The Winston Smith Library of Victory and Truth, Hans K Clausen

Artist Hans K Clausen has brought 1,984 copies of George Orwell’s 1984 to the Inner Hebridean island of Jura. They form the Winston Smith Library of Victory and Truth. The number of languages is dizzying with unexpected versions arriving in everything from Faroese to Esperanto. And the location is not random; Orwell pecked out the novel on a Remington (same model illustrated) at a remote farmhouse here some 25 miles north of Jura village hall where the exhibition opened on Saturday. He had been redrafting the book since his first visit to the island in 1946 and would drive down to Craighouse, the main settlement, in a lorry to collect coal. His shade may be amused that a truckload of his novel has now arrived by boat.

Jeremy Malies in the Inner Hebrides
8 June 2024


Photo credit: Rob Marshall.


Preparation for this interview was simple. In my undistinguished 1987 Penguin copy of the novel I’ve underlined the passage in which Winston speculates that a lunatic may simply be a minority of one. I quote this to Hans who is obviously used to people suggesting that he may be touched in the head. By now I’m wearing one of his enamel lapel badges which are beautifully made. The exhibition is here for three days and coincides with the launch of 1984 Gin. Victory Gin is of course drunk throughout the novel.

The opening question is obvious: how old was Hans when he first read the book? He was 15 and it was a GCSE ‘O’ Level text. The deeper reflections came later. “I realized, a few years ago, that I had five copies in my studio in Edinburgh and all sorts of associations with the novel. I looked back on the initial impact and read it again. Only then did I recall that this was the first book I had truly finished. I remember the feeling of achievement when I got to the last page and how much I’d enjoyed it – despite the rather miserable ending! It had gripped me as a teenager and when I re-examined it 40 years later, I was reminded of its power and Orwell’s abilities.”


Photo credit: Rob Marshall.


Hans continues. “I don’t know how other artists come up with their ideas, but something was tapping me on the shoulder saying: ‘This has been significant for you for four decades. Now you need to do something with it!’

“I started talking to friends and colleagues. Somebody said: ‘You should do this for the seventy-fifth anniversary of its publication!’ So things fell into place. I’ve always loved the Scottish islands and have connections with Orkney and Shetland. If I was to do something related to his writing, then Jura had to be the location. The exhibition is about Jura as much as Orwell.”


Photo credit: Rob Marshall.


If I’m struck by anything about Hans, it’s clarity of thought and expression (Orwell would approve) and innate modesty. “The whole thing is an expression of gratitude to Orwell for what he gave us. I’m sending him a card or a gift. I want to bring his book – copies of his book – back home. And it’s important that the books are read, well-worn, annotated and from as far afield as possible. I want to reunite the books with this physical space” he says while pointing north up the island to Orwell’s home beyond the wonderfully named Lowlandman’s Bay. “I was looking to find a whole bunch of the books and celebrate their content as well as each copy’s handling history and patina.”

I suspect that Hans is more aware of political currents than most people. And yet only Ceaușescu when we discuss the Romanian translation (as early as January 1949) and the obvious figure of Donald Trump come up as parallels. Of Ceaușescu, he says: “Mihaela from Romania donated a 1990s edition from her country including a brief note: ‘… I’m from Romania, my first 27 years I lived in this book. I was always hungry, cold and scared, playing with equalities and better world ideas can be dangerous …’”


Photo credit: Rob Marshall.


Many will remember a low point in the Trump presidency when during a Meet the Press interview, counsellor to the president Kellyanne Conway defended a doubtful statement by press secretary Sean Spicer about attendance numbers at Trump’s inauguration by referring to “alternative facts” which surely smacks of Orwell’s “newspeak” and “doublethink”. Reflecting on the Spanish Civil War, Orwell said: “For the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie.”

But world leaders, dictators, macroeconomics and news bordering on propaganda are not Hans’s bag and angle. He explains: “Yes, the upcoming US election already tells us much about how the media operates – who has the right to own the truth, re-writing of the past and how this can control the present. I do see Orwell in what is happening currently. But concentrate on the positives. The authentic Orwell soundbites [there are also apocryphal ones] that are most quoted can be some of his finest moments; they are short and poetic and capture things that become more than the sum of their parts.

“It’s not the dystopian future, the crumbling nature of societies and parallels with contemporary politicians and parties that resonate with me. It’s more a generalized trend in society that I’ve seen for many years. It’s a drive towards nationalism, the development of technology – particularly what I see as its dehumanising elements. So for me, 1984 is as much a cry of hope for humanity rather than a cry against political movements. I want to focus on how Orwell is arguing for the importance of community and connection – with people resisting technical and political influence.”


Photo credit: Rob Marshall.


