04 Aug 2006

The Lost Orwell

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Producing his Complete George Orwell led Peter Davison to endure seventeen years of labor, seven changes of publisher ownership, and (ultimately) a sextuple heart bypass. The (apparent) completion of this Herculean project in 1998 was received with universal accaim, but Davison did not stop.

His original editor, Tom Rosenthal, recalls:

After my departure Secker & Warburg changed ownership no less than four times, and when the redoubtable Davison turned up with the newly discovered and remarkable material now published as The Lost Orwell he was told that Secker would not be able to publish it because it would not sell enough copies.

David Pryce-Jones positively explodes with indignation.

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?

Reviewers in the London Times and Telegraph found this post-ultimate volume “invaluable” and “fascinating.”

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