Index > Library > Novels > 1984 > English > A Note on the Text

George Orwell: ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’

Peter Davison

A Note on the Text

As a child Orwell was fascinated by H. G. Wells's Modem Utopia. He told Jadntha Buddicom that he might one day write a similar type of book. He was introduced to Yevgeny Zamyatin's We by Gleb Struve, and he told him on 17 February 1944, ‘I am interested in that kind of book, and even keep making notes for one myself that may get written sooner or later.’ Orwell began writing his last novel in earnest at Bamhill, Jura, in the summer of 1946 and by the autumn had typed some fifty pages, of which pages 25-38 (Goldstein's Testament) survive. These form part of the draft of the novel, about 40 per cent of which still exists and has been reproduced in facsimile (ed. P. Davison, 1984). From this it can be established that Orwell completed his first draft in the early autumn of 1947 (of which ten pages survive) and revised the whole novel in the summer and autumn of 1948. He was by now very sick and in pain, but he struggled through November to retype the whole book, revising it as he did so, and he posted copies to Fredric Warburg and his agent, Leonard Moore, on 3 December 1948; a third copy was sent to New York. The draft has many points of interest, but two are particularly worth recording here.

As a result of Orwell's novel, the year 1984 became a legend long before it arrived. However, that was not the year Orwell initially intended. He first set his story in 1980, but, as the time taken to write the book dragged on (partly because of his illness), that was changed to 1982 and, later, to 1984. The second interesting feature is a passage Orwell cut out from the final version. After their meeting with

O'Brien, Julia and Winston depart separately. In the draft, Julia waits for Winston. This is part of the passage cut out from the conclusion to Part II, section VIII (page 186):

He had gone perhaps two hundred metres, and was in the dark patch midway between two street lamps, when he was startled by something soft bumping against him. The next moment Julia's arms were clinging tightly round him.

‘You see I've broken my first order,’ she whispered with her lips close against his ear. ‘But I couldn't help it. We hadn't fixed up about tomorrow. Listen.’ In the usual manner, she gave him instructions about their next meeting. ‘And now, good-night, my love, good-night!’

She kissed his cheek almost violently a number of times, then slipped away into the shadow of the wall and promptly disappeared. Her lips had been cold, and in the darkness it had seemed to him that her face was pale. He had a curious feeling that although the purpose for which she had waited was to arrange another meeting, the embrace she had given him was intended as some kind of good-bye.

In addition to the draft, the typescript for the English (but not the American) edition has survived, marked up for the printer; one of the sets of proofs in the Orwell Archive has been corrected by Orwell; and there is a list he made of pages requiring correction.

Seeker & Warburg in England and Harcourt, Brace in the USA both felt the need to press ahead urgently with publication. Instead of waiting for the page proofs of the English edition from which to set the American text, Robert Giroux in New York went ahead and prepared copy for the American printer independently of Roger Senhouse's copy-preparation for the English printer. The result is two different texts, partly because American conventions dictated a completely different system of punctuation and because Americans were accustomed to different verbal usages — Orwell's use of ‘towards’ was changed throughout to ‘toward’, for example — and partly for social reasons: for instance, the American text changed ‘thick negroid’ (page 80, lines 9-10) to ‘protuberant’. In addition, Orwell, as he had when preparing the Gollancz edition of Burmese Days, seems to have made a few verbal changes when checking the American proofs. The. most interesting of these is the avoidance of the repetition of ‘job’ on page 50, lines 22 and 23, where ‘version’ was substituted for its second appearance.

A serious flaw occurred in the 1951 printing of the Seeker & Warburg text. The ‘5’ in the formula ‘2+2=5’ (page 303) dropped out of the printer's forme. All English editions thereafter, including the special 1984 editions prepared by Seeker & Warburg and Penguin Books, have repeated this error. Lack of the ‘5’ negates Orwell's point that Winston has submitted without reservation to Big Brother and thus there can only be hope in the proles (as Winston wrote, page 72), not in the likes of Winston — the relative intellectual.

This edition is based on Orwell's typescript of November 1948, amended according to his proof corrections and taking in a few readings that are deemed to be his from the American first edition.

One stylistic feature which arose in the preparation of Nineteen Eighty-Four is also applicable to Orwell's other writings. When Orwell was lying ill in Cranham Sanatorium, Gloucester, Roger Senhouse, then seeing the novel through the press, wrote of his ‘archaic horror’ at seeing ‘on’ and ‘to’ printed as a single word. Orwell had used ‘onto’ intermittently from before the War and on 2 March 1949 he replied to Senhouse:

As to ‘onto’. I know this is an ugly word, but I consider it to be necessary in certain contexts. If you say ‘the cat jumped on the table’ you may mean that the cat, already on the table, jumped up and down there. On the other hand, ‘on to’ (two words) means something different, as in ‘we stopped at Bamet and then drove on to Hatfield’. In some contexts, therefore, one needs ‘onto*. Fowler, if I remember rightly, doesn't altogether condemn it.

Orwell does not here precisely define when ‘onto’ should be used. He was right about H. W. Fowler's recommendation — ‘use it & own up if you like’ — but, unfortunately, its use is not always easily decided upon and Orwell himself is not consistent in his use of ‘onto/on to’. Nevertheless, his wishes have, so far as practicable, been put into effect in this edition.

Orwell's first book. Down and Out in Paris and London, and several thereafter suffered from ‘in-house censorship’. His last underwent the same fate in at least one of its many editions and translations. A Spanish version for publication in Argentina was the subject of the very last surviving letter to Orwell from his agent, Leonard Moore, dated 22 November 1949, two months before his death. Moore told Orwell that the Argentine publishers wanted cuts made of some 140 lines because ‘the Spanish language is cruder than the English’ and the authorities might be induced to ban Nineteen Eighty-Four ‘on some quite irrelevant point of morality’. That would mean the loss of a book the basic philosophy of which was ‘aimed directly against some of the most powerful movements of our time’. Among passages causing particular concern in Argentina were page 70, lines 3-23 and much of pages 131-3.

Peter Davison, 1989
Albany, London


Peter Davison: ‘A Note on the Text’
First published: Penguin Books, 1989.

Machine-readable version: O. Dag
Last modified on: 2019-12-29

[The book cover page]
George Orwell
Nineteen Eighty-Four
© 1990 Penguin Books

‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’: [Index]

Library [Eng] [Rus] > Novels [Eng] [Rus] ~ [CSS off]

[] [Home] [Biography] [Library] [A Life] [Info & (c)] [Links] [Site map] [Search] [Feedback]

© 1999-2023 O. Dag – ¡C. date: 1999-05-21 & L. mod.: 2019-12-29!