The estate of George Orwell has approved a feminist retelling of Nineteen Eighty-Four, which reimagines the story from the perspective of Winston Smith’s lover Julia.
Opening with one of literature’s most famous lines – “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” – Orwell’s 1949 novel is set in a dystopian future where Great Britain, known as Airstrip One, is part of the totalitarian state of Oceania. Big Brother rules supreme and the Thought Police stamp out any individual thinking. Winston Smith works at The Ministry of Truth, rewriting history to suit Big Brother’s narrative. He starts a forbidden affair with Julia – who works on the novel-writing machines in the Fiction Department – until both are captured and sent for re-education via Room 101.
In Julia by Sandra Newman, the incidents of Nineteen Eighty-Four are seen through the woman’s eyes. “It was the man from Records who began it, him all unknowing in his prim, grim way, his above-it-all oldthink way. He was the one Syme called ‘Old Misery’,” writes Newman. “Comrade Smith was his right name, though ‘Comrade’ never suited him somehow. Of course, if you felt foolish calling someone ‘Comrade’, far better not to speak to them at all.”
Publisher Granta said that Julia understands the world of Oceania “far better than Winston and is essentially happy with her life”. As Orwell puts it in Nineteen Eighty-Four, “in some ways she was far more acute than Winston, and far less susceptible to Party propaganda … She also stirred a sort of envy in him by telling him that during the Two Minutes Hate her great difficulty was to avoid bursting out laughing. But she only questioned the teachings of the Party when they in some way touched upon her own life. Often she was ready to accept the official mythology, simply because the difference between truth and falsehood did not seem important to her.”