George Orwell, Rejected

At first, George Orwell found it difficult to get published.  His masterpiece Animal Farm was rejected by the major publisher in the UK at the time,  Faber & Faber.  The 1944 rejection letter from T.S. Eliot (no less), who was serving in the capacity of editorial advisor, reads:

We [the directors] agree that it is a distinguished piece of writing; that the fable is very skillfully handled, and that the narrative keeps one’s interest on it own plane–and that is something that very few authors have achieved since Gulliver.  On the other hand, we have no conviction that this is the right point of view from which to criticize the political situation at the present time [WWII]. . . .  I am very sorry because whoever published this will naturally have the opportunity of publishing your future work:  and I have a regard for your work, because it is good writing of fundamental integrity. . . .

Eliot, the ultimate Tory, did want want to upset the Soviets in the tough times of WWII.  Besides, he noted, the pigs were the smartest of the farm animals, and were therefore the best qualified to rule.

This must be one of the oddest rejection slips ever.  Animal Farm was eventually published by a small socialist house.  Its success was immediate. Orwell must have taken pleasure in the fact that the book’s profits didn’t go to a capitalist publisher.

The book publishers had no qualms about going with 1984, an immediate best-seller on both sides of the Atlantic.  Orwell, a writer long associated with the left, was a well-known socialist figure.  Against that background 1984 was not conceived as a repudiation of socialist ideals, but as a warning for what might happen if the trends evident in 1948 continued (dividing up the world).  When the book was hailed by the right-wing press generally, Orwell was so bothered by their simple anti-Communist interpretation that he sent out a press release outlining the book’s intended meaning.

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5 Responses to George Orwell, Rejected

  1. Roger Hansen says:

    According to Gregory McNamee (13 Jul 2009) writing on (accessed 23 Aug 2010):

    “Consider one of history’s small, delicious ironies: in the 1984, George Orwell was the best-selling author in Iran, for the mullahs evidently neglected to include his name on the long index of authors whose works were prohibited in the bizarre theocracy of the ayatollahs, with the happy result that Farsi editions of Orwell sold in record numbers.

    I was a nice alignment of coincidence, for Orwell was inspried to write “1984” by a newspaper account of the Tehran Conference of late 1943, when the Allied powers determined how the postwar world would be carved up into the “Zones of Influence” that Orwell would call Eurasia, Oceania, and Eastasia. Given ongoing events in the streets of Iran’s cities, it would be interesting to see how his books are faring today.”

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  3. Roger Hansen says:

    There is a passage somewhere in Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” which gives an idea of Orwell the man. He was describing how, during a lull in fighting during the Spanish Civil War, he had been detailed to go out into a fox-hole in no-man’s land (between the opposing lines of trenches), and try a little sniping at the enemy:

    “Perhaps it was because I was cold and hungry and very bored and I wanted to get back into my own lines as soon as possible, as I had been waiting for hours and had not seen anybody. When suddenly, quite unexpected by me, a man appeared above the enemy lines running in a great hurry, holding up his trousers–he had neither belt nor braces–rushing along to the lavatory.”

    Orwell continues:

    “Well, I came out here to shoot Fascists and a man caught short like that is not a Fascist. So I returned to behind my own lines, without firing at him.”

    George Orwell had enormous courtesy and an awkward respect for life. He also had a deep desire to give a fair field to an opponent.

  4. Roger Hansen says:

    According to Paul Gray writing in Time magazine (28 Nov 1983):

    “The success of “Animal Farm” at last brought Orwell some financial relief: he could afford to cut back on his journalsim and devote more time to his next novel. He took a house on Jura, a windy, remote island off the western coast of Scotland. There, growing more ill each day, he completed “Nineteen Eighty-Four.

    He lived only seven months after its publication, long enough to realize that his book was becoming enormously successful and widely misunderstood. He attempted a note of clarification: ‘My recent novel is NOT intended as an attack on socialism or on the British Labor Party (of which I am a supporter) but as a showup of the perversions to which a centralized economy is liable and which have already been partly realized in Communism and Fascism. I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily will arrive, but I believe (allowing of course for the fact that the book is satire) that something resembling it could arrive.’ Few listened . . .

    Orwell did not view “Nineteen Eighty-Four” as his last will and testament, a Swiftian condemnation of humanity, as some . . . have claimed. . . . Soon afterwards (the publishing of his book), he married Sonia Brownell, a beautiful woman 15 years his junior, in his hospital room. T.O. Fyvel, another friend, recalls Orwell saying, ‘When one is married one has more reason to live.’ He died three months later, on Jan. 21, 1950.”

  5. rogerdhansen says:

    According to NG (Dec 2010), George Orwell called Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished Roman Catholic Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona “one of the most hideous buildings in the world.”

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