George Orwell’s Harrowing Race to Finish 1984 Before His Death


A few weeks ago, we fea­tured George Orwell’s 1944 let­ter reveal­ing the ideas that would lead him to write his still wide­ly read, and even more wide­ly assigned, nov­el­/an­ti-author­i­tar­i­an state­ment 1984. The book would come out five years lat­er, in 1949, sug­gest­ing that Orwell worked at a pret­ty good clip to turn out a book of such high stature. Alas, he nev­er lived to see it attain its cur­rent place in the cul­ture, and bare­ly even to see its pub­li­ca­tion. It turns out Orwell had to work faster than you may expect; beset by poor health in var­i­ous man­i­fes­ta­tions, he had to fin­ish off the nov­el­’s man­u­script, which he had then ten­ta­tive­ly titled The Last Man in Europe, before his con­di­tions fin­ished him off. “I am not pleased with the book but I am not absolute­ly dis­sat­is­fied,” he wrote his agent of the rough draft. “I think it is a good idea but the exe­cu­tion would have been bet­ter if I had not writ­ten it under the influ­ence of TB.”


That typ­i­cal­ly gray but hardy Blairi­an obser­va­tion (as in Eric Arthur Blair, Orwell’s giv­en name, tak­ing into account that “Orwellian” has, owing to 1984, a mean­ing of its own) comes from Robert McCrum, writ­ing in The Guardian of the author’s strug­gle to com­plete the book by the end of 1948. “It was a des­per­ate race against time. Orwell’s health was dete­ri­o­rat­ing, the man­u­script need­ed retyp­ing, and the Decem­ber dead­line was loom­ing.” Feel­ing beyond help, he “fol­lowed his ex-pub­lic school­boy’s instincts: he would go it alone. [ … ] Sus­tained by end­less roll-ups, pots of cof­fee, strong tea and the warmth of his paraf­fin heater, with gales buf­fet­ing [his bor­rowed house on a remote Scot­tish island] night and day, he strug­gled on. By 30 Novem­ber 1948 it was vir­tu­al­ly done.”  On June 8th, the book appeared in Eng­land’s book­stores, met by acclaim from Win­ston Churchill him­self on down. Orwell died on Jan­u­ary 21, 1950, 64 years ago this past Mon­day.


Above, we’ve includ­ed images of 1984’s man­u­script from (click on each for a larg­er ver­sion), and you can learn more about it at The Fic­tion Desk. Do con­sid­er giv­ing a read — or, bet­ter yet, a re-read — to Orwell’s 1946 essay “Why I Write,” from which McCrum quotes to illu­mi­nate the writer’s dri­ve to com­plete this har­row­ing final work: “Writ­ing a book is a hor­ri­ble, exhaust­ing strug­gle, like a long bout of some painful ill­ness. One would nev­er under­take such a thing if one were not dri­ven by some demon whom one can nei­ther resist or under­stand.”

Read more about this sto­ry at The Guardian.

via Red­dit

Relat­ed Con­tent:

George Orwell Explains in a Reveal­ing 1944 Let­ter Why He’d Write 1984

George Orwell’s 1984: Free eBook, Audio Book & Study Resources

The Only Known Footage of George Orwell (Cir­ca 1921)

George Orwell’s Five Great­est Essays (as Select­ed by Pulitzer-Prize Win­ning Colum­nist Michael Hiltzik)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Face­book page.

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