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Nineteen Eighty-Four is a novel about being dirty and dirtied. This chapter shows how the representations of things like mess and dirt and associated feelings like nausea, disgust, and squeamishness are bound up in revealing ways with Orwell’s depictions of the differences between totalitarian rulers and the subjects they rule. Moving in sequence through considerations of how Orwell gives filth, nausea, and disgust interesting things to do in the novel, the chapter traces a pattern of symbolic relations which culminates in the differences between the apparent cleanliness of Oceania’s political systems and the nigh-on inescapable muck of its citizens, and of the spaces they inhabit. The puritanism of Ingsoc accepts the reality of dirt, seeks to annihilate the sex instinct, and is temperamentally opposed to the aesthetic. In tracing that puritanism, Orwell made a narrative virtue of squalor. Coursing through Nineteen Eighty-Four, in other words, is a pattern of relations to do with the political work of filth and the ideological consequences of its avoidance (or apparent avoidance). This actualizing of squalor enabled Orwell to create a perennially applicable literary dystopia. It also helped him think through the complexities and inconsistencies of a politics built on the logics of filth.
George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) remains a book of the moment. This Companion builds on successive waves of generational inheritance and debate in the novel's reception by asking new questions about how and why Nineteen Eighty-Four was written, what it means, and why it matters. Chapters on a selection of the novel's interpretative contexts, the literary histories from which it is inseparable, the urgent questions it raises, and the impact it has had on other kinds of media, ranging from radio to video games, open up the conversation in an expansive way. Established concerns (e.g. Orwell's attitude to the working class, his anxieties about the socio-political compartmentalization of the post-war world) are presented alongside newer ones (e.g. his views on evil, and the influence of Nineteen Eighty-Four on comics). Individual essays help us see in new ways how Orwell's most famous work continues to be a novel for our times.
A key moment in Mr Standfast (1919) is the death of Launcelot Wake, a conscientious objector and committed pacifist. Having belatedly signed up as a non-combatant, Wake's service in a Labour battalion and the Italian Red Cross pales in comparison to the gallant, patriotic and voluntary act that kills him: carrying a vital communiqué through enemy fire to prevent a German flanking move at the Battle of Amiens. Despite Wake's heroics, and the ravaging of his body, his devotion to pacifism stays unrepentantly intact: ‘Funny thing life. A year ago I was preaching peace … I'm still preaching it … I'm not sorry.’ By presenting pacifism in this way Buchan ensures that it retains an important otherness which would have been suppressed if he had made Wake shuck his principles for the aristo-military values against which he is defined. Wake contributes to the war effort but doesn't have to abandon his principles, a loyalty textually approved by Hannay's reading of events: ‘I had never had his troubles to face, but he had come clean through them, and reached a courage which was for ever beyond me’.
Mr Standfast marks a key shift in Buchan's views on pacifism. Before the First World War Buchan had been highly critical of anti-war sentiment, rejecting it in ‘Count Tolstoi [sic] and the Idealism of War’ (1904) as a threat to social pluralism and as fundamentally unrealistic as politics. His position gradually moderated, however, after the first Military Service Act, which legislated conscription for most men aged between eighteen and forty-one, was introduced in January 1916. By 1919, as we will see, Buchan could provide a more detailed critique of pacifism, and he was sympathetic to the sufferings of individual pacifists and pacifist groups that he felt had been victimized. Mr Standfast clearly states this refined perspective: with its descriptions of Biggleswick, Red Clydeside and Wake it highlights the diversity of pacifist politics and shows the numerous spaces that generate them.