Bibliophiles love literary curios and, with such a fascinating publishing history, George Orwell is a particularly interesting and collectible author.
Often Orwell published in obscure leftwing periodicals, with small print circulations, even after the fame Animal Farm (1945) bought him. Contextually, it is often quite illuminating to see the publications where his writing first appeared. Often, there are all kinds of clues and information that assist in understanding his literary and political worlds.
Orwell was read widely in translation, from as early as 1935 in France and Czechoslovakia, and became very popular in countries with oppressive systems of government, even though his work was banned. Samizdat copies of his most famous novels circulated clandestinely in Eastern Europe during the Cold War period, until the fall of Communism in 1990. These illegally produced editions, with rusting staples and fading, poor quality paper are hard to find and sell for exorbitant prices.
Two dozen examples of these curios, from my own collection, illustrate his publishing history. I have also included some articles about Orwell, published in surprising and unlikely places. Please feel encouraged to comment below or email, especially if you can answer my questions.
John Galsworthy (1929)
Monde, Number 42, 23rd March, 1929
Ironically, Orwell, the great English writer, was first published in French. During the eighteen months he resided in Paris, Orwell appeared twice in Monde, Henri Barbusse’s radical leftwing newspaper, under his given name, E.A. Blair. On 6 October 1928, Orwell’s first article as a professional writer, ‘La Censure en Angleterre’, appeared and was followed, on 23rd March 1929, by ‘John Galsworthy’. One of his opening paragraphs has a description of Galsworthy which was the kind of writer the young Eric Blair was himself to become after he emerged as “Orwell”:
“John Galsworthy is a completely different kind of writer. There is nothing about him of the elegant gentleman-littérateur. It is at once his strength and his weakness that he concerned himself less with art than with the cruelty, injustice and folly of his time and his country. Author of some twenty-five plays and twenty-five novels and collections of short stories, he is primarily a moralist and social philosopher. Born into the upper middle class (the class of the rich bourgeois which gives England most of her legislators, lawyers, army and naval officers, as well as her dilettantes and minor poets), he made this class the particular butt of his attacks. Here indeed lies the theme of everything he wrote—the conflict between the comfortably-off English philistines and something indefinably softer in texture, more sensitive and less virile. Only rarely was he content with mere storytelling.”
A Hanging (1931)
The Adelphi, Volume II, Number 5, New Series, August 1931
Eric Blair had first written to the editor of The New Adelphi from Paris during August 1929 (the name of this periodical was tweaked several times). This is the first evidence of his connection with the long-lived English literary journal (1923-1955) which was to publish fifty of his essays and reviews, including his first significant pieces of writing, ‘The Spike’ and ‘A Hanging’, in 1931. You can see that he was still experimenting with his name which is variously listed as E.A. Blair, Eric A. Blair or Eric Blair in these early contributions. By the time Down and Out in Paris and London was published, in January 1933, the ‘Adelphi circle’, who actively supported him until his death in 1950, included some of his best friends.
Trosečníkem v Paříži a Londýně (1935)
Prague: Central Workers Publishers, 1935
Translated by Karl Krauss with a memorable cover by Jaroslav Šváb, this Czech translation of Down and Out in Paris and London) is very difficult to procure. Orwell wrote to his agent, Leonard Moore, on the 14th May noting that he had been posted a copy:
“Thanks also for sending the copies of the Czech translation of “Down and Out.” Of course I can’t judge what kind of translation it is, but at any rate they have got it up quite nicely.”
If you know more about this edition and how it came to be translated so early on in Orwell’s career, please email or comment below. I would appreciate it!
Shooting an Elephant (1936)
New Writing 2: Autumn 1936, John Lane The Bodley Head, 1936
I am very pleased to own a fine copy in a dust jacket of this first appearance of one of Orwell’s most anthologised and significant personal essays, Shooting an Elephant. John Lehmann, a significant 20th century literary figure, edited New Writing until the year Orwell died, 1950. Although biographers have never conclusively proved that Orwell shot an elephant while serving in Burma, the notes on contributors in this anthology describes the piece as “his autobiographical sketch”. While not as emphatic as Sonia Orwell’s, ”Of course he shot the fucking elephant” it is certainly evidence for the event being more than merely a literary, imaginative one.
