I decided to buy my two children, James and Ruby, some classic novels, some iconic Literature for Christmas.
Ruby, aged 9, is a Harry Potter devotee, but James at 15 has recently matured into reading classics like “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
It got me thinking about classic novels that influenced and enthralled me at their ages: I went through a spell of Orwell worship from the age of 11 starting with ‘Animal Farm’ and working my way through his back catalogue over 2 years, including his brilliant essays like ‘Shooting an Elephant’. James though is an ardent vegetarian so it may not sit well with him, he’d prefer an essay on Quorn, I’m sure.
So I’ve bought ‘1984’, a 1949 novel I intend to read again after he’s pored over it.
Orwell has connections with us in East Anglia – he lived once in bijou Southwold and changed his name from Eric Blair to George Orwell, as in Saint George of England and the river Orwell which runs through Ipswich.
I wonder though constantly whether East Anglia, Norfolk County Council particularly given my experiences of them, inspired the content of ‘1984’ – if you’ve not read it, here’s a quick digest (from what I recall from 35 years ago).
The protagonist Winston Smith works in a government department of a totalitarian state and falls in love with Julia in a place where emotions aren’t permitted. He internally questions the constant rewriting of history and is monitored by Big Brother, the thought police, whose feared place is Room 101. His constant nightmares involve rats, and the novel ends with rats lobotomising him, so that when he is released, he feels no love for Julia, just Big Brother.
It’s a grim old tale of how the state, people in power, aim to control you. Perhaps 2015 should be my working title.
One of the books I’ve bought my daughter is a late 80s classic by Michelle Magorian, ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’ a wartime tale of a curmudgeonly old man (Tom Oakley) and the London child he adopts in his rural idyll: Will Beech.
It’s an emotional, riveting tale of child abuse, trust, friendship and adversity. It moved me and the class when I first taught it in Oldham in 1988 and I’m sure Ruby will find it tearjerking.