U is for UndoublePlusGood

The George Orwell Frequently Asked Questions Page

Compiled by the members of the alt.books.george-orwell newsgroup.




Index
Prof. Peter Davison / First Edition Books / Sonia Orwell / Rough Men



Nomenclature

a.b.g-o: The USENET discussion group alt.books.george-orwell

AF: Animal Farm

BD: Burmese Days

Bowker: George Orwell. By Gordon Bowker, published by Little, Brown, 2003. Biography.

CD: A Clergyman’s Daughter

CEJL: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. Edited by Ian Angus and Sonia Orwell, originally published by Secker and Warburg, 1968; later reprints by Penguin and David R. Godine. Published in 4 volumes (“An Age Like This, 1920-1940”, “My Country Right or Left, 1940-1943”, “As I Please, 1943-1945”, & “In Front of Your Nose, 1945-1950” – hence ‘CEJL III’, and so on). Until the release of the Complete Works the CEJL was the most comprehensive collection of Orwell’s non-fiction in print.

Crick: George Orwell: A Life. By Bernard R. Crick, published by Secker and Warburg, 1980; in print in UK in Penguin paperback. Originally contracted as the official biographer by Sonia Orwell, Crick later fell out with his patron and published without Sonia’s imprimatur (leaving the official slot to Michael Shelden’s Orwell: The Authorized Biography). Criticized for its exclusive (and unnecessarily dry) concentration on Orwell the political writer, Crick’s biography is nonetheless a vital resource.

CUFA: Coming Up For Air

CW: The Complete Works of George Orwell. Edited by Peter Davison, published by Secker and Warburg, 1998. Consists of 20 volumes in total, the first 9 being Orwell’s standard published works (from Down and Out in Paris and London to Nineteen Eighty-Four) and the final 11 a compilation of the rest of Orwell’s entire literary output: the volumes are, respectively, X "A Kind of Compulsion" (1903-1936), XI "Facing Unpleasant Facts" (1937-1939), XII "A Patriot After All" (1940-17 August 1941), XIII "All Propaganda is Lies" (18 August 1941-31 August 1942), XIV "Keeping Our Little Corner Clean" (1 September 1942-31 March 1943), XV "Two Wasted Years" (1 April-26 November 1943), XVI "I Have Tried to Tell the Truth" (26 November 1943-31 December 1944), XVII "I Belong to the Left" (1945), XVIII "Smothered Under Journalism" (1946), XIV "It is What I Think" (1947-1948) and XX "Our Job is to Make Life Worth Living" (1949-1950). These are usually referred to in Roman numerals eg. ‘CW XIV’, and so on. The CW was originally only available as a prohibitively expensive hardback set, but Secker and Warburg have now begun publishing the final 11 volumes as individual paperbacks (this reprint also corrects some typographical errors in the original and adds a few minor items). At the time of writing, only published in the UK (though available elsewhere through online distributors like amazon.co.uk). Has supplanted the CEJL as the most authoritative edition of Orwell’s work.

DAOIPAL: Down and Out in Paris and London

GO: George Orwell

HTC: Homage to Catalonia

KTAF: Keep the Aspidistra Flying

LATU: The Lion and the Unicorn

Meyers: Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation. By Jeffrey Meyers, published by W.W. Norton, 2000. A strange effort to turn George Orwell into a hypermasculine swaggerer on the model of Hemingway and Kipling, who seem to be Meyers' first literary loves. Richard Rees, in a gentler memoir, called George Orwell a "fugitive from the camp of victory." Meyers seems to want to see a bully. He pounces on biographical details suggesting bad temper or authoritarian impulse, and where none are available in Orwell's own life and works, he borrows them from elsewhere. Not content with Orwell's own words about seeing hope for human freedom during the Spanish Civil War, Meyers superimposes this: "As Malraux wrote of his own fictional hero: 'What he liked about war was the masculine comradeship, the irrevocable commitments that courage imposes.'" Why replace clean idealism with sweaty barracks camaraderie? Why assert that Orwell "liked war" when Orwell himself tended to dwell on its unpleasantness? Even stranger, Meyers claims of Homage to Catalonia, "The hero of the book is not Orwell, but the resolute, daring and heroic Georges Kopp." Orwell's commanding officer in Spain seems to have been brave, bullnecked, and not especially reflective. Does Meyers (bullnecked himself, per the jacket photo) identify with this man? On zero evidence, Meyers then makes the further unsupported claim that Kopp served as the model for O'Brien, the overbearing friend and torturer of Nineteen Eighty-Four. One wonders what Meyers must think of Winston Smith, who after all is only a loser. This biography has been praised for its wealth of "new" information. Much material will in fact be "new" to readers of earlier biographies, but it's largely from published sources: at least half comes from the Complete Works (counting the new scholarship in Peter Davison's exhaustive footnotes), and another quarter from the less obvious published memoirs, like Miriam Gross' essay collection, The World Of George Orwell. The remaining quarter of "new" material is a result of genuine legwork. Meyers has tracked down several interesting details from the next generation of Orwell's family and the children of his close friends. Some are trivial, like Richard Blair's childhood memory of trying to smoke his father's cigarette ends and becoming "violently sick for the rest of the day." There is, however, a spectacular entry in this category: Meyers' confrontation with the elderly Frank Frankford, a Spanish Civil War fighter who told a painful lie in the 1937 Daily Worker, saying he had seen evidence of fascist collaboration by Orwell's unit of the P.O.U.M. militia. A free-standing article about that interview, and Frankford's ambiguous near-retraction, appears as an appendix to the Orwell biography and was also published in the New Criterion (see link above). In writing about Orwell Meyers seems to have been working against his own grain. Judging from a gratuitous but lovely appendix, "The Geography of Kipling's 'Mandalay'," he's a better writer on subjects he truly cares for. This book is a useful summary of recent Orwell research (much of it Davison's), but its interpretations are misleading. With the Hemingway/Kipling bias always on display, Orwell's every act is overexplained with a virtual claim on clairvoyance, right up to the moment of his death, when "he wasn't able to ring for a nurse and no one heard his strangled cry for help." Here's hoping that rescue is on the way in the form of a better biography.

