Ralph Steadman’s Surrealist Illustrations of George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1995)

As a novelist, George Orwell did not traffic in subtleties, but then neither did the authors of Medieval morality plays. The allegorical Animal Farm performs a similar, if secular, function, giving us unambiguous villainy and clear didactic intent. Orwell noted in his essay “Why I Write” that he meant the book to “fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.“ Originally published with the subtitle A Fairy Story, the novel caricatures Stalinism and the Russian Revolution, and Orwell left no mystery as to his intent when he commented in the preface to a 1947 Ukrainian edition that he meant the book to “end on a loud note of discord” meant to signify what he saw as the instability of the Tehran Conference.

Leaden statements like these aside, Orwell swore he “did not wish to comment on the work,” writing, “if it does not speak for itself, it is a failure.” The book does indeed speak, in two especially particular ways: its vividly grotesque characterizations of the humans and animals on the farm and its indelible collection of propagandistic slogans.




These are the features best captured by gonzo illustrator Ralph Steadman, famous for his collaborations with Hunter S. Thompson and Pink Floyd. Published in 1995—with the Fairy Story subtitle restored—the Steadman-illustrated 50th anniversary edition realizes another previous variation on the book’s title: Animal Farm: A Contemporary Satire.

These images draw out the exaggerated absurdities of the novel as only an artist with Steadman’s twisted, surrealist sense of visual humor could. They are profoundly effective, though there’s no telling what Orwell would have thought of them. Steadman’s caricatures universalize the book’s drama, providing the kind of stock characters we find in folklore, “fairy stories,” and religious allegory. But Orwell wrote that he wished us not to mistake his express political intent: “It was of the utmost importance to me that people in Western Europe should see the Soviet regime for what it really was…. I have been convinced that the destruction of the Soviet myth was essential if we wanted a revival of the Socialist movement.”

Steadman, to his great credit, felt no need to literalize Orwell's stated intentions in his illustrations, but rather took the book's bizarre world on its own terms. You can read more quotes from Orwell’s earnest, intended preface for the book, restored in the Steadman edition, at Brain Pickings, where you’ll also find a good number of the illustrations as well. Copies of the out-of-print book can be purchased on Amazon and Abe's books.

Steadman not only applied his skill as a caricaturist to Orwell’s fictional farm denizens, we should note, but also to the author himself. He made several sketches of Orwell, such as that below of the writer with a cage of rats around his neck. You can see several more of Steadman’s drawings of Orwell at The Guardian.

via Brain Pickings

Related Content:

Breaking Bad Illustrated by Gonzo Artist Ralph Steadman

Pink Floyd Adapts George Orwell’s Animal Farm into Their 1977 Concept Album, Animals (a Critique of Late Capitalism, Not Stalin)

Gun Nut William S. Burroughs & Gonzo Illustrator Ralph Steadman Make Polaroid Portraits Together

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

New BBC Dramatization of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children Now Streaming Free for a Limited Time

FYI: The BBC is now streaming a dramatization of Salman Rushdie's Booker Prize-winning novel Midnight's Children. This free stream will only last for a limited time (the next 29 days). So dive in.

Here's how the BBC briefly describes the production:

To mark the 70th anniversary of the Partition of India, an ambitious new dramatization of Salman Rushdie's dazzling novel of love, history and magic. Saleem Sinai is born on the stroke of midnight on 15th August 1947, at the exact moment that India and Pakistan become separate, independent nations. From that moment on, his fate is mysteriously handcuffed to the history of his country. The story starts with Saleem's grandfather, Aadam, in Kashmir in 1915. Dramatised by Ayeesha Menon. Starring Nikesh Patel, Abhin Galeya and Meera Syal.

You can find the seven individual episodes here. Each is about an hour long. Find more free literary delights in our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

An Animated Look at Vladimir Nabokov’s Passion for Butterfly Collecting: “Literature & Butterflies Are the Two Sweetest Passions Known to Man”

Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man. - Vladimir Nabokov

A 1941 family road trip along Route 66 planted the seeds for Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita.

It also enriched the American Museum of Natural History’s butterfly collection by some 300 North American specimens.

The author, an avid amateur lepidopterist, indulged his hobby along the way, depositing butterflies collected on this and other trips in glassine envelopes labeled with the name of the towns where the creatures encountered his net. Upon his return, he decided to donate most of his haul to the museum’s Lepidoptera collection, where he was as an eager volunteer.




