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’ Tracing Orwell’s Collecting Project from Burma to Oceania” Henk Vynckier George Orwell, author of Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), was a keen student of popular culture and passionate collector of boys’ weeklies, political and satirical pamphlets, comic postcards, Victorian commemorative mugs, and generally any objects with a “curiosity value.” In his oft quoted programmatic essay “Why I Write” from 1946, in which he states his aim “to turn political writing into an art,” he calls attention to the “world-view” which he acquired in childhood and confesses his lifelong passion for “solid objects and scraps of useless information.” (Collected Works 18: 320) The same year, in an essay entitled “Just Junk – But Who Can Resist it?”, he reflects on his life-long interest in junk-shops and suggests that the appeal of such shops is to “the jackdaw inside all of us, the instinct that makes a child hoard copper nails, clock springs, and glass marbles out of lemonade bottles.” (CW 18: 19) He also catalogues some of the objects worth looking for in the junk shops of London and concludes with a story about a rubbishy shop which he has known for years in spite of the fact that it sells nothing which he would ever be tempted to buy and, at the same time, he admits, “it would be all but impossible for me to pass that way without crossing the street to have a good look.” (19) In his great last novel Nineteen Eighty-four, meanwhile, published three years later, he returns to the collecting theme as the protagonist Winston Smith, an urban flâneur and collector like his creator, tries to construct a private sphere and reclaim his humanity with the help of beautiful objects from the past such as an antique lady’s keepsake and a crystal paperweight. In the Oceania of Nineteen Eighty-four, however, information archives, the mass media and visual culture in general are strategic resources and the creation of images and spectacles is ruthlessly monopolized by the Party. Winston Smith, in consequence, is apprehended, tortured and taught to love Big Brother. The purpose of this paper is twofold: first, to trace how Orwell’s fascination with materiality and popular culture led him to become a passionate collector; and second, to examine how this fascination worked its way into his writings from his first unpublished sketches to his great last novel Nineteen Eighty-four. This, in turn, will make possible a contextualization of
materiality. collecting. popular culture. . politics.the larger political agendas that drove Orwell throughout his life and help to solve a fascinating riddle: why was Orwell able to resist the Comrade Napoleons and Big Brothers of this world. but not junk? Key words: George Orwell.