laban.rsGeorge OrwellAnimal Farm → A Note on the Text

Peter Davison

A Note on the Text

Animal Farm was published in England on 17 August 1945 and one year later in the United States. Until Animal Farm the total print-run of Orwell’s nine books (including Inside the Whale and The Lion and the Unicorn) in Britain and America amounted to some 195,500 copies. Of these, 47,079 were of The Road to Wigan Pier and 115,000 were Penguin editions of Down and Out in Paris and London (1940) and Burmese Days (1944). Shortage of paper after the World War II restricted the number of copies of Animal Farm printed in Britain, but 25,500 copies had been issued by the time Orwell died in January 1950, and 590,000 in America. These figures give quantitative support to the enormous and immediate success of Animal Farm, and they are backed up by the range and variety of the translations made during the few remaining years of Orwell’s life — translations into all the principal European languages, as well as Persian, Telugu, Icelandic, and Ukrainian. But what genre of book was being offered to these different publics? The most important textual variant of Animal Farm affects its title-page. Orwell called his book, Animal Farm: A Fairy Story. This is the description given in all editions published by Secker & Warburg and Penguin Books but the Americans dropped A Fairy Story from the outset. (One of the many publishers who declined to publish Animal Farm in Britain and America did so because he considered there was no market for children’s books.) Only in Telugu, of all the translations made in Orwell’s lifetime, was A Fairy Story retained. In other translations the subtitle was dropped or became A Satire, A Contemporary Satire, or was described as an adventure or tale. This is not the place to discuss the significance of the original subtitle, except, perhaps, to point out that it stems from Orwell’s abiding fascination for fairy stories and the like encountered during early childhood, in his work as a teacher, and his time at the BBC.

Typescripts of two of Orwell’s books have survived — Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four — in addition to an author’s proof for Animal Farm. The number of textual variants is relatively few. When the text was prepared for the English printer, variations in capitalisation and spelling were smoothed out (so that Orwell’s ‘hay field’, ‘hay-field’ and ‘hayfield’ all became one word) and, on average, the punctuation was changed twice on each page. For this edition Orwell’s punctuation has been preferred and what may be a subtle shift from ‘seven commandments’ (page 15, line 17) to ‘Seven Commandments’ (e.g., page 21, lines 2 — 3), after they have become sacrosanct, is restored. In 1945 the pigeons were not permitted to drop dung on Mr Jones and his men (page 26, line 23), but were required, obscurely, to ‘mute’ upon them instead to avoid offending readers’ susceptibilities.

Of the two most interesting textual characteristics of Animal Farm, apart from its genre subtitle, one is a change made just in time for the first edition and the other is an afterthought that cannot properly be incorporated.

In March 1945 Orwell was in Paris working as a war correspondent for the Observer and the Manchester Evening News. He there met Joseph Czapski, a survivor of Soviet concentration camps and the Katyn Massacre. Despite the latter’s experiences and his opposition to the Soviet regime, he explained to Orwell (as Orwell wrote to Arthur Koestler) that ‘it was the character of Stalin... the greatness of Stalin’ that saved Russia from the German invasion. ‘He stayed in Moscow when the Germans nearly took it, and his courage was what saved the situation.’ In Animal Farm, although parallels to historical personages are not exact, Stalin is certainly represented by Napoleon*. A few days after meeting Czapski, Orwell wrote to his publishers asking for the text to be changed in chapter VIII (in this edition page 69, line 22). Instead of ‘all the animals, including Napoleon,’ falling to the ground, he wanted, ‘all the animals, except Napoleon’. This alteration, he wrote, ‘would be fair to Stalin, as he did stay in Moscow during the German advance’.

* In a letter to Yvonne Davet, Orwell described Animal Farm as his novel ‘contre Stalin’. He suggested as a title for the French translation, ‘Union des républiques socialistes animales’ — URSA (the bear). For the French edition Napoleon was renamed César.

At the end of 1946, Orwell prepared an adaptation of Animal Farm for the BBC Third Programme. On 2 December Dwight Macdonald, editor of the American journal Politics, and a friend of Orwell’s, wrote saying he assumed Animal Farm applied only to Russia and that Orwell was not making any larger statement about the philosophy of revolution. Orwell replied that though Animal Farm was ‘primarily a satire on the Russian Revolution’ it was intended to have a wider application. That kind of revolution, which he defined as ‘violent conspiratorial revolution, led by unconsciously power-hungry people’, could only lead to a change of masters. He went on: ‘I meant the moral to be that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job. The turning-point of the story was supposed to be when the pigs kept the milk and apples for themselves’, and he referred to the naval mutiny at Kronstadt in 1921 when the sailors supported those striking in Leningrad against the Soviet regime. Realising that the turning-point in the novel was not clear enough, he added these lines of dialogue to the radio adaptation he was just then completing:

CLOVER: Do you think that is quite fair to appropriate the apples?

MOLLY: What, keep all the apples for themselves?

MURIEL: Aren’t we to have any?

COW: I thought they were going to be shared out equally.

The significance of these lines was lost on the BBC producer, Rayner Heppenstall, who cut them out. As Orwell did not revise Animal Farm, it is beyond an editor’s remit to add them to the book, but they do highlight what Orwell told Geoffrey Gorer was the ‘key passage’ of Animal Farm.

Peter Davison, 2000
Albany, London

Peter Davison: ‘A Note on the Text’
First published: Penguin Books, 2000.

Animal Farm: A Fairy Story
[Front cover]
© 2000 Penguin Classics, GB, Essex, Harlow.