Julian Sanchez Profile picture
Feb 10 25 tweets 4 min read
I just got a graphic novel adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four and was pleasantly surprised to see they included the Appendix “Principles of Newspeak” (as unillustrated text). I think readers often forget about it, but it’s a diegetic appendix and radically alters the ending.
For those who haven’t read it recently: “Principles of Newspeak” is an explanation of how Oceania's totalitarian government controlled thought through language. But critically, it’s written *by future historians within the world of the novel* explaining a defunct system.
So while (what most think of as) the novel proper ends with the triumph of Big Brother, the appendix makes clear the regime has fallen, and strongly implies that this collapse occurred sometime before 2050. Turns out Nineteen Eighty-Four has a happy ending! Sort of.
Actually the implied timeline for the fall of Ingsoc is even shorter than that, on a second look. The Appendix says the Newspeak spoken in 1984 is captured in the 9th & 10th editions of the Newspeak dictionary, and that the 11th edition was the “final” one.
We don’t know exactly when the Party rose to power or started Newspeak, but if they’re already on the 10th edition by 1984 or shortly thereafter, and the Party doesn’t take power until after 1949, that implies new editions being released at absolute most every 3-4 years.
If the 10th edition is released roughly contemporaneously with the events of the book & Ingsoc lasts long enough to produce an 11th edition, but not a 12th, that suggests the collapse of the regime within about a decade of those events.
Another clue: Translation of English Lit classics to Newspeak were planned, and it “was not expected that they would be completed before the first or second decade of the 21st century,” after which the originals would be destroyed.
The use of the subjunctive—and the fact that the future authors of the Appendix assume readers remain familiar with works of Shakespeare, Milton, Jefferson etc.—also implies the fall of Ingsoc before “the first or second decade of the twenty-first century”.
So that’s at least two very strong clues Orwell plants that Ingsoc did not outlast the 20th Century, despite its seeming efficiency at ferreting out and breaking dissenters.
The large number of people responding that they did indeed miss this when they read Nineteen Eighty-Four suggests Orwell pulled off a rather brilliant literary prank: He wrote an optimistic epilogue, but hid it in the guise of an Appendix…
…which many (perhaps most) readers either skipped or took at face value as just an essay about Newspeak, rather than a continuation of the story.
And this is perfect. It would have been a literary crime to spoil the gut punch of “He loved Big Brother” by tacking on an overt happy ending epilogue. The happy ending is there, but Orwell makes you work for it.
For the curious, the full (quite short) text of the hidden epilogue “Principles of Newspeak” can be read here: orwell.ru/library/novels…
One last thing I noticed rereading it now: In the novel proper, O’Brien promises Winston total annihilation as a demonstration of the Party’s power—“Not a name in a register, not a memory in a living brain.” But the epilogue/appendix shows this, too, failed.
The text makes a passing reference to “The Ministry of Truth, where Winston Smith worked”—which would be a weirdly superfluous way to describe it, except to establish that the future author and his era are aware of Winston. He is remembered after all.
Some folks seem doubtful about this interpretation. I’ll suggest, without going down the rabbit hole of a close reading, that there are many, many features of the style & structure of the appendix that are pretty weird on reflection if you don’t read it this way.
The main body of the novel is written in past tense, but in the familiar style where the narrator is a disembodied voice telling the story to nobody in particular. The appendix makes a point of situating itself (and “this essay,” a conspicuously academic tic) & the reader…
…as existing at the same level of reality as the narrative world. The second sentence begins “In the year 1984 there was not as yet anyone who used Newspeak as his sole means of communication…”
This is not the voice of Orwell nee Eric Blair, author, telling you how things are in the story he made up. This is a narrator situating “us” temporally relative to a date in the past.
The last sentence is “It was chiefly in order to allow time for the preliminary work of translation that the final adoption of Newspeak had been fixed for so late a date as 2050.”
This would be a pretty weird note to close on if the exclusive purpose were to flesh out the ideology of Newspeak, which Orwell has already done at some length in the main body of the novel anyway. THIS is the final thought he wanted to leave the reader with?
That would be a strikingly incompetent ending from one of the greatest essayists of the 20th century. So what is he doing here? Why is “2050” the last word of the essay (and the book)?
Because it gives us a limiting date for the Party’s rule. 2050 is when “the final adoption of Newspeak” was set to happen (along with the eradication of Shakespeare et al); that did not occur; ergo the Party’s rule ended before 2050 (and maybe a good deal earlier).
Postscript: I should note the one point against this reading is the description of Newspeak as adapting and repurposing words we “already have,” which is the one and only place in the essay where the the wording seems to situate Oceania in “our” future.
While I cannot, alas, cleverly explain away this seeming incongruity, the balance of the textual evidence is so overwhelmingly on the side of the “future historian” reading that I’m disinclined to toss it over that single word.

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