Truth, Inspiration, Hope.

Former PSU Student Returns First-Edition Copy of ‘1984’ to Library 65 Years After Due Date, Appends Note About Present-day Relevance

Published: June 15, 2023
The Battersea power plant in the UK. 1984, which was set in a dystopian London, features imposing Ministries that overlook the Dickensian landscape of the city. (Image: Reuters)

An 86-year-old who checked out a first-edition copy of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 in the 1950s returned the book to Multnomah County Library in May, appending a note about the importance of the novel’s message in real life.

The patron, a former student at Portland State University identified only by the initials “WP,” said they wanted to clear their conscience after the many decades of having kept the book in private possession, as reported by The Oregonian.

“Simply add the words internet and social media, and you’re reading about 2023,” the patron wrote on the typed note that was delivered with the book.

(Image: Multnomah County Library)

Written in the late 1940s and published in 1949 by British socialist author Eric Blair (Orwell was his pen name), 1984 tells of life under an omnipresent totalitarian regime. It is inspired by the communist dictatorship of the Soviet Union as well as the ideological struggles Orwell experienced while fighting for the republican forces in Spain.

In 1984, the Party controls all media, information, and thoughts through censorship, surveillance, and violence. A main theme in Orwell’s depiction of the regime is the concept of doublethink, whereby the authorities force citizens to accept ever-changing Party orthodoxies. The regime regularly rewrites history, “vaporizes” people deemed “crimethinkers,” and even plans to abolish the English language in favor of the politically correct “Newspeak.”

The full text of WP’s note, as announced by Multnomah County Library on June 13 (Tuesday), reads:

I meant to return this book in 1958 when I [was] about to graduate from PSU, but somehow never got around to doing it.

After re-reading, I realize that, more than ever, the book should be put back in circulation. Significant parts are as relevant today as they were 65 years ago. (e.g. the opening text on page 207: Simply add the words internet and social media, and you’re reading about 2023.)

Sorry to be so tardy. At age 86, I wanted to finally clear my conscience.

May 16, 2023

Without access to the first-edition version of 1984, it is not possible to know which specific sentence WP was referring to that begins that edition’s page 207.

According to Multnomah County Library staff, the book was kept in “wonderful” condition. The library is considering the rare volume for public display.