This is an unusual book, sort of a [b:House of Leaves|24800|House of Leaves|Mark Z. Danielewski|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327889035s/24800.jpg|856555] for Orwell nerds. The backstory is that George Orwell’s widow found a partial draft manuscript of [b:1984|5470|1984|George Orwell|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348990566s/5470.jpg|153313] and donated it to a charity auction where it sold for £50 in 1952. Years later, Peter Davison, the editor of The Complete Works of George Orwell
, obtained access to it and went through the document with painstaking care, publishing it as this book in 1984.
On the odd-numbered pages, there are facsimiles of the actual manuscript pages. Some of it is type-written, some handwritten, and much of it a confusing mess of both, with lots of crossing-out and writing between lines and in the margins in different colors of ink. The manuscript pages are shown in their actual sizes, which varied as Orwell used several different types and sizes of paper. (I kept expecting to see something scrawled on a napkin or the back of a train ticket, but there was nothing that extreme). On the facing pages, Davison has transcribed the whole thing meticulously, including everything underneath the scribbles, making sense out of it for those whose eyesight isn’t up to the challenge.The first page of the manuscript - It was a bright, cold day in April and millions of clocks and/or radios were striking thirteen.Orwell's handwriting on the right with Davison's transcription on the left.
This book gives an insight into Orwell’s writing process for the book he said would have been better if it hadn’t been written “under the influence of TB.” He was very ill for most of the time he was writing it, and even typing was physically difficult for him. There aren’t any big surprises in the actual text, certainly no secret Hollywood happy endings. Orwell changed the year in which the novel is set more than once (1980 crossed out, then 1982, then 1984). There are a few scenes that didn’t make it into the final version, in some cases mercifully, like a bizarre and gruesome lynching that Winston describes when writing about newsreels in his diary. As one would expect with Orwell, many of the edits involve clarifying and simplifying the prose. Some passages that seem relatively straightforward are rewritten five or six times, just in this draft.
This had to be an expensive book to publish. It’s a heavy, oversized hardcover book with different colors of ink and numerous page layouts. The target audience would presumably be small. Still, it’s rare to get a glimpse of a work in progress, since most writers don’t keep multiple manuscript drafts after a book is published (or at least don’t let them be made public). There are no existing manuscripts of Orwell’s other books, and he instructed his literary executor to destroy any drafts of Nineteen Eighty-Four
if he died before he finished it. This book would be more of a curiosity to most people, but the effort and scholarship that went into producing it are impressive.