Democracy in the British Army (1939)
The Left Forum, No.36, September, Independent Labour Party, 1939
Orwell joined the Independent Labour Party in June, 1938. He explained why in an article, published in The New Leader, that same month:
“Because the I.L.P. is the only British party—at any rate the only one large enough to be worth considering—which aims at anything I should regard as Socialism. I do not mean that I have lost all faith in the Labour Party. My most earnest hope is that the Labour Party will win a clear majority in the next General Election. But we know what the history of the Labour Party has been, and we know the terrible temptation of the present moment—the temptation to fling every principle overboard in order to prepare for an Imperialist war.”
‘Democracy in the British Army’ was published in the I.L.P. journal a little over a year later. It is not a memorable essay but was written during a period when Orwell’s own views were changing significantly such was the paradox for “the Left” that the reality of another war was creating:
“But we happen to be at a moment when the rise of Hitler has scared the official leaders of the Left into an attitude not far removed from jingoism. Large numbers of Left-wing publicists are almost openly agitating for war. Without discussing this subject at length, it can be pointed out that a Left-wing party which, within a capitalist society, becomes a war party, has already thrown up the sponge, because it is demanding a policy which can only be carried out by its opponents. The Labour leaders are intermittently aware of this—witness their shufflings on the subject of conscription. Hence, in among the cries of “Firm front!” “British prestige!” etc., there mingles a quite contradictory line of talk.”
Young British Writers – on the Way Up (1939)
Auden, WH and Isherwood, Christopher, ‘Young British Writers – on the Way Up’, Vogue, August, 15, 1939
This feature article, written by W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, came as something of a shock when I first discovered it. I knew that Allene Talmey had written a “spotlight” on Orwell in Vogue (15 September 1946) which included photos taken in his “top-floor flat in London, with his twenty-odd-months-old son”. In her article, Orwell is described as “a plain speaker, a direct writer” and as “a leftist… a defender of freedom, even though most of the time he violently disagrees with the people beside whom he is fighting”.
The Auden and Isherwood feature is notable as Orwell was not a well-known figure prior to the publication of Animal Farm. I was a little disappointed, when the magazine arrived, that no photos appeared in this 1939 article. However, it is fascinating to see the judgements made about Orwell on the eve of the Second World War by his much better-known literary peers:
“Among the younger novelists in England, we have three such reporters—all men of great honesty and considerable talent: George Orwell, Ralph Bates, and Arthur Calder-Marshall. Orwell’s career has been extraordinary. Educated at Eton, he has become a voluntary exile from his own class, preferring to inhabit the bitter and sordid world of the unemployed. A period of service with the Burmese police produced Burmese Days, a brilliant attack on British imperialism in the East. Burmese Days is the only novel which can bear comparison with Forster’s Passage to India. Orwell lacks Forster’s humanity. His irony is coarser, and his satire less delicate. But Burmese Days is, nevertheless, a thrilling and moving story of one man’s failure in his struggle with the official machine. Returning to Europe, Orwell wandered about, acquiring the terrible experiences which are recorded in The Road to Wigan Pier, The Clergyman s Daughter, and Down and Out in London and Paris. Not since Jack London’s People of the Abyss has anybody written so frankly about the Lower Depths of English life and its inhabitants, the miserable, huddled figures in their bundles of rags whom you can see any evening, trying to snatch a few moments of police-disturbed sleep on the benches of the Embankment and Trafalgar Square.”
The Proletarian Writer (1940)
The Listener, BBC, December 19th, 1940, Vol XXIV, No 623
Orwell’s opinions about “proletarian literature” are on display in this print version of the broadcast:
Hawkins: I have always doubted if there is such a thing as proletarian literature—or ever could be. The first question is what people mean by it. What do you mean by it? You would expect it to mean literature written specifically for the proletariat, and read by them, but does it?
Orwell: No, obviously not. In that case the most definitely proletarian literature would be some of our morning papers. But you can see by the existence of publications like New Writing, or the Unity Theatre, for instance, that the term has a sort of meaning, though unfortunately there are several different ideas mixed up in it. What people mean by it, roughly speaking, is a literature in which the viewpoint of the working class, which is supposed to be completely different from that of the richer classes, gets a hearing. And that, of course, has got mixed up with Socialist propaganda. I don’t think the people who throw this expression about mean literature written by proletarians. W. H. Davies was a proletarian, but he would not be called a proletarian writer. Paul Potts would be called a proletarian writer, but he is not a proletarian. The reason why I am doubtful of the whole conception is that I don’t believe the proletariat can create an independent literature while they are not the dominant class. I believe that their literature is and must be bourgeois literature with a slightly different slant. After all, so much that is supposed to be new is simply the old standing on its head. The poems that were written about the Spanish civil war, for instance, were simply a deflated version of the stuff that Rupert Brooke and Co. were writing in 1914.
