Published Jan 2010
George Orwell was an inveterate keeper of diaries. Eleven diaries are presented here, and we know there may be two more from his time in Spain hidden away in the NKVD Archives in Moscow. Covering the period 1931-1949, this volume follows Orwell from his early years as a writer up to his last literary notebook. His Hop-Picking Diary covers some of Orwell’s time spent down and out; a wonderful entry from 1931 tells of a communal shave in the Trafalgar Square fountains. The notes from his travels through industrial England, which formed the basis of The Road to Wigan Pier, show the development of the gifted young novelist and impassioned social commentator. ‘Frightful landscape of slag-heaps and belching chimneys.[…] Beards of ice on lock gates.’ This same acute power of observation is evident in his diaries from Morocco, where he also encountered extreme poverty. We catch a glimpse of a different Orwell at home. His domestic diaries chart the progress of his garden and animals with a keen eye, from the succinct, ‘Pig active again.’ to the more poetic, ‘One of the plants that carries the snow most beautifully is lavender.’ The wartime diaries make fascinating reading, from descriptions of events overseas, to the daily violence closer to home and his astute perspective on the politics of both. Orwell offers a different take on the typical view of the home front. ‘War is simply a reversal of civilised life, its motto is ‘Evil be thou my good’, and so much of the good of modern life is actually evil that it is questionable whether on balance war does harm.’ The diaries provide a new and entirely refreshing insight into Orwell’s character and help towards an understanding of his great works.