June 8, 2019 marked the 70th anniversary of the publishing of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the best-known work of author George Orwell (the pseudonym of Eric Blair, 1903-1950). He composed the novel between 1946 and 1948 on the Scottish island of Jura while suffering from tuberculosis. The book was published in to critical and popular acclaim; Orwell died six months later.
Orwell’s original manuscript of the novel was presented to Brown University Library in 1992 by Dan Siegel ’57. Containing nearly half of the published text, the document shows countless corrections and revisions in Orwell’s hand. It is the only one of Orwell’s literary manuscripts that survives; the author destroyed all others.
In his preface to his facsimile of the manuscript, Siegel wrote:
The collective survival of the world’s books and manuscripts is a transcendent act. Without books, knowledge becomes arbitrary, truths are disparate and unrelated. Without books, memory fails. Any collection of books which justifies and confirms only the present truth is, in the wrong hands, or in the long run, dangerous. Regardless of how random any collection might be, its very existence is an indication of a society’s political health. Like one of Charrington’s trinkets, the existence of this manuscript is a good sign.–Dan Siegel ’57
The manuscript is frequently consulted by scholars and used in class visits to the Library; visitors marvel over Orwell’s handwritten corrections of the novel’s famous first line, “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,” for which Orwell originally wrote, “It was a cold day in early April, and a million radios were striking thirteen”; as well as the first instances of “newspeak” and “Big Brother is watching you.”