Dystopian Fiction

Orwell, Huxley and Golding

As the twentieth century wore on, torn apart by war, new technologies advancing at an unprecedented rate, greed, selfishness and the emergence of sinister theories such as that of eugenics that were not limited to Germany by any means (‘kill all stupid and imperfect people’ was the effective plan), new writers emerged who spurned the concept of the novelist as artist. Backlash followed backlash and new media accelerated movements from decades to five or ten years. The novel was by the 1940s well accepted as a literary form as worthy as any other and as such artistry in the process of writing began to be taken for granted. Rhetoric was shunned (especially and brilliantly by Orwell) and the novel with a precise social message or purpose emerged (see Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and Orwell’s Nineteen Eight-four (1949)).

As well as the dystopian novelists, we find in this category many writers not reveling in the joys of life or the status quo but endeavouring to undermine cosy middle-class assumptions and general human arrogance. Foremost among these was William Golding, whose Lord of the Flies (1954) is considered to be one of the very finest novels of the century and also one of the most pessimistic with its implication that human evil is innate and not learnt. In The Inheritors (1955) and later novels, Golding continued to debunk various theories about man’s superiority and greatness: viewing his enterprises as pointless and his beliefs as almost always vain and worthless. Since the Second World War there has been an explosion in the number of people writing novels in England, America and elsewhere, seemingly undiminished by the popularity of the cinema and television. It is claimed that there are now almost as many people writing novels as there are people buying and reading them. For this reason it is near impossible to trace significant movements or even single novelists in the second half of the 20th century. That will be left to readers in centuries to come to sort out.

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