Plain English

Denis Donoghue

  • 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.

The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

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