NEF: Nineteen Eighty-Four (also NE-F, 1984)

P&TEL: Politics and the English Language

RWP: The Road to Wigan Pier

Shelden: Orwell: The Authorized Biography. By Michael Shelden, published by William Heinemann (London), HarperCollins (New York), 1991; currently out-of-print. Replaced Crick as the official biography, with the stated goal of presenting ‘Orwell the man’ as well as the theorist (and judged too gossipy by some as a result).

Stansky & Abrahams: The Unknown Orwell and Orwell: The Transformation. By Peter Stansky and William Abrahams, published by Constable (London), Knopf (New York), 1972 (Unknown) and 1979 (Transformation); both reprinted as a single volume by Stanford U, 1994; the Stanford volume is currently in print in the US. Unknown traces Orwell’s life up to the publication of Down and Out in Paris and London in 1933, while Transformation continues the story through the Spanish Civil War and Homage to Catalonia. An early biographical effort (albeit one that did not attempt to cover GO’s whole life), much cited in critical writings on Orwell prior to Crick.

Taylor: Orwell, The Life. By D.J. Taylor, published by Chatto and Windus, 2003. Biography.


Contents

Davison, Professor Peter Hobley, 1926-

British academic and author, currently Research Professor of English at De Montfort University, not to be confused with Peter Davison the former Doctor Who actor, nor Peter Davison the Poetry Editor for the Atlantic Monthly, nor for that matter frequent a.b.g-o contributor Tom Deveson. Editor of the Complete Works of George Orwell and Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Facsimile of the Extant Manuscript (1984); author of George Orwell: A Literary Life (1996). The completion of the CW was something of an epic decades-long ordeal for Davison, which he recounted in this essay for the Observer in 1998:

My Problem With George (What does it take to get The Observer's favourite ever columnist published? Twenty volumes, 17 years, seven publishers, six heart bypasses, four hundredweight of pages. And one editor plus his wife and a mate...) By Peter Davison, The Observer, June 28, 1998.

It has been 17 years since I started work on editing The Complete Works of George Orwell, the 20 volumes of which are published next week. What started out as a 'simple check' on how accurate were the nine Orwell books that Martin Secker & Warburg then had in print became an undertaking which, as one American writer recently pointed out, had it been performed in the States, would have attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars and a vast team of academics. In England we do things differently, especially as universities are now financed. There has been no grand team of academics, only me, and the Orwell scholar Ian Angus, and my wife. The only finance has been drawn from my modest advance royalties.

The story of how the books have finally come into being, a story of delays and confusion, of takeovers and downsizing, says much about how academic and publishing life is conducted these days in Britain. It is also, though, partly the story of a new technology. Fifty years ago, I worked for a small printer in Cricklewood, who, among other jobs, was charged with setting electoral registers for two constituencies. What now happens on a three-and-a-half inch floppy disk then occurred in a large composing room where the floor was littered with tied-up metal representing page after page of electoral registers. Every time a register was revised, out would come this gargantuan pile of lead for amendment. There were disadvantages to this, of course it might be tripped over, for a start but it did not take on a life of its own as computer setting seems able to do. No old-style compositor, for example, would produce a title page which read, in large type, 'Nineteen 48pt Eighty-Four'. Nor were large batches of lead type, sufficient to set a book, easily mislaid. Twice over the years the electronic media for Orwell's existing nine books completely disappeared . . . I was prepared for none of this, though, when on 8 September 1981, Tom Rosenthal, then publisher of Secker & Warburg, commissioned me to produce the corrected editions of Orwell's nine books. It all seemed very straightforward: I was to produce one volume a month for a fee of pounds 100 each. If all were delivered by July 1982, I should receive a bonus of pounds 100.

