Courtesy of Publishers Weekly…

Peter Davison, the editor of The Complete Works of George Orwell, discusses its troubled genesis and what might loosely be called “the autobiography Orwell never wrote” – his Diaries and A Life in Letters ­ – now to be published for the first time in the United States.

For many years I taught scholarly editing and edited the work of Shakespeare and his colleagues (in particular 1 and 2 Henry IV, in Penguin editions still in print after some 45 years) – oh, and, for a New York publisher in 1971 a critical edition of music-hall songs. Out of the blue in July 1982 I was telephoned and asked if I would edit a de luxe edition of Orwell’s nine books. That meant closely comparing over fifty texts and manuscripts in twelve months. The intention was to publish this edition in 1984 – a new but intriguing kind of anniversary celebration. The concept of a de luxe edition of Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier has never ceased to amuse me but owing to the disastrous delays in getting even the first three books into print (they saw the light of day only in 1986 and had immediately to be pulped because the printer had used the uncorrected version of my text) that embarrassing description was quickly dropped. Two examples, both, fortunately, just caught in time, might well illustrate the kind of errors introduced by the printer. The title of Orwell’s last novel appeared as:

Nineteen 48pt

’48pt’ was, of course, the type-size for the title-page. And that famous formula, 2 + 2 = 5 appeared as 2r 29 5-

In the meantime I was asked to edit the extant manuscript of Nineteen Eighty-Four –or 1984 as Orwell agreed it might be titled in the USA. This, too, was delayed but did appear at the end of 1984. My circumstances had changed by this time owing to severe cutbacks in English universities and I was running a historic building in the centre of London. It meant that for many years my wife and I bore the whole cost of preparing the edition.

You can read the rest of this article on the Publishers Weekly website: The Troubled History Behind George Orwell’s Complete Works

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