Orwell estate allows poetry to go on general sale

Orwell estate allows poetry to go on general sale

All George Orwell’s poetry is available in a single volume for the first time in a book that was not originally permitted to be sold on the open market.

The Orwell estate had originally decided, because “he is not a great poet”, that the £8.99 book published by The Orwell Society should only be sold to the Orwell Society members, fearing that its wider dissemination may damage Orwell's reputation.

However, pressure from national news outlets - including the BBC in mid-October - sparked demand from Amazon and Waterstones, among others, to sell the book more widely.

Guardian of copyright, Bill Hamilton, said, despite originally trying Orwell’s publishers, Penguin and Random House, to publish the book as a record, they had both said they “couldn’t see any point”. Hamilton added he was reluctant to take it to publishers of poetry, like Faber, because “the poetry doesn’t stand up as poetry”.

It was therefore decided the self-published book would be “tried through the Orwell Society to begin with to see how people responded and take it from there”.

After the book's positive reception, the estate’s restrictions were in time lifted to make the book available for purchase by the general public.

George Orwell: The Complete Poetry was compiled and edited on behalf of the Orwell Society by Dione Venables. She told The Bookseller: "It's been such fun, because the whole thing has been such a prolonged battle that its really lovely to see it now sitting in a bookshop. 

"Bill Hamilton, who is a marvelous man, is the guardian of all the copyrights for the Orwell estates and he is bombarded daily from all over the world from people who want to quote [Orwell]; and he was quite convinced that the poems, which are very varied - some are beautiful, and some have fantastic lines in them but are not so beautiful - that publishing them might damage Orwell's reputation. Which is absolute nonsense, because poetry is emotion! And one is actually finding a new Orwell in the poems: a much more vulnerable Orwell. And it works really, really well."

The "little book” includes an introduction for each of the 42 poems, describing Orwell’s heath, state of mind, location and anything else relevant to the emotion of the poem, for readers to gain fresh insight into Orwell’s psyche when reading the poems. The book’s preface is authored by Peter Davison, editor of the 20 volumes of George Orwell: The Complete Works (Vintage Publishing).

"The layout of it is introduces each poem telling the reader his health at the time, why he wrote it like that, what the world was doing at that time...and by the time you get to the actual poem you're on his wavelength," said Venables. "And I'm told that's what finally made Bill Hamilton have the embargo lifted, to offer it to everyone, because it reads so easily."

Hamilton commented: “If you tried to present this purely as poetry you’d get shot down. So, actually, what turned out to be the case is that what was produced is an absolutely wonderful biographical portrait – which is a quite different thing altogether: It’s a portrait of Orwell through his poetry.

“It’s very touching, it’s very personal - and it really works.

“We thought, how do we go about selling this. We didn’t want a publisher going out making all sorts of false claims for it, so we tried through the Orwell Society to begin with to see how people responded and take it from there.

“And, as it happens, people have responded extremely warmly to it. As things have developed, I have been very happy to give Dione permission to publish it more widely.”

All royalties from sales will go towards the "whole point" of the Orwell Society: its efforts to fund bursaries and scholarships for "young, clever people who don't have the funds to go to university". It is hoped the first bursary will be made available as early as next year, following what was a three-year process to gain charitable status earlier this year. 

Nicola Loftus of The Orwell Society added: “We have not published a book before and will certainly never publish another one which is a real ‘first’. It’s an enchanting read and has so much going for it."