Friday, April 17, 2009

T.S. Eliot Passed on Animal Farm

A rejection letter from none other than poet, T.S. Eliot was recently released by his 82-year old widow. The letter was from his time as an editor for British-based publisher, Faber and Faber, and was sent to an author named George Orwell. The book rejected? Animal Farm.

Of course, Orwell's Animal Farm went on to become a literary classic and win a retroactive Hugo Award (1996), but in 1944, expatriate and soon-to-be Nobel Prize winner (1948), Eliot, told him it was "generally Trotskyite [and]... not convincing"; both Orwell and Trotsky were Communist-minded but opposed to Stalin and his methods.

Orwell's usual publisher even passed on it, which is why Eliot got the chance to slush it. It went through two more publishers before it was finally published as Animal Farm: A Fairy Story by Secker and Warburg in 1945; it was abbreviated to Animal Farm by the US publisher when it was released here in 1946. It was published under several titles in various nations. An unmistakable allegory of Stalin's Russia, it is generally accepted that the reluctance to publish the book had everything to do with politics: Russia was an important ally against the Nazis. But Orwell wrote that while it had been rejected by four publishers, only one had an "ideological motive."

The author's introduction to Animal Farm found even more trouble making it to press. The first edition had no preface, though there was room for one. It was not until 1972 that George Orwell's intended introduction for the novel was discovered and first published. Ironically, it was a thorough condemnation of British censorship.

"...your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore are the best qualified to run the farm. In fact there couldn't have been an Animal Farm without them: so that what was needed (someone might argue) was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs," Eliot wrote in the rejection letter. "We have no conviction that this is the right point of view from which to criticise [sic] the political situation at the current time."

However, the poet goes on to judge Orwell's writing "good."

The rejection letter is but one of many released by Valerie Eliot for an upcoming BBC documentary.

© C Harris Lynn, 2009

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