Orwell Everywhere

Robert Butler remarks on the ever-expanding influence of the great writer 65 years after his death:

In his office in Holborn, overlooking the Family Courts, [Orwell’s literary executor, Bill Hamilton] describes the onward march of “1984”. “We’re selling far more. We’re licensing far more stage productions than we’ve ever done before. We’re selling in new languages—Breton, Friuli, Occitan. We’ve recently done our first Kurdish deals too. We suddenly get these calls from, say, Istanbul, from the local publisher saying, ‘I want to distribute a thousand copies to the demonstrators in the square outside as part of the campaign,’ and you think, good grief, this is actually a political tool, this book. As a global recognised name, it’s at an absolute peak.” A new Hollywood movie of “1984” is in the pipeline, “Animal Farm” is also in development as a feature film, and Lee Hall, who wrote “Billy Elliot”, is writing both a stage musical version of “Animal Farm” and a television adaptation of “Down and Out in London and Paris”. It’s boom time for Orwell: “total income”, Hamilton says, “has grown 10% a year for the last three years.”

His enduring impact is particularly noticeable online:

Type “#Orwellian” into the search box on Twitter and a piece in the South China Morning Post says the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, has attacked the pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong on the Orwellian grounds that they are “anti-democratic”. An article in Forbes magazine warns of an Orwellian future in which driverless cars catch on and computer hackers track “rich people in traffic and sell this information to fleets of criminal motorcyclists”. A story in the Wall Street Journal reports the Supreme Court judge Sonia Sotomayor warning that unmanned drones will create an Orwellian future. In a piece in Politico, Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale, advises, “To understand Putin, read Orwell.” …

Barely a minute goes by when Orwell isn’t namechecked on Twitter. Only two other novelists have inspired adjectives so closely associated in the public mind with the circumstances they set out to attack: Dickens and Kafka. And they haven’t set the terms of reference in the way Orwell has.