George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Future that Becomes the Past

  • Samuel L. Macey


Since the eighteenth century, Utopias and dystopias have been very much concerned with both clock time and chronology. The revolutionary improvement in the accuracy of clocks during the third quarter of the seventeenth century can be directly related not only to the heightened concern with time and chronology but also to the new meaning of the word ‘progress’. Since the seventeenth century, progress has come to mean a progressive material improvement through time rather than the progress of a person through space. Modern Utopias favour the new progress through time while dystopias question its values. A hundred years after Huygens’ invention of the pendulum clock, which epitomised the modern mania for accurate time measurement, the use of chronometers by such seamen as Cook, Bligh, and Vancouver resulted in a world that became increasingly too well surveyed to permit imaginary settings for either Utopias or dystopias. As a result, a whole series of such works, beginning with Mercier’s L’An 2440 (1768–71), are now projected into the future but comment directly on the present.


Seventeenth Century Heighten Concern Wrist Watch Pendulum Clock Tragic Hero 
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Notes and References

  1. 2.
    Samuel L. Macey, Clocks and the Cosmos: Time in Western Life and Thought (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1980), pp. 187–92.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1955), pp. 177–80, passim;Google Scholar
  3. Yevgeny Zamyatin, We, trans. Mirra Ginsburg (New York: Viking Press, 1972), closing paragraphs and passim. Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, ed. George Watson (London: Dent, 1965), pp. 91, 48, and Chapter VIII, ‘On the Imagination, or Esemplastic Power’.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Peter Buitenhuis and Ira B. Nadel 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Samuel L. Macey

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