A Life in Letters and Diaries

George Orwell

Introduced by Peter Davison

Compiled exclusively for The Folio Society, this is a unique portrait of one of the 20th century’s most essential novelists and thinkers.

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Few writers can command as great a cultural and political legacy as George Orwell. Yet behind the literary figurehead of Big Brother and double-think, lies a largely undiscovered man of complexities and contradictions. Compiled exclusively for The Folio Society, this collection offers a unique portrait of one of the 20th century’s most essential novelists, journalists and thinkers. Peter Davison, the world’s preeminent Orwell expert, has made an inspired selection from the most recent editions of letters and diaries, as well as correspondence from family and friends, to cover all aspects of Orwell’s life. From his first forays ‘as an amateur tramp’ to his joy at the English countryside and garden, it is the closest we hope to come to the autobiography Orwell never wrote.

Production Details

Three-quarter-bound in cloth with a printed cloth front board

Set in Dante

504 pages

Frontispiece and 16 pages of colour and black & white plates, and 21 integrated black & white illustrations

Printed endpapers

Ribbon marker

Blocked slipcase

9½˝ × 6¾˝

A new and refreshing insight into Orwell’s character and great works

‘George Orwell’s diaries greatly enrich our understanding of how Orwell transmuted the raw material of everyday experience into some of his best-known novels and polemics. They furnish us with a more intimate picture of a man who, committed to the struggles of the mechanized and “modern” world, was also drawn by the rhythms of the wild, the rural, and the remote.’

  1. Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair

In early writing, that would later form his ‘Hop Picking Diary’ and The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell recounts his time among the poor of London and the north of England, beginning a lifelong dedication to exposing the unjust imbalance at the bottom of British society. Cutting social commentary is never far form his pen. Spending time with a family in Wigan in 1936, Orwell finds that the simple act of helping with the washing-up causes consternation among ‘North working-class men’ who ‘never offered any courtesies to women … it is always the man who sits in the comfortable chair’. A letter from Labour politician Jennie Lee describes Orwell’s unmistakable appearance as he arrives to fight on the Spanish Civil War’s frontline: ‘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.’

In later letters, we hear the flint strikes of his defining books – ‘I’ve now got an idea for a really big novel’ – as well as his seething against publishers who refused to print his work, ‘I hope … to find an English publisher soon who has more courage’. Bone-dry witticisms and irony are constant companions, right until his last days; writing in 1949, a year before his death, Old Etonian Orwell describes the upper-class accents he hears drifting over his hospital bed, envisaging their owners as ‘the enemies of anything intelligent or sensitive or beautiful. No wonder everyone hates us so.’ Yet, belying his itinerant public life was a man rooted in the domestic, increasingly reliant on his first wife Eileen, and exuberant about the simplicity of rural culture. In letters to literary luminaries of the age, meticulous egg counting, goat husbandry and feeding geese happily reside next to criticism and political invectives.

This new illustrated collection is the only to combine both letters and diaries into one, manageable volume. Among the 16 colour photographs and 21 integrated black and white illustrations included, we find a young Orwell towering over the heads of Spanish recruits outside a Barcelona barracks, while, later in life, a family photograph shows him at home, feeding his favourite goat, Muriel. It is an unobstructed view of an author, whose name continues to be, as Davison writes in his new introduction, ‘a vital point of reference in uncertain times’.

About George Orwell

George Orwell (1903–50) was born Eric Arthur Blair in Motihari, India (where his father worked for the Civil Service) into what he would later call a ‘lower-upper-middle class’ family. The family returned to England in 1907 and, after studying at Eton, Orwell joined the Indian Imperial Police Force in Burma. Whilst in Burma he developed a critical attitude towards authority, which he evoked in his first novel, Burmese Days (1934). He resigned from the police force in 1927 and took to exploring the poverty of his home country; travelling, observing and often living as a tramp, with a view to becoming a writer. He lived in Paris for two years before returning to England, where he worked successively as a private tutor, schoolteacher and bookshop assistant, and contributed reviews and articles to a number of periodicals.

His first work of non-fiction, Down and Out in Paris and London, was published in 1936, and in the same year he was commissioned by Victor Gollancz to visit areas of mass unemployment in Lancashire and Yorkshire. The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) was his powerful description of the poverty he saw there. He fought in the Spanish Civil War, experiencing the factionalism breaking apart the Republican cause and became virulently anti-Communist, a stance reflected in his Homage to Catalonia (1938). During the Second World War Orwell served in the Home Guard and worked for the BBC Eastern Service. As literary editor of Tribune, he contributed a regular page of political and literary commentary and also wrote for the Observer and the Manchester Evening News. His political satire Animal Farm was published shortly after the end of the war in 1945, and it was this novel, together with Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), that brought him worldwide fame. Orwell’s letters and diaries have been published posthumously by The Folio Society as an exclusive edition, selected and introduced by Orwell expert Peter Davison.

About Peter Davison

Peter Davison is an authority on the life and work of George Orwell. He edited the twenty volumes of the Complete Works, working on the project for seventeen years, and also edited the Facsimile Edition of the manuscript of Nineteen Eighty-Four. He was Research Professor of English at De Montfort University, Leicester, and has written and edited more than twenty books on Orwell and on various aspects of literature. He was made an OBE in 1999 for services to literature. This Folio edition of Orwell’s letters and diaries is Davison’s thirty-first volume devoted to the work of Orwell.

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