Orwell Diaries

‘When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page’, wrote George Orwell, in his 1939 essay on Charles Dickens.


From 9th August 2008, you will be able to gather your own impression of Orwell’s face from reading his most strongly individual piece of writing: his diaries. The Orwell Prize is delighted to announce that, to mark the 70th anniversary of the diaries, each diary entry will be published on this blog exactly seventy years after it was written, allowing you to follow Orwell’s recuperation in Morocco, his return to the UK, and his opinions on the descent of Europe into war in real time. The diaries end in 1942, three years into the conflict.


What impression of Orwell will emerge? From his domestic diaries (which start on 9th August), it may be a largely unknown Orwell, whose great curiosity is focused on plants, animals, woodwork, and – above all – how many eggs his chickens have laid. From his political diaries (from 7th September), it may be the Orwell whose political observations and critical thinking have enthralled and inspired generations since his death in 1950. Whether writing about the Spanish Civil War or sloe gin, geraniums or Germany, Orwell’s perceptive eye and rebellion against the ‘gramophone mind’ he so despised are obvious.


Orwell wrote of what he saw in Dickens: ‘He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity. It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry — in other words, of a nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.’


What will you see in the Orwell diaries?


Media Standards Trust

Political Quarterly

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War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. And The Wait is Nearly Over.

Less than 24 hours to go before the first diary entry… but if you can’t wait:

BBC Radio 4’s PM programme will be talking about the diaries later this afternoon – and giving you a chance to get involved.

Professor Jean Seaton and Richard Blair will be talking about the diaries on National Public Radio’s Day to Day in the US.

Some extracts are featured in the media coverage which you can link to on our blogroll (right).

And there’s plenty to keep you busy on the Orwell Prize website.

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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.

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August 10

Drizzly. Dense mist in evening. Yellow moon.

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August 11

This morning all surfaces, even indoors, damp as a result of mist. A curious deposit all over my snuff-box, evidently residue of moisture acting on lacquer.

Very hot, but rain in afternoon.

Am told the men caught another snake this morning – definitely a grass snake this time. The man who saw them said they had tied a string round its neck & were trying to cut out its tongue with a knife, the idea being that after this it could not “sting.”¹

The first Beauty of Bath apples today.




¹See note 2, August 9 1938

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August 12

Very hot in the morning. In the afternoon sudden thunder-storm & very heavy rain. About 50 yards from the gate the road & pavement flooded a foot deep after only 1 1/2 hours rain.

Blackberries beginning to redden.

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August 16

Several days past uncertain weather, rainy & sometimes hot. Most of the wheat & barley now cut & stacked. Children picking more or less ripe blackberries two days ago.

Saw a white owl two nights ago – the first in about two years. Also in the distance another bird probably a little owl.

Horse-chestnuts full-size but not ripe yet. Hops about the size of hazel-nuts. Yesterday went to the Zoo* again. Another litter of lion-cubs, which are a bit bigger than a domestic cat & spotted all over. Those born just a year ago are about the size of a St. Bernard dog. The ration of meat for a lion – I suppose its only meal in the day – seems to be about 6 or 7 lbs.

The Sardinian mouflon sheep¹ has a large udder like a goat & would probably yield a pint or more. I notice that the zebra’s hooves, at least the front ones, are quite perpendicular, but those of the ass-zebra hybrid are like those of a horse. The hybrid has very slightly larger ears, otherwise so far as the shape goes almost exactly like the zebra.


*ie. near Maidstone [Orwell’s own note].




¹A wild sheep found in the mountains of Sardinia and Corsica but, by extension, any large, wild, big-horned sheep.

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August 17

Warm & fine, rather windy.

The barley from the 22-acre field is not stacked yet, but the wheat is stacked & makes two stacks measuring so far as I can judge it 30’ by 18’ x 24’ (high) & 18’ x 15’ x 20 (high). If these estimates are correct, this works out at 14, 040 cubic feet of stack for about 14 acres of ground. Allowing 1 ton per acre, it seems 1000 cubic feet of stack represent a ton of grain. NB. To check when the whole field is stacked.

Catmint, peppermint & tansies full out. Ragwort & willow-herb going to seed. A few ripe blackberries. Elder-berries beginning to turn purple.

Oak planks etc. made from the boughs instead of the trunk is known as bastard oak & is somewhat cheaper.

Disused railway sleepers here sold off at £1 = 1 = 0 10cwt. This probably works out at about 1/- each, ie. 2d a foot.


GREENHEART wood, probably the most durable timber in the world, is a member of the laurel family, and grows high on the slopes of the British Guiana Highlands. It is dark green in colour, is so heavy as to sink in water, and takes a high polish.

Its great elasticity makes it suitable for the construction of fishing-rods and the butt ends of billiard cues, yet it is listed A1 at Lloyd’s for shipbuilding, and serves us besides, as piles for piers, jetties, dock entrances and lock gates.

It withstands the attack of submarine borers such as the teredo worm, and is much less vulnerable than most timbers, even tropical hard-woods, to the land attack of the white ant.

Greenheart was largely used in making the Panama Canal. Piles made of the wood have, elsewhere, been taken up and found to be in excellent preservation after 80 years under water.

In a Glasgow museum are two pieces of planking from a wreck submerged on the west coast of Scotland for over 18 years: one, of teak, is almost entirely eaten away: the other, greenheart, is slightly pitted on the surface.

A log of greenheart measuring 45 feet by two feet by two feet weighs six tons. A.B.

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August 19

Ref, the stacks in the cornfield. Actually the area under wheat & barley was about the same, & the crop makes 4 stacks, 2 of 30’ x 18’ x 24’ (high) & 2 of 18’ x 15’ x 20 (high.) This works out at about 28, 000 cubic feet of stack for 22 acres. Yesterday fine and rather windy. A fair number of ripe blackberries. Elderberries changing colour rapidly. Hazel nuts almost fully formed. Valerian & mulleins over.
For improving finish of cement.


London, W.C.1. You can, however, hasten the setting, improve the strength and wearing qualities, and reduce porosity, by treating the finished work with a special solution after the cement has set. These solutions have the effect of slowing up the drying if mixed with the gauging water, but they increase speed of curing or final setting if applied in the form of a wash. Common washing soda 1lb. To 2 gallons of water is one method of hardening. A superior result can be got by a wash of sodium silicate (water glass) by adding 1 part of liquid sodium silicate to 4 parts of water (5 parts altogether). The tiles are washed with a rose can a week after making, and the silica sinks into the pores of the cement and forms a “gel” which chemically hardens and renders the cells further water and oil resisting. A second was a few days afterwards gives still further improvement. (7363)

Weather today cold, blowy & rather wet. Haws getting quite red. Some rain in the afternoon.

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