September 19, 1938

For sale along with the bright orange half-ripe dates are others equally bright purple, about the colour of brinjals. Pomegranates for same in large piles everywhere. Some oranges beginning to yellow. Immense vegetable marrows for sale, probably weighing 20-30lbs. each. Also a kind of smooth pale green extremely elongated marrow – possibly a species of cucumber. Black bread made & sold here in the bazaar; presumably barley but looks like rye.

Goldfinches extremely common here. Storks it appear are migratory & do not appear here till mid-winter. Great variations in temperature. Today & yesterday fairly cool, the day before unbearable, temperature even at 6pm being 25°C. (ie. 77°F.) & probably about 40°C at midday. Is said to reach 45°C. (ie. 113°F) as hottest indoor temperature here. After cooling off about 4pm it generally seems to get hotter again about 6, perhaps owing to the prevailing warm wind. At night a sheet over one is sufficient, but in the early morning one generally pulls up the blanket.

A donkey is said to cost about Fr. 100 (about 12/6d.)

Lettuces said to be very difficult to grow here.

*On September 18, Orwell secured a villa for six months – to see the receipt, click here. To see his ID card, approved today, click here.

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23 Responses to September 19, 1938

  1. danielearwicker says:

    George, live the dream. If you want that donkey, buy it. You don’t want to look back years later and think, “How different would my life have been if I’d bought that donkey in 1938?” Trust me – I know.

  2. lizbeth says:

    I dunno now. I’ve kept reading out of regard for Orwell and that the idea sounded cool and that political stuff on the eve of WWII was promised. Well, there has been a little of the last, but mainly the diary sounds like the Peter Seller’s character in Polanski’s Being There, very existentialist and without context or long term memory. I think the flora and fauna are getting to me — Orwell sounds like he’s somewhat interested but also like he’s cramming for some college entrance exam, which is unfortunate.

  3. Pingback: Nostalgia for the Future » Blog Comment of the Day (19/09/08)

  4. Edward says:

    lizbeth, I think you mean Kosinski, not Polanski. Hal Ashby, not Roman Polanski, directed the film. Jerzy Kosinski did write the screenplay, though, based on his own novel.

    This trivial tidbit in no way affects your excellent point, of course. But I kinda like his flora and fauna notes myself. I can’t especially tell one bird or tree from another. Orwell’s observations make me understand a little more and appreciate the sensibilities of people in pre-TV and pre-Internet days, what they found interesting, what they knew.

  5. SoCal84 says:

    O.K….I’ll give a shot at defending all the birds and animals and whatnot. Today we’re used to people just being completely obsessed with a single issue. Obsessively burning up the blogesphere with there profound whateverness. In the diaries so far, however, it’s clear Orwell has much more on his mind than being singlely obsessed with political oppression etc. He’s a real guy who was able to stop and smell the roses. I kind of enjoy how it meanders. Not the least of which reason that when the poop hits the fan. Ol’ George will kick into hyperdrive on the political mental speedway front. (I’m assumeing) Giveing a very revealing contrast. Which I assume is part of the point. But I hear ya lizbeth. I can totally see the ‘Being There’ analogy. For now, for me, however, it’s just nice to see how a ridiculously intellectual person can just mentally fart around like the rest of us:) And there not just constantly processing grand scale ideas of uber-proportions at a terabyte a second. I’m sure I could learn something from this. :) One of my favorite quotes is “We are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.” Kurt Vonnegut I love Kurt. And I think it applies here.

  6. Brian B says:

    I commented a few days ago that George never seemed to write about anybody he talked to or saw. Apart from a few mentions of newspapers
    and one reference to troop movements the diary appears to be chiefly
    concerned with his observation of local weather, animals and crops.

    As I said before he was a novelist – why this seeming lack of interest ?

    I do hope that this will change

  7. Sarah says:

    In further defense of animals and nature in Orwell’s diaries:

    Many of Orwell’s allegorical texts equate nature and freedom: the green fields of England (and hoof and horn) depicted on the flag of Animal Farm, and the ‘golden country’ of 1984 are both obvious connections between the two ideas. For Orwell, it seems that ‘being outside’ physically is equal to being outside any political agenda. In 1984, Winston and Julia escape party surveillance in a small clearing in a wood far from the city, and it is only in this place that Winston is able to let go of his paranoia while listening to the song of a thrush: “For whom, for what, was that bird singing? No mate, no rival was watching it. What made it sit at the edge of the lonely wood and pour its music into nothingness? He wondered whether after all there was a microphone hidden somewhere near. He and Julia had spoken only in low whispers, and it would not pick up what they had said, but it would pick up the thrush. Perhaps at the other end of the instrument some small, beetle-like man was listening intently — listening to that. But by degrees the flood of music drove all speculations out of his mind. It was as though it were a kind of liquid stuff that poured all over him and got mixed up with the sunlight that filtered through the leaves. He stopped thinking and merely felt.”

    In this case, it doesn’t surprise me at all that Orwell’s diaries are full of references to animals and nature. Orwell was an observer and commentator on time, on people, on culture and politics and human nature. The equation between ‘the corrupting nature of power’ and the ‘corruption of nature,’ for me at least, seems a logical progression of his thought process only compounded by his fleshing out of the natural world in his diaries. In simple terms, a diary is a record you keep for yourself, and the publishing of Orwell’s diaries is less a revelation of the fountain of politically charged writing that fills his novels and journals, but a small taste from the spring that fed them.

  8. Go with it for a while. Immerse yourself in it – be patient. In the end you will better understand. You will, eventually, be in the “present”; in Orwell’s mind as it was then.

