... in black, white, red and green

George Orwell

July 24, 1998

In reviewing this book I must give a little history and declare my interest. In 1968 The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell was published by Secker and Warburg. The co-editor (with Sonia Orwell) was Ian Angus. His author's note on the jacket flap stated: "In collaboration with I.R. Willison, he is at present preparing a bibliography of George Orwell for publication." In 1971, I became the head of Secker and inherited this book, which had an advance against royalties of £250. In 1984, I left Secker to run another publishing house, at which point I had become a serious Orwell collector but the bibliography, which I so keenly desired for two reasons, remained resolutely uncompleted. It is consequently with all the passion of the confirmed bibliomaniac that I greet this book from the distinguished bibliography publisher St Paul's.

In her preface, Gillian Fenwick pays generous tribute to Angus and to "Ian Willison, whose 1952 study was the original backbone of this bibliography". In scholarship as in bibliomania it was ever thus. Fenwick also acknowledges Peter Davison, the editor of The Complete Works of George Orwell, which contains not four volumes of essays etc but 11. She uses Davison's numbering for the identification of all the previously unpublished items.

It should be said at once that this is a work of massive industry and invaluable to any serious student of Orwell, to librarians, antiquarian booksellers and collectors. Fenwick follows the basic structure, in dividing Orwell's massive oeuvre, of the old Soho Bibliographies although, sadly, she has no section quite like that in Slocum and Cahoun devoted to "Musical settings of works by James Joyce". Instead, her Section F is "BBC Talks organised by Orwell".

Unusually for a bibliographer, Fenwick intersperses huge amounts of biographical material, quoting copiously from letters and other Orwelliana to flesh out the normally arid sections devoted to pagination, contents, binding materials etc.

Not many bibliographies describe the author's struggle and quote so extensively from his letters. There are many gems, such as his recording his first exposure to Ulysses: "I rather wish I had never read it. It gives me an inferiority complex. When I read a book like that and then come back to my own work, I feel like a eunuch who has taken a course in voice production and can pass himself off fairly well as a bass or a baritone, but if you listen closely you can hear the good old squeak just the same as ever."

There are also informative passages about his financial affairs and dealings with publishers, including the (resisted) pressure on him to remove entire sections from Nineteen Eighty-Four to gain a Book Club Selection in the United States. This book covers 30 pages in Fenwick's volume and is replete with details of the multiple translations. Some of the foreign publishers rather wickedly issued the book as 1984, which is unforgivable, but the majority set out the title in words as in the Catalan Mil Nou Cents Vuitanta-Quatre. But in my view, Fenwick ducks the crux of Nineteen Eighty-Four bibliography by relegating to a single line, buried at the end of the Notes on the first edition, the words: "There is another state of the first issue with a green jacket." In fact there is a great mystery here in that there is no clear explanation of the existence of both red and green jackets; it is odd, too, that the first American edition is also, although Fenwick does not mention this, to be found in two different colours for the jacket. An antiquarian bookseller who agrees with me that the green and the red English jackets probably exist in equal quantities, says: "The colour you have in stock is invariably the rarer one."

Fenwick is also a little dismissive of the facsimile of the partial manuscript, published in 1984, which is shunted off to the miscellaneous section with films and audio tapes and does not mention the English-language versions separately published by some of the foreign publishers with their own imprints.

Nor does Fenwick mention any jacket at all for Animal Farm. This is a pity since the back announces "An early list for 1945", which includes books by Lewis Mumford, Thomas Mann, Joyce Carey and Edmund Wilson among others. Furthermore, the jacket, most unusually, is printed on the underside with the insignia of Searchlight Books, in some cases in red, in others in blue. As Orwell himself contributed so significantly to that important series of provocative books, this seems a shame. I am also sad to find no reference to Ralph Steadman's brilliant illustrated edition of Animal Farm, which brought that book, known as Die Opstand in Afrikaans and in Norwegian as both Dictatoren (in 1946) and Kamerat Napoleon (in 1964) - back on to British bestseller lists in 1995.

It should also be noted that the book is meanly designed as far as space between titles and sections is concerned, although one recognises that a more generous typographical design would have added 50 to 100 pages in length.

Fenwick has not been well served by copy editors and proof readers. She believes (page 4) that Orwell's publisher and literary executor are the same person and that there is a Christchurch College in Oxford. The idea that Burmese Days had to be "pedalled from publisher to publisher" adds new impetus to Norman Tebbit's injunction to "get on yer bike". The author of The Martyrdom of Man is Winwood not Windwood Reade, and it is depressing to read here that any book should have a "foreward"0.

Having said that, there is hardly a page that does not contain information any Orwellian would both need and want, and one can only hope that, like Roberts on D.H. Lawrence, there will eventually be a revised and expanded edition. In the meantime, two resounding cheers for Fenwick.

Tom Rosenthal was head of Secker and Warburg from 1971 to 1984 and is chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

George Orwell: A Bibliography

Author - Gillian Fenwick
ISBN - 1 87304005 9
Publisher - St Paul's Biographies
Price - £55.00
Pages - 426

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