Welcome from Peter Davison

Peter Davison edited the Complete Works of George Orwell, working on the 20 volumes for 17 years. He was Professor and Senior Research Fellow in English and Media, De Montfort University, Leicester. He has written and edited fourteen books and has also edited the Facsimile of the Manuscript of Nineteen Eighty-Four and written George Orwell: A Literary Life. He has recently edited George Orwell: Diaries and Orwell: A Life in Letters. From 1992 to 1994 he was President of the Bibliographical Society, whose journal he edited for twelve years. We are extremely grateful for Peter’s permission to use his notes from the Complete Works on this blog. This introduction was first published in August 2008, and relates Peter’s experience of including the diary entries in the Complete Works.

Had not some malevolent spirit struck me a near-fatal blow in the internet some three weeks ago, I should have been able to offer a more timely welcome to the posting, day by day, of Orwell’s Diary entries on the Orwell Prize website. Those more in tune with the vagaries of the internet will not be surprised that my ‘server’, unbeknownst to me, wiped out all my access codes (and much else). Only the psychic insights of a grandson managed eventually to restore normality and only now can I welcome this brilliant initiative.  In a curious way, reading what Orwell jotted down so informally as events occurred, domestically and internationally, seventy years ago will be far more intriguing for readers than when they are faced with slabs of print.  Next year I hope very much that it will be possible to mark the weeks running up to the outbreak of the Second World War by posting his ‘Diary of Events Leading Up to the War’, 2 July to 1 September 1939 [The Orwell Prize: yes!]. And this will serve as an appropriate reminder of the awful events of what will then be seventy years ago.

Printing the Diary entries in The Complete Works posed one or two presentational problems. It was thought desirable to distinguish diary entries from letters and articles. The most obvious solution was to set the entries in italic type but this, especially when printed in lengthy slabs, would prove wearisome to the eye. Thus a sloped-roman type was adopted. That also allowed distinctions to be made between roman for headings and dates and italic for titles such as Daily Telegraph.

The second worry  was giving undue prominence to what might seem trivial (if not to Orwell at the time) if diary entries were each printed under their due dates in the main sequence of letters, reviews, articles etc. Each of these had a title or name in a larger type-face with its item numeral, followed on a second line, in smaller type, by the date and the nature of the source. This format is fine for letters and long diary entries but could look pretentious for, say, each of the seven diary entries between 14th and 23rd of November 1938 (CW, XI, p. 285). One would have had a series of formal headings followed by successions of two-word entries such as ‘One egg’ and ‘Two eggs’, relieved only by ‘Planted out nasturtiums’ on the 14th.  This might seem trivial but I was very conscious of the opportunity it would give to reviewers of a certain ilk to pour scorn on a major edition. Imagine the headlines! ‘A One-Egg Wonder’? I had experienced this some years earlier when ridicule – even spite – had been poured on a weighty work of enumerative bibliographic scholarship published by one of the great university presses. This was scorned by a parochially-minded reviewer who took exception to scholars with strange, foreign names, such as W. Benjamin and M. Horkheimer, wholly unaware of their international significance. Though this upset me, what was much more important was that it reflected badly on a major work of scholarship (in which I had played only a minor role). To avoid a similar fate for this edition of Orwell’s work, I decided to put three sections of the diaries in blocks as appendixes (items 518, 582, and 729A of the Complete Works), whilst printing day by day for that same period Orwell’s Morocco Diary as well as later diaries with mainly lengthy entries. Thus, it gives me great pleasure, which I hope others will share, to read these Domestic Diaries reproduced day by day on the website as Orwell experienced the events – even to rejoicing in an egg for Eileen’s or his breakfast. This is how the Diaries should be read.

Peter Davison

22 Responses to Welcome from Peter Davison

  1. Martin G. says:

    A solution you may want to consider could be printing letters and articles with a different background colour – easy to accomplish in style sheets (CSS) and it looks nicer than a sloped roman. Also, I would maybe use an older, serifed typeface, just to get the look right for the period.

  2. suzanne says:

    i would love to “subscribe” to receive the daily postings via e-mail. it’s wonderful to venture into someone else’s world for a moment…i live in a rural area and love to read his entries.

    thank you for your efforts. this is a wonderful project.

  3. Jack Coleman says:

    A brilliant idea! I was sent off to boarding school in Devon at age 7, during the War, and so the years of this journal are just beyond the edge of my ‘horizon’, but fascinating nevertheless. A different age which still resonates for me in many ways. Thank you.

  4. Jean Atcheson says:

    Suzanne is quite right — what a privilege to be able to share Orwell’s world day by day. I was 9 at the time he writes about here, so have only a child’s knowledge of the period’s events, although considerable awareness of nature through growing up in a natural scientist’s family with constant walks and bike rides in a totally rural Cambridgeshire. We would visit the “aconite wood” at Babraham in January, and look for pasque anemones on the Fleam Dyke at Easter. My father, a geologist, knew every bird by sight and sound, and like Orwell he noticed and could tell about the countless details of the countryside we spied and smelled as we walked or rode along. How rich we were in never owning a car!

