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The Library at the End of the World: Print Culture & Dystopia in George Orwell

Gibbs, Sarah Mai; (2021) The Library at the End of the World: Print Culture & Dystopia in George Orwell. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).

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In The Prose Factory: Literary Life in England Since 1918 (2016), D.J. Taylor asks of George Orwell’s Coming Up for Air (1939), “Why should Orwell […] devote large parts of a novel about England in the run-up to the Second World War to a ventriloquial survey of the reading habits of the lower middle classes?” The enquiry gestures to a characteristic of the author’s fiction largely ignored in Orwell Studies, namely, its dense network of allusions to texts and reading practices. This thesis argues that the references constitute parallel commentaries that directly contribute to each work’s political agenda. It examines the intersection between print culture and dystopia in three significant novels in Orwell’s oeuvre: his first, the anti-imperialist Burmese Days (1934); Coming Up for Air, the book-length fiction that followed his politicization in the Spanish Civil War; and his last complete work, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Each section traces Orwell’s allusions to books and periodicals in order to assess the reading environments in which he places his characters. The opening sections investigate reading in the late-stage Empire of Burmese Days; the analysis encompasses Burmese print culture and textual circulation, censorship in the Raj, and market-specific publishing in Colonial Library series. The following chapter examines the pre- and post-World War I libraries of Coming Up for Air’s George Bowling, whose literary experiences embody the binaries of private and public reading, serendipitous and curated collecting, and informal and formal education. The final section considers the literature-deprived world of Nineteen Eighty-Four, where machines write novels that humans cannot read. It proposes an original source for Orwell’s Newspeak and explores the work’s resonance with recent developments in artificial intelligence. Throughout, the thesis maintains that, for Orwell, certain texts and reading habits are both indicators and agents of dystopia.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The Library at the End of the World: Print Culture & Dystopia in George Orwell
Event: UCL (University College London)
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10124975
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