Orwell Diaries 1938-1942

August 9, 1938

Caught a large snake in the herbaceous border beside the drive. About 2’ 6” long, grey colour, black markings on belly but none on back except, on back of neck, a mark resembling an arrow head (ñ) all down the back. Not certain whether an adder, as these I think usually have a sort of broad arrow mark (^) all down the back. Did not care to handle it too recklessly, so only picked it up by extreme tip of tail. Held thus it could nearly turn far enough to bite my hand, but not quite. Marx¹ interested at first, but after smelling it was frightened & ran away. The people here normally kill all snakes. As usual, the tongue referred to as “fangs”².

 

Notes by Peter Davison, from the Complete Works:

¹The Orwells’ dog.

²It was an ancient belief that a poisonous snake injects its poison by means of a forked tongue and not, as is the case, through two fangs. So Shakespeare in Richard II, 3.20 – 22.

            Guard it, I pray thee, with a lurking adder

            Whose double tongue may with a mortal touch

            Throw death upon thy sovereign’s enemies.

See also 11.8.38.

 

From The Orwell Prize:

Orwell writes this from the sanatorium at Preston Hall, Aylesford, Kent. If you can’t hyperlink from ‘the drive’ in the post, go to Google Maps on the blogroll.