I persist with questions about media magnates such as Murdoch and the more generalized mogul that is Elon Musk. “Yes. I’m massively worried. My biggest fears are on behalf of my two little girls. I’m concerned about their futures. I don’t exactly think that Big Brother is going to appear as Donald Trump or as a more conventional career politician. But I worry that an Orwellian future might be with us in the development of technology whether it’s social media or things such as retail and transport where AI is reducing true interaction and dehumanizing society.”

Interest in the library project has ignited over the last few weeks and I ask Hans about media. “I did a press release describing the project at the end of last year and booked the hall here on Jura. The Press Association, the BBC and The Times all picked up on the release, so it started going a bit global. As a man of a certain age, I’m not exactly adept at social media but I have a studio in an artists’ workshop with people who understand these things. Coverage on platforms like Facebook and Instagram has escalated matters.


Photo credit: Rob Marshall.


“I’d said maybe two years prior to today that I’d like to do this with 1,984 copies but I only reached the actual count about three weeks ago. So it was something of an act of faith, along the lines of a ‘If you build it, they will come’ exercise”.

So what about languages? The universal appeal of the novel will have thrown up some unexpected translations surely? “One that took me by surprise was Esperanto. And a version prepared for people on the Faroe Islands! There are only 60,000 people speaking Faroese.  Somebody who works in a library on the islands sent me two new hardback copies.” And other interesting languages? “Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Bulgarian. At the last count there are copies in 33 languages other than English. There are eight or nine different editions in French.” [The first French translation by Amélie Audiberti was published by Gallimard in 1950.]


Photo credit: Rob Marshall.


“Some of my favourites are the really old tatty and obviously frequently-read 1950s Penguins. I want this to be a library not a high-brow exhibition in ‘Do not touch!’ frames. People should feel comfortable when taking the books off the shelves. I’m encouraging them to write their memories of reading the book in the editions here. The library will tour, and the Orwell Foundation (based at University College London) has been really supportive. We’re looking for a venue in London and the Orwell Society is hoping to get us to Wigan. [The obvious link is The Road to Wigan Pier.] Another stage will be Edinburgh and Glasgow in the autumn then hopefully a UK-wide tour next year. In view of Orwell’s time in the Spanish Civil War, taking it to Catalonia is logical and we have a translation into Catalan.

“France and Myanmar [given Orwell’s five years in the Indian Imperial Police force] are possibilities. Places of significance in Orwell’s life make sense but I don’t want to restrict the tour to those regions – we’ll go as far as we can and there will be mini spin-off engagements particularly with schools. At a school in Islay [the island to the south-west of Jura] we gave six copies to young people. They annotated them, turning the books into their own Winston Smith journals. Fifty young people in Edinburgh customized and personalized their copies, with one 15-year-old’s final annotation being: “A very sad and scary story with a horrible ending!”


Photo credit: Rob Marshall.


Hans continues: “In 1984, the novel went back to the top of the bestsellers list. Many of the copies in our collection date from then. I’ve been speaking to city libraries and authorities in charge of decommissioned libraries. Librarians have told me that along with the Bible and the Koran, 1984 is one of the most frequently stolen books!” [Doesn’t Orwell confess to having filched a few library books in the essay “Books vs Cigarettes”?]

“A lot of copies we have been sent are ex-library books and from school libraries in particular. I looked carefully at the date stamps in one copy from a school on the western coast of Scotland. It had been taken out infrequently and then there was a flurry of borrowings in the year 1984! I should have loved to have interviewed those kids! What did they make of it? This is a book whose tipping point [the nominal year in which it is set] is right in the middle of my life – the beginning of my true adulthood. I’m now looking back at that.”


Photo credit: Rob Marshall.


And the most touching editions, inscriptions, marginal comments? “That’s easy! The most poignant non-English copies are the ones in Eastern European languages – Bulgarian, Russian. A lovely guy in Ukraine sent me four different editions in Ukrainian. There is a different level of meaning knowing the history of those countries. But don’t rule out the English copies. Another correspondent sent me a Seventies Penguin edition with his memories of a Miss Cartwright who would come into his school and read it with pupils. Now, having revisited the book, he realized that Miss Cartwright was by far the best teacher he had ever had!”


Photo credit: Rob Marshall.


For many journalists, Orwell (notably in the essays “Politics and the English Language” and “Why I Write”) is the best teacher they have ever had. I’ve accosted Hans just as he was opening the hall armed only with my Orwell t-shirt, some true enthusiasm, and knowledge of Orwell’s early schooling in my home town of Eastbourne. He’s been generous with his time and open with his recollections.

I’ve been typing this while listening to an hour’s BBC Radio 6 broadcast of music that has been spawned by the novel. Bowie I could have guessed at. “Manic Street Preachers” were more of a surprise: “We live in Orwellian times / It feels impossible to pick a side / Insanities that dance and hide/ The truth becomes a broken lie.”

Check regularly for the Winston Smith Library of Victory and Truth tour details.