In order to prepare the texts, I travelled up to London at my own expense one day a week in term time from the University of Kent at Canterbury, where I was then a professor. I collated more than 50 editions of the nine books and a few manuscripts at the Orwell Archive at University College, the British Library and the London Library, word by word, comma by comma. Julia Gollancz, daughter of Orwell's first publisher, Victor Gollancz, kindly went through the Gollancz archives with me. There was a special thrill in finding and touching pages of text that Orwell had typed. In the typescript of Keep the Aspidistra Flying, we discovered passages that had been censored and then forgotten for nearly 50 years. Originally, for example, Orwell had used real advertising slogans in the book that, in 1936, it had been deemed too risky to print. Orwell was required to substitute new, spurious slogans that would take the same space to avoid re-paragraphing. (Unlike the computer, lead type is inflexible.) Thus the genuine 'New Hope for the Ruptured' was changed to 'The Truth about Bad Legs'. It was a pleasure to restore the originals.

I finished the job on time and claimed my pounds 100 bonus. Rosenthal intended to produce a de luxe edition of the nine volumes to celebrate 1984. (Someone pointed out that a de luxe edition of Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier sounded incongruous, and 'de luxe' fell out of the plans). Still, delivery in mid 1982 gave the publishers two whole years to produce the nine corrected books.

That summer the Conservative Government launched its attack on universities, demanding that staff be reduced and departments closed. Those of us over 55 at Kent were asked by the Vice Chancellor to volunteer to leave to save the university money. I agreed to leave if I could find work to supplement what would be a rather small pension because I had been an academic for only 20 years. In January 1983, therefore, I started work as secretary to the Trustees of Albany, a historic building in Piccadilly. I imagined I should be able to devote myself to writing and editing. Proof copies of the edited books were very slow in arriving, however. When they did appear they were read and returned within the specified time. But by mid 1983 there were no signs of revises and by July 1984, when the edition should have been in the bookshops, there was no sign of any activity in Poland Street, where Secker were then located. Tom Rosenthal told me there would be blood on the walls if the publisher had not produced the nine volumes by the autumn. They didn't appear and there was no blood visible on the walls. Tom left Secker for Andre Deutsch.

There were compensations, however: in the course of working on the volumes, I had negotiated to bring over the original typescript of Nineteen Eighty-Four from the States it proved conclusively that the title was originally to be Nineteen Eighty. As the time for the completion of the book dragged on owing to Orwell's rapidly declining health, the date was advanced. Thus, the famous opening originally began, 'April 4th, 1980. I am opening this diary because ' but Orwell crossed out 1980 and wrote over it '1982'; later he overwrote '4' on to the '2'.

On 9 December 1985, three-and-a-half years after the copy had been submitted for the nine books, and although I had kept my part of the bargain, I was hauled into Secker's offices and asked why I had not delivered the proofs. I responded crossly that I had returned the proofs and provided evidence to that effect. A search of the Poland Street office finally revealed said proofs under a stack of books, many bearing coffee and wine stains (neither mine) and a pencilled schedule for a skiing holiday (ditto) written on a galley. The proofs had never been returned to the printer for correction. That was then done and, on 4 April 1986, the first batch of three volumes appeared to celebrations at the Groucho Club. Alas, it was soon obvious that they were riddled with printing errors. The printers maintained that the radars of ships passing on the Tyne, near their works, had affected their computers. I pointed out that my father was a master mariner sailing out of the Tyne. He died in 1933, when I was six, as a result of tuberculosis developed in the appalling conditions when tied up there month after month during the slump. I knew there were even fewer ships passing along the Tyne in the Eighties. The printers then blamed the radios of passing taxis. The three volumes were pulped and my wife and I went through the laborious task of proof-reading the nine volumes once more. (It is worth noting that, in Orwell's lifetime, Gollancz got out his books in two to three months.) When it was realised how many errors there were in the nine books before I had corrected the texts, and realising how much more Orwell material had become available, Secker then asked me to prepare a complete edition of all Orwell's writings. With some trepidation, but encouraged by Ian Angus's offer of assistance, I agreed to undertake this task. By November 1985, I had completed 4,183 pages of typescript. Secker, however, subject to successive takeovers (they have been sold seven times during the preparation of this edition), then abandoned the project. It was left abandoned for two years, but in 1986, the American publisher Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, decided to take it over and activities were transferred to New York. Late in 1989, Harcourt, Brace also abandoned the edition but in January 1990 they changed their corporate mind and started again. They pulled out for a second time in April 1992, but by August had had another rethink. I completed editing the text for volumes 10 to 20 on 11 November 1992. It ran to almost 8,000 pages of typescript excluding extensive preliminaries and the many indexes. In December 1993, however, Harcourt, Brace finally abandoned the edition. By then 3,188 pages of text had been set and proof-read.

