted to paper.

As I look at this draft in particular, I really am amazed at the process Orwell drafted, deleted, reworded, restructured, and revamped what is arguably his most poignant novel. To bring in a touch of the biographical, Orwell was suffering from the debilitating effects of tuberculosis. The years he formed 1984 were particularly difficult as he constantly battle the disease he knew was killing him. I find myself with little to say, simply overwhelmed, in a sense, to appreciate the efforts of a dying man, meticulously forming his last words.


  1. Allison! Very interesting post! I really liked how you went back to the original text (literally!) and connected the book with the person through showing the process. I was trying to think of the significance of the redrafting other than "the efforts of a dying man, meticulously forming his last words" and found an interesting paradox.

    As I've read some summaries of 1984, a main aspect of this book is against censorship. This draft, particularly the second one where it seems Orwell has written a completely new page, seems to be a type of self-censorship. It's not that he wants to say something different, he just says the same thing in a different way. A model of what happens when government tries to take something away for good (see Audry's past post "Social Networking and Reality-Uncensored" people still say what they want to, just utilizing different mediums such as Twitter/Youtube) For example, in the beginning of the second picture he is describing the same scene, just in a more descriptive fashion.

    Now, I understand this isn't the political censorship that the book reprimands and I get authors do have to re-draft and re-draft to get just the right words. Yet, this seems to be a theory of the government he is commenting on. Say the right words in the right way to get people to follow you and if they don't believe the words, use terror methods to create that respect (which he does in a sense as well, for if people don't like the exact words he's using in his work, then the mere idea and demonstrations of terror he is suggesting sort of scares people into believing what he's saying...does that make sense?) Just some comments I thought of.

    Also, Michael Sheldon wrote a biography on Orwell Perhaps this could be useful as you are uncovering the author behind the words...?? Just a thought! Great post!

  2. Wow, there's a lot that we can learn from these old manuscripts that we can't derive from works of the word-processor age. We don't have all the cross-outs and insertions, and marginal notes, or the stylistic variations of penmanship. But we have other ways now to gain insight about modern writers, and I guess that's why it's important to narrate our own processes. I like where your posts have done that(i really liked your "naivety gone" post, for example) so keep it up.

  3. I love how you showed the original manuscript! It totally makes the book become more real to me. Seeing what he went through while writing it, and everything he did to get it to where it was when it was published is fascinating. I tend to take it for granted that the author just writes what they want to the first time and then we get it. I never think about all the hard work, time, and even soul that the author pours into their work. It truly is an extension of themselves, and it is our responsibility to respect and honor that work. This post has given me a lot to think about!

  4. This is great. One thing I need to improve on is connecting my posts not just back to my general topic, but to my thesis, and I think that would strengthen this post as well. What exactly are you arguing about 1984 and China? Could you link back to a post where that is more explicit? What does the fact that Orwell wanted those phrases capitalized contribute to your argument about 1984 and China?

  5. I really like this post and how it's a way of getting back to the text and further, to before it WAS text. What Chris said blew my mind a little bit - we really don't have the same processes of revision that they used in the past; most drafts get lost as revisions are made over them. That makes our blogs seem suddenly more important, as a way to record the writing process, which I think is always important to understanding the final product. I like how you tied in a little bit of biographical information, and I don't know if it would be going too far off topic, but I wouldn't mind hearing more about Orwell's life while he was writing 1984. Do you think his condition could have contributed to his writing? I like how these images of his manuscripts make the book suddenly more real, and I think hearing more about the author would add to that even more. Just don't forget about China, like Ben said.