A Life in Letters and Diaries
Introduced by Peter Davison
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.
Three-quarter-bound in cloth with a printed cloth front board
Set in Dante
Frontispiece and 16 pages of colour and black & white plates, and 21 integrated black & white illustrations
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.’
- 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
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.
You May Also Like
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.
Van Gogh’s famous letters transform our understanding of one of the most haunting figures in western culture.