For a couple of years I had been suffering chest and stomach pains and, seemingly, as they used to say in the nineteenth century, 'going into a decline'. My wife was certain I was spending too many hours crouched over my desk. I went through the usual gamut of tests for cancer, and stomach and heart problems but nothing positive showed up except angina. Things came to a head at the end of 1995, after a stressful year at De Montfort University (where I was acting head of the Department of English stress, I hasten to add, not caused by my colleagues but as a result of the awful Research Assessment Exercise and Higher Education Funding Council inspection. Over the 'Orwell years', I have written eight further books academics, these days, have to be 'in print'). A series of ECGs and echocardiograms revealed nothing, and it was decided to perform an angiogram. The cardiologist at Swindon came to see me a few hours later and said he had arranged for me to be seen by a surgeon at Southampton the following morning, a Saturday, because I was seriously ill. One of my sons drove me down and the surgeon, having told my wife and me I'd less than a year to live as I was hopes of seeing the Orwell completed looked distinctly dim arranged for me to come in on Monday, and the following day performed a sextuple heart bypass.

In the meantime, the Orwell edition had returned home. Max Eilenberg, then Secker's publisher, took energetic steps to have all that had been set and the rights to publish transferred to England. The material set in New York started to arrive on 21 February 1995. All the New York settings had to be rerun and everything again proof-read. Countless errors were introduced because of the different way the computers here recognised the US signals. Still, by 12 February 1997 all the text had been set and proof-read at least six times, the preliminaries were completed and I started indexing. Publication was set for 11 August 1997. But fate struck another blow. Secker were again sold; Max Eilenberg and others sadly had to leave, and everything was to be transferred to Random House. I was bitterly disappointed. I felt, in any case, I was living on borrowed time.

Alas, too, the journey from Michelin House, where Secker had been based, to Random House, where it was now to be, proved too much for all the materials set, photographs, disks, etc. Most of that summer was spent in discovering what was where. (I recently worked out that, over the years, I had accumulated about eight hundredweight of copy and proofs.) As a result, publication was put off until 2 July this year. Marvell's 'Time's winged chariot hurrying near' became a recurring thought. If the edition came out, I knew I would be almost 72, and after so many delays how could one be sure that there would be no more? Then, early in the spring of 1998, Secker, as part of Random House, were bought out again, this time by the German firm of Bertelsmann. In fact, publication has not been held up, but such news is not good for the blood pressure.

I can't help but feel that Orwell would have had some wry pleasure from this story. Over the years he has seemed to live with us and we with him. His face looks down on me with a quizzical smile as I write, pictured with his favourite goat, Muriel, immortalised in Animal Farm. I like to think that a little of his wry response to life and even the tiniest touch of his integrity, has rubbed off on to me. He is far more richly comic than many people realise, delighting in subtle in-jokes. What, for example, really was Room 101 before it was immortalised as a place of terror in Nineteen Eighty-Four? It was no less than the committee room where the BBC's Eastern Service Meetings were held and which Orwell doubtless found incredibly boring. Far more than any author I have worked on, he has seemed alive, still, as a person as well as a being a great writer.

In the final volumes, there are hidden disappointments. In so long-drawn-out an enterprise, the strain on the memory is immense, however many notes and indexes one prepares en route. How does one recall just where, in thousands of pages of typescript, a particular person or reference occurred? The Cumulative Index has some 30,000 entries, but that was, and has to be, the last thing to be completed. Each break in production, especially one of a couple of years, made remembering that much more difficult.

There was, too, the constant worry that new material would come in: at once welcome but also a kind of threat. A quotation from a single late arrival, item 355A, was one such instance. Jennie Lee, who married Aneurin Bevan in 1934 and later was appointed first Minister for the Arts, wrote to a Miss Margaret Goalby in 1950: 'In the first year of the Spanish Civil War I was sitting with friends in a hotel in Barcelona when a tall thin man with a ravished complexion came over to the table. He asked me if I was Jennie Lee, and if so, could I tell him where to join up . . . I was suspicious and asked what credentials he had brought from England. Apparently he had none. He had seen no one, simply paid his own way out. He won me over by pointing to the boots over his shoulder. He knew he could not get boots big enough for he was over six feet. This was George Orwell and his boots arriving to fight in Spain.' Obviously this had to go in (who could resist 'This was George Orwell and his boots arriving to fight in Spain'?), but I regret now that my memory failed me and I did not pick up that I already had a Margaret Goalby in volume 20.

