Now 1984 gets a feminist retelling

1984 gets a feminist makeover: George Orwell’s estate approves rewrite by little-known American dystopian author that will retrace the events through the eyes of Winston Smith’s lover Julia

  • Julia, by Sandra Newman, retells Nineteen Eighty-Four from Julia’s perspective  
  • It will give readers insight into the story of Winston Smith’s doomed lover 
  • Novel is backed by the Orwell estate and Newman has Orwell son’s backing 

George Orwell’s estate has approved a feminist version of Nineteen Eighty-Four that will retell the events of the classic novel from the perspective of Winston Smith’s lover Julia.

Julia, slated for publication in 2023, is penned by little-known American author Sandra Newman, who won critical acclaim for her own dystopian novel and has won the backing of Orwell’s son for the project.

Julia opens with the character’s thoughts on Winston, the Ministry of Truth worker with whom she embarks on a doomed affair.  

‘It was the man from Records who began it, him all unknowing in his prim, grim way, his above-it-all oldthink way. He was the one Syme called “Old Misery”,’ Newman writes in her opening lines, revealing Julia’s thoughts on Winston for the first time. 

‘Comrade Smith was his right name, though “Comrade” never suited him somehow. Of course, if you felt foolish calling someone “Comrade,” far better not to speak to them at all.’  

A new feminist version of Nineteen Eighty-Four will retell the events of George Orwell’s novel from the perspective of Winston Smith’s lover Julia, it has been announced. Pictured, Suzanna Hamilton and John Hurt as Julia and Winston in the 1984 film Nineteen Eighty-Four

The George Orwell estate, including the author’s son, Richard Blair, said it had been ‘looking for some time’ for an author to tell Julia’s story and Newman was the ‘perfect fit’ for the project. 

Orwell’s 1948 classic is told from the point of view of frail, cowardly and misogynistic Winston, who lives in Airstrip One, part of Oceania – a chilling dystopian state where the thoughts of a brainwashed society are prescribed by Big Brother.

Winston, one of literature’s most unlikely heroes, works at the Ministry of Truth, rewriting history for Big Brother.

It is there he first meets Julia, the girl in the oily overalls who works on the novel-writing machines in the Fiction Department.

Passing him in the corridor, she slips him a note reading ‘I love you’ and so begins their doomed secret relationship. 

Newman’s novel will address ‘two of the unanswered questions’ of Orwell’s original novel, explained literary executor Bill Hamilton: what Julia sees in Winston, and how she has navigated her way through the party hierarchy. 

The publisher Granta, notes Julia ‘understands the world of Oceania far better than Winston and is essentially happy with her life.’   

‘She has known no other world and, until she meets Winston, never imagined one,’ a spokesperson said.

Orwell’s 1948 classic, pictured, is told from the point of view of frail, cowardly and misogynistic Winston

‘She’s opportunistic, believing in nothing and caring not at all about politics. She routinely breaks the rules but also collaborates with the regime whenever necessary.

‘She’s an ideal citizen of Oceania. But when one day, finding herself walking toward Winston Smith in a long corridor, she impulsively hands him a note – a potentially suicidal gesture – she comes to realise that she’s losing her grip and can no longer safely navigate her world.’

The new novel is described as a ‘companion’ to the original –  has the backing of Orwell’s estate, including his adopted son Richard Blair. 

The estate has been ‘looking for some time’ for an author to tell the story of Winston’s lover and Newman proved a ‘perfect fit’.

The estate’s literary executor Bill Hamilton said: ‘Two of the unanswered questions in Orwell’s novel are what Julia sees in Winston, and how she has navigated her way through the party hierarchy. 

‘Sandra gets under the skin of Big Brother’s world in a completely convincing way which is both true to the original but also gives a dramatically different narrative to stand alongside the original.

‘The millions of readers who have been brought up with Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four will find this a provocative and satisfying companion.’ 

Publisher Jason Arthur said: ‘Whether you read it at school, as a teenager, in adulthood… even if you have never actually read the book, you know Nineteen Eighty-Four. 

‘It’s probably the most iconic English novel of the twentieth century; one that has seeped into our culture in innumerable ways. Sandra Newman’s JULIA is extraordinary – a retelling of this iconic novel by one of this generation’s most original and talented writers. 

‘And this inspired novel will be matched by a creative, innovative campaign that will bring it to market in a truly exciting way. I believe it will be one of the most exciting event publications of the year.’

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