Essays - Spring 2019

Orwell’s Last Neighborhood

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While envisioning the darkest of futures and grappling with mortality, the English writer retreated to an idyllic Scottish isle to write Nineteen Eighty-Four

By David Brown | March 4, 2019
Orwell's friends were appalled when he moved to Jura, fearing for his health, but the writer quickly took to life in its harsh environment. (Courtesy of the author)
Orwell's friends were appalled when he moved to Jura, fearing for his health, but the writer quickly took to life in its harsh environment. (Courtesy of the author)

It’s hard to know what would be a good place from which to imagine a future of bad smells and no privacy, deceit and propaganda, poverty and torture. Does a writer need to live in misery and ugliness to conjure up a dystopia?

Apparently not.

We’d been walking more than an hour. The road was two tracks of pebbled dirt separated by a strip of grass. The land was treeless as prairie, with wildflowers and the seedless tops of last year’s grass smudging the new growth.

We rounded a curve and looked down a hillside to the sea. A half mile in the distance, far back from the water, was a white house with three dormer windows. Behind it, a stone wall cut a diagonal to the water like a seam stitching mismatched pieces of green velvet. Far to the right, a boat moved along the shore, its sail as bright as the house.

This was where George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four. The house, called Barnhill, sits near the northern end of Jura, an island off Scotland’s west coast in the Inner Hebrides. It was June 2, sunny, short-sleeve warm, with the midges barely out, and couldn’t have been more beautiful.

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