Domestic Diaries and Morocco Diaries

Domestic Diary Volume I (9 August 1938 – 28 March 1939) and Morocco Diary (7 September 1938- 28 March 1939)

On his return from Wigan, Orwell rented The Stores, Wallington, Hertfordshire, for 7s 6d a week (equivalent to about £15 today). The house was primitive, especially by current standards, but it had land enough for him to engage in two of his passions: growing food and keeping goats and chickens. His first goat (with which he was photographed), was called Muriel –  the name of the goat in Animal Farm. He ran this small shop until the outbreak of war and it seems to have brought him enough to pay his modest rent. On 9 June 1936 he married Eileen O’Shaughnessy. He set about writing The Road to Wigan Pier and delivered the manuscript to Victor Gollancz on Monday, 21 December 1936. (It so happened that the founder of Portmeirion, Clough William Ellis, visted Gollancz about the time that the manuscript was delivered and suggested that it should be illustrated. A scrap of paper that survives torn from Gollancz’s blotter giving some of the names suggested.) The book was not commissioned by The Left Book Club (as is sometimes assumed) but early in 1937 it was decided that the book should be issued by the Club. This ensured that it had a wide sale and Orwell received royalities, after commission, up until 28 November 1939 of £604.57 – far exceeding the highest amount he had received for any of his earlier books, for example, £127.50 for Down and Out in Paris and London.

At Christmas, Orwell left for Spain, calling on Henry Miller whilst passing through Paris where he picked up his travel documents. Initially he intended to report on the Spanish Civil War but quickly joined the POUM Militia (the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) to fight for the Republicans on the Aragon front. Jennie Lee, the wife of Aneurin Bevan who served in Labour governments from 1964-70, who later became Minister for the Arts, wrote in a letter that George Orwell arrived in Barcelona without credentials, had paid his own way out, and won her over by pointing to his boots, slung over one shoulder: ‘He knew he could not get boots big enough for he was over six feet. This was George Orwell and his boots arriving to fight Spain’ (CW, XI, p.5). After serving in the front line, whilst on leave in Barcelona, he became involved with the POUM in the attempt by the Communists to suppress all revolutionary parties, including the POUM. He returned to the front, was wounded in the throat, narrowly escaping death, and whilst convalescent had to hide in Barcelona until he and his wife, with John McNair, leader of the Independent Labour Party, and the youngest member of Orwell’s unit, Stafford Cottman, could escape from Spain on 23 June 1937. A document was later discovered, forming part of an official judiciary record of the trial against the POUM, asserting that they were ‘confirmed Trotskyists’ and thus anathema to the Communist regime. Orwell never knew of the existence of this document. Sir Richard Rees met Eileen in Barcelona when she was working in the ILP Office and wrote ‘In Eileen Blair I have seen for the first time the symptoms of a human being living under a political Terror.’ On March 8 1937, whilst Orwell was serving at the front, The Road to Wigan Pier was published and the following weekend Eileen spent two days at the front. Orwell’s diary or diaries written when he was in Spain are probably still locked away in the NKVD Archive in Moscow.

When the Orwells returned to The Stores early in July, Orwell wrote articles and reviews trying to give a true account of what was happening in Spain and he set about writing Homage to Catalonia, despite receiving a letter from Victor Gollancz dated 5 July 1937 that he would be unlikely to publish it because it might ‘harm the fight against fascism’. On the very next day a letter came from Roger Senhouse of Martin Secker and Warburg informing him that they would be interested in Orwell’s account for it ‘would not only be of great interest but of considerable political importance’. So began the break with Gollancz and, in due time, Secker and Warburg becoming Orwell’s publishers.