    Thank you all for the work involved in presenting this remarkable offering — I look forward immensely to reliving that long-ago time in the company of such a unique mentor.

  5. antihostile says:

    Brilliant. Thanks very much.

  6. Muriel Haase says:

    Thank you for introducing me to the wonderful diaries of George Orwell.
    I’ve know about him for years but never much in depth and shall look forward to reading more of them as they are presented. Thank you for helping a very young 80-year old newly widowed women to broaden her horizons.

  7. Pingback: George Orwell’s Blog « Eleventh Stack

  8. Wendel says:

    Dear Professor Davison:

    Could you possibly insert the names of the days corresponding to the dates in the Orwellian Diaries? (Maybe in parentheses after the dates.)This would add some extra flavour to them, I think.
    As to the “rest”: brilliant.
    Thank you.
    Heinz E. Wendel

  9. Nick Wagg says:

    I am enjoying the diary so far and am struck by how resourceful Orwell was in what must have been some fairly alien environments, but perhaps that is more a recognition of the limitations of myself and the majority of my contemporaries.

    I would welcome a small key to some of the annotations (but perhaps there already is one which I have overlooked). I have just worked out that ° refers to a spelling mistake in the original, except where it means “degrees”, of course. This is a convention that I have never encountered before.

    Keep up the good work.

  10. Paul Morgan says:

    Wonderful! Thank you Peter – and I vividly remember your seminars at Lampeter in the 70s :)


  11. A NON FARMER says:

    Dear Peter Davison,
    I believe the reason most read diaries, biographies and the like is the futile hope that either the experience of others matches their’s – touches and makes for accord – or in the case of some, that another life experience counts out as less interesting.
    Imagine if I wrote to you and said that my life has been so completely full of incident and outrageous adventure that I’d be locked up if I revealed it before I fell off the proverbial perch.
    So, for instance, what was G. MacDonald Fraser’s core of “The Flashman Papers”?
    Back to George Orwell.
    As a colonial policeman and later in the Spanish War, he must have experienced events that made him cringe.
    From that body of early experience did emerge his writing.
    His thinking was clearly profound and hinted at matters, if spoken plainly would have had him (to use an expression) immediately deep-sixed.
    Instead, in one major work, he used allegory; in another he presented the worst case outcome.
    In short he was not far wrong at both counts.

  12. Brenda says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this!

  13. Jessie Daniels says:

    Peter, Davison, may you please contact me by email. It is of importance.

    Thanks :)


    By the way, you write wonderful and I think Orwell’s diaries are the most unique things I’ve ever read.

  14. Bob says:

    Dear God this is incredible. I love it.

  15. Bob says:


    Thank you.

  16. Lucia Verona says:

    I love Orwell’s diaries and I find this blog an excellent idea – I even gave it an award.
    When my short story book “No kangaroos” was published a few weeks ago, I organized a blogger’s contest for the event. Orwell’s Diaries blog was judged the best in the category “Blogs from the other world”.

  17. Clyde James Jr. says:

    It struck me almost instantly upon receiving the Complete Works that before long someone who had read the entire collection and had become very familiar with it would extract from the collection a “new” series of essays that truly reflected Orwell’s life work
    Thankfully, Mr. Packer’s work seems to do that.
    I expect his two volumes will do well, and that the Complete Works will as a result gain a new life.
    The complete story of Orwell’s works has only just now begun to unfold. There’s life after complete works, as Mr. Davison has shown since CW’s publication.

  18. Maggie says:


    Your a fountain of information. I would really appreciate it if you would do an interview with me for a paper I am writing on George Orwell for one of my classes.

    Thank you


    I enjoy reading your books.

  19. I want to share an Orwellian art project I am developing.

  20. Deborah Cartmell says:

    Dear Peter,
    Can you get in touch with me sometime? I don’t have an email address for you and I’d like to talk to you about the fascinating subject of impact.
    All my best,
    Deborah (Cartmell)

  21. R.M.Healey says:

    Dear Peter,
    I was one of your students in bibliography and palaeography at Birmingham in the early 70s. Please get in touch about various things, but especially regarding Geoffrey Grigson and Orwell. Oh, and please log onto my bookride site.


  22. Walter Owen says:

    Dear Mr. Davison,

    I am trying to locate an Orwell quotation that does not appear to be in the diaries. I just wonder if you are familiar with it:

    “Today the reference to Nehru was cut out of the announcement—N. being in prison and therefore having become Bad.”

    Thanks, Walter Owen
    212 286 6106

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