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    Read the first reviews of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

    Dan Sheehan

    June 8, 2023, 1:13pm

    Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.


    George Orwell’s dystopian masterwork, Nineteen Eight-Four, was first published seventy-four years ago today.

    Set in a totalitarian London in an imagined future where all citizens are subject to constant government surveillance and historical reeducation, Nineteen Eighty-Four tells the story of Winston Smith, a mid-level everyman at the Ministry of Truth who dreams of rebellion and who falls in love with a fellow aspiring revolutionary named Julia.

    Things…do not turn out well for the pair.

    Here’s a look back at some of the novel’s very first reviews.


    1984 1

    “Nineteen Eighty-Four goes through the reader like an east wind, cracking the skin, opening the sores; hope has died in Mr Orwell’s wintry mind, and only pain is known. I do not think I have ever read a novel more frightening and depressing; and yet, such are the originality, the suspense, the speed of writing and withering indignation that it is impossible to put down. The faults of Orwell as a writer—monotony, nagging, the lonely schoolboy shambling down the one dispiriting track—are transformed now he rises to a large subject.

    “These wars are mainly fought far from the great cities and their objects are to use up the excessive productiveness of the machine, and yet to get control of rare raw materials or cheap native labour. It also enables the new governing class, who are modelled on the Stalinists, to keep down the standard of living and nullify the intelligence of the masses whom they no longer pretend to have liberated. The collective oligarchy can operate securely only on a war footing. It is with this moral corruption of absolute power that Mr Orwell’s novel is concerned.

    “In the homes of Party members a tele-screen is fitted, from which canned propaganda continually pours, and on which the pictures of Big Brother, the leader…Also by this device the Thought Police, on endless watch for Thought Crime, can observe the people night and day. What precisely Thought Crime is no one knows; but in general it is the tendency to conceive a private life secret from the State. A frown, a smile, a sigh may betray the citizen, who has forgotten, for the moment, the art of ‘reality control’ or, in Newspeak, the official language, ‘doublethink.’

    “The duty of the satirist is to go one worse than reality; and it might be objected that Mr Orwell is too literal, that he is too oppressed by what he sees, to exceed it. In one or two incidents where he does exceed, notably in the torture scenes, he is merely melodramatic: he introduces those rather grotesque machines which used to appear in terror stories for boys. But mental terrorism is his real subject.

    “For Mr Orwell, the most honest writer alive, hypocrisy is too dreadful for laughter: it feeds his despair.

    Though the indignation of Nineteen Eighty-Four is singeing, the book does suffer from a division of purpose. Is it an account of present hysteria, is it a satire on propaganda, or a world that sees itself entirely in inhuman terms? Is Mr Orwell saying, not that there is no hope, but that there is no hope for man in the political conception of man?”

    V.S. Pritchett, The New Statesman, June 18, 1949

    “Though all ‘thinking people,’ as they are still sometimes called, must by now have more than a vague idea of the dangers which mankind runs from modern techniques, George Orwell, like Aldous Huxley, feels that the more precise we are in our apprehensions the better. Huxley’s Ape and Essence was in the main a warning of the biological evils the split atom may have in store for us; Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four speaks of the psychological breaking-in process to which an up-to-date dictatorship can subject non-cooperators.

    The story is brilliantly constructed and told. Winston Smith, of the Party (but not the Inner Party) kicks against the pricks, with what results we shall leave readers to find out for themselves. It has become a dreadful occasion of anguish to-day conjecturing how much torture even a saint can put up with if the end is certainly not to be a spectacular martyrdom—but ‘vaporisation.’ The less you are familiar with the idea of the agent provocateur as an instrument of oppression and rule the more you will shudder at the wiles used by the Ministry of Love in Mr. Orwell’s London of 1984, ‘chief city of Airstrip One, Oceana.’ An example of the way things are managed: Emmanuel Goldstein, the proscribed Opposition leader, is a fiction artfully sustained by the authorities to lure deviationists into giving themselves away.

    It is an instructive book; there is a good deal of What Every Young Person Ought to Know—not in 1984, but 1949. Mr Orwell’s analysis of the lust for power is one of the less satisfactory contributions to our enlightenment, and he also leaves us in doubt as to how much he means by poor Smith’s ‘faith’ in the people (or ‘proles’). Smith is rather let down by the 1984 Common Man, and yet there is some insinuation that common humanity remains to be extinguished.

    The Guardian, June 10, 1949

    “In Britain 1984 A.D., no one would have suspected that Winston and Julia were capable of crimethink (dangerous thoughts) or a secret desire for ownlife (individualism). After all, Party-Member Winston Smith was one of the Ministry of Truth’s most trusted forgers; he had always flung himself heart & soul into the falsification of government statistics. And Party-Member Julia was outwardly so goodthinkful (naturally orthodox) that, after a brilliant girlhood in the Spies, she became active in the Junior Anti-Sex League and was snapped up by Pornosec, a subsection of the government Fiction Department that ground out happy-making pornography for the masses. In short, the grim, grey London Times could not have been referring to Winston and Julia when it snorted contemptuously: ‘Old-thinkers unbellyfeel Ingsoc,’ i.e., ‘Those whose ideas were formed before the Revolution cannot have a full emotional understanding of the principles of English Socialism.’

