In a story rich in irony, recent released files from the British National Archives have announced to the world that MI5 – the British counter-intelligence and security agency – were keeping tabs on George Orwell, under suspicion of being a communist.
Now those of us with left wing tendencies these days rarely have to worry about being observed (I hope), but for George Orwell in post WWI and WWII Europe, communism was not a particularly healthy political stance to take; especially if one was a public figure.
Noted as one of the most influential writers of English literature, a novelist, critic, political and cultural commentator, Orwell was the author behind two of the most popular literary works of the 20th century; Animal Farm and 1984 (or nineteen-eighty-four). The latter of course, was a classic look at what a future dystopian environment would be like, focusing on the life of intellectual Winston Smith, his work in the Ministry of Truth, Orwell’s book 1984 is also the origin of the modern day phrase “Big Brother is watching you”, and referred – obviously enough – to the invasive surveillance of a totalitarian government that is in complete control of all mass media outlets.
The irony that I spoke of is self evident now – for those who were not aware – as the man who invented the concept of “Big Brother” was indeed under surveillance from the same people he made to expose through his allegorical and dystopian writings.
The reports make for interesting reading. In particular, a report from the 20th of January 1942 says that “This man has advanced communist views and several of his Indian friends say that they have often seen him at Communist meetings. He dresses in a bohemian fashion both at his office and in his leisure hours."
In a separate report though, signed by a W. Ogilvie says that “I gathered that the good Sergeant was rather at a loss as to how he could describe this rather individual line, hence the expression “advanced Communist Views”, referring to Sergeant Ewing’s description of Orwell as “an unorthodox Communist.”
However, Ogilvie goes on to say that “…it is evident from his (Orwell’s) writings … that he does not hold with the Communist Party nor they with him.”
The overriding theme of the reports is that those with enough foresight to see all of his work were able to see that, though he had "undoubtedly strong left-wing views, but he is a long way from orthodox communism," that quote being from a 1942 report. It also said that Orwell "has been a bit of an anarchist in his day and in touch with extremist elements."
A literary idol of many – including myself – seems to not only have hit the nail on the head, but been the nail upon which the governments hit. Was some subconscious or direct awareness of his monitoring in part responsible for his almost prophetic line of thought from 1984? Or was he simply a literary mind in the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and H.L. Mencken?
For the entire series of reports released online, check out the National Archive.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The 'Big Brother' Sequel - Britain's MI5 Spied on "1984" Author, George Orwell: