- Nineteen Eighty-Four: Facsimile Edition by George Orwell, edited by Peter Davison
Secker, 291 pp, £25.00, July 1984, ISBN 0 436 35022 X
- Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, edited by Bernard Crick
Oxford, 460 pp, £17.50, March 1984, ISBN 0 19 818521 9
- Inside the Myth. Orwell: Views from the Left edited by Christopher Norris
Lawrence and Wishart, 287 pp, £12.50, November 1984, ISBN 0 85315 599 2
- The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George Orwell by George Woodcock
Fourth Estate, 287 pp, £5.95, November 1984, ISBN 0 947795 05 7
- Orwell’s London by John Thompson
Fourth Estate, 119 pp, £9.95, November 1984, ISBN 0 947795 00 6
Orwell took little care of his manuscripts. He didn’t anticipate that collectors of such things would pay real money for them, and that universities would think it a privilege to turn a writer’s bits and pieces into an archive. The typescript used in the printing of Nineteen Eighty-Four is in the Orwell Archive at University College London. There are also preliminary drafts of the novel – pages of handwritten and typewritten material, with corrections and additions – which correspond to a little less than half of the published text: 44 per cent, according to Peter Davison’s estimate. These have now been published in an opulent edition: the right-hand pages of the book give a full-size photograph of the material, the left-hand pages contain Professor Davison’s transcription, laboriously deciphered, the cancellings in nearly every case recovered. Orwell’s typescript is given in roman, his manuscript in italic script. The book is far too big to be held in the hand; it is for consultation on a large desk, the pages to be turned with due appreciation of the craft of editor and printer. The work of printing and binding was done in Italy by Imago Publishing Ltd, Thame.
Davison’s work on the text is edifyingly careful. Only a few errors have come to my notice, and perhaps one or two further tiny blemishes. On page 5, a cancelled word has been dropped from the transcription. It seems clear that Orwell first wrote: ‘on official business’, changed this to ‘on an official errand’, and then went back to his first phrase. On page 160 the word Davison deems indecipherable is, I think, ‘crude’. On page 234 Ampleforth’s eyes are ‘dreamy’ – as on page 233 – not ‘dreary’. On page 265 the two words given as indecipherable are probably ‘it is’. On page 260 ‘county’ in the transcription seems to be ‘country’. On page 272 ‘possiby’ should be ‘possibly’; and on page xix a rude semi-colon, displacing a comma, has turned a sentence awry.
Nineteen Eighty-Four, according to Davison, ‘was conceived at some time between mid-1940 and the end of 1943, an outline of topics being drawn up by January 1944’. The outline is printed as an appendix in the Clarendon Press Nineteen Eighty-Four, which uses the text Davison has prepared for the new complete edition of Orwell, and has a critical Introduction and annotations by Bernard Crick. Davison reports that Orwell wrote about fifty pages of the book in the summer of 1946: the novel in its first form was typed in the summer of 1947 and completed by October. Between the middle of May 1948 and early November 1948 Orwell revised the work, and the final typescript was sent to Secker and Warburg on 4 December. The English edition was published on 8 June 1949, the American a few days later.
Only pages 25-38 – Goldstein’s testament – of the fifty typed pages done in 1946 have survived. Davison has decided that the present manuscript pages and some of the typewritten and interlinear matter were written during the period of revision, May to November 1948. The remaining pages are harder to date, but Davison’s Introduction gives all the available evidence.
The facsimile has three substantial passages which didn’t survive into the final text: an account of the lynching of a pregnant black woman – ‘One of the niggers was a pregnant woman and when they hoisted her up she gave birth to the baby. The crowd played football with it’ – a description of the journey to O’Brien’s flat, and an account of the meeting of Julia and Winston after leaving O’Brien’s flat.
Vol. 7 No. 1 · 24 January 1985
SIR: T.S. Eliot apparently meant it as a compliment when he wrote that Henry James possessed ‘a mind so fine that no idea could violate it’. The remark might be applied less charitably to the present Henry James Professor of Letters at New York University. I refer to Denis Donoghue’s curiously off-the-point review of Inside the Myth: George Orwell – Views from the Left (LRB, 20 December 1984). As editor of the book and main target of Donoghue’s high professorial scorn, perhaps you will allow me the room for a fairly detailed response.