    How Winston and Julia rebelled, fell in love and paid the penalty in the terroristic world of tomorrow is the thread on which Britain’s George Orwell has spun his latest and finest work of fiction. In Animal Farm, Orwell parodied the Communist system in terms of barnyard satire; but in 1984 … there is not a smile or a jest that does not add bitterness to Orwell’s utterly depressing vision of what the world may be in 35 years’ time.”

    “Most novels about an imaginary world have as their central character, or interpreter, a man who somehow strays out of the author’s own time and finds himself in a world he never made. But Orwell, like Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, builds his nightmare of tomorrow on foundations that are firmly laid today. He needs to contemporary spokesman to explain and interpret—for the simple reason that any reader in 1949 can uneasily see his own shattered features in Winston Smith, can scent in the world of 1984 a stench that is already familiar.”

    TIME, June 20, 1949

    Apple will finally stop ducking up all your expletive-laced text messages.

    Jessie Gaynor

    June 8, 2023, 12:33pm

    Today in word news: Apple will finally stop autocorrecting swears! As many people have pointed out to me via the comment section of this website and also emails sent through my personal website (thanks, guys), I swear a lot, so this is great news for me. Although it’s easy enough to translate those errant ducks in text messages, Apple’s prudishness has been a low-level irritant for far too long. But now, thanks to machine learning, we’ll be able to curse to our hearts’ content!

    “In those moments where you just want to type a ducking word, well, the keyboard will learn it, too,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering. Thus giving a gift to headline writers everywhere.

    The fix will appear in Apple’s iOS 17 software, so this time, make sure you don’t ignore the update for months and months until your phone stops working!

    [h/t NPR]

    The Anne Carson Twitter discourse, explained in brief (which she would hate).

    Janet Manley

    June 7, 2023, 10:44am

    There was no prior announcement, but an assessment took place yesterday on the internet of our collective worth, a kind of Internet Speed Test for our souls.

    New Yorker writer Hannah Williams posted a screencap of Anne Carson’s 2017 POEM “Saturday Night As An Adult,” with the caption: “Think about this a lot” (editor’s note: the choice not to include a period perhaps emphasizing the open-ended nature of this thought). The poem captures a series of disappointments at a dinner out with second- and third-tier friends.

    Like a weather balloon lofted into the sky, or a chubby wombat awakening with a new honing beacon attached to its ankle and rushing off into the bush, the scene was now set for The Study to begin.

    As of 10 a.m. EDT, June 7, Williams’ tweet had been retweeted 928 times, quote-tweeted 583 times, and liked almost 10,000 times, indicating 928 instances of people finding an outsized resonance in the original tweet, and 583 instances of people hoping to correct the discourse, which ran quickly off the rails into a series of what Carson might term “yell factions.”

    Critiques of the short poem about getting dinner at a noisy restaurant and finding bones in your fish fillet ranged from “kill Anne Carson?” to “wow that’s crazy has the author ever thought about letting joy into their life.” Generally speaking, a common theme was “can’t we just have a nice dinner here on Twitter, Anne Carson?”

    Critiques of the critiques argued for the salvaging of context amid anthropogenic context-decline. I note, for example, Carson’s formal choices around line breaks and choice in the poem to use the royal “we” to engage the reader (seemingly, it worked). The viral moment came as the government issued a Code Red for air quality across much of the Eastern U.S., and as scientists warned that Arctic ice-melt was approaching a tipping point.

    “I think it’s about the Michael Cera movie,” said the internet in utter earnestness.

    The conversation continued into June 7, showing no signs of letting up despite the orange skies over Twitter hotspot New York City.

    “Anne Carson should go to therapy and work on setting boundaries” offered Lauren Oyler in presumed disappointment at the level of discourse we have to work with here.

    As to Anne Carson herself, the prolific Canadian poet and classisist appears not to be on Twitter at all (you’ll have to follow @carsonbot instead, I suppose, or read this appreciation for Autobiography of Red).

    In a good appraisal of the aptitude Carson’s poetry has for Twitter, Dirt’s Terry Nyugen wrote, “There seems to be a Carson verse suitable for any ruminative occasion (“Is it a god inside you, girl?”) or random outcry (“[scream] [scream] [scream] for my ruined city”). A line from An Oresteia can be repurposed into an ecstatic anti-work mantra: “Gods! Free me from this grind!” No other contemporary poet inspires such a rabid rush of retweets.”

    In other words, this won’t be the last time we fail a simple comprehension test.

    It’s possible that even Anne Carson has had enough of the Anne Carson discourse, writing in a new poem “No You May Not Write about Me” in the London Review of Books that:

                               I should go in. I go in. I say, You are the worst thing I know I
    can’t breathe around you the world is more than this I am more than you put on your
    black coat we’re going out. We go out.