When I was young I enjoyed long-distance running. The marathon was not then a popular activity so it was either the mile, the three-miles, the cross-country and that environmentally unfriendly delight, the paper-chase. Just after the war I was involved in a three-mile inter-service race in Singapore. I had been on watch most of the night; the Army and the RAF had flown in special teams; the Navy could only raise three men, of which I was one; and there were several local teams. I came an exhausted ninth, beaten by the eight Army and RAF athletes. An enthusiastic RAF officer, with traditional Battle of Britain moustache, dashed across and warmly (and very kindly) congratulated me. 'Wonderful to carry on when your team was disqualified after half a mile! Wonderful! Congratulations, old boy!' The 'old boy' had, of course, no idea his team had been disqualified because the two others had failed to complete the course. Editing the Orwell has sometimes felt like running just such a race, but happily this team of three has managed to stay the course. Just!


First Editions (or, “Is this copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four, etc., a first edition?”)

Up until 1998 the available Orwell bibliographic notes were sketchy and anecdotal. In 1998 Gillian Fenwick published the first definitive annotated bibliography (G. Fenwick, George Orwell: A Bibliography, Oak Knoll Press). Fenwick covered - as far as we know - everything GO had written by 1950. She also includes copious notes on the writing and publishing of books, essays etc., together with short biographic notes. Her bibliography also includes the important posthumous publications of his work, but in that respect it is not intended to be complete. Minor reprints and reissues have not been included, since "such items may be of interest to collectors, but this is not intended as a work for them: it is a work for ... Orwell scholarship ..." (Fenwick, p. ix). A definitive bibliography is always a little speculative, as new information always turns up. What follows has drawn to a large extent on Fenwick's work.

Unfortunately there is no way to describe the characteristics of Orwell's first edition "in general." He published with different houses and his various works had different publishing histories (which are well described in Fenwick). I will try to describe the characteristics of the first editions of Orwell's two most popular works: Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

ANIMAL FARM: Published in 1945 by Secker and Warburg. States "First published May 1945" though publication was delayed until August due to paper shortage. Bound in green calico textured cloth on boards. No jacket. 10,000 copies printed. (There were a number of reissues in 1946, so stated).

The first American edition was published in 1946 by Harcourt, Brace & Co. States "first American edition." Binding is black calico, Jacket is black with red and white lettering, artist Art Brenner's signature on right or left side of front (no priority established). Top of front flap: $1.75. 50,000 copies printed.

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR: Published in 1949 by Secker & Warburg. States "First published 1949." Binding Green calico, top edge purple. Jacket is red with white lettering. Front flap has price of 10s. Net. 25,575 printed. There is a less preferred green jacket.

First American edition by Harcourt, Brace and Co. in 1949. States "first American edition." Cover grey calico grain, jacket has red background, front flap has $3.00 price. Published in June 1949 in 10,000 copies, and there were several additional printings in the next two years. Fenwick says the jacket is blue, but the red jacket is preferred, possibly because Book club edition also has blue cover.

One other book is worth mentioning on the question of first edition priorities. The Road To Wigan Pier was issued both as a Left Book Club edition (for members only) and a separate trade edition by Gollancz. It is sometimes assumed that the former is the rarer, but that is not the case. The Left Book Club edition had a printing of 44,150 copies, whereas the public edition was printed only in 2,150 copies (Many thanks to George Mandler for this article).


Orwell, Sonia (nee Brownell), 1918-1980.

In the autumn of 1949 Orwell married his second wife, Sonia Brownell, an old friend from the staff of Horizon magazine, where she had been a trusted assistant for several years to Cyril Connolly, Orwell's friend since early school days. Orwell and Sonia were not together long. He died in January of 1950. The marriage may have been partly because of Orwell's need for a permanent secretary during his incapacitation and (looking to the future) a guardian for his young adopted son Richard. (As it turned out, she wasn't much of a stepmum.)

Sonia was renowned for her beauty, nicknamed by colleagues 'The Venus of Euston Road'. In the most commonly reproduced period photograph of her, taken in 1949 in the Horizon office on her last day at work, she's truly lovely. Both of the major biographies of Orwell - George Orwell: A Life by Bernard Crick and Orwell: The Authorised Biography by Michael Shelden have photographs of Sonia in them. There's also a picture (not the better-known Horizon one, but more of a formal portrait) in A Preface To Orwell by David Wykes (Longman, 1987, ISBN 0 582 35193 6). It's on page 165 and makes her look rather surprisingly lipsticky and conventional.

The marriage proved quite an asset to George Orwell's widow. She acquired appreciable royalties and a surname that was already becoming internationally famous - it's interesting that Eileen was always Mrs. Eric Blair, but Sonia was most definitely an Orwell (despite the name being legally meaningless, "Orwell" never having formally switched to it). Sonia reportedly hated the two-volume biography by Peter Stansky and William Abrahams entitled The Unknown Orwell and Orwell: the Transformation which were NOT authorized, so they were not allowed to use quotes from Orwell's writings. Sonia hated these volumes, so she decided to "authorize" a biography by Bernard Crick. According to Shelden, Sonia commissioned Crick based on some Orwell commentary he had written, without knowing much about him. She allowed the use of Orwell's writings and gave him access to Orwell's papers. However, after the manuscript was completed, she hated it as well and tried, unsuccessfully, to stop publication. One contributor speculates that a reason for Sonia's dislike of Crick's book might have been that he's rather snippy about her co-editing in the Collected Essays, & criticizes her for, among other things, putting Why I Write as the first essay in the Collection (thereby insinuating without justification that that piece, written in 1946, is a blanket description of GO's professional motivation and attitude throughout his whole working life).