Years later, Suzanne Rab Green, a Tiger Moth specialist and assistant curator at the museum, uncovered Nabokov’s specimens packed in a vintage White Owl cigar box.

Recognizing that this collection had literary value as well as scientific, Green decided to sort it by location rather than species, preserving the carefully hand-lettered envelopes along with the fragile wings and thoraxes.

Using Google Earth, she retraced Nabokov’s 3-week journey for the museum’s Shelf Life series, digitally pinning his finds alongside vintage postcards of Gettysburg, Yosemite National Park, and the Grande Tourist Lodge in Dallas, Texas—all fertile collection sites, at least in 1941.

Butterflies remained a lifelong obsession for the author. He served for six years as curator of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology’s Lepidoptera wing and developed an evolutionary theory related to his study of the Polyommatus blues Green mentions in the 360° video above. (Be aware, the 360° feature will not work in Safari).

He also wooed his wife, Vera, by making charming and keenly observed drawings of butterflies for her.

An avowed enemy of symbols and allegory, Nabokov prevented butterflies from occupying too significant a role in his fictional oeuvre, though he gushed unabashedly in his memoir, Speak, Memory:

Let me also evoke the hawkmoths, the jets of my boyhood! Colors would die a long death on June evenings. The lilac shrubs in full bloom before which I stood, net in hand, displayed clusters of a fluffy gray in the dark—the ghost of purple. A moist young moon hung above the mist of a neighboring meadow. In many a garden have I stood thus in later years—in Athens, Antibes, Atlanta—but never have I waited with such a keen desire as before those darkening lilacs. And suddenly it would come, the low buzz passing from flower to flower, the vibrational halo around the streamlined body of an olive and pink Hummingbird moth poised in the air above the corolla into which it had dipped its long tongue…. Through the gusty blackness, one’s lantern would illumine the stickily glistening furrows of the bark and two or three large moths upon it imbibing the sweets, their nervous wings half open butterfly fashion, the lower ones exhibiting their incredible crimson silk from beneath the lichen-gray primaries. “Catocala adultera!” I would triumphantly shriek in the direction of the lighted windows of the house as I stumbled home to show my captures to my father.

Despite the author’s stated distaste for overt symbolism, a few butterflies did manage to flutter onto the pages of his best known work, resulting in at least one thesis papers that makes a case for Lolita as butterfly—irresistible, beautiful, easily ensnared….

Did I ever mention that her bare arm bore the 8 of vaccination? That I loved her hopelessly? That she was only fourteen? An inquisitive butterfly passed, dipping, between us.

- Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, 1955

Track Nabokov's cross-country butterfly collecting trip, courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History, here.

Related Content:

Vladimir Nabokov’s Delightful Butterfly Drawings

Vladimir Nabokov Names the Greatest (and Most Overrated) Novels of the 20th Century

Take Vladimir Nabokov’s Quiz to See If You’re a Good Reader–The Same One He Gave to His Students

Vladimir Nabokov (Channelled by Christopher Plummer) Teaches Kafka at Cornell

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hear a Rare Recording of Flannery O’Connor Reading “A Good Man is Hard to Find” (1959)

Flannery O'Connor was a Southern writer who, as Joyce Carol Oates once said, had less in common with Faulkner than with Kafka and Kierkegaard. Isolated by poor health and consumed by her fervent Catholic faith, O'Connor created works of moral fiction that, according to Oates, “were not refined New Yorker stories of the era in which nothing happens except inside the characters' minds, but stories in which something happens of irreversible magnitude, often death by violent means."

In imagining those events of irreversible magnitude, O'Connor could sometimes seem outlandish--even cartoonish--but she strongly rejected the notion that her perceptions of 20th century life were distorted. “Writers who see by the light of their Christian faith will have, in these times, the sharpest eye for the grotesque, for the perverse, and for the unacceptable," O'Connor said. “To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures."