    With prescient timing, Carson obtained Icelandic citizenship last year, all the better to escape the encroaching QT-storm.

    See the cover for Leslie Jamison’s forthcoming memoir, Splinters.

    Literary Hub

    June 7, 2023, 10:00am

    Literary Hub is pleased to reveal the cover for Splinters, the first memoir from Leslie Jamison, the bestselling author of The Recovering and The Empathy Exams, coming from Little, Brown early next year. Here’s a bit about the book from the publisher:

    Leslie Jamison has become one of our most beloved contemporary voices, a scribe of the real, the true, the complex. She has been compared to Joan Didion and Susan Sontag, acclaimed for her powerful thinking, deep feeling, and electric prose. But while Jamison has never shied away from challenging material—scouring her own psyche and digging into our most unanswerable questions across four books—Splinters enters a new realm.

    In her first memoir, Jamison turns her unrivaled powers of perception on some of the most intimate relationships of her life: her consuming love for her young daughter, a ruptured marriage once swollen with hope, and the shaping legacy of her own parents’ complicated bond. In examining what it means for a woman to be many things at once—a mother, an artist, a teacher, a lover—Jamison places the magical and the mundane side by side in surprising ways: pumping breastmilk in a shared university office, driving the open highway in the throes of new love, growing a tender second skin of consciousness as she watches her daughter come alive to the world. The result is a work of nonfiction like no other, an almost impossibly deep reckoning with the muchness of life and art, and a book that grieves the departure of one love even as it celebrates the arrival of another.

    How do we move forward into joy when we are haunted by loss? How do we claim hope alongside the harm we’ve caused? A memoir for which the very term tour de force seems to have been coined, Splinters plumbs these and other pressing questions with writing that is revelatory to the last page. Jamison has delivered a book with the linguistic daring and emotional acuity that made The Empathy Exams and The Recovering instant classics, even as she reaches new depths of understanding, piercing the reader to the core. A master of nonfiction, she evinces once again her ability to “stitch together the intellectual and the emotional with the finesse of a crackerjack surgeon” (NPR).

    And here’s the cover, which was designed by Gregg Kulick:

    splinters leslie jamison

    “Working on one of Leslie’s books is always fun and Splinters didn’t disappoint,” Kulick told Lit Hub.

    It was a long, winding road to get to this final cover, as you could expect with such a personal book, but I couldn’t be more thrilled with the result. We started off with just an image of Leslie on the cover. It was distressed in an unusual and arresting way—like a crumpled piece of paper—but it didn’t feel like alone it was telling the story we needed the cover to tell. As time went on, it really felt like a collage was the right motif to say what we needed to say, particularly with some of the artists Leslie considers in this memoir. Luckily, she provided us with numerous images that were beautiful and interesting and just worked well together. I am thrilled with how the cover came out and hope that it can entice readers to pick the book up—they’ll be so glad they did!”

    “As a girl, I often made collages with my mother, and it felt so gratifying to feel that bond conjured by this breathtaking cover for a book that has motherhood at its core,” Jamison added.

    In both form and substance, this collage captures the book so powerfully. We see a woman surveying her own past, her own youth, her own city (the Gowanus Canal! a sacred space to me), but we also see, in the arrangement of these torn shards, the work of trying to salvage something broken—not by restoring it to a false whole, but by finding something beautiful in its jagged edges. I love that this cover holds rough edges and smooth ones, glimpses of sculpture and urban skyline, youth and (some) experience locking eyes across the decades—me at 2, and me at 35—all against that shocking red, which captures the visceral, spiritual urgency animating the whole book: the pain and salve of trying to build a new life from the broken pieces of what’s come before.

    Splinters will be published by Little, Brown on February 20, 2024. You can preorder it here.

    Abraham Verghese has won the 2023 Writer in the World Prize.

    Janet Manley

    June 7, 2023, 8:21am

    The Sun Valley Writer’s Conference has announced the third annual winner of the Writer in the World Prize, a $20,000 award recognizing writers whose “life’s work embodies a rare combination of literary talent and moral imagination, helping us to better understand the world and our place in it,” per the Conference.

    Physician, author, and Stanford professor Abraham Verghese has taken the honor, which he can add to a 2016 National Humanities Medal. He is the author of 2009 bestselling novel Cutting for Stone, about British-Indian twins born in Ethiopia, and The Covenant of Water, about a family in India’s Kerala region doomed to drown once a generation, as well as the memoir My Own Country: A Doctor’s Storyabout Verghese’s experiences working as a doctor in rural America.

    In a statement to the press, Verghese noted his involvement with the conference: ““I came as a relatively young writer and was mentored by the greats who founded the Conference. I am conscious that I stand on the shoulders of those giants and have their example of generosity to hold up.”

    The award will be presented to Verghese at the 2023 Sun Valley Writer’s Conference in Ketchum, Idaho, on July 22. Congratulations!