George Orwell? V. G. Venturini? David Hoffman? Charlotte Despard? Antonio Gramsci? Anonymous? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: In 1949 George Orwell described a nightmarish future in his classic dystopian novel 1984. There is a popular quotation that is supposed to be contained within this work, but it is not there. Here are three versions:
- In a time of universal deceit — telling the truth is a revolutionary act.
- During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.
- Speaking the truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act.
Maybe Orwell wrote this expression in an essay or another book, but I have not been able to find it. Could you explore this quote?
Quote Investigator: Several researchers have attempted to find these words in George Orwell’s oeuvre and have not succeeded. Currently, there is no substantive evidence that he said or wrote this quote. He died in 1950, and the earliest match located by QI appeared in a 1982 book titled “Partners in Ecocide: Australia’s Complicity in the Uranium Cartel” by Venturino Giorgio Venturini. The statement was presented as an epigraph enclosed within quotation marks and attributed to Orwell; however, a specific originating text was not identified. The word “universal” was omitted: 1
“In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” G. Orwell
The next earliest citation ascribing the saying to Orwell was found by the lexicographical researcher Barry Popik. In the year 1984 the Canadian periodical “Science Dimension” printed a letter from a reader named David Hoffman who was unhappy with an article that discussed the economics of wind energy. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2
I think George Orwell said in his book 1984 that in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. If Science Dimension is not prepared to explore the future of renewable energy technologies except in inaccurate generalizations, then maybe it should maintain its integrity by avoiding the subject altogether.
Hoffman did not place the saying between quotation marks, and he prefaced his statement with “I think”. Perhaps he was presenting his analysis of the thesis or central point of the novel 1984 instead of an exact quote. Both of the two earliest cites are from individuals connected to environmentalism, but it is not certain whether this cultural subgroup was a transmission vector.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1982, Partners in Ecocide: Australia’s Complicity in the Uranium Cartel by V. G. Venturini (Venturino Giorgio Venturini), (Epigraph facing the title page), Rigmarole Book Publishers, Clifton Hill, Australia. (Verified with scans; thanks to John McChesney-Young and the University of California, Berkeley library system) ↩
- 1984/1 [Number 1 of 6 issues in 1984], Science Dimension, Letters, (Letter from David Hoffman, Renewable Energy News, Ottawa, Ont.), Quote Page 5, Column 1 and 2, Published by National Research Council Canada, Ottawa, Canada. (Found by Barry Popik in the Google Books database; located and verified on paper by QI) ↩