Well, maybe. Crick's final page prefaces a quote from "Why I Write," with this: "Let a paragraph from the same essay that Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus printed at the very beginning of The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters serve as his own epitaph at the end of his first full and unwanted biography: ..." The extract starts with: "... What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art ..." The usual complaint against Crick is that, as a political historian, his interest is in Orwell's writing, thought and influence to the exclusion of all else. Shelden apparently attempted to rectify this dry angle with an examination of the 'sensual' Orwell. Crick doesn't have much to say one way or the other about Sonia, as for him she turns up too late in the story to have much effect on Orwell's main body of work.

Shelden's Orwell: The Authorized Biography, published in 1991, is very negative about Sonia - possibly for a self-serving reason: in the biography's introduction, he is at pains to tell us why his own work goes beyond Crick's. He implies one reason is that he had better access than Crick did to sensitive Orwell material, because he dealt with literary executor Mark Hamilton following Sonia's death, whereas Crick, who published in 1980, had to deal with the prickly and protective Sonia herself. At p. 487 Shelden argues Julia "talks and acts like Sonia and even has a job that is the futuristic equivalent of editorial assistant at Horizon - she works on the novel-writing machines ..." In the next paragraph, without further mention of Sonia, Shelden goes on to describe Julia's blunt "straightforwardness," adding, "After describing his loveless marriage with Katherine, Winston tells Julia of a time when he was standing near the edge of a cliff with his wife and was tempted to push her. 'Why didn't you give her a good shove?' Julia asks. 'I would have.' To which, Winston says, 'Yes, dear, you would have’”. Two pages earlier, Shelden tells an unpleasant story about Sonia: she was in a boating accident, was nearly pulled down by a drowning boy, and pushed him under in reflexive self-defense. Only she survived. She later blamed herself for the boy's death. Another Julia-type characteristic Shelden attributes to Sonia: a reaction against a strict convent upbringing so strong that, for example, she "in later life made a point of spitting on the pavement whenever she saw a nun”.

Tom Rosenthal, Crick and Peter Davison’s publisher, wrote this piece about his dealings with Sonia:

Putting on her Orwell's Widow Act. By Tom Rosenthal, The Daily Telegraph, June 27, 1998. COPYRIGHT The Daily Telegraph 1998.

One day in October 1971, Sonia Orwell telephoned me to say that she'd just read a wonderful review of a book of essays on her husband, edited by Miriam Gross, a close friend of hers. Who was this man Bernard Crick, she wanted to know. "A brilliant, left-wing political theory professor," I said. "Well," replied Sonia, "he's the man to do George's biography."

In those days, I was managing director of Secker and Warburg, Orwell's publishers. I wasn't going to point out that Crick, while clearly a dab hand on the student revolutions of 1968, was not, as far as I knew, an author of biographies. Instead, I asked her if she was really sure, since he was a very eminent man in his field and I couldn't trifle with his affections if she might then change her mind. Sonia was sufficiently categorical in her assurances to me that I lunched with Crick and made him an appropriate offer. "But I've never written a biography before," he said. I responded: "But Professor Crick, you could say the same of Michael Holroyd before he tackled Hugh Kingsmill and Lytton Strachey. You have to start somewhere."

So Professor Crick became Bernard, and he agreed. From Orwell's American publishers, I had extracted a huge advance for Crick, on the promise of which he decided generously to endow a George Orwell Memorial Essay Prize. Unfortunately, when I sent Sonia the first draft of the opening chapters, she not only disapproved but told the American publisher that she disapproved - on the grounds that she believed that Crick did not properly understand either Orwell or his milieu. He promptly cancelled the contract and Sonia tried to do the same. And Sonia in full flight was an awesome spectacle. Even socially, she could set one's teeth on edge. She was a generous hostess, who always made sure her guests had lots to drink, did not herself notably abstain, and felt she had a God-given right to be frank. Although very properly brought up, she did not know the prohibition on "personal remarks", telling me, for example, that my new beard looked quite ridiculous.

