Something About a Pig: Why Animal Farm was criticised when it was released
An allegorical, satirical and dystopian masterwork was published 70 years ago last month — The one, the only ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell.
Orwell, already having published a few titles, wrote the book between November 1943 and February 1944, at a time when the British people and intelligentsia highly regarded Stalin and the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union was at its peak.
Publishers in Britain and America rejected it, even Gollancz, who had published his previous works, said no. Orwell was told that anti-Russian literature had little chance of being released, and Faber and Faber’s director, the poet T. S. Elliot, said that the book’s viewpoint was “not convincing”.
Jonathan Cape, a publisher who had at first agreed to publish ‘Animal Farm’ later rejected it at the behest of an official at the British Ministry of Information. Now, it is thought that the official was Peter Smollett, a man later found to be a Soviet spy.
With the Cold War quickly setting on after World War II, attitudes began to change and Secker and Warburg agreed to publish the title. Space was included for a preface, and Orwell wrote one about British self-censorship and the suppression of unflattering portraits of Stalin, but for some reason it was not included in the final edition.
A Ukrainian translation, produced in Germany, was mostly confiscated by American wartime authorities and handed over to the Soviet repatriation commission. However, in 1954, with the Cold War in full swing, the US had a different view of the text — the CIA helped fund the animated version of the film, which had a different ending more in line with their propaganda.
‘Animal Farm’ is a tale about animals that throw off the shackles of their masters and try to run a farm themselves, but, with characters and events modeled on Stalin and the early Soviet Union, things quickly turn sour.
A polemic piece that saw a darkness in Soviet Communism that many at the time missed, the book does more than just point the finger at the Eastern worldview, but also at humanity as a whole, and how we are easily manipulated, led and confused by those claiming to be working for our best interests.
Reviews at the time were mixed, and critical of Orwell basing the pigs in the book after Stalin and Trotsky. But over time the book has increasingly been noticed as both an important book, and a well written one. Time magazine named it one of the 100 best English-language novels, while the Modern Library List called it one of Best 20th-Century Novels. It also won a Retrospective Hugo Award in 1996, and is included in the Great Books of the Western World selection.
For Listening Books members, ‘Animal Farm’ is available on Overdrive for streaming and download here.
Or get it as an MP3 CD as Listening Books number 05165CD.
Picture credit: Wikimedia