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Comprehensive introduction by the publisher

Orwell's Message is a fascinating, authoritative study of the 1984 phenomenon in three parts.

In the first part, Mr. Woodcock discusses Orwell's reasons for writing Nineteen Eighty-Four: what was there, in his own life and in the world of his time, to induce him to project such an ominous vision of the future? Demonstrating that Nineteen Eighty-Four sprang directly from experience and observation, Woodcock traces the origins of Orwell's vision of a world entrapped in tyranny to the novel Burmese Days, which emerged from his early career as a police officer in the service of the British Empire. Analyzing the clues in Orwell's life and earlier work which led to Nineteen Eighty-Four, Woodcock takes the reader from Orwell's excursions into the haunts of poverty in England and France, through his participation in the Spanish Civil War, to his final emergence as a famous writer in the 1940s, showing how his developing viewpoint first interpreted the events of his time in the bittersweet irony of Animal Farm and then in the stern vision of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

In the second part, Woodcock takes up the critical and popular reception of Nineteen Eighty-Four. What common and lasting fears did Orwell strike that made it not merely a lasting best-seller but also a book that has become, since its publication in 1948, one of the central metaphors of our time? How was the book interpreted by the various factions of the right and left, and how accurate were these interpretations? How far did people take what Orwell meant as a warning to be a prophecy, and why did they do so?

The third part is devoted to what is essentially an Orwell's-eye look at the present world. Assuming that the world we inhabit has been shaped by trends already in evidence in 1948, Woodcock invokes the evidence of other writers to aid his assessment of the accuracy of Orwell's vision to his own time. He then considers the remarkable extent to which Orwell's writing has in fact turned out to be prophecy. Here, Mr. Woodcock calls upon his far-reaching skills as a historian and political thinker as well as a biographer and literary critic to identify just how far the world of today resembles that of Nineteen Eighty-Four: how the power blocs of today's world strikingly resemble those of the novel; the way in which regimes based on tyranny and endless surveillance have spread over large areas of the earth; the ominous widening of the acceptance of torture as a means of political control; the way in which progress in raising living standards has failed in most of the world to keep pace with progress in the arts of repression; the decay of cities until many of them resemble the rat-bitten London of Nineteen Eighty-Four; the decline of the language into jargon, whether academic, bureaucratic or journalistic; and, most alarming of all, the way even nominally democratic regimes are creating the security organizations and elaborating the spying techniques that only await the appearance of rulers who will make use of them to create police states. All this is accompanied, Woodcock suggests, by a growing callousness among the rulers of every country, a growing concern for power as an end in itself, and a growing resignation on the part of people, all of which make it easier to envisage the world of Big Brother and the realization of Orwell's terrible vision of the future.

Finally, Mr. Woodcock asks the question: did Orwell by writing Nineteen Eighty-Four do all that can be done to make people aware of the threats around them, to combat the affronts to human decency and freedom as soon as they are recognized? Or are there other ways of arousing mass consciousness - ways similar to those Gandhi once used-that would liberate the world from its possible future?