‘1984’s’ Feminist Retelling: Some Thoughts

The prospect of a feminist re-telling of ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ is incredibly exciting. Orwell’s estate have approved the release of Sandra Newman’s book ‘Julia’ for a June 2022 release, and, as the title suggests, the book will tell the same story but from Julia’s perspective. But what could this entail? Here are some random musings. 

Before reading deeply into the news stories that were reported today, I just assumed that the novel would focus on several new female characters, which would allow several different female perspectives on the totalitarian state of Oceania. I did not think that anyone would touch Julia, considering that she is a titular character in Orwell’s most iconic book. In focusing on Julia, the novel could just repeat what the reader already knows, or even ruin the mystery and enigma of the original character. 

In the book, we first see Julia through Winston’s eyes. Winston despises her, in part because she appears so dedicated to the party, and also because he cannot have her. This leads him to have some disturbing fantasies about raping and murdering her. Winston is constantly concerned that Julia is a spy who will denounce him. So, it comes as a surprise to the reader when she decides to slip him a note, saying ‘I love you.’ What Newman’s novel could elaborate on, perhaps, is the reason as to why Julia chooses Winston. We know that Winston has varicose veins, the whole point of the character is that he is ordinary, and obviously past his prime. He is no conventional hero. It is never quite clear what Julia sees in Winston, but in her he finds a fellow rebel. 

Julia is far more rebellious than Winston, and has had affairs with party members since the age of sixteen. Her position, in the Junior Anti Sex League, acts as a cover to her numerous sexual relationships. Despite portraying the perfect Party member on the outside, Julia proudly tells Winston that she is ‘corrupt to the core.’ Perhaps Newman’s novel will explain how and why Julia became corrupt as this was always unclear. We know that her grandfather vanished when she was eight, so perhaps Newman will explore this further in her novel. It may have been this that turned Julia against the Party.

While Julia provided Winston with an outlet to physically rebel against the Party, she also represented the death of femininity within the Party. As everyone has to wear blue overalls, the idea of traditional gender norms are diminished, with a particular emphasis being placed on the destruction of femininity. In the novel, Julia wears make up to make herself more attractive to Winston. The death of femininity in the totalitarian world will hopefully be explored further in Newman’s novel, and the complex issue would certainly benefit from the presence of several female characters, to comment on several different ongoing issues.

It will also be interesting to see how Julia’s affairs, some of which she had at a young age with Party members that rank above her are treated in light of the MeToo movement. Julia’s backstory is not elaborated on that much in the novel and instead she is portrayed as an independent woman who wants to have as much sex as she can, so that she can rebel. But what triggered these feelings? Perhaps Julia’s sexual experiences as a child bolstered this rebellious feeling, especially if she suffered at the hands of other Party members. 

Julia’s illicit dealings are not discussed in much detail either. As well as smuggling make up, Julia also manages to get hold of goods such as milk and coffee. Julia says that she gets these items from higher Party members, but the relationship that she has with them is not really discussed any further. Could Julia have been having multiple relationships at once? Were these goods in exchange for sexual favours? Maybe Newman will enlighten us. 

While Julia features prominently throughout the main section of the book, her presence decreases towards the end of the novel, which focuses on Winston’s imprisonment. She resurfaces at the end of the novel, and is seen with a ‘long scar, partly hidden by the hair, across her forehead and temple.’ Orwell implies that Julia has been lobotomised. This emphasises Julia’s rebellious zeal, as parts of her brain had to be physically removed in order to subdue her. How O’Brien made Julia confess and what she endured is a total mystery, something that Newman could, and should, definitely explore.

Thanks for reading!

Published by harpalkhambay

I am an English Literature and History graduate, and wanted a space to explore topics within those fields that interest me.

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