Orwell’s Estate Approves Feminist Update of '1984'

The retelling — titled 'Julia' — will be written by an American author

The estate of author George Orwell has approved the retelling of his classic novel 1984 from a feminist perspective.

The original work follows the life of Winston Smith, a man who lives in Oceania, a totalitarian country ruled by Big Brother. Citizens are under constant surveillance and language is manipulated and distorted to serve the dominant regime. The dystopian novel was published on June 8, 1949, and was Orwell’s last work before his death from tuberculosis in 1950.

Its opening line — “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” — is considered one of the most famous lines in literature. 

Seventy-two years after its debut, the novel will be now be told from the eyes of Julia, the woman with whom Winston Smith has a forbidden affair.

The new version will be written by Sandra Newman, an American author whose past works include Cake and Challenging: How Not to Write a Novel, a memoir co-authored by Howard Mittelmark.

In an excerpt obtained by The Guardian, Newman opens Julia with:

It was the man from Records who began it, him all unknowing in his prim, grim way, his above-it-all oldthink way. He was the one Syme called ‘Old Misery’ … Comrade Smith was his right name, though ‘Comrade’ never suited him somehow. Of course, if you felt foolish calling someone ‘Comrade,’ far better not to speak to them at all.”

Granta, Newman’s publisher, says Julia’s understanding of their totalitarian world is “far better than Winston and is essentially happy with her life.”

“She has known no other world and, until she meets Winston, never imagined one,” the publisher said via a spokesperson, per The Daily Mail. “She’s opportunistic, believing in nothing and caring not at all about politics. She routinely breaks the rules but also collaborates.”

“She’s an ideal citizen of Oceania,” Granta adds. “But when one day, finding herself walking toward Winston Smith in a long corridor, she impulsively hands him a note — a potentially suicidal gesture — she comes to realize that she’s losing her grip and can no longer safely navigate her world.”

Orwell’s estate had been looking for an author to give a voice to Julia “for some time” and believes Newman “proved to be the perfect fit.”

“Two of the unanswered questions in Orwell’s novel are what Julia sees in Winston, and how she has navigated her way through the party hierarchy,” said Bill Hamilton, who is the estate’s literary executor. “Sandra gets under the skin of Big Brother’s world in a completely convincing way which is both true to the original but also gives a dramatically different narrative to stand alongside the original. The millions of readers who have been brought up with Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four will find this a provocative and satisfying companion.”

Granta also told The Guardian that Orwell’s son, Richard Blair, had been involved with and approved of the project.

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