Monday, 4 January 2016

Dear Orwell

George Orwell and T. S. Eliot - Photos via Wikipedia

In June of 1944, a V-1 flying bomb fell on Mortimer Crescent just outside the London home of George Orwell, his wife, Eileen, and their adopted 3-week-old son, Richard, all of whom were thankfully away that evening. On returning the next day to survey the extensive damage, Orwell was relieved to find, in one piece, his latest manuscript, which he immediately sent to T. S. Eliot, then a director at Faber & Faber. His accompanying letter, and Eliot's subsequent rejection, can be read below.

T. S. Eliot wasn't the first or last person to turn down Animal Farm. It was eventually published the next year, on August 17th of 1945, by Secker & Warburg.

(Source: The Complete Works of George Orwell.)

28 June 1944
10a Mortimer Crescent NW 6

Dear Eliot,

This MS. has been blitzed which accounts for my delay in delivering it & its slightly crumpled condition, but it is not damaged in any way.

I wonder if you could be kind enough to let me have Messrs. Faber's decision fairly soon. If they are interested in seeing more of my work, I could let you have the facts about my existing contract with Gollanz, which is not an onerous one nor likely to last long.

If you read this MS. yourself you will see its meaning which is not an acceptable one at this moment, but I could not agree to make any alterations except a small one at the end which I intended to make any way. Cape or the MOI, I am not certain which from the wording of his letter, made the imbecile suggestion that some other animal than the pigs might be made to represent the Bolsheviks. I could not of course make any change of that description.

Yours sincerely
   Geo. Orwell


13 July 1944

Dear Orwell,

I know that you wanted a quick decision about “Animal Farm”: but the minimum is two directors’ opinions, and that can’t be done under a week. But for the importance of speed, I should have asked the Chairman to look at it as well. But the other director is in agreement with me on the main points. We agree that it is a distinguished piece of writing; that the fable is very skilfully handled, and that the narrative keeps one’s interest on its own plane—and that is something very few authors have achieved since Gulliver.

On the other hand, we have no conviction (and I am sure none of other directors would have) that this is the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation at the present time. 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 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.

Now I think my own dissatisfaction with this apologue is that the effect is simply one of negation. It ought to excite some sympathy with what the author wants, as well as sympathy with his objections to something: and the positive point of view, which I take to be generally Trotskyite, is not convincing. I think you split your vote, without getting any compensating stronger adhesion from either party—i.e. those who criticise Russian tendencies from the point of view of a purer communism, and those who, from a very different point of view, are alarmed about the future of small nations. And after all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm—in fact, there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed, (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.

I am very sorry, because whoever publishes 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.

Miss Sheldon will be sending you the script under separate cover.

Yours sincerely,
T. S. Eliot