In April of 1959--five years before her death at the age of 39 from lupus--O'Connor ventured away from her secluded family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, to give a reading at Vanderbilt University. She read one of her most famous and unsettling stories, “A Good Man is Hard to Find." The audio, accessible above, is one of two known recordings of the author reading that story. (The other, from a 1957 appearance at Notre Dame University, can be heard here.) In her distinctive Georgian drawl, O'Connor tells the story of a fateful family trip:

The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey's mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his chair at the table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal. "Now look here, Bailey," she said, "see here, read this," and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head. "Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what it says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn't take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn't answer to my conscience if I did."

After you listen to this rare track, you can follow this link to a recording of O'Connor reading her 1960 essay, "Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction," in which she writes: “I have found that anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the Northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic."

You will find O'Connor's reading of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" housed in our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

Note: An earlier version of this post was first published on our site in 2012.

Related Content:

Flannery O’Connor Reads ‘Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction’ (c. 1960)

Hear Flannery O’Connor’s Short Story, “Revelation,” Read by Legendary Historian & Radio Host, Studs Terkel

Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge” Read by Estelle Parsons

Looking for free, professionally-read audio books from Audible.com? Here’s a great, no-strings-attached deal. If you start a 30 day free trial with Audible.com, you can download two free audio books of your choice. Get more details on the offer here.

Hear Moby Dick Read in Its Entirety by Tilda Swinton, Stephen Fry, John Waters & Others

"Moby-Dick is the great American novel. But it is also the great unread American novel. Sprawling, magnificent, deliriously digressive, it stands over and above all other works of fiction, since it is barely a work of fiction itself. Rather, it is an explosive exposition of one man’s investigation into the world of the whale, and the way humans have related to it. Yet it is so much more than that."

That's how Plymouth University introduces Herman Melville's classic tale from 1851. And it's what set the stage for their web project launched back in 2012. Called The Moby-Dick Big Read, the project featured celebrities and lesser known figures reading all 135 chapters from Moby-Dick -- chapters that you can start downloading (as free audio files) on iTunesSoundcloud, RSS Feed, or the Big Read web site itself.




The project started with the first chapters being read by Tilda Swinton (Chapter 1), Captain R.N. Hone (Chapter 2), Nigel Williams (Chapter 3), Caleb Crain (Chapter 4), Musa Okwonga (Chapter 5), and Mary Norris (Chapter 6). John WatersStephen Fry, Simon Callow, Mary Oliver and even Prime Minister David Cameron read later ones.

If you want to read the novel as you go along, find the text in our collection of Free eBooks. We also have versions read by one narrator in our Free Audio Books collection. And, as always, you can download a professionally read version of Moby-Dick (or most any other novel), if you want to take part in Audible.com's 30-Day Free Trial program.

Tilda Swinton's narration of Chapter 1 appears right below:

An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2012.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

Related Content:

An Illustration of Every Page of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

How Ray Bradbury Wrote the Script for John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956)

Hear a Complete 24-Hour Reading of Moby-Dick, Recorded at the Southbank Centre in London (2015)

Introducing the New PEN America Digital Archive: 1,500 Hours of Audio & Video Featuring 2,200 Eminent Writers

Image via Pen.Org

The recently launched PEN America Digital Archive is an Aladdin’s cave of literary treasures. An incredible amount of cultural programming has grown up around the organization’s commitment to championing writers’ civil liberties–over 1,500 hours worth of audio and visual files.

Delve into this free, searchable archive for previously inaccessible lectures, readings, and discussions featuring the leading writers, intellectuals, and artists of the last 50 years. Many of these New York City-based events were planned in response to the oppression and hardship suffered by fellow writers around the world.




Feeling overwhelmed by this all-you-can-eat buffet for the mind? The archivists have your back with featured collections–an assortment of raucous, political conversations from the 1986 PEN World Congress and a thirty year retrospective of Toni Morrison.

We are lucky that Nobel Prize-winner Morrison, a vigorous cultural observer and critic, still walks among us. Also, that the archive affords us a chance to spend quality time with so many great literary eminences who no longer do:

John Steinbeck reads excerpts of The Grapes of Wrath and his short stories, "The Snake," "Johnny Bear,"  and "We're Holding Our Own."

Jerzy Kosinski discusses teaching, and the autobiographical elements of his controversial 1965 novel, The Painted Bird.

Madeleine L'Engle considers myth, science, faith, and the connection between art and fear.

Saul Bellow tackles how intellectuals influence and use technology, a particularly interesting topic in light of the dystopian fiction’s current popularity.

