Monday, 4 January 2016

LETTERS OF NOTE: Orwell, Eliot and Animal Farm

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I've treated you to some sumptuous slices of correspondence, courtesy of Letters of Note, right throughout this festive period. But tomorrow is twelfth night, when people will be taking down their Christmas decorations, and most of us are already back at work with both Christmas and New Year being distant memories. So, having offered up Jane Austen, John Steinbeck and J. R. R. Tolkien for your delectation, we're ending the 12 days of Christmas with a formidable double whammy of T. S. Eliot and George Orwell.

In 1944, during the last 12 months of World War II, Orwell's home on Mortimer Crescent in London was extensively damaged by a V-1 rocket. Fortunately, Orwell and his family were away at the time, but the bombardment almost claimed another casualty: the original manuscript for Animal Farm, one of his most iconic and enduring works. Orwell discovered the manuscript crumpled but intact as he sifted throught the wreckage and, whether on impulse or in light of this providence, sent it to his friend T. S. Eliot.
Eliot, who had cemented his own fame with The Waste Land more than 20 years earlier, was at the time a director for the publisher Faber & Faber. He admired Orwell's work and the intentions behind it, but upon reflection both he and the company's chairman rejected the manuscript. Eliot's reasons for doing so are very interesting: he writes about Orwell "splitting his vote", negating both the pigs and the farm's former masters without "exciting" enough sympathy for the former. The novel eventually saw the light of day in 1945.
You can read both Orwell's letter and Eliot's response in full here. If you're still hungry for Orwell after that, check out this letter from Aldous Huxley, congratulating him on the success of Nineteen Eighty Four while arguing the merits of his own masterpiece, Brave New World. Much of what he has to say is chillingly relevant to our culture, more than 65 years on.

Daniel

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