Publisher's Archive of Correspondence Relating to Animal Farm


ORWELL, George

A little fairy story ... with political meaning



12 items, comprising one TLS and one copy of a letter from Orwell, two TLS, one ALS and six carbons. Including: typed letter signed from Orwell to Victor Gollancz offering him first refusal but warning him that the book is anti-Stalin; further correspondence in which Gollancz protests that he is being mischaracterised as a Stalinist stooge, is sent the manuscript, and then declines it ("I could not possibly publish ... a general attack of this nature"); letter from Jonathan Cape checking that they are free to accept the book; correspondence from Victor Gollancz to Leonard Moore seeking to establish that the three-book contract is still operative; 1950 draft letter from Victor Gollancz to The Bookseller claiming that Orwell remained a Gollancz author, despite the rejection, and that he had an option on Nineteen Eighty Four that he regretfully passed up at Orwell's personal request.

A comprehensive archive of correspondence between Eric Blair (George Orwell) and his publisher, Victor Gollancz recording the famous rejection of Animal Farm by the publishing house.
Orwell had been with the left-wing publisher Victor Gollancz since his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933). Gollancz published a further six Orwell titles over the next decade. Orwell wrote Animal Farm, his anti-Stalinist political fable, in an intense burst from November 1943 to February 1944. He anticipated that Gollancz would be unwilling to publish the novel due to its content and the pro-Soviet political environment of the Second World War, but was contractually obliged to offer Gollancz his next two novels.
Orwell's original typed letter signed to Gollancz, dated 19 March 1944, announces that he has completed Animal Farm: "It is a little fairy story, about 30,000 words, with a political meaning. But I must tell you that it is I think completely unacceptable politically from your point of view (it is anti-Stalin)". He asks him if he wants to see it, in which case he will send it, but otherwise to let him know quickly so that he can try elsewhere. Gollancz's carbon reply, dated 23 March 1944, says that he would like to view the manuscript, and takes issue with the notion that he is beholden to the Stalinist line, having opposed Soviet foreign policy before the war.
Orwell's next letter, here preserved in a typed copy dated 25 March 1944, reiterates that he does not feel Gollancz will publish it, but will send him the manuscript. He says he is criticizing Stalin from the left rather than from the right, "but in my experience this gets one into even worse trouble". Minor other correspondence follows between Gollancz and Orwell's literary agent Leonard Moore as the manuscript is sent.
Upon reading the manuscript, Gollancz replies to Orwell, preserved in carbon dated 4 April 1944, "you were right and I was wrong. I am so sorry. I have returned the manuscript to Moore". In an additional carbon response to Moore sent the same day, Gollancz writes that "I am highly critical of many aspects of internal and external Soviet policy: but I could not possibly publish (as Blair anticipated) a general attack of this nature".
An autograph letter signed from the publisher Jonathan Cape to Gollancz, dated 26 May 1944, follows, saying that they have also been offered the manuscript, are inclined to publish it, and are checking on the legality of them doing so, due to Orwell's contract with Gollancz. However, Jonathan Cape did turn it down, as did Nicholson & Watson and Faber & Faber, on the same grounds, that the political climate was not right for it. By mid-July 1944, Orwell was on the verge of self-publishing the book, but the novel was at last taken up by Secker and Warburg, with terms agreed by October 1944, and was finally published in August 1945, by which point the war was over and the British public were rapidly turning against Stalin and the Soviet Union.
However, Orwell's relationship with Gollancz had been permanently damaged by his decision. To Orwell's annoyance Gollancz had refused to recognise the work as a novel on the grounds that it was too short. A carbon letter from Gollancz to Moore is here preserved, dated 1 June 1944, asserting this and consequently they did not count it as a novel offer under the contract, which had required Orwell to offer Gollancz his next two novels.
Orwell used the rejection of Animal Farm to negotiate a termination of his contract with Gollancz, and he did not publish any future works with the publishing house; his next and final novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, was also published by Secker & Warburg.
Gollancz's rejection of Animal Farm is often cited as one of the greatest mistakes made by a modern publishing house. Yet Gollancz remained adamant that his decision was the right one. In 1950 Frederick Warburg contributed an obituary of Orwell to The Bookseller, in which he claimed to be Orwell's undisputed publisher. An incensed Gollancz drafted and signed a three-page letter to the editor, dated 15 February 1950, preserved here, though he did not send it. Gollancz claims that he rejected Animal Farm solely due to the necessities of war. He "read it with the greatest delight and agreed with every word of it but to publish so savage an attack on Russia at a time when we were fighting for our existence side by side with her could not be justified As to my decision itself, there are, of course perfectly honourable arguments against it. But I believe myself to have been right".
The archive of correspondence is a significant cache of source material for one of the great errors of British publishing, and marks an important stage in Orwell's literary career, the moment in which Orwell felt forced to abandon his publisher of over a decade.

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