Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Collected Works of George Orwell, 1920-1940

This is volume one of a late sixties publication of the complete works of George Orwell, including letters, essays and journalism. It’s edited by Sonia Orwell (his second wife) and Ian Angus. Poor Sonia wasn’t married to Orwell for very long. He said he married her (a woman much younger than himself) in the hope that it would give him some sort of subliminal will to live. Despite his hopes that love/sex would save his life, it didn’t

Orwell fans like myself will find this a treat. Through the chronologically placed letters and essays we get a clear idea of Orwell’s development as a writer, plus his place in the literary milieu. Indeed, one letter lists the possible names he might go by for the publication of Down and Out in London and Paris. (Many of Orwell’s letters to the literary big wigs of the time are reproduced as well, including Cryil Connolly and Stephen Spender.)

This collection really concentrates on the period 1930-1940. There are only three pieces from the previous decade. So you really get to see how Orwell grows as a writer. By 1940, Orwell the essayist is in full flight, with his excellent collection Inside the Whale.

If you want to piece together your own biography of George Orwell from his letters and development as an essayist, this fun book (fun for Orwell fans that is) is a good place to start.

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