Wednesday, 14 December 2011

A bag of wind

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George Orwell wrote the following letter to his publisher, Frederic Warburg, in 1948. At the time, he was valiantly attempting to finish the first draft of his latest novel whilst "under the influence of" tuberculosis, and was still undecided as to the book's title. Sadly, that book — the incredible Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in June the next year — would be his last, as Orwell passed away in January of 1950. It has since become one of the most successful and influential pieces of literature of all time.

A bonus also lies in the letter's final paragraph, as Orwell offers his opinion of the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Stephen Curry; photo taken at the British Library.


Image: Stephen Curry; photo taken at the British Library

Transcript
Barnhill
Isle of Jura
Argyllshire
22.10.48

Dear Fred,

You will have had my wire by now, and if anything crossed your mind I dare say I shall have had a return wire from you by the time this goes off. I shall finish the book, D.V., early in November, and I am rather flinching from the job of typing it, because it is a very awkward thing to do in bed, where I still have to spend half the time. Also There will have to be carbon copies, a thing which always fidgets me, and the book is fearfully long, I should think well over 100,000 words, possibly 125,000. I can't send it away because it is an unbelievably bad MS and no one could make head or tail of it without explanation. On the other hand a skilled typist under my eye could do it easily enough. If you can think of anybody who would be willing to come, I will send money for the journey and full instructions. I think we could make her quite comfortable. There is always plenty to eat and I will see that she has a comfortable warm place to work in.

I am not pleased with the book but I am not absolutely dissatisfied. I first thought of it in 1943. I think it is a good idea but the execution would have been better if I had not written it under the influence of TB. I haven't definitely fixed on the title but I am hesitating between NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR and THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE.

I have just had Sartre's book on antisemitism, which you published, to review. I think Sartre is a bag of wind and I am going to give him a good boot.

Please give everyone my love.

Yours

(Signed, 'George')