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 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. 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

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