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The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at barbican.org.uk

Penguin Classics on Nineteen Eighty-Four

Throughout Into the Unknown, in partnership with Penguin Classics, we’ll be presenting a series of book club events each focusing on an iconic title from Science Fiction.

The final book in our series, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four

For this final event, Jessica Harrison, Senior Commissioning Editor of Penguin Classics chairs a discussion between Polly Toynbee, Guardian columnist and recipient of the Orwell Prize for Journalism, and Professor Richard Keeble, Chair of the Orwell Society, editor of Orwell Today and Professor of Journalism at the University of Lincoln.

About Nineteen Eighty-Four

‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’

Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four from his sickbed on the northern tip of the isle of Jura in the Inner Hebrides. In these bleak surroundings, wracked with tuberculosis and facing the prospect of nuclear war, his working title was The Last Man in Europe.

This most dystopian of stories is set in London, capital of Airstrip One in the superstate of Oceania. It’s a chilling vision of fake news, rewritable truths and ubiquitous telescreens, a world governed by the tyrannical and sinisterly charismatic figure of ‘Big Brother’. Language is abridged to eradicate complex ideas and obedience enforced through constant media broadcasts, pervasive CCTV monitoring and humiliating daily rituals.

The protagonist Winston Smith nurses an illegal sense of independence and individuality, ‘thoughtcrime’. He attempts to evade the insidious Thought Police, but the long shadow cast by the fearsome Ministry of Love ultimately dwarfs his personal struggle for truth and liberty. He begins a secret love affair with a fellow-worker, Julia, only to discover that the price of freedom is betrayal.

Many of the ideas and names in Nineteen Eighty-Four have entered our common vocabulary, not to mention our TV schedules, including ‘Room 101’, ‘Newspeak’ and ‘Big Brother’ himself.

Nineteen Eighty-Four extrapolates a societal endgame, a world in which war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength, a life in which thoughts are not free. It is a ‘masterpiece,’ wrote Timothy Garton Ash in the New York Review of Books ‘. . . indispensable for understanding modern history.’


Buy your copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four, published by Penguin Classics – with a limited edition Barbican inspired front cover – from the Barbican Shop. Browse the full set of covers here.

Penguin Classics Book Club: Nineteen Eighty-Four takes place on Thursday 20 July

Into the Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction takes place 3 June–1 September

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