Orwell’s years at the BBC led to a deepening of his connections to literary London. Desmond Hawkins, in his memoir, wrote:
“What occupied me principally in the autumn of 1940 was some – thing quite new to me – broadcasting. I had written scripts for the BBC, with John Pudney’s encouragement, but I had never spoken into a microphone. Now I was invited to present a weekly series of twelve programmes in which writers of different kinds – journalists, poets, short-story writers, critics, novelists, etc. – talked to me about their work. With the producer, Christopher Salmon, I worked out an impressive list of speakers – Tom Driberg (alias ‘William Hickey’ of the Daily Express), Sir Hugh Walpole, Walter de la Mare, Stephen Spender, V.S. Pritchett, T.S. Eliot, Cyril Connolly and George Orwell among them – and each Friday night at 7.40 p.m. we broadcast from an underground studio in Broadcasting House. A signal in the studio of a particularly unwelcome sort meant that the watchers on the roof had blown their whistles to indicate that enemy bombers were uncomfortably close. This was usually accompanied by the closure or power-reduction of various BBC transmitters, to confuse German navigators who used BBC transmissions as aids in direction-finding. Those listening at home came to know that an abrupt drop in volume meant that London was under attack.”
Talking to India (1943)
Orwell, George (ed.), Talking to India; A Selection of English Language Broadcasts to India, London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd Book, 1943
Collectors of Orwell’s output find this selection of his English language broadcasts to India particularly challenging to find, especially with a dust jacket. It took me years to collect an affordable one. Orwell edited the book, wrote the introduction and contributed, ‘The Rediscovery of Europe: Literature Between the Wars’ which was broadcast in March 1942. It is worth quoting a lengthy excerpt from his introduction:
“The B.B.C. broadcasts in forty-seven languages, including twelve Asiatic languages. Five of these belong to the mainland of India, but Hindustani is the only (Indian) language in which transmissions are made every day. The Hindustani broadcasts, including news bulletins, occupy eight and a quarter hours a week. There is also an English language programme intended primarily for the European population and the British troops.
But in addition to these programmes, three quarters of an hour every day is set aside for English broadcasts aimed at the Indian and not the British population. It is from this period that the talks in this book have been selected. The main reason for keeping this service going is that English, although spoken by comparatively few people, is the only true lingua franca of India. About five million Indians are literate in English (including some hundreds of thousands of Eurasians, Parsis and Jews) and several millions more can speak it. The total number of English speakers cannot be more than 3 per cent of the Indian population, but they are distributed all over the subcontinent, and also in Burma and Malaya, whereas Hindustani, spoken by 250 millions, has hardly any currency outside Northern and Central India. In addition, the people who speak English are also the people likeliest to have access to short-wave radio sets.
The work of organising and presenting the English language programmes from London has been done mainly by Indians, in particular by Mr. Z. A. Bokhari. A fairly large proportion of the speakers have also been Indians or other Orientals. Much that is broadcast (for instance, plays, features and music) is not suitable for reproduction in print, but otherwise the talks included in this book are a representative selection. It will be seen that they are predominantly “cultural” talks, with a literary bias. Frequent or regular speakers in this service have been E. M. Forster, T. S. Eliot, Herbert Read, J. F. Horrabin, William Empson, Desmond Hawkins, Stephen Spender, Edmund Blunden, Clemence Dane, Bonamy Dobrée, Cyril Connolly, Rebecca West, and other writers have also broadcast from time to time. At least one half-hour programme every month has been devoted to broadcasting contemporary English poetry. Obviously the listening public for such programmes must be a small one, but it is also a public well worth reaching, since it is likely to be composed largely of University students. Some hundreds of thousands of Indians possess degrees in English literature, and scores of thousands more are studying for such degrees at this moment. There is also a large English-language Indian Press with affiliations in this country, and a respectable number of Indian novelists and essayists (Ahmed Ali, Mulk Raj Anand, Cedric Dover and Narayana Menon, to name only four) who prefer to write in English. It is these people, or rather the class they represent, that our literary broadcasts have been aimed at.”
