16 June 2009

Dyslit: We and 1984

So according to this article in the Guardian, George Orwell took his 1984 plot from an earlier Dyslit novel, We by Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin. The article compares the main characters, plot development and ending of the two novels, does some nifty detective work to prove that Orwell read We just before writing 1984 and comes to the conclusion that he got his plot from it. I could have saved them the trouble of going through that whole process by saying "Well yeah...Orwell did get his plot from We. In fact after reading it he said he was taking it as the model for his next novel." (I tried to be extra tricky and get the reference for Orwell's quote from another dyslit gem 1985 wherein Anthony Burgess discusses Orwell, Huxley and Zamyatin but I couldn't find it in my skim re-reading so you'll have to make do with wiki.)

I agree with the conclusion to which the article comes - that it doesn't matter if 1984 was inspired by an earlier book - as a work of literature it is amazing, and some might argue more accessible than We. The cultural impact of Orwell's works is undeniable, and perhaps without We we wouldn't have the most significant of those - 1984. There. Wasn't that a nice diplomatic way of sorting things out?

For a little added interest: Anthem by Ayn Rand and We are so similar in themes, descriptions, and dystopian societies of the future that my mind boggles that no comparison between the two was raised in the article. Both deal with societies where the collective is of the utmost importance. In both books there is no "I" only "we". In both books individuality is erased and people are numbered not named. A strikingly obvious difference is that Anthem is one of the only dyslit books I have ever read with a 'happy ending'.

Go read 1984, We, Anthem, and chuck in Brave New World for good measure (another book said to have borrowed from We) and see what you think.
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