Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger introduces Orwell’s masterpiece in this striking new edition.
Homage to Catalonia
Homage to Catalonia is George Orwell’s brutally honest account of his experience as a militiaman during the Spanish Civil War. The Folio Society edition is illustrated with 35 black and white photographs sourced from Magnum and Catalan archives.
When civil war broke out in Spain in 1936, Orwell, like many other European socialists, was quick to join the fight against Fascism. And so, in December that year, he found himself in Catalonia with a 40-year-old rifle, no helmet, uniform, maps or tools, and a platoon of near children under his command.
Quarter-bound in blocked cloth with printed cloth sides
Set in Plantin
Frontispiece and 35 black & white integrated photographs
9½˝ × 6¼˝
A CHANGE IN THE AIR
Despite the lack of resources and the ill-prepared troops, revolutionary Barcelona had an almost festival air; genuine excitement and joy spilled over in the people’s conviction that they would build a new Spain. However, the fervour and idealism didn’t last: gradually the Communist Party tightened its grip over the Republic, channelling money and guns to the groups that pledged support and eventually eradicating home-grown anarchist organisations. To Orwell’s horror, such purges became violent and his friends were arrested and imprisoned without trial, while others were shot. Eventually, Orwell found himself in as much danger in Republican Barcelona as he had faced on the front line and his six-month foray moved from idealism to cynicism.
First-hand account of the Spanish Civil War
Homage to Catalonia is Orwell’s first-hand report from the front line and during the intervening factional fighting in Barcelona. One of the greatest pieces of reportage writing of the 20th century, the realism often makes for uncomfortable reading but his narrative is also peppered with humorous anecdotes and thought-provoking insights on the human condition. Orwell dreads the extremes of hot and cold; is repulsed by the smells and driven mad by the itch of lice-infested clothes. He knows the guilty pleasure that the ordinary soldier experiences as he watches the enemy attacking his own side’s outposts and wonders at how the shells seem to know innately where you are. After returning to the front from Barcelona, he also feels the pain of a bullet tearing through flesh. Finally, he is forced to flee the country when his party is outlawed and he is a wanted man. Orwell’s experience in the Spanish Civil War was a great influence on his political development and his subsequent work, leading him to become a dystopian writer.
A photographic record
As Orwell’s evocative writing transports us to the heart of the revolution, so the atmospheric black and white photographs offer vivid snapshots of the struggle, capturing camaraderie and hardship in equal measure. Child soldiers sew tattered blankets; bedraggled troops march defiantly; and the Barcelona Ritz is repurposed as a workers’ restaurant.
Our edition is illustrated with 35 black and white images, many sourced direct from Magnum and Catalan archives and including work by the great photojournalists Robert Capa and Agusti Centelles. The PAG Revolucion typeface, typical of propaganda posters, reflects the socialist struggle, while Spanish red adorns the cloth binding and frames a Robert Capa photo of an International Brigades fighter raising a clenched fist – the ‘anti-fascist salute’ that was the defiant gesture of the Civil War
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.
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