Nadine Gordimer relives the publication, banning and swift unbanning of her political historical novel, Burger's Daughter.

Susan Sontag uses a PEN International Congress press conference to draw attention to ways in which the host country, Korea, was falling short in regard to freedom of expression.

Gwendolyn Brooks reveals the backstory on her poems, including "The Lovers of the Poor," and "We Real Cool."

Begin your adventures in the PEN America Digital Archive here.

via Electric Literature

Related Content:

Free Speech Bites: Nigel Warburton, Host of Philosophy Bites, Creates a Spin Off Podcast Dedicated to Freedom of Expression

Great Writers on Free Speech and the Environment

Penn Sound: Fantastic Audio Archive of Modern & Contemporary Poets

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

When J.M. Coetzee Secretly Programmed Computers to Write Poetry in the 1960s

Before J.M. Coetzee became perhaps the most acclaimed novelist alive, he worked as a programer. That may not sound particularly notable these days, but bear in mind that the Nobel laureate and two-time Booker-winning author of Waiting for the Barbarians, Disgrace, and Elizabeth Costello held that day job first at IBM in the early 1960s — back, in other words, when nobody had a computer on their desk. And back when IBM was IBM: that mighty American corporation had brought the kind of computing power it alone could command to branch offices in cities around the world, including London, where Coetzee landed after leaving his native South Africa after graduating from the University of Cape Town.

The years Coetzee spent "writing machine code for computers," he once wrote in a letter to Paul Auster, saw him "getting so deeply sucked into the process that I sometimes felt I was descending into a madness in which the brain is taken over by mechanical logic." This must have caused some distress to a literarily minded young man who heard his true calling only from poetry.




"I was very heavily under the influence, in my teens and early twenties, of, first, T.S. Eliot, but then, more substantially, Ezra Pound, and later of German poetry, of Rilke in particular," he says to Peter Sacks in the interview above, remembering the years before he put poetry aside as a craft in favor of the novel.

"Under the shadowless glare of the neon lighting, he feels his very soul to be under attack,"Coetzee writes, in the autobiographical novel Youth, of the protagonist's time as a programmer. "The building, a featureless block of concrete and glass, seems to give off a gas, odourless, colourless, that finds its way into his blood and numbs him. IBM, he can swear, is killing him, turning him into a zombie." Only in the evening can he "leave his desk, wander around, relax. The machine room downstairs, dominated by the huge memory cabinets of the 7090, is more often than not empty; he can run programs on the little 1401 computer, even, surreptitiously, play games on it."

He could also use these clunky, punchcard-operated computers to write poetry. "In the mid 1960s Coetzee was working on one of the most advanced programming projects in Britain," writes King’s College London researcher Rebecca Roach. "During the day he helped to design the Atlas 2 supercomputer destined for the United Kingdom’s Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Aldermaston. At night he used this hugely powerful machine of the Cold War to write simple 'computer poetry,' that is, he wrote programs for a computer that used an algorithm to select words from a set vocabulary and create repetitive lines."

These lines, as seen here in one page of the print-outs held at the Coetzee archive at the University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Center, include "INCHOATE SHARD IMAGINE THE OUBLIETTE," "FRENETIC AMBIENCE DISHEARTEN THE ROSE," "PASSIONATE PABULUM CARPET THE MIRROR," and "FRENETIC TETANUS DEADEN THE DOCUMENT." Though he never published these results, writes Roach, he "edited and included phrases from them in poetry that he did publish." Is this a curious chapter in the early life of a prominent man of letters, or was this realm of "flat metallic surfaces" an ideal forge for the sensibilities of a writer now known, as John Lanchester so aptly put it, for his "unusual quality of passionate coldness" — a kind of brilliant austerity that hardly deadens any of his documents.

Related Content:

J.M. Coetzee on the Pleasures of Writing: Total Engagement, Hard Thought & Productiveness

Read and Hear Famous Writers (and Armchair Sportsmen) J.M. Coetzee and Paul Auster’s Correspondence

New Jorge Luis Borges-Inspired Project Will Test Whether Robots Can Appreciate Poetry

Japanese Computer Artist Makes “Digital Mondrians” in 1964: When Giant Mainframe Computers Were First Used to Create Art

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

More in this category... »
Quantcast