World Affairs (1945)
Junior, London: Children’s Digest Foundation, 1945
Orwell’s contribution to this “collection of stories, articles, and pictures for the junior members of the family” was formulated while he was serving as a war correspondent in France and Germany during 1945. It is not a cheery piece for the children.
Why I Write I (1946)
‘Why I Write’, Gangrel, Number 4, Summer 1946
In the same year Orwell was being published by the American Book of the Month Club and written-up in Vogue, he was still obliging the editors of short-lived, radical journals by submitting work for publication. ‘Why I Write’ is arguably Orwell’s most widely-read essay but how many people realise that several authors were asked to contribute a response, including Henry Miller who declined, for publication in Gangrel (Scottish vernacular for ‘vagrant’)? When one flips the magazine over, there is an advert for another journal, Death (which I have managed to procure)!
Kolgosp Tvarin (1947)
Munich: Vidavnitstvi Prometei, 1947
Kolgosp Tvarin, the first Ukrainian translation of Animal Farm by Ivan Chernyatinskii (pseudonym) with an important preface by Orwell has quite a publication history. Ihor Szewczenko (1922-2009) was a talented linguist who had been producing pocket-sized Ukrainian-English dictionaries for refugees in displaced persons camps in Germany, often in exchange for canned food, when he read Orwell’s satire and recognised the powerful relevance of the allegory. Szewczenko, who had nearly finished translating the novel by the time he wrote to Orwell seeking ‘authorisation’, explained that effect the story had on Soviet refugees who had been listening to his ad hoc verbal translation:
“The effect was striking. They approved of almost all of your interpretations. They were profoundly affected by such scenes as that of animals singing ‘Beasts of England’ on the hill. Here I saw, that in spite of their attention being primarily drawn on detecting ‘concordances’ between the reality they lived in and the tale, they very vividly reacted to the ‘absolute’ values of the book, to the tale ‘types’, to the underlying convictions of the author and so on. Besides, the mood of the book seems to correspond with their own actual state of mind.”
Ihor Sevcenko’s daughter contacted me recently as she has a project to trace the journey that copies of Kolgosp Tvarin made from the Displaced Persons Camps to their current owners. Please contact me if you can assist.
Politics & the English Language: An Essay Printed as a Christmas Keepsake for the Typophiles (1947)
Number XIX of the Typophile Monographs, Herbert W. Simpson, Inc., 1947
This is the first bespoke edition of Orwell’s work, illustrated by Merrill Snethen. The essay, originally published in Horizon during 1946, is one of 320 printed for this Typophile edition, although two other versions, another 150 copies in total exist. Does anyone have one of the 50 copies for “the Friends of Paul Bennett” or of the other 100 for Herbert W. Simpson?
Les Animaux Partout! (1948)
Réalités Littéraires, Monaco: Odile Pathé, 1948
This French magazine format edition of Animal Farm is a real curiosity. Twenty-year-old Odile Pathé, daughter of Charles Pathé, was printing anti-Stalinist publications in Monaco (as such work was politically near-impossible to publish in Paris at the time). Orwell wrote to Yvonne Davet in April, 1946:
“Two or three days ago I met Mademoiselle Odile Pathé, the publisher who is going to bring out Animal Farm. I didn’t know she was in London, but she rang me up. I told her you had translated Homage to Catalonia, and that you had sent her the translation, but I suppose she won’t be back in France until next week. She seemed to me to have a lot more courage than most publishers, and she explained that because she is in Monaco, she has less to fear than the others, except for the paper.1 In any case Homage to Catalonia is a much less dangerous book than Animal Farm. It seems that the Communists now exert direct censorship on French publishers (I have heard they have ‘prohibited’ Gallimard publishing Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls), and it’s quite clear that they wouldn’t let Animal Farm get through if they could find a way of suppressing it. If Mademoiselle Pathé has the courage to publish one book, she would have the courage to publish the other, if it seemed worth her while financially.”
At this time, Orwell provided Pathé with a photograph which later appeared on the inside cover of this magazine edition.
British Pamphleteers – Volume 1 (1948)
London: Allan Wingate, 1948.