On 15 March 1938 Orwell was admitted to Preston Hall Sanatorium, Aylesford (near Maidstone), Kent, following a heavy discharge of blood from the lungs. He was suspected to be suffering from tuberculosis but it was decided that in all probability it was bronchitis of the left lung. He remained in hospital throughout the summer and on 25 April Homage to Catalonia was published in a small edition of 1,500 copies. Despite now being regarded as one of Orwell’s finest books (and a very important personal account of the Spanish Civil War) it would not sell even this small amount of copies by the time a second edition was published in 1951 after Orwell’s death. Whilst at Preston Hall, Orwell joined the Independent Labour Party on 13 June 1938 and on the 24th his article ‘Why I Join the ILP’ was published (CW, XI, pp.167-9). He would leave the party at the start of the war because of its pacifist stance and because he ‘considered they were talking nonsense’ which would ‘make things easier for Hitler’. He described himself as definitely ‘left’ but as a writer he was better ‘free of party labels’ (CW, XII, p.148).  He did not leave the hospital until the very end of August. He was recommended to spend the winter in a warm climate and he and Eileen chose to go to Morocco (not, as it happens, the best choice), on the basis of a gift or loan of £300 from an anonymous donor. Orwell never knew that this was provided by the novelist, L.H. Myers, because it was arranged through an intermediary, Dorothy Plowman (see CW, XI, p.452). He was later able to repay this generous gesture from the proceeds of Animal Farm but after Myers’ death. After a short visit to see his father, who was gravely ill, in Southwold, they left on 2 September from the Tilbury Dock on the S.S. Stratheden.

Orwell kept two diaries in 1938: a Domestic Diary and a diary devoted to his and Eileen’s time in Morocco, including the journeys there and back. His Domestic Diary begins on 9 August 1938; his Morocco Diary, on 7 September. The Domestic Diary is handwritten, the Morocco Diary mainly typed (see note [1] to 12.3.39). Slight errors have been silently corrected. Orwell stuck newspaper cuttings into the Domestic Diary. These are not reproduced, but a heading and transcription is given. Orwell also drew illustrations for certain entries, usually on otherwise blank verso pages. These have been incorporated into the entries they illustrate.

Domestic Diary Volume I Continued (10 April 1939 – 26 May 1939)

Orwell and Eileen had arrived in Marrakesh on 14 September 1938, and two weeks later, at the Munich Conference, Germany had won the agreement of Britain and France that Czechoslovakia should be sacrificed in the vain hope that peace in Europe might be maintained. It is too easy to condemn Chamberlain for this ‘appeasement’. Remembrance of Mons, Gallipoli, the Somme, Ypres, and Passchendaele, must have weighed heavily on him, perhaps more strongly because he had not been directly involved in this slaughter. He must have dreaded imposing such suffering on a new generation of young men and women. After all, even Orwell, as a member of the ILP, was a pacifist at this time, and, as Eileen memorably wrote, ‘Chamberlain is our only hope… & certainly the man has courage’ (27 September, 1938: CW, XI, p.206). However great were Chamberlain’s limitations, it was also an uncomfortable fact that the RAF was in no state to take on the Luftwaffe had Chamberlain’s government decided then on war. On 1 October, Germany occupied the Czech Sudetenland. Almost six months later, on 15 March 1939, Germany occupied the whole of Czechoslovakia, and on 28 March Madrid surrendered to Franco’s forces and the Spanish Civil War came to an end with triumph for the Fascists.

Whilst in Morocco Orwell had written Coming Up for Air. He and Eileen set sail for England from Casablanca on 26 March 1939. On the journey, Orwell occupied himself by preparing a typescript of Coming Up for Air. As soon as he arrived in England, he submitted this to Victor Gollancz (to whom he was still contracted for this novel) and then travelled back to Southwold to see his father who was seriously ill. The couple arrived back in Wallington on 11 April. The novel was published in an edition of 2,000 copies on 12 June 1939; a further 1000 copies were run off in the same month. At the end of June, Orwell’s father died with Orwell by his side. At his death, Orwell’s father’s eyes were closed and, as was customary, weighted down with pennies. After the funeral, Orwell walked along Southwold promenade pondering what he should do with these two pennies. He could not bring himself to spend them and eventually threw them into the sea.   

Peter Davison, from George Orwell: Diaries (Penguin in paperback, Harvill Secker in hardback)

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