  9. breathingforbeginners says:

    Thanks, Sarah. ;)

  10. itwasntme says:

    Brilliant, Sarah. Thank you.

  11. CAL says:

    Thanks, Sarah. I’ll be watching for more comments from you.

  12. Greg says:

    Yeah, Sarah- brilliant. I’ve been watching this from the beginning and that’s the most intelligent and relevant thing anyone has written. I love the economy of Orwell’s language- he paints such a vivid picture without using one unnecessary word. I’ll admit I got pretty excited when the political stuff started a few days ago, but there’s something so soothing about the finely-crafted observations on the world around him that makes it worth reading every day. And it wasn’t even written to be published! What a chap…

  13. Sarah’s point is well taken, and it’s worth comparing to historian Laurel Ulrich’s observation that the most fruitful analysis often comes from focusing on the trivial. Orwell spent his entire life focusing on apparent “trivia,” not merely in the natural world but in the literary one as well. Two of his most famous literary essays are on weekly boys’ magazines* and risque postcards, and in his essay on Charles Dickens he identified Dickens’ love of trivial details (e.g. “baked shoulder of mutton and potatoes under it”) as a crucial part of that author’s enduring appeal.

    * He seems to have also been subconsciously gathering material for an essay on weekly girls’ magazines, like “Peg’s Own Paper,” though he never actually wrote it.

  14. trishstewart says:

    “In prose the worst thing you can do with words is to surrender to them…when you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures or sensations. Afterwards one can choose — not simply accept — the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impression one’s words are likely to make on another person.”

    – George Orwell
    (thanks to quote of the night)

    In reference to the quote above, is it any wonder he looked to describing real things in nature as accurately as possible for himself in his diaries? He mentions using pictures and sensations to use the right words. He studied the world around him and used those things to shape the language he used to write for an audience.

    Great post, Sarah.

    I love these diaries.

  15. latenac says:

    The elongated pale green marrows are probably koosa or margherita squash. My Lebanese grandmother would stuff them with rice, lamb and pine nuts and use the innards scrambled with eggs for the next morning’s breakfast.

    While I’ve been amused to read comments about raspberries representing communists, etc., I’m not sure why everyone thought his diaries were going to be the most profound thing ever with deep insight into his politics and thought process.

  16. dave says:

    I don’t know…I thought his review of boys magazines bordered on Obsessive Compulsive,with a lot of his own personal baggage piled on top

    His diary so far remins me of Albert Camus (sp?) The Outsider ie where are all the peaple?,never mind what a donkey or a quart of milk costs…

  17. Gilles Mioni says:

    A year before, he was flattened on the muddy ground, in waiting of a probable and violent end. To spend time, he tooks the acute conscience of the unimportant details with range of sight. Grass, insects, soil, drips of drew, all these last signs of life on earth. He was trying to forget the threatening sounds of the battlefield.
    He still had the glance amazed of a survivor who finds to fill with wonder at the life even in its humbler appearances. Mysterious permanency of lowly reality.

  18. Roving Thundercloud says:

    He’s a great writer. Why is it surprising that he’s great at noticing details, whether or not he incorporates them into his writing?

  19. Susan says:

    I’m waiting for the Rickroll at this point…

  20. Trish says:

    A George Orwell Quote: “In prose the worst thing you can do with words is to surrender to them…when you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures or sensations. Afterwards one can choose — not simply accept — the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impression one’s words are likely to make on another person.”

    I think this quote really speaks to and even explains his observation and recording the world around him. It is no surprise that his writing for his personal use is full of these “pictures”. These things helped shape the way he used language in his other writing.

  21. lizbeth says:

    Sorry, I did mix Polanski and Kosinski and not just for sound or Polish background, but that P’s life reads right out of The Painted Bird, which evidently wasn’t K’s life, so that’s pretty existentialist. Sarah is right and that pastoral is some alternative to civilized corruption in Orwell, a theme as old as writing certainly. But the point is later made that this nature is devoid of people, it exists in some Bishop Berkeley vacuum, or as we might say today lumps of odd factoids Googled from cyberspace. What makes pastoral live — say in Shakespeare and the great chain of being — is its relationship to humanity, the lowest to the most sublime as well, God. What we have here is rather a writer’s chapbook, mostly (I say mostly) dry notes, which as I say can be Googled now infinitely.

  22. Dominic says:

    Thank you Orwell for Sarah’s inspired interpretation.

  23. lizbeth says:

    I’ll mention something else not out of a need to knock Sarah but what I think is major about Orwell or not. If I remember long ago read novels and journalism, the parts invariably relate to cities or something other than the nature, say, of the Romantics. What is powerful about 1984 are images of being trapped (even with a rat in a cage over your head), the lack of freedom. This is the case in the ditches in Homage to Caldonia, it is the case of poverty under bridges in Down and Out, it is everywhere in Road to Wigan (which is really about burial). Even Keep the Aspidstra Flying is how pathetic he is and how encased in The Worm the main character is (though he gets out of town once too, I remember). Burmese Days is no different, what is remembered is the suffocating British compound and the hut with the trapped Indian. Orwell is hardly a writer of pastoral or particularly good at it, he is not even silver to other’s gold, his genius is (yes) analytical and lends itself to corrupt cities and modernism, not Arcadia. I won’t belabor the point again, but those treating Orwell as a lyric poet — and these notes as a “stream” for such lyricism — here should reread his essay on plain language. Orwell as an engineer is more to the point, and particularly an engineer of modernism.

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