George Orwell taught the world that it was as right to oppose Communism as Nazism. Both, in his immortal words, were “smelly little orthodoxies contending for our souls.” His influence on the age has been unique. In his lifetime, however, he often found that publishers were so politicized or so craven that they rejected his books. The exception was Fred Warburg, a member of the great banking family. His firm, Secker & Warburg, published Orwell’s books, including Animal Farm and 1984. When Orwell died, he left his literary estate to his widow Sonia, and she once told me that she received royalties of half a million pounds a year. Think what Secker & Warburg must have earned — deservedly.
For many years now, Peter Davison has been the editor of a Collected Orwell, put out by Secker and Warburg. After Volume 20 he thought the series was complete. Then he discovered more material, including letters from Eileen, Orwell’s first wife, and Sonia, as well as some Orwell essays he had overlooked. Most fascinating of all are lists of Communists and fellow travellers whom he knew, and on whom he commented sharply for the benefit of a counter-intelligence department. Here’s a window into the Cold War.
This latest volume was published by the Timewell Press, boutique publishers not long in operation. How had this conceivably come about ? I got the Timewell telephone number and the man who answered was Andreas Campomar. He’s now in the position Fred Warburg was in all those years ago, but this time because Secker & Warburg had turned the book down on grounds of cost. They’ve made millions out of Orwell, and they do this? It is truly insulting to a great writer, and to the public. More than that, it is evidence of the death throes of our culture.
Secker & Warburg now belongs to Random House. I hope never to buy a Random House book again, and welcome any ideas short of jihad to shame them and their smelly little money-grubbing.