Department of English

University of Toronto

ENG456H1S L5101

ENG456H1S L5101 TR 6-8
Orwell and Politics
G. Fenwick
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Trinity College, 26

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.

Orwell was a gloomy, pessimistic man, looking years older than his age, 46, when he died. His life and how he had lived it had taken their toll. He had lived as a tramp and a dish-washer, he had been down coal mines, he had fought in the Spanish Civil War and been shot in the throat, his wife had died in tragic circumstances, he had contracted the tuberculosis that killed him. The Eton boy who defied his middle class destiny became a socialist, yet he was uncomfortable with organisations of any sort, whether the Burma Police in which he served as an officer, the Labour party, the Communist party, or political Fascism. That very discomfort is perhaps what made him a great writer. He had always been an outsider. Although many critics see his essays and journalism as his greatest work, it is for the two novels written at the very end of his life, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, that he is best remembered. It is surely no coincidence that it was the mature Orwell who wrote them, a measure of what his experiences had done to him. He was disciplined and determined, in many ways unclassifiable in the simple political terms of left and right. Was he as left wing as he is often painted? Or was he forever on the edge, looking on? He is associated with the political left, yet he was in many ways the arch-conservative, stuck in his ways, nostalgic for the past. He belonged nowhere. We shall pursue wide-ranging, productive debate on these and many other topics, where there are no right or wrong answers.

Required Reading: We shall read, in this order, The Road to Wigan Pier

Selected essays: Homage to Catalonia,  Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Method of Evaluation: Seminar presentation (25%); essay (50%); class participation (25%).

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