There is not, as he thinks, a flat contradiction between what I say in my preface (that ‘there is, after all, an historical truth of the matter’) and my subsequent remarks about Orwell’s ‘homespun empiricist attitude’. Donoghue conveniently puts me down as one of those typecast ‘deconstructionists’ who blithely suppose that there is no reality outside the domain of textual representation. So I must have been acutely embarrassed, he thinks, to find myself saddled with some tough-minded realist contributors who wanted to show up Orwell’s distortions of historical fact. But this is to miss the whole point of my essay, as well as betraying a deep misunderstanding of post-structuralist criticism. A little reading of Kant might help to dispel Professor Donoghue’s confusions on this point. To argue that reality is structured through and through by the representations we make of it is not to give way to some crazy extreme of anarchic solipsism. It is simply to acknowledge, like Kant, that the mind has no access to reality except by way of its own cognitive powers and dispositions. Deconstruction gives a ‘textualist’ turn to this argument by insisting that language is the source of those mediating structures, rather than the Kantian system of a priori concepts and categories. In so doing, it opens up the way to a critique of dominant (‘common-sense’) ideas about the relationship of words and things, language and the world. Hence those commonplace polemical misreadings which find nothing more in deconstruction than an out-and-out assault on every last vestige of reality, truth and reason. In fact, it is no part of Derrida’s argument (any more than Kant’s) to deny that there exists a world ‘out there’. What they do both reject is the empiricist assumption that the only way to get at that world is by dropping all the problems and simply telling things like they are. Such bluff commonsensical responses to Derrida are no better placed than the dead-end empiricist doctrines of Kant’s day, whose problems, as he saw, could never be resolved on their own precritical terms.
So Donoghue is misrepresenting the case when he treats it as a straightforward choice between plain historical fact, on the one hand, and sophisticated textualist theory, on the other. He thinks that the contributors are a motley crew because some of them object to Orwell’s falsifications of history while others deconstruct his habit of implying that ‘the truth was just there to be told in a straightforward, common-sense way.’ But this is precisely the point: that Orwell imposed his view of events by using that plain-man style of address to exclude all possible alternative views. This is not to take the last-ditch relativist line that we had better just forget about historical ‘truth’ since all that we have are texts piled upon texts. Rather, it is to recognise the particular style of mystified common-sense authority that enabled Orwell to pass off his own, highly partisan narrative as the truthful record of events. Donoghue finds it deliciously outrageous that I, a ‘deconstructionist’, should make common cause with professional historians and others who actually lived through the history that Orwell wrote about. On the contrary: there is no better way to bring out the intimate relation that exists between Orwell’s extreme partiality of viewpoint and his flat insistence that he was, after all, just telling the unvarnished truth. Donoghue’s rigidly either-or attitude prevents him from seeing anything of this.
It also involves him in some passages of highly dubious argumentation. Thus Donoghue attacks me for starting out from the ‘absurd position’ that – in my own words – ‘the Orwellian malaise can be understood straightforwardly from the standpoint of an Althusserian Marxism secure in its own theoretical rigour.’ To which he rather lamely rejoins: ‘I assume this is a joke.’ It would take a very resolutely tone-deaf reading to accept the sentence at face value. But if Donoghue had only read on more carefully he would know that I criticise Althusserian theory for its pretence of effortlessly rising above mere contingencies of ‘lived’ historical experience. My point is that no such abstract critique can get round the singularly awkward fact of Orwell’s influence on present-day socialist debate. Donoghue thinks this whole line of argument just a series of ‘quite unnecessary detours’.
But the strangest thing of all about Donoghue’s piece is the fact that he spends his first thousand words or so arguing precisely that we need to be on guard against Orwell’s mystified common-sense philosophy. As Donoghue puts it, Orwell ‘capitalised upon the common desire to believe that a plain style is the ground of decency in morality and politics.’ And he goes on to rehearse exactly the same arguments that I use in my essay, right down to the choice of identical quotations from Orwell’s ‘Politics and the English Language’. He also quotes – very aptly – a passage from Empson on ‘The English Way of Thinking’ where Empson remarks that a decent English style ‘gives great resilience to the thinker, never blurs a point by too wide a focus, is itself a confession of how much always must be left undealt with, and is beautifully free from verbiage: to an enemy it looks like sheer cheating.’ The passage comes from one of Empson’s fugitive early pieces, written for the Cambridge undergraduate magazine Granta. Donoghue first picked it up when he reviewed my book on Empson, published in 1978. Since then, he has quoted it on several occasions, latterly minus the acknowledgment. Not that this matters: I have no wish to stake some absurd proprietory claim. But it does seem odd that the passage should pop up yet again in the course of a hostile review which silently annexes so much of the adversary ground. One is left quite bewildered as to Donoghue’s motives. Unless, of course, it is simply the politics of Inside the Myth that he finds so distasteful: in which case he might have come straight out with it and saved all the pointless roundabout polemics.
