George Orwell’s seminal dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four became a powerful symbol of resistance to totalitarianism. Last month an impressive reproduction of the novel’s original manuscript was released by SP Books. The only surviving Orwell manuscript of any of his works was conserved at the John Hay Library (Brown University, Providence) since 1992.
This edition offers readers a dive deep into the 197 remaining manuscript pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four (of which 183 are handwritten and 14 are typewritten), and the opportunity to discover the Orwell’s unedited passages. It is the only substantial Orwell manuscript that survives and represents about 44% of the published text. The book reflects Orwell’s creative process in the context of World War II and its aftermath, as well as five years of health struggles, the loss of his wife Eileen, and his doubts while writing.
After Orwell’s death, his widow Sonia travelled to Barnhill farmhouse, his last home on the Hebridean island of Jura. There she found a pile of documents which she was able to identify as the 1984 manuscript, which she donated to a charity auction in London on 11 June 1952. The manuscript was purchased by Scribner’s of New York, then sold to bookseller and rare book collector Daniel G. Siegel in June 1969. In 1992, Mr. Siegel gave the manuscript to the Brown University Library (Providence, Rhode Island).
The text is the only substantial Orwell manuscript that survives and it includes several pages that were cast aside by Orwell, such as a scene in which Winston and Julia come across each other after leaving the flat; or the lynching of a black woman in the propaganda movie watched by Winston. Other passages reveal Orwell’s self-censorship ‘on grounds of possible racial prejudice or taste’.
Here’s an exerpt from the book’s preface:
‘Ill, emotionally bereft, thoroughly exhausted – as were most British people – by the strains of a six-year war, relocated to a new life in the west of Scotland (although he would spend the freezing winter of 1946-7 back in Islington), Orwell was in no state to start work on so ambitious a project as Nineteen Eighty-Four. In many ways, though, the problem was worse than this. Anxious as he may have been to set out his vision of nightmare dystopian future that had its roots in the post-war world he saw around him, Orwell, it soon becomes clear, had yet to establish much of the intellectual topsoil in which the novel’s seeds are sown.
To examine some of the journalism he produced in the post-1945 period is immediately to appreciate the time he spent rehearsing some of the arguments of the novel, canvassing ideas that would resurface in the world of Airstrip One and the Ministry of Truth. Much more so than any of his previous books, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a kind of backward-facing drill that burrows deep into earlier outings and, sometimes subconsciously, turns up all manner of details that will prove to be useful in the task ahead.’