Thursday, 4 June 2009


As no-one bought my Thoughtcrimes on 1984 book off of Lulu I've taken it off and I'll publish the original stuff here!

So here's a possible timeline for the novel.

1944 – Winston Smith born (probably). At this point the timeline has run more or less exactly the way ours has. Imperialism, the growth of socialist theory in the nineteenth century, World War I, the Russian Revolution, the Nazi seizure of power, World War II and later the atomic bomb on the two Japanese cities.

1945 – End of World War II. Winston remembers several years of peace in his childhood, because the atomic raid on Colchester came as a surprise. This (presumably) is a non-Marshall Plan Europe with heavy Soviet influence across the continent. It could be assumed that this period was hungry and tense until around 1950, when a few years of plenty set in: the ones Winston remembers as a child. Lemons were probably available in shops by then, for example.

1954 -55 Atomic Wars are fought between Europe, USA and USSR. Many major cities are devastated. This war Orwell clearly envisions as being fought with weapons of around 20kilotons – Hiroshima size. Small enough to leave some infrastructure intact, but large enough to devastate societies. These wars lead directly to Civil Wars, between the establishment (ie in the case of Britain the liberal democracy) and radical parties inspired by either the Nazis or the Bolsheviks or both (which is clearly the case with the Party). During the course of the Civil Wars, starvation becomes routine, the mess left over from the wars is not really dealt with, and the different sides begin the process of exterminating enemies (Winston’s memory of the ever present sound of machine gun fire). The wars lead politically to radicalisation (already far enough advanced to cause an atomic war), and perhaps psychologically to a deepening of the “hardening of outlook that set in around 1930” – as the desperation of survival would have been so much more intense after the radioactive aftermath of an atomic war. This could even be true physiologically: damaged psyches and minds could be the progenitors of true Party philosophy more than the ideology of the Nazis or Bolsheviks. The rearrangement into pan-continental power blocs begins to happen during the recovery period (ie probably almost as soon as the last bomb is dropped). It might be this struggle and psychological damage that causes O’Brien, probably in his early twenties at the time of the atomic wars, to carry the old, worn look that Winston notices so keenly. By the end of the wars, strong, radical parties of left and right are the only serious political movements. The Party is the strongest of these. It is probably an offshoot of a powerful pre-atomic war Communist Party.

1955-57 – The Civil Wars and the struggle for supremacy within the emergent Party and between different radical elements. The Party almost certainly possesses a strong paramilitary group as well as fearsome orators. Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford are leading lights in the struggle and eventual takeover. Rutherford’s cartoons inflame popular opinion. During periods of stability there are furious speeches and propaganda from the Party (and, one assumes, other radical parties – hence the “unintelligible proclamations...and gangs of youths in shirts all the same colour”). Starvation intensifies as no real recovery efforts are made. During this period the “confused street fighting in London itself” Winston remembers would probably have taken place. The Party takes sporadic control and begins eliminating opposition. Winston’s mother disappears, along with his sister, in 1954 or 1955. The latest possible date is 1956. His father had disappeared sometime earlier. Winston is removed to a “Reclamation Centre” – orphanages which grew up because of the Civil Wars).

1958-60 – The period of the Revolution. The Party defeats its enemies and takes control, though inconsistently at first and fighting continues. The Party then strengthens in control and eliminates the remnants of its enemies, begins purging itself and the population. Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford reach the peak of their power.

1958-59 – The Party already rewriting history, claiming in school textbooks to have invented the helicopter (by 1968-69 this has extended to the aeroplane). Winston is at school. Julia is born in either 1957 or 1958.

1958-59 (Assuming the dates in The Book are correct) - The Pan Continental Wars begin, to continue without interruption until 1984.

1960 - First development of Newspeak. The probable first mention of the word “Ingsoc” dates from this time. It could be that either the original radicals become secure enough to pursue their project more openly, or that idealists within the Party have been ousted by more cynical elements (ie in an analogue to the Left’s traditional view of the Russian Revolution). Most likely, Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford have simply tightened their grip and become extremely keen on power as a result.

1960-63 – First mention of totemic leader Big Brother.

1963 – Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford photographed at a “Party function in New York”. This date is significant because the three later confess to being on Eurasian soil at this time.

1965 – The second wave of Purges, led by the ideological associates of O’Brien. Last of the original Party leaders purged. Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford arrested. This is probably the time meant by The Book, when it says “...after the revolutionary period of the fifties and sixties, society regrouped itself, as always, into High, Middle and Low”. Namely, the defeat of the original, probably more idealistic leaders (idealistic in the O’Brien sense of not wishing to admit to their true motives- and hence the successors of the Bolsheviks and Nazis).

1966-67 – Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford re-appear. Winston sees the three in the Chestnut Tree Cafe. Rutherford’s cartoons still appear in The Times.

1968 – Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford are re-arrested and executed, the Party is now controlled by the same elite in perpetuity. Progress towards 2050 (total adoption of Newspeak and elimination of the past as an immutable object) commences in earnest.

1972-73 – Winston’s brief marriage to Katharine.

1973 – Winston holds the photo of Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford.

1977 – Winston dreams of a man saying “we shall meet in the place where there is no darkness”: the beginning of O Brien’s games with Winston, which he does not realise until he is arrested. Winston must therefore have already been identified as a thought-criminal.

1981 – Winston visits the Proletarian prostitute.

April 1984 – Everything kicks off.

Summer 1984 – Winston released.

March 1985 – Winston and Julia meet for the last time.

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