In 1944, Orwell began work which "encapsulate[d] the thesis at the heart of his... novel", which explored the consequences of dividing the world up into zones of influence, as conjured by the recent Tehran Conference. Three years later, he wrote most of the actual book on the Scottish island of Jura from 1947 to 1948 despite being seriously ill with tuberculosis. On 4 December 1948, he sent the final manuscript to the publisher Secker and Warburg, and Nineteen Eighty-Four was published on 8 June 1949.
The Last Man in Europe was an early title for the novel, but in a letter dated 22 October 1948 to his publisher Fredric Warburg, eight months before publication, Orwell wrote about hesitating between that title and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Warburg suggested choosing the latter, which he took to be a more commercially viable choice for the main title.
The introduction to the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt edition of Animal Farm and 1984 (2003) claims that the title 1984 was chosen simply as an inversion of the year 1948, the year in which it was being completed, and that the date was meant to give an immediacy and urgency to the menace of totalitarian rule. This is disputed:
There's a very popular theory—so popular that many people don't realize it is just a theory—that Orwell's title was simply a satirical inversion of 1948, but there is no evidence for this whatsoever. This idea, first suggested by Orwell's US publisher, seems far too cute for such a serious book. [...] Scholars have raised other possibilities. [His wife] Eileen wrote a poem for her old school's centenary called "End of the Century: 1984." G. K. Chesterton's 1904 political satire The Napoleon of Notting Hill, which mocks the art of prophecy, opens in 1984. The year is also a significant date in The Iron Heel. But all of these connections are exposed as no more than coincidences by the early drafts of the novel Orwell was still calling The Last Man in Europe. First he wrote 1980, then 1982, and only later 1984. The most fateful date in literature was a late amendment.— Dorian Lynskey, The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's 1984 (2019)
Throughout its publication history, Nineteen Eighty-Four has been either banned or legally challenged as subversive or ideologically corrupting, like the dystopian novels We (1924) by Yevgeny Zamyatin, Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley, Darkness at Noon (1940) by Arthur Koestler, Kallocain (1940) by Karin Boye, and Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury.
Some writers consider Zamyatin's We to have influenced Nineteen Eighty-Four. The novel also bears significant similarities in plot and characters to Koestler's Darkness at Noon, which Orwell had reviewed and highly praised.
The original manuscript for Nineteen Eighty-Four is Orwell's only surviving literary manuscript. It is presently held at the John Hay Library at Brown University.