Posted by saformo on 15 octubre 2012

George Orwell’s final novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in 1949, becoming an instant best-seller and critically-regarded as a modem classic. The author had just recently become a world literary figure thanks to the amazing little book Animal Farm, which very nearly never made it into print. He was also mortally ill.

‘The tragedy of Orwell’s life is that when at last he achieved fame and success he was a dying man and knew it,’ his friend since their preparatory school days, Cyril Connolly, wrote. ‘He had fame and was too ill to leave his room, money and nothing to spend it on, love in which he could not participate; he tasted the bitterness of dying.”1

Animal Farm was written in the final years of World War 11 and Nineteen Eighty-Four immediately afterwards. Orwell conceived both masterworks as components of a thematic series concerning abuse of political power. Such radically different fictional equipment was incorporated within each book though that their mutuality can be lost as one becomes absorbed by the sheer power of the writing. Orwell’s brilliance created two works of intellectual continuity which stand separately, alone.

In fact Nineteen Eighty-Four may not have been written at all without its tiny (thirty thousand-words) zoomorphic predecessor about the Russian Revolution then the sorry aftermath of idealism corrupted and betrayed by totalitarianism. The idea for Animal Farm came innocently enough. Orwell wrote: ‘On my return from Spain I thought of exposing the Soviet myth in a story that could be easily understood by almost anyone and which could be easily translated into other languages. However, the actual details of the story did not come to me for some time until one day (I was then living in asmall village) I saw alittleboy, perhaps tenyears old, driving a huge cari horse along a narrow path whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.

‘I proceeded to analyze Marx’s theory from the animals’ point of view…”2

Orwell also said that by writing Animal Farm he entered a new realm of creative invention, thus settling the table for everything which followed: ‘Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.”3 Not only was it his first novel written exclusively for political purpose, however, but in retrospect Orwell himself considered it as his preeminent work.4

Animal Farm was written in just a few months, from November, 1943, to the end of February, 1944. The Allies had already entered into their non-aggression pact with Soviet Russia. Orwell was a committed Socialist but politically cynical and distrustful. Time spent in Spain fighting for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, documented in Homage to Catalonia (I 938), had shown him first-hand how peoples’ hopes could be perverted against them by leaders who were not so much interested in political philosophy as in ultimate power.

For most of his adult life he was troubled by a political paradox: Socialism seemed necessary to eliminate poverty and economic imperialism yet once established, by its very egalitarianism, Socialism was especially vulnerable to exploitation by ruthless power seekers. This was a driving force behind Animal Farm. Global tyranny beyond the revolution and dehumanization, perpetuated forever by an elite intelligentsia, became the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Considering Orwell’s obsession with prosaic precision and his hallmark style of plain, straight forward English, it’s a wonder how misrepresented and misunderstood the little book became. Orwell’s primary theme, of course, was condemnation of tyranny. Yet beyond that, some Socialists saw a message that the Russian Revolution could have been successful if not for betrayal. Others, Connolly included, said Russian-style revolution was doomed to failure because its violence gave licence to violence afterwards, in the name of preserving the new status quo. In some quarters, especially in the United States, the book was heralded as proof that Socialism could never work. To the consternation of Orwell it was used as anti-Communist propaganda.5

The book’s political motives aside, however, it may of course be read on an entirely differentplane altogether. Both of this writer’s daughters read it before they were teens, enjoying it immensely without knowing a scrap of the politics behind it. Surely that was an acid test to determine the greatness of any satire.

With relevance, controversy and exceptional artistic merit, was it incomprehensible then that Animal Farm barely made it into print? Numerous British and American publishing houses rejected it. One, Dial Press, New York, returned the manuscript and, according to Orwell, told him that it was ‘…impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.”6

Faber and Faber, London, rejected the book despite it being termed a ‘…distinguished piece of writing’, according to T.S. Eliot, one of the firm’s directors and managing partners. ‘The fable is very skilfully handled … the narrative keeps one’s interest on its own plane – and that is something very few authors have achieved since Gulliver.’

