From the

Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in London on Wednesday, June 8, 1949, and in New York five days later. The world was eager for it.

Within 12 months, it had sold around 50,000 hardbacks in the UK; in the U.S. sales were more than one-third of a million. It became a phenomenon.

Sixty years later, no one can say how many millions of copies are in print, both in legitimate editions and samizdat versions. It has been adapted for radio, stage, television and cinema, has been studied, copied and parodied and, above all, ransacked for its ideas and images.

Working on the Hebridean island of Jura in the cold and damp, the worst possible climate for tuberculosis, Orwell had produced a manuscript illegible to anyone save its author.

There was no point in sending it to London as no one could decipher it. Unable to find a local secretary, barely able to walk and sensing that his time was running out, he was therefore obliged to type it himself – 4,000 words a day, seven days a week – mostly done propped up in bed.

The effort produced excruciating pain and high temperatures.

‘It’s a ghastly mess now,’ he moaned to another friend, ‘a good idea ruined.’

A week before he finished typing he was still unsure what to put on the title page: ‘I am hesitating between Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Last Man In Europe.’

Would the novel have achieved such fame if it had been called The Last Man In Europe? Somehow, one doubts it. On such toss-of-the-coin decisions does literary immortality depend.

One is supposed to separate a work of art from the circumstances of its creation, the protagonist of a book from the character of its author. In the case of Nineteen Eighty-Four, this is futile.

Winston Smith – grey, thin, unable to climb the stairs without stopping to rest, doubled up every morning by ‘a violent coughing fit’ that leaves him lying breathless on the floor – is plainly Orwell.

And the often-remarked-upon ‘nightmarish’ atmosphere of the novel, in which the figures and landscape seem distorted, as if through a fish-eye lens, and the prose jangles with fragments of half-forgotten childhood tunes and nursery rhymes – all this plainly owes much to the hallucinatory fevers that accompany the ravages of tuberculosis.

Orwell never recovered from the effort of composition. He died six months after publication, aged 46.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is a standing rebuke to all those who think history or biography can ever be superior to the novel. Big Brother, the Thought Police, Newspeak, Room 101, telescreens, Doublethink, the Two-Minute Hate, the Ministry of Love, 2+2=5, Airstrip One, unperson – one has only to list the words to realise how central Nineteen Eighty-Four has become to our collective imagination.

Link to the rest at: The Daily Mail