Department of English

University of Toronto

ENG458H1F L5101

ENG458H1F L5101 TR 6-8
Advanced Seminar Group 5: George Orwell and Politics: Plain-speaking and truth-telling in enigmatic times
Instructor: Professor Gillian Fenwick
Office Location: Jackman Humanities Building, Room TBA

Brief Description of Course: Orwell wrote, "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear." His views still resonate almost 70 years after his death. Words and phrases he coined in Nineteen Eighty-Four have passed into common use - Big Brother, Newspeak, Double-think, Thought Crime - and even his name is an adjective, Orwellian, describing an untruthful or authoritarian regime. He understood the dark art of propaganda, and how the past shapes the future. His most famous books, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, have this year returned to the best-seller lists, seven decades after first publication. Although he was rarely actively involved in politics, Orwell has a reputation as a left-winger, a man politically opinionated, an advocate of a free press, plain-speaking and truth-telling. What would he have made of the rampant scrutiny and criticism of today's politics, politicians, and the media? It seems fair to say that he would not have been surprised. He said that his dystopian works were not meant as predictions of what would happen, but rather as warnings of what might happen. He could put his finger on where we were and where we might be going. He was an enigma. And that is what this course will try to unravel.

Required Reading: We shall read, in this order: Selected essays, The Road to Wigan Pier, Homage to Catalonia, Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Any edition of the books, hard copy or etext, is fine. There are many collections of the essays. I suggest you search the second-hand bookstores or online at for cheap editions, or for even cheaper etexts. has free, full texts of 50 well-known Orwell essays.

Method of Evaluation: Essay; seminar presentation; class participation.

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