Okay so not exactly, but George Orwell’s diaries I’m sure Harry’s Place readers will be pleased to hear are to go online daily to mark the 70th anniversary of their publication.
If you’ve read them you will know that they are as rich as any of his better-known political writing and novels. If you haven’t, it seems like the perfect way to discover them.
The diaries will be published in blog form on the George Orwell prize website each day 70 years after they were first written, opening up a wonderful opportunity to acquaint and reacquaint with Orwell in a very accessible way, offering eyewitness accounts from the 1930s on everything from unemployment, fascism and communism, but also his musings on the natural world.
The project kicks off on August 9th and covers an important part of his life as a writer, beginning just before the period he spent recovering from tuberculosis in Morocco in 1938 and immediately following his time in Spain during the Spanish civil war, which led to the writing of ‘Homage to Catalonia’, my favourite Orwell book, and when he was writing his 1939 novel ‘Coming up for Air’.
Having been wounded fighting in Spain, Orwell was much changed by his experiences during that key 1936-37 period and it marked a turning point in his writing and thinking. After this time, as he put it, he knew where he stood.
“Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows. And the more one is conscious of one’s political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one’s aesthetic and intellectual integrity.”
The diaries follow through from that time as rumblings of war continue, through the fall of France up until 1942 as the war started to turn in the Allies’ favour.
Here are a couple of excerpts from that summer of 1938, one written in Southwold England and the other in Gibraltar, both just before he arrived in Marrakesh, which show the contrast of the kind of entries he made.
Southwold: Warmish day, with showers. Nights are getting colder & more like autumn. A few oaks beginning to yellow very slightly. After the rain enormous slugs crawling about, one measuring about 3″ long. Large holes, presumably ear-holes, some distance behind head. They were of two distinct colours, some light fawn & others white, but both have a band of bright orange round the edge of the belly, which makes one think they are of the same species & vary individually in colour. On the tip of their tails they had blobs of gelatinous stuff like the casing of water-snail’s eggs. A large beetle, about the size of a female stag-beetle but not the same, extruding from her hindquarters a yellow tube about the length of herself. Possibly some sort of tube through which eggs are laid?
Gibraltar Many Spaniards work here and return into Spain every night. At least 3,000 refugees from Franco territory. Authorities now trying to get rid of these on pretext of overcrowding. Impossible to discover wages and food prices. Standard of living apparently not very low, no barefooted adults and few children…Spanish destroyer Jose Luis Diez lying in harbour. A huge shell-hole, probably four or five feet across, in her side, just above water-level, on port side about fifteen to twenty feet behind bow. Flying Spanish Republican flag. The men were at first apparently prevented from going ashore, now allowed at certain hours to naval recreational ground (i.e. not to mix with local population). No attempt being made to mend the ship.
Overheard local English resident: “It’s coming right enough. Hitler’s going to have Czecho-Slovakia all right. If he doesn’t get it now he’ll go on and on till he does. Better let him have it at once. We shall be ready by 1941.”