Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Animal Farm & the Plague of Doodle Bugs

On this day (August 17th) in 1945, George Orwell's fifth novel, Animal Farm, was published.  As is often the case with great fiction, the book - which is now regarded as a classic of 20th century literature - initially struggled to find a publisher.  Indeed, the very fact that the book saw the light of day at all is a testament to the tenacious determination of its beleaguered author.

The book was written during the height of World War Two, while London was being pulverized by a steady stream of flying V1 bombs known as ‘doodle bugs'. In fact, the book itself very nearly fell victim to the deadly doodles - when, in June 1944, Orwell’s flat was, er, flattened, and the author was reduced to scrambling around in the debris in a bid to rescue his tattered manuscript.

George Orwell
And rescue it he did - but having narrowly escaped a quick death at the hands of a German bomb, the book looked set to suffer an agonizingly slow death at the hands of its potential publishers.

By this stage, Orwell's regular publisher, Victor Gollancz, had refused to take the book, fearful that its anti-Soviet themes would be unpopular at a time when the Russian alliance was proving crucial to the success of the British war effort.  TS Eliot, then editor at Faber & Faber, had similar objections.  An acceptance by Jonathan Cape was swiftly reneged upon after the publisher paid a visit to Peter Smollett, a shady official at the Ministry of Information. (Interestingly, Smollett was later discovered to be a Soviet agent.)

Thankfully, soon after the curtain had fallen on the Second World War - and not long before an entirely different curtain was erected on the edge of Eastern Europe - the book finally found its audience. Where once political tensions had hindered the book’s path to publication, the climate now proved to be much more favourable. In the lead up to what was to become the Cold War, the British Establishment were no longer concerned with suppressing criticism of the Soviets. Anti-Russian sentiment, it seemed, was now the order of the day. Publishers no longer baulked at the book’s themes, and in fact, rushed to snap up the manuscript. But it was too late for them.  Animal Farm had been accepted by Secker and Warburg … and, when published in the late summer of 1945, with the subtitle A Fairy Story, it was an instant success.

A full transcript of TS Eliot's rejection letter can be viewed here:

No comments:

Post a Comment