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George Orwell and Fear in 2022

Professor Jean Seaton, University of Westminster

Orwell was a maestro of fears. He wrote about and experienced a kind of awkward over-supply of fears and terrors both individual and collective. It was partly that he lived through frightening times, that ominously gathered and bloomed over many years. Being right about what was going wrong was no protection. Creeping dread was just where a sentient, alert person on the left might dwell, then. He put himself quite consciously in danger, was familiar with violence. Then, there were insecurities—he never knew he was a real success, he courted marginality. He lived a precarious life—not that it ever seemed to bother him, he chose it in some ways. He was dogged by ill health from childhood. He—we can only surmise—understood the fear of death rather well and worked through terrible illness. Animal Farm, The Lion and the Unicorn, Nineteen Eighty-Four … many of the essays (but little of the Diary)—all depend on dread. He manipulates fear in his public work and is unsentimental and un-anguished in private. But above all he was terrified of the substitution of reality by illusion. The struggle to see what is in front of our noses is more challenging than ever. How should we use fear?

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