1984 ‘is definitive book of the 20th century’
Saturday June 2, 2007
Paranoia, propaganda and a state of perpetual war are the defining characteristics of the last century, according to the results of a national survey announced at the Hay festival today.Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell’s dystopic vision of a totalitarian future in which the population is constantly monitored and manipulated, came top of the survey to find the book that best defines the 20th century. The public voted online at Guardian Unlimited Books, choosing from a list of 50 era-defining books selected by a panel that included UCL professor of English John Mullan, Jo Henry and Alastair Giles from the Book Marketing Society, and Joel Rickett, deputy editor of The Bookseller. Orwell’s novel came top by an authoritative margin, garnering 22% of the vote.
Orwell published Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1948, at the midpoint of the century, but its ongoing relevance is demonstrated by the extent to which its concepts and terminology – Big Brother, Newspeak, Double Think – have seeped into our language. Even the name of its author has been appropriated as an adjective, Orwellian, which is regularly used today in debates over privacy and state intervention.
The results come out in the week when the eighth series of the popular reality TV series Big Brother, which takes its name from Orwell’s novel on the grounds that the occupants of the house are under constant observation, was launched.
The 10 books which the public felt best defined the 20th century, in order of publication, were:
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
Those bolded in the list are, of course, the ones I’ve read. If this is the definitive list of 20th century literature, for the most part it is one depressing era, don’t you think?