Sonia once went berserk over a single word on the jacket blurb for an Orwell reprint and demanded the pulping of 20,000 large books. She objected to the description of Nineteen Eighty-Four as a novel of "prophecy" as she felt it was merely a warning. Few could argue that totalitarianism took a shape uncannily like that which Orwell described. I offered her lunch, she specified the White Tower, and I arrived two minutes early to find her and her agent ensconced way ahead of me in the tiny bar area, clearly not wishing to greet me. I went straight to my regular table. The delightful Irish co-owner Eileen Stais brought me a drink and said: "Isn't that Miss Brownell?" I admitted that it was, and congratulated her on her memory of the old Horizon days, when Sonia Brownell worked as Cyril Connolly's assistant. Sonia had known Orwell well for a matter of months and was his wife for 14 weeks before he died. As others have pointed out, she married a man called Eric Blair, who died. She then married a distinguished academic called Pitt-Rivers, but got divorced. She chose, however, to use none of her three legal names but insisted that she always be known as Mrs. Orwell.

As Mrs. Orwell, she kept me waiting at my own table for half an hour, in plain sight, before deigning to sit and break bread with me. Hospitality rules meant as much to her as personal remarks and my character and professional competence were shredded for a full hour. The shredding was accompanied by the constant threat to remove the entire Orwell oeuvre from the publishing house and take it where it would be better understood and cherished. These threats could not be carried out as they would be against all known contract law and therefore impossible even to contemplate in a rational world. I held my tongue and agreed to reprint the offending jackets as I knew that this current storm was a trifle in comparison to what I suspected would lie ahead on Crick.

In David Plante's beautifully etched memoir of Sonia in his book, Difficult Women, he quotes her, obviously in a different context: "I did it again. I put on my act, my widow of George Orwell act. Was I awful?" Reprinting those offending jackets to change a single word was, alas, in no way useful when the real war began. She really hated what Crick had written. Sensing my determination to publish, she repeated her bizarre threat of removing Orwell's oeuvre from the publishing house. It was as invalid an idea then as it had been earlier. I was even asked to transfer the Crick to another imprint within the group. Equally pointless. As Crick wrote in his entertaining memoir of the whole affair in Granta: "Tom Rosenthal held out desperately, as if at Verdun, against Sonia's attacks." I can't claim any heroism in all this. I was simply bloody-minded enough to believe that someone so briefly married to a literary icon had no moral or legal right to seek to suppress a book honourably commissioned and written, simply because she did not like it and regretted her original decision.

Her letters to me became ever more minatory and at one point my senior editorial colleague, John Blackwell, whom I had asked to analyse the various points made by Sonia against Crick, to see how many of them were sustainable, wrote to me a note at the end of his report. He abbreviated the combatants, Sonia and Crick, into S & C: "If for S you read Scylla, for C, Charybdis, I begin to have a sneaking sympathy for Ulysses!" The tone of Sonia's correspondence to me became blistering. She insisted on disowning the book, demanding that the words "official biography" not be used. "I note," she wrote to me, "you finish your letter to Crick 'With warmest regards.' I cannot say the same to you."

Finally, in the winter of 1980, Crick's biography was published to the acclaim of virtually everyone other than Sonia's friends and sold extremely well. I had found Crick a new and enthusiastic American publisher and, a few months later, we made one of those unenforceable post-prandial pacts to collaborate on a book about all the difficult widows of writers and artists we'd known. When sobriety returned the idea was, quite rightly, abandoned and I devoted my Orwell energies to two other projects. The more modest of the two was to publish in 1984 a facsimile of the surviving partial manuscript of Nineteen Eighty-Four. However, while dabbling in the facsimile, I was determined to convert the try of the Crick biography into a goal. Sonia, who had died round about the time Crick was published, had maintained that the four-volume The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, which she had edited with Ian Angus and published in 1968, was all that was needed. In both blurb and introduction she set out Orwell's injunction against a biography and stated that the four volumes "'stand in' for an autobiography".

While this was manifestly absurd, it was also somewhat economical with the truth. In terms of poetry publishing, a Collected does not mean Complete, but in the case of prose a layman might well believe that these four volumes were all there was. But here too, Sonia had exercised restraint on our experience and knowledge of Orwell's work. Even on Sonia's admission, the four volumes were woefully incomplete. So I had a dream of an endless shelf containing everything Orwell had ever written and, in particular, containing what Sonia, for good reasons or bad, had suppressed or, to be charitable, had been unaware of. Letters in particular are always intractable when it comes to completeness. With Sonia no longer in a position to forbid the inclusion of the missing material, it seemed like a fairly straightforward matter, even if it was clearly going to be a long haul.

