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George Orwell

The Road to Wigan Pier

Publisher: © 1937 Victor Gollancz Ltd., GB, London.

With a Foreword: by Victor Gollancz.

Left Book Club Edition

By Daniel J. Leab:

Gollancz at the beginning of 1936 had organized the Left Book Club, similar in operation to the Book-of-the-Month Club in the U.S. The response was good, and by the end of 1936 there were almost 40,000 members. Orwell had expressed doubt this book would be a Left Book Club selection but it did become one — in March 1937 Gollancz published both trade and Left Book Club editions. The initial printing of the latter was greater than the combined sales of all Orwell's previous books.

To his great credit (and those of his colleagues) Gollancz went forward despite his doubts of the ideas set forth in Part II. But Gollancz's concern about Part II caused him to write what has been called an “extraordinary introduction” to the book and it appeared for “technical reasons” in some of the trade edition as well as the Book Club edition. Gollancz's foreword praised Part I, but warned the reader about Part II, cautioning that “this second part is highly provocative” and gives “a distorted picture of what Socialists are like and what they say.” Only about 150 copies of the trade edition carried Gollancz's foreword; the rest of the 2,000 or so copies of the trade edition did not.

The Road to WIgan Pier, 1st American edition Orwell had resisted Gollancz's initial attempt to issue the book in two parts and to issue a Left Book Club edition of only the first part. Over 40,000 copies of the cohesive edition were distributed to club members 890 copies of only Part I were issued in May 1937 as a “supplementary” book with the club bulletin urging members to buy it and send it to their friends because it was “one of the best weapons for rousing the public conscience.” The book club editions were bound in the limp orange cloth the club then uniformly used (“lively without being vulgar”). One history of the club argues that The Road To Wigan Pier was “probably the best book the club ever issued....”

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