George Orwell's Diaries

The TLS reviews George Orwell's diaries:
George Orwell writing
Diaries brings together the eleven individual journals that George Orwell compiled between 1931 and 1949. The final entry, written in September 1949, describes the daily routines of University College Hospital, where he was to die of advanced tuberculosis early in 1950. All were published in the monumental twenty-volume Complete Works (1998), but now appear consecutively for the first time. There is certainly a twelfth diary, and possibly even a thirteenth, among the items taken from a Barcelona hotel room in June 1937 by Soviet agents and now gathering dust somewhere in the NKVD archive in Moscow. In his introduction, Peter Davison reveals that he once met a man – Miklos Kun, grandson of the Hungarian Communist leader Béla Kun – who had tracked down Orwell’s NKVD file, but was unable to fillet it before the archive shut its doors to the public.

Handsomely produced, illustrated with Orwell’s own pencil sketches and footnoted with Davison’s customary élan, this latest wave in the repackager’s tide invites two questions. Why did Orwell write diaries? And what do they tell us about him? Most writers’ diaries are self-conscious affairs, where the reader ends up with a sneaking feeling that the real audience is only a remote posterity. Orwell’s are notably unvarnished, often no more than a mundane domestic record, and yet this doesn’t make them personally revealing. There is, for example, almost nothing in them about Orwell’s literary techniques. Neither is there very much in the way of confidential remarks. When he notes in 1941, out of nowhere, that he is “thinking always of my island in the Hebrides, which I suppose I shall never possess, nor even see”, there is a sudden glimpse of all kinds of things not often associated with Orwell – frustrated yearnings, sequestered retreats, the deepest of romantic chasms. [Read the article]

George Orwell, Diaries, edited by Peter Davison.