«Orwell’s ‘1984’ has misogynistic overtones»

The figure of George Orwell, one of the writers who has best portrayed totalitarianism, does not arouse unanimity. For decades, some feminists have denounced that the British writer was blind to the role of women. Such recriminations were based on the fact that in ‘1984’ he painted women as mere sexual objects. Perhaps with the intention of improving that reputation, the heirs of the author of ‘Animal Farm’ asked Sandra Newman to produce a version of the classic, which is now 75 years old since its publication. The order was not futile. Newman (Boston, USA, 1965) is a renowned feminist writer who wrote a novel in which she imagined a world without men. The funny thing is that, without men, everything worked quite well. The writer accepted the assignment and has just published ‘Julia’ (Destino), which is now being published in Spain.

The book is also published accompanied by a new translation of the original novel. It has an epilogue about the vicissitudes that the book suffered with censorship in Franco’s Spain, as well as a prologue by the writer Margaret Atwood. The Canadian author began writing ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ precisely in 1984, and her story has undeniable similarities with Orwell’s. Both are dystopian fictions that talk about oppression, the control of individuals by the State and the fight for freedom in subjugated communities.

Sandra Newman assumes that some passages of her novel, especially those referring to LGTBI issues, would be unacceptable to Orwell. “We have some evidence that establishes that he was quite a homophobic character, probably due to experiences that happened to him at boarding school. We do not know for sure. It is very difficult to extrapolate the work from its historical context and try to imagine if Orwell would be homophobic today. “They are interesting questions, but impossible to answer,” says Sandra Newman.

George Orwell’s heirs were betting on finding someone capable of undertaking the renewal of the work without betraying the memory of the original. In view of the words of the literary executor of the Orwell Foundation, Bill Hamilton, the family has seen its expectations met with the creator of the interpretation of ‘1984’ in a feminist key. “I am delighted with the imaginative version that Sandra Newman proposes through Julia’s eyes,” Hamilton noted.

“We have some evidence establishing that George Orwell was quite homophobic”

And this despite the fact that the American writer is not indulgent with some of the writer’s leftovers. “‘1984’ is definitely a work with misogynistic overtones.” Again, Newman feels unable to resolve whether the latent misogyny in the original text is attributable to Orwell or to the protagonist of the narrative, Winston Smith, who works as a censor in the Ministry of Truth, a department that revises the story to adapt it. to the circumstances and alliances of the present.

«Learning about misogyny»

For Newman, if one pays attention to certain nuances or the tone that is printed in the descriptions, Orwell suggests certain psychological experiences that are not very flattering for the female gender. «It is a very difficult book to read for women, but at the same time it can help them learn a lot about misogyny. “It’s just my guess, but through writing ‘1984’ Orwell perhaps went on a journey to try to let go of all the negative concepts he had about women.”

The writer does not have a hopeful vision of the world political situation in view of the advance of the extreme right and the strength of authoritarian regimes. «Today we find ourselves in a particularly terrifying moment, we have the impression that we are living in the last years before something truly terrible happens. We have reached a moment of more or less general consensus: authoritarianism is going to return, it already is. The only disagreement we have is whether that is a positive or negative thing.

“As soon as women practice the right to sexual pleasure, we immediately hide it”

Sandra Newman’s Julia loves sex, she is an uninhibited woman who, as a child, fantasized about having erotic adventures with Big Brother. At this point, in 2024, does she still take a dim view of women who claim her sexual enjoyment? «Nowadays we all have the right to sexual pleasure until we exercise it; As soon as we practice that right we immediately feel obliged to hide it. Part of human nature is to envy others, so we always envy sexual pleasure as well. “I understand that from this derives the need to punish him in some way.”

In a regime in which marriage and unauthorized pregnancy are under suspicion, as in Newman’s fiction, the question inevitably arises about abortion in the United States, where one in three women and girls of reproductive age now live in states where the possibility of accessing abortion is almost or totally non-existent. «In the US they are trying to reverse the right to abortion: in some states it is already illegal. However, we are faced with the paradox that there have been more abortions this year than last. That leads me to wonder if, beyond a legal system that makes it difficult for the poorest women to have abortions, this is sustainable. Even in the United States, where this debate is extremely topical, these are very unpopular measures.


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