I was recently surprised and intrigued to read that 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. In the iconic dystopian novel, Smith works at The Ministry of Truth, rewriting history to suit Big Brother’s party line. He begins a forbidden sexual affair with Julia – who works on the novel-writing machines in the Fiction Department – until both are captured and sent for re-education.
In Sandra Newman’s novel Julia , the incidents of Nineteen Eighty-Four are seen through the woman’s eyes. The publisher Granta has 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.”
Newman’s book will address some of the unanswered questions from the original novel. such as why Julia is interested in Winston, and how she has navigated her way through Big Brother’s party hierarchy. The re-telling of Nineteen Eighty-Four approved by Orwell’s estate and to be published in time for the 75th anniversary of the original, although it has no firm publication date yet.