It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
June 8, 1949: Nineteen Eighty-Four is published.
George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel was the product of his abhorrence of both Communism and fascism - he claimed that the latter term was “almost entirely meaningless” and that Communism (as put in practice by the Russians) and fascism were two sides of the same coin. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, his personal warning against any and all forms of totalitarianism and extremism, Orwell has the main antagonist describe the Nazi and Russian Communist regimes as less successful, misled versions of Oceania and its ruling ideology “Ingsoc” (Read more about the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four here).
Nineteen Eighty-four was an immediate success upon publication; apparently, even Winston Churchill (for whom the protagonist is named) claimed to have read it twice. At one time the most widely-translated English-language novel ever, Nineteen Eighty-Four brought terms like “Big Brother”, “Thoughtcrime” and “Thought Police”, “Doublethink”, and, of course, “Orwellian” into the popular lexicon of a post-war world wary of creeping totalitarianism.
Then the face of Big Brother faded away again and instead the three slogans of the Party stood out in bold capitals:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
All rulers in all ages have tried to impose a false view of the world upon their followers.
BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU
Who controls the past… controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.
Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship… The object of power is power.
In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it.
June 1, 1857: Les Fleurs du mal is published.
Charles Baudelaire’s controversial book of poetry was divided into six sections, those being “Spleen and Ideal”, “Parisian Scenes”, “Wine”, the eponymous “Flowers of Evil”, “Revolt”, and “Death”. The first edition of Les Fleurs du mal sold out within a year of its publication, made possible largely by the scandal that arose because of Baudelaire’s “obscene” works, which according to judges incited in his readers “the excitement of the senses by a crude realism offensive to public decency”. The second edition, released in 1861, was published missing six poems (all of which remained banned until 1949).
Some choice lines…
Lesbos, of sultry twilights and pure, infertile joy,
Where deep-eyed maidens, thoughtlessly disrobing, see
Their beauty, and are entranced before their mirrors, and toy
Fondly with the soft fruits of their nubility;
Lesbos, of sultry twilights and pure, infertile joy! (“Lesbos”)
The strong beauty kneeling before the frail beauty,
Superb, she savored voluptuously
The wine of her triumph and stretched out toward the girl
As if to reap her reward of sweet thankfulness. (“Women Doomed”)
To punish your bombastic flesh,
To bruise your breast immune to pain,
To farrow down your flank a lane
Of gaping crimson, deep and fresh. (“To One Who is Too Gay”)
When she had sucked my marrow dry, I turned,
Languid, to give her back the kiss she earned,
Only to view, I fond and amorous,
A viscid wineskin, nidorous with pus… (“The Vampire’s Metamorphoses”)