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Orwell: The Lost Writings edited with an introduction by W. J. West (Arbor House: $20; 304 pp.)

January 12, 1986|John Espey | Espey is emeritus professor of English at UCLA. and

On Nov. 18, 1942, George Orwell, talks producer of the BBC's Indian Section, wrote to E. M. Forster:

Dear Forster:

I don't know if you have heard about Narayana Menon's book on W. B. Yeats? It will, I think, be suitable to mention in your next talk. It is also published in India. He tells me he is going to send you a copy. If he doesn't, we can get one for you.

Have you finished with "Conditions of Peace"? We don't want to hurry you, but there seems to be a considerable demand for it, so perhaps you could post it, when you have finished with it.


George Orwell

Forster replied on the 21st:

Dear Orwell,

I am so sorry to have been such a nuisance over this book, and I have again tried to get through it and have failed.

I shall be glad of the Yeats book, and of the book by an Indian published by Gollancz as soon as possible. The quickest plan really seems that I should write to the publishers direct, but I won't do so as regards these two books since I assume that the BBC has already got going.

Yours ever,

E. M. Forster

This exchange is representative of much of this collection, gathered from the BBC archives and ably annotated by William J. West. The roster of Orwell's correspondents reads like a Who's Who of English writers of the day: T. S. Eliot, Edmund Blunden, Stephen Spender, William Empson, Osbert Sitwell, Herbert Read, and others whose names are not as well known in America today as they may still be in England. Among several items of particular, but hardly spectacular, interest is the concluding segment of a multi-author serial story written by Forster.

Orwell worked for the BBC from August, 1941, to November, 1943, a period when Britain was taking heavy punishment from the Axis. Through it all, Orwell efficiently organized programs and wrote scripts on subjects as diverse as "British Rations and the Submarine War," the works of Jack London and an imaginary interview with Swift.

West makes a case in his introduction for the importance of this collection as an indication of the origins of Orwell's two best-known works. For one program, Orwell adapted Ignazio Silone's "The Fox," a political fable about a pig farm satirizing the Italian Fascist regime, a forerunner of "Animal Farm." The other influence, West demonstrates, was Orwell's struggle with the limitations of "Basic English," which the ministry of information--called "Miniform" by Orwell--wished to impose on all broadcasts, a parallel to "1984's" "Newspeak." West also suggests that Orwell's irritation with the BBC bureaucracy was as much a part of the genesis of "1984" as his opposition to political totalitarianism.

For American readers, this volume demonstrates the closeness of the British literary Establishment and the willingness of its members to put aside their private differences in a period of national--even imperial--crisis.

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