Monday, June 16, 2008

George Orwell & "1984"

I've noticed mention of George Orwell's "1984" around the internet in recent weeks, usually with the premise that "this is where we're heading if......." (insert opinion). I must have read the book as a teenager, and remember seeing a TV series based on the novel, but, unlike the futuristic novels of H.G. Wells, the story of "1984" (first published 1949) didn't have the same appeal.

George Orwell (real name Eric Blair) was born on 25 June 1903 in Motahari, Bihar, India. Time of birth, according to Astrotheme, was 11.30am. He was taken to England when one year old, was educated there and spent much of his life in Britain.

If I'd been given this chart without knowing to whom it belonged I might have guessed that the owner was a writer of some kind - journalist or novelist - he was both at various stages of his career: Virgo ascending, if time of birth is correct, and Mercury in Gemini are both good indicators of someone adept with the pen, or in today's world, the keyboard. Sun conjunct Neptune and Moon in Cancer - hmmmm - lots of scope for a fertile imagination and creativity there, but Cancer is usually seen as a rather gentle, passive sign. I'd have guessed Orwell's writing might reflect that - historical dramas, mild romantic sagas - something along those lines. How wrong I'd have been!

There's a Grand Trine (3 linked 120 degree aspects) in Orwell's chart, in Air signs (intellect, ideas, communications). Mars in Libra, Saturn in Aquarius and Mercury in Gemini are connected in this formation, it's an excellent harmonious link-up for a writer. However, the planets involved with Mercury in the Grand Trine: Mars and Saturn, are both traditionally labelled "malefics", this might reflect an attraction to subject matter which is less than uplifting. Had that Grand Trine linked, for example, Venus, Jupiter and Mercury, we might have on our bookshelves some wonderful Orwellian visions of a future filled with art, philosophy and beauty. Just a thought!

Scooting around Google I hit upon a possible reason for Orwell's very depressing subject matter, not only in "1984", but also in "Animal Farm".
At Live Science this article: Study: George Orwell's Illnesses Influenced '1984' provides some insight:

"He suffered multiple bouts of bronchitis and other respiratory ailments, Ross writes. As a young man, Orwell had several episodes of bacterial pneumonia, and also contracted dengue fever while in Burma. He was a heavy smoker, and he suffered fits of coughing from a condition called bronchiectasis.

In 1938, Orwell went to a sanatorium because he was coughing up blood. He was eventually diagnosed with tuberculosis..............Eight years later, depressed by his wife’s death, Orwell moved to a windy and damp Scottish island. His health worsened significantly just as he was working on the first draft of "1984," Ross reports. Fever, weight loss, and night sweats sent him to the hospital, where he underwent “collapse therapy,” a treatment designed to close the dangerous cavities that form in the chests of tuberculosis patients.
Relying on Orwell's own descriptions of the treatment, Ross says it "may have influenced the depiction of the tortures of Winston Smith in the Ministry of Love" in "1984.""

Confirmation from the man himself:

"Orwell himself told his friends that 1984 would have been less gloomy had he not been so ill—it was a very dark, disturbing, and pessimistic work," Ross said. Orwell's illnesses "made him a better and more empathetic writer, in that his sense of human suffering made his writing more universal."

And, finally, from "1984":

"Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?… Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?…The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness." —Syme, pg 46-47

Newspeak narrowing the range of thought hits uncomfortably home after media performances in this year's US primaries !

"1984" wasn't meant as prophecy. I suppose that having experienced the Spanish Civil War and World War2, the idea of totalitarianism was an unwelcome spectre in the minds of many people, and was played upon by this novel. Had he been aiming at prophecy, a more appropriate title might have been "2024"!

I suspect Orwell was actually writing out his anger, frustration and resentment at his lifetime of ill health. I'm not sure where the health problems show up in his natal chart. Chiron is the usual suspect, and it lay at 21 degrees of Capricorn, sextile Jupiter, semisextile Uranus, but those aren't really challenging aspects. Jupiter is just inside 6th house (health matters), but is usually thought to be a benign planet. Mars, in first house (self) lies just 3 degrees from natal North Node of the Moon (a sensitive point in a natal chart), so when transits hit that point, through the years, maybe nasty old Mars bared its teeth and delivered a blow to Orwell's health. I don't know. Those are just wild guesses.


Wisewebwoman said...

Handsome devil, old Eric, killed by smoking.
Interestingly enough, T, I don't see addictive tendencies in your charts?
maybe I'm missing the connection?
And I agree Newspeak is alive and well. Greatest practitioner: GWB.
Most famous quote: "We don't torture".

Twilight said...


With that history of respiratory weakness brought on by TB, he diced with death every time he smoked a cigarette - I suppose he must have had an addiction.

Still, in his day, perhaps the dangers of smoking were not yet as well-defined as they are now.

Addiction is thought to be connected with Neptune (Old Neppy has a lot to answer for - a lovely creative side and a nebulous dark side too).

As Orwell's Sun and Moon are so closely intertwined with Neptune - there, I suspect, is his potential to harbour addictions of one sort or another.

Strange character. :-)