I was extraordinarily lucky in finding one of those great academic editors, without which these huge sets simply remain dreams and never actually get printed. Peter Davison was asked to do first a definitive edition of the nine complete books by Orwell other than the letters, etc. He started work in 1981, even though they were not published until 1986-87, partly because three volumes were printed from proofs which were not the finally corrected set and had to be pulped. In the late summer of 1982, the Davisons and I coincided in Washington and, in the bar of the Watergate, where I was staying, I commissioned Peter to do the ultimate, definitive, absolutely complete version of the Essays, Letters, etc. I left Secker's in 1984 (an auspicious year, perhaps) but continued to meet Peter occasionally. Originally, the Essays etc were estimated at six volumes rather than four. It became a standing joke between us that my greeting to him became not "How are you?" or "How's Orwell coming along?" but "Well, Peter, how many volumes is it now?" Six became seven, seven became eight, and so on. But at long last, some 14 years after I left Secker's, during which time I have had some five successors and Peter Davison has laboured for six different owners, I can at last see the dream come true. The total number of volumes is 20 and the Essays etc. have grown to an astounding 11 volumes.

I'd like to make just one further point about Orwell. All my life as a book publisher I have checked the six-monthly royalty statements sent out to authors and their estates. I've done this partly to head off trouble since, understandably, nothing so annoys an author as an accounting error in the publisher's favour. Partly also, it's a wonderfully efficient way for any publisher to see what's really selling and what's become stagnant. For years at Secker's I would add up the joint earnings of that extraordinary backlist of foreign authors, who included Franz Kafka, Andre Gide, Thomas Mann, Italo Svevo, Robert Musil, Andre Schwartz-Bart, Italo Calvino, Yasunari Kawabata, Colette, Yukio Mishima and many more. Every six months the Orwell estate earned approximately twice as much as all the others put together. I used to attribute this solely to traditional British xenophobia. Now, contemplating this great Complete Works, I'm not so certain. It surely also has to do with the fact that Orwell was, and still is, the writer who speaks most directly and powerfully to a British audience, beyond the classroom and the "set book" syndrome, in a language and a style and about ideas which will never fade.

There are also two (at least) not very generous accounts of Sonia Orwell in later years in writers' memoirs. One is in David Plante's Difficult Women (1983), mentioned by Rosenthal above, where she is the central one of the three allegedly identified in the title, the other two being Jean Rhys and Germaine Greer. Plante describes his first meeting with her at an exhibition of paintings, where she spoke repetitively and furiously and quoted "George" (whom Plante couldn't identify, not having yet been introduced to her) as an authority for her dogmatic generalisations on England, France and America. He makes her out as a paradoxical, though perhaps not entirely unusual, mixture of sociability and loneliness and of selflessness and cruelty. "When I was with her, her effect was to make me see my life as meaningless, as I knew she saw her own life ... She helped her friends in need as if she, herself, had no need of help ... Sonia was difficult, but she was difficult for a reason. She wanted, demanded so much from herself and from others, and it made her rage that she and others couldn't ever match what was done to what was aspired to ... " He also describes her heavy drinking and last illness. "She was very thin. In her gaunt, distorted face, the skin around the sockets of her eyes sunk in, her teeth were large and yellow. Shocked, I leaned towards her and kissed her and I sobbed. When I drew back she was smiling; her entire face appeared to be a smile. She suddenly looked very beautiful."

Kingsley Amis in his Memoirs (1991) talks of an occasion in the early 1960's when he and Malcolm Muggeridge went back to Sonia Orwell's flat after a fairly drunk dinner together. Both Muggeridge and Amis took turns in bed with her but neither could "manage anything" and after getting his trousers back on, Amis offered a "wretched apology and some sort of valediction" and went away with Muggeridge to sleep it all off. Amis' memory might have been impaired as he describes Sonia Orwell as "smallish and brownish" but then adds that he may be confused by the fact that "she was also somehow called Sonia Brownell." He puts in a footnote to say "one who knew her better than I assures me that she was actually large, fair and, he added, cultured. He also added, without striking any chord with me, that she had been known to some as 'Buttocks' Brownell”. In Michael Shelden's biography of GO, Sonia is said to have had "light brown hair" when she was William Coldstream's lover in 1939, but Lys Lubbock, Cyril Connolly's companion during the '40's says, "she had a pink-and-white complexion and golden blonde hair...In the sunshine it glowed and was the crown to her beauty. I think it was this radiance of health that so attracted Orwell, who perhaps saw her as a kind of life force to compensate for his own poor health”.

One of Auden's very last poems Thank You, Fog was written in May 1973, referring to the previous Christmas he has spent with his friends James and Tania Stern, fairly drunk on vodka but grateful for friendship. The other guest was - Sonia Orwell. Sonia Orwell was among those at Auden's funeral in Austria in 1973.


Rough Men

Did George Orwell ever say: "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf?" Or: "We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us?"

Not exactly. But he did make comments that were along similar lines. In his essay on Rudyard Kipling (1942), Orwell wrote: "[Kipling] sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilised, are there to guard and feed them." (Thanks to Keith Ammann for this). And in his 'Notes on Nationalism' (1945) he wrote: "Those who "abjure" violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf." (Thanks to Parbety). Where the rough men crept in is anyone's guess.



Click here for a brief Orwell biography from The Chestnut Tree Cafe.