George Orwell’s 1940

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For more than two years now the Orwell Prize has been blogging George Orwell’s diaries, in real time, seventy years to the day that each entry was originally penned. They are now halfway through their project.

The posts begin in 1938, when Orwell traveled to Morocco in order to recuperate from illness, and the online publication will end in 2012—or 1942, as it were, in the midst of chaos, the world still at war.

As 2010 comes to a close, so does George Orwell’s 1940. It’s been a terrible year and with the United States entry into the war nearly a year off, the years 1941 and 1942 will prove harder and more perilous. Coventry was all but destroyed the previous month, during the Blitz. London has been bombed regularly since September. On December 29, 1940, the city will undergo a massive firebombing at the hands of the Germans. And early in the New Year, the war will heat up in North Africa. Orwell, likely, has something to say about all of this.

Reformatting in blog format the diaries of this most political of writers is an intriguing experiment, even though some entries are unfortunate, to say the least, and these words were not intended for publication when created. With this site, however, readers gain an almost-scholarly insight into the man who was Eric Blair.

Here are edited versions of Orwell’s December 1940 entries, so far:

From December 8:

During the bad period of the bombing, when everyone was semi-insane, not so much from the bombing itself as from broken sleep, interrupted telephone calls, the difficulty of communications, etc., etc., I found that scraps of nonsense poetry were constantly coming into my mind. They never got beyond a line or two and the tendency stopped when the bombing slacked off, but examples were: –

An old Rumanian peasant
Who lived at Mornington Crescent

and

And the key doesn’t fit and the bell doesn’t ring,
But we all stand up for God save the King

and

When the Borough Surveyor has gone to roost
On his rod, his pole or his perch.

From December 1:

That bastard [Jean] Chiappe is cold meat. Everyone delighted, as when [Italo] Balbo died. This war is at any rate killing off a few Fascists.


Kevin Nolan writes essays and fiction. More from this author →