Department of English, University of Wales, Institute of Science and Technology, Cardiff
Vol. 7 No. 2 · 7 February 1985
SIR: What I wrote about ‘plain English’ – my ‘first thousand words or so’, as Christopher Norris calls them (Letters, 24 January) – was my response to Peter Davison and Bernard Crick, not to Norris. His book reached me, as you know, some weeks later. In any case, I am pleased that he agrees with me on the rhetoric of Orwell’s style. My main disappointment with Norris’s book is that it is old hat: it doesn’t add anything, so far as it attacks Orwell, to the case against him which Raymond Williams, Terry Eagleton and other critics variously on the Left have been maintaining for years. Norris’s trot through Deconstruction is also beside the point. I have read his two books on that subject, and reviewed one of them, so there is no need for me to accompany him round that course again. ‘There is, after all, an historical truth of the matter,’ he claims, the matter being the Spanish Civil War. And he refers to Orwell’s ‘falsification of history’ and his ‘extreme partiality of viewpoint’. These phrases claim that a true and impartial account of the war is available and that Norris is in possession of it. All I would say then is: fine; bring forward the truth, and let readers measure the degree of Orwell’s alleged distortion. ‘I criticise Althusserian theory,’ Norris says, ‘for its pretence of effortlessly rising above mere contingencies of “lived” historical experience.’ It is silly of Norris to refer to this criticism as his own: it is of course E.P. Thompson’s.
Vol. 7 No. 3 · 21 February 1985
SIR: Dr Christopher Norris’s hot defence of Derrida and deconstruction (Letters, 24 January) is fatiguingly familiar in terms and substance. One could easily think deconstruction bunkum, and reactionary bunkum at that, without being an empiricist and without making what he glibly calls ‘the empiricist assumption that the only way to get at that world is by dropping all the problems and simply telling things like they are.’ I am not an empiricist, as it happens: but as a summary of what Locke and his school held, all that is a figment. Locke’s Essay is a highly elaborate attempt to grapple with just that problem; and he was so far from supposing we should drop it that he held its neglect to be the chief philosophical failing of the age. Nor was it ‘things like they are’ that he supposed the source of knowledge, but what he called ideas: ‘whatever is the object of the understanding when a man thinks’ – whether phantasms, notions or species: such notions, as he argues, being only sometimes based on real events and existences.
Locke thought a belief in innate ideas encouraged mental laziness and authoritarianism – charges he might aptly have levelled against deconstructionists ready to swallow a handbook summary of empiricism mediated to them by ill-read French theorists twenty years ago. Their readiness to study an original text may be judged from the fact that they believe Saussure to have discovered the Arbitrariness of the Sign: though Saussure did not discover it, and in the Cours de Linguistique Générale he plainly says he did not. And no wonder, since it was (as he acknowledges) a commonplace of 19th-century philology, and familiar to Aristotle, Aquinas and Locke. When I.A. Richards lectured on semiology in Cambridge English over fifty years ago, and long before it was ever fashionable in literary Paris, he aptly praised Coleridge’s letter of September 1800 on ‘arbitrary signs’ for bringing together ‘so many problems of what is now known as semasiology’ (Coleridge on Imagination, 1934). The reason why many of us here found literary semiotics in the Sixties a bit of a bore was that we had heard it all long before from a much older generation, so that it looked no more than another scrap of evidence for French academic provincialism.
Professor Donoghue, who is the subject of Dr Norris’s attack, can look after himself. But his handling here reminds me of another old colleague of mine who studied under Benedetto Croce in Naples in the early Thirties. Whenever he mentioned an inconvenient fact, Croce would raise a warning finger and murmur ‘Empiricismo’: unaware, apparently, that my friend was not an empiricist, and that you do not have to be one to demand evidence of general assertions.
St John’s College, Cambridge