Eliot added: ‘It is certainly the duty of any publishing firm which pretends to other interests and motives than mere commercial prosperity, to publish books which go against the current of the moment; but in each instance that demands that at least one member of the firm should have the conviction that this is the thing that needs saying at the moment. I can’t see any reason of prudence or caution to prevent anybody from publishing this book – if he believed in what it stands for.”7

All of Orwell’s previous books had been published by Victor Gollancz, London, who held right of first refusal for Animal Farm. Gollancz was a left-wing Socialist who found the book’s indictments too disagreeable. As a matter of policy and principle he decided not to publish it, agreeing to surrender rights.

The book began making the rounds but at that time British publishers were nervous about the ‘Ministry of Information’, the Churchill govemment’s euphemistically-titled public relations bureau which was also involved in subtle censorship. With cooperation from publishers the MOI was scrutihizing all politically-sensitive manuscripts under consideration for publication.

Publisher Jonathan Cape’s prestigious firm was apparently ready to take on Animal Farm but backed out at the last moment. In a letter to Orwell’s agent, Leonard Moore, Cape said: ‘My reading of the manuscript gave me considerable personal enjoyment and satisfaction, but I can see now that it might be regarded as something which it was highly ill-advised to publish at the present time.’

Citing’…an important official in the Ministry of Information’ whose name has now been lost, Cape wrote that the book was too specific in its allegory: ‘The fable does follow, as I see now, so completely the progress of the Russian Soviets and their two dictators, that it can apply only to Russia, to the exclusion of other dictatorships. Another thing: it would be less offensive if the predominant caste in the fable were not pigs.’8

At this same time Orwell was writing a regular column for The Tribune newspaper, London. He contributed seventy-nine pieces in all and in one published July 7,1944, he deplored the servility of publishers and the insidiousness of their quiet cooperation with the government.

‘The MOI does not, of course, dictate a party line or issue an index expurgatorius,’he wrote. ‘Itmerely’ advises”. Publishers take manuscripts to the MOI and the MOI “suggests” that this or that is undesirable or premature, or “would serve no good purpose”. And though there is no definite prohibition, no clear statement that this or that must not be printed, official policy is never flouted. Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip.’9

It was after Animal Farm had been rejected by Cape’s that Orwell sent it to Faber’s. Eliot’s rejection letter must not have come as any real surprise as Eliot had, in 1932, also rejected Orwell’s graphic account of life on the bum: Down and Out in Paris and London, influenced in idea and technique by Jack London’s People of the Abyss (1903).

The manuscript Orwell sent to Faber’s was ‘…decidedly too short’, said Eliot, ‘…and particularly for such a book of such length it seems to me too loosely constructed, as the French and English episodes fall into two parts with very little to connect them. I should think, however, that you should have enough material from your experiences to make a very interesting book on down-and-out life in England alone.’10

The manuscript was-reworked by Orwell and it made an interesting book for sure, despite finding limited success after publication by Gollancz in 1933. It was remaindered and out of print until a 1940 Penguin paperback release of fifty-five thousand copies, which gave the author a modicum of renown. Its fame grew with the author’s subsequent reputation and it is now regarded as a classic of the polemical/documentary genre.

Following Faber’s rejection of Animal Farm, Orwell was trying to raise money to self-publish when the then-modest London firm of Secker & Warburg agreed to issue a limited printing, which appeared shortly after the war ended. That printing sold out immediately. Animal Farm went to re-print and translation and has never been out of print since. It has become one of the world’s most widely-read novels originally written in English.

Animal Farm made me as a publisher,’ Frederic Warburg wrote. It also transformed Orwell from a minor British writer into a world figure.11 By then though the chain-smoking, consumptive Orwell, who had done much of his writing in dank rooms, became stricken by lung hemorrhages. His condition was exacerbated by the gruelling schedule kept while working on Nineteen Eighty-Four, completed while he was bed-ridden nonetheless typing the final draft himself because of a post-war scarcity of good typists for hire.

George Orwell died, alone, in hospital of tuberculosis at forty-six. During his relatively short writingcareerhecreated arich legacy ofpolitical writing as art unmatched since Jonathan Swift. ‘If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear,’


The Antagonish Review 111.Pyle, Steve. Last update 1:41 PM 23/02/99. St. Francis Xavier University. 12-10-2012