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George Orwell

Animal Farm: A Fairy Story

Publisher: © 1945 Secker & Warburg, GB, London.

The First edition

ANIMAL FARM was published in 1945 by Secker & Warburg. States “First published May 1945” though publication was delayed until August due to paper shortage. Bound in green calico textured cloth on boards. No jacket. 4,500 copies printed. There were a number of reissues in 1946.

By Daniel J. Leab:

Orwell wrote what he called “a little squib” between November 1943 and February 1944, despite his many other literary activities. It was short, only 30,000 words, but given what he called its “political meaning”, quite controversial. Utilizing animal figures he wrote a biting allegorical history of the Soviet Union. Although the parallels are not exact, in the mid-1940s the meaning was quite clear. The revolt of the animals at Manor Farm against Farmer Jones is the Bolshevik Revolution. The tyrannical “boar”, Napoleon, who winds up as leader is Stalin. The expulsion of the pig Snowball, despite his valiant contributions, equated Trotsky's fate. The painful efforts of the animals to build the windmill are like the Five-Year-Plans which at great cost industrialized the USSR.

Animal Farm is splendidly written and filled with now well-known phrases such as “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others”. However given the wartime British infatuation with the Soviets, Orwell had difficulty finding a publisher. Gollancz by contract had the right of first refusal on Orwell's fiction. Orwell warned him that the book was “anti-Stalin”. Gollancz read the manuscript, and then informed the author's agent “I could not possibly publish... a general attack of this nature.” Cape's interest ended when “an important official in the Ministry of Information” reacted negatively. T. S. Eliot, for Faber & Faber, in rejecting the manuscript, wrote Orwell “We have no conviction... that this is the right point of view from which to criticize the political situation.” A dejected Orwell who also got other turndowns seems even to have considered self-publication. In October 1944 Secker & Warburg accepted the manuscript for publication. But the small firm's limited share of rationed paper stock meant that the book was not published until August 1945.

As Orwell biographer Bernard Crick points out, it “was widely reviewed... and nearly all praised the style.” There was much less unanimity on the political implications from critics as diverse as Graham Greene and Cyril Connolly; some read it as an anti-Soviet, anti-Stalin, anti-Socialist polemic (praising or damning it on that basis); others saw it as a condemnation of all tyranny or as a lament for “the revolution betrayed”. Only 4,500 copies were run off initially. Another 10,000 were printed in November. By the time of Orwell's death in January 1950 it is estimated that in the U.K. over 25,000 copies had been sold. It has been continually reprinted.

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