Foreword: Appendix

MAR 9, 2016

Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan on their adaptation of 1984.

by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan

The ending of George Orwell’s final novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, is notoriously bleak. “If you want a picture of the future,” Winston has been told, “imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” Sitting in a café, defeated, drunk and waiting for a bullet, he loves his oppressor. Winston loves Big Brother. As we all know, that’s the end of the story.

Except it isn’t.

After “THE END,” there is an Appendix, “The Principles of Newspeak,” that many of the novel’s readers miss altogether. The American Book-of-the-Month Club, in discussions to publish the first US edition of the novel, demanded that Orwell cut the Appendix in its entirety (along with much of Goldstein’s book) before publication.

“I can’t possibly agree to [it],” Orwell wrote to his US agent in 1949. “It would alter the whole colour of the book and leave out a good deal which is essential. It would also—though the judges, having read the parts that it is proposed to cut out, may not appreciate this—make the story unintelligible.” Orwell stood to lose at least £40,000 in American sales. To Orwell, clearly the Appendix was essential to understanding the story.

By the end of the novel, though, the reader should already know about the Appendix. At the first mention of Newspeak (on page four or five in most editions) is the only footnote in the entire novel:

1. Newspeak was the official language of Oceania. For an account of its structure and etymology see Appendix.

The reader might notice that Newspeak, oddly, is in the past tense. We might take up this invitation to read the Appendix before reading on. We might realise that fiction doesn’t usually have footnotes or appendices.

The Appendix is fiction pretending to be fact. Written in a period long after the novel’s 1984, a time in which the Party appears to have fallen, it re-considers the text that precedes it.

It is written in “Oldspeak,” our language, which should have been made obsolete, and concerns itself with the “final, perfected version” of Newspeak “as embodied in the Eleventh Edition of the [Newspeak] Dictionary.” In the novel’s 1984, “the tenth edition” is not due to appear for some months.

It refers to Shakespeare, Milton, Swift and Dickens and quotes the Declaration of Independence at length (the latter particularly unlikely to survive Party censorship). It finishes by telling us that “…the final adoption of Newspeak had been fixed for so late a date as 2050,” reinforcing the point its own presence makes: that the final adoption of Newspeak never happened, and its “principles” are so obsolete that they now need an explanatory Appendix. The final word of the Appendix (and of the novel) is “2050.”

O’Brien tells Winston Smith that he will be lifted “clean out from the stream of history.” Yet, there he is, named once, off-hand, in the Appendix, telling us the name of the Records Department, “in which Winston Smith worked.” We don’t know how—but Winston Smith made it into history.

But if this Appendix is written by someone who has read the novel from the future and appended these historical comments on the language, what is the novel in their world? Is it a Party record on Winston which survived into this post-Party future? Something that didn’t get into the shredder or the furnace before the records offices were stormed? Or is it something to do with Winston’s diary? We don’t know quite whether to trust it. The Party controlled all records. How has this “account” of Winston’s life survived?

According to the Orwell Estate, ours is the first attempt to dramatise the Appendix in any medium. It never felt less than “essential”: given the novel’s interest in records and documents and their relationship to truth, the Appendix perfectly complicates the novel that precedes it. Treating Orwell’s Appendix as “essential” makes his novel something far more subjective and complex than simply a bleak, futuristic dystopia: at the final moment, it daringly opens up the novel’s form and reflects its central questions back to the reader. Can you trust evidence? How do you ever know what’s really true? And when and where are you, the reader, right now?

R.I. and D.M. September 2050

Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan created Headlong Theatre’s adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Related Productions