Orwell, along with Reginald Reynolds edited British Pamphleteers Volume 1: From the 16th Century the 18th Century. Reynolds was also member of the I.L.P., as was his wife and another of Orwell’s friends, Ethel Mannin. Orwell was something of an expert in this field and often considered himself a pamphleteer of sorts. He bequeathed his own extraordinary collection of political pamphlets to the British library.
The Heart of the Matter (1948)
The New Yorker, July 17, 1948
Orwell did not only publish in ‘little magazines’ as one can see from this review of Graham Greene’s novel, The Heart of the Matter, which appeared in The New Yorker.
Orwell’s Strange World of 1984 (1949)
Life, July 4, 1949
Orwell’s final novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, was widely reviewed. Often, mostly in the USA, the reviewers misunderstood that Orwell was satirising totalitarianism and interpreted the book as a swipe at the Attlee Labour Government. Life magazine published some lengthy excerpts from the novel, using them to editorialise about individuals having their lives regimented by the state. Basically, the magazine attacked socialism. Life‘s popular and talented cartoonist, Abner Dean, illustrated the piece (and these images ended-up gracing a number of editions of the novel, especially translations).
Pamâti Katalonii (1950s)
Pamâti Katalonii, Paris: Editions de la Seine, Paris, c. 1950s
This Russian language edition of Homage to Catalonia is part of a print run (of many Orwell titles and other works forbidden in the USSR) that was funded for many years by the American government. They would pay printers to run off cheap copies of these ‘seditious’ works then get travellers and diplomats to take them back to Russia in their luggage. It was a Cold War operation. They are exceedingly rare but there is one copy in a library in Poland. Masha Karp’s soon-to-be-published book, George Orwell and Russia, will have a chapter devoted to this and other publications of this kind.
Animal Farm Letters (1984)
Bloomington: Private Press of Fredric Brewer, 1984
About 500 of Orwell’s letters to his literary agent have survived. Nearly 100 of these letters were acquired by the Lilly Library from a London dealer in 1959. Michael Shelden edited and annotated this collection of Orwell’s letters to Leonard Moore, which open a window onto Orwell’s publishing history for the period 1932-1949 and his struggles to have Animal Farm published. This edition was privately printed and limited to just 200 copies. My copy is #167 and in fine condition.
Bookshop Memories (1987)
Arethusa Pers Herber Blockland, 1987
Bespoke editions of Orwell’s work have been popular for generations. This is a particularly gorgeous edition of his essay about working in the Westrope’s bookshop at Hampstead, in London. Designed and printed by Sebastian Carter at the Rampant Lion Press, on Zerkall mould-made paper, with a stunning wood-engraving by Hilary Paynter and a foreword by W.E. Butler. My one is #144 of 150 numbered copies.
“Samizdat: I write it myself, edit it myself, censor it myself, publish it myself, distribute it myself, and spend jail time for it myself.” Vladimir Bukovsky
Although they are expensive, and hard to find, my collection now includes illegally printed Orwells from Eastern Europe.
Eseje, Warsaw: Oficyna WE, 1983. 48pp. Polish samizdat edition translated by Teresa Jelenska. Original xeroxed decorative staple-stitched wrappers. The essays are ‘The Prevention of Literature’; ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’; and ‘Raffles and Miss Blandish’.
Hódolat Katalóniának, Budapest: AB Független Kiadó, 1986. 127pp. This is the first Hungarian mimeograph samizdat edition of Homage to Catalonia.
Állati Gazdaság, Budapest: AB Publisher House, 1988. 64pp. This is a Hungarian samizdat edition of Animal Farm and the title translates as Animal Economy or Animal Agriculture. It states 1984 on the cover but was published in 1988. It is staple bound in cerise illustrated card covers with uncredited original illustrations on most pages.
Eric, or Little by Little (1858)
London: Adam and Charles Black, 1894
Orwell hated this book, Eric, or, Little by Little. He disliked the way others associated it with his given name “Eric” but there were plenty of other reasons Orwell would have disliked the book. The protagonist is the son of a British colonial official and his wife stationed in India, echoing Orwell’s own family story. The book has a particularly earnest and didactic tone. I have never been even remotely been able to read too much of it all, let alone finish the thing – but it is an excellent Orwellian literary curio.
There are many more rare and interesting publications from Orwell’s pen you can browse in my Orwell Studies Library!