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The Orwell Diaries (Penguin Modern Classics)
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 11 March 2012
Edited by Peter Davison, Publ: Harvil Secker
ISBN 9781846553295
1931- 1949 (sourced from ten original diary notebooks)
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I bought Orwell's Diaries thinking that I could glean more information about his philosophical conversion from Spanish Republicanism to what had become later a lucid critic of left-wing dictatorship. It appears, sadly that two notebooks of diaries covering the Spanish Civil War have made their way into the archives of the NKVD (The Soviet Secret police) and are under lock and key to this day.
Clearly even after his demise Orwell's writings are considered by some still seditious.

I came across the works of Orwell, oddly enough behind the Iron Curtain in Romania, as a teenager enduring the harsh neo-Stalinist dictatorship of Gheorghiu-Dej, the national-communist predecessor of Nicolae Ceausescu.

This was no mean feat and a curious one at that: The classic '1984" Novel was translated in French and serialised in the popular French weekly "Paris Match" which was embargoed in Romania, under severe censorship restrictions. However, by a miracle, my private French teacher in Bucharest had a former servant who was a cleaner.maid at the French Embassy in Bucharest and without doubt a secret service agent. This woman who was barely literate spoke no french and brought home these magazines merely because she found the illustrations attractive. My French teacher, a cultivated lady from the former Romanian aristocracy, who was educated in Switzerland and fell on hard times after being expropriated, borrowed these magazines and transcribed by hand the whole of Orwell's 1984 novel. I had the privilege of being lent these notebooks and found the reading fascinating, more so as I identified myself perfectly with the character in this book and the whole atmosphere described by the author as one which we were experiencing in Romania under a communist dictatorship.
My father upon discovering my illicit reading begged of me to return the manuscript forthwith because if we were denounced and found out, or if for any reason our house was searched we would be put in prison for reading Orwell.

In retrospect I still think that hardly any Western author and more so after the WWII had had the clear vision comparable to that of George Orwell, especially when one would think of those fellow-travelers and assorted "useful idiots" who were eulogising the Soviet dictatorship, in spite of irrefutable evidence to the contrary.

This edition of the diaries shed a fresh light on George Orwell, on his private life as much as on his national and international political observations. They are replete with useful details for the historian, political analyst or academic, but not only - as it offers a fresh angle on the troubled history of Europe for nearly two decades of the 1930s and 1940s. There are nuggets of information which explain better the rationale behind our fathers and grandfathers political options, than what we were conditioned to believe from school books or politically correct textbooks.

All in all a riveting read which I recommend.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
I found these diaries fascinating. It may come as a surprise to some that Orwell kept such extensive diaries; it was to me! I'm a diarist myself and have six volumes of diarist anthologies. Orwell is mentioned in only two: a collection of war diaries; and via his fictional diarist, Winston Smith, in "1984". It seems that Orwell kept diaries for most of his adult life. Unfortunately some have been lost, although a couple are believed to be hidden in Russia. The first records his hop picking days in Kent in the early 1930's. I had read this one before; as a life long resident of Kent (and a 1950's child hop picker, with my mother)I came across it many years ago in the "Local Studies" section of my public library. The next is the diary he kept while collecting material for "Wigan Pier". Particularly interesting was the working of Working Men's Clubs: I'm secretary of mine, and nothing has change! By 1938 he is back in Kent again, being treated for TB. During one of his walks, he comes across a smooth snake - I thought that these rare animals only existed in the West Country! Then comes his period of recuperation in in Spanish Morocco, and once again he is observing everything - people, nature, agriculture, the local press, everything - and writing it all down. There follows the diaries he kept leading up to the Second World War, and the ones he kept in London, during the blitz. Deemed unfit for miltary service, he joined the Home Guard. At this time he was formulating his ideas for an English Revolution and actually considered the Home Guard to be a revolutionary force - imagine, Captain Mannering as Che! He also believed that much of the aristocracy would sell out to Hitler if they could. One surprise here for me (and I could be wrong) - some of his comments appear anti-semetic. We then have some more "domestic diaries" which records his gardening exploits, nature walks and fishing exhibitions. The final one is on the island of Jura and you have to remind yourself that whle he is working hard on his garden, etc., he is both terminally ill and writing "1984". What comes through these diaries so cleary is his firm belief in the inherent decency and intelligence of the ordinary Englishman, the basis for his "English Revolution" A fascinating book by a fascinating man and well edited by Peter Davison.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 1 September 2013
Orwell wrote in just about every format and his diaries present a wonderful view of an English eccentric. We've got just about everything here, travels, hens, recipes, fishing, DIY, pigs, The Blitz, sickness, wives, his son, girlfriends, gardening, politics, along with his fears, hopes and desires all packaged neatly for future readers.

What a fascinating, strange, patriotic Englishman he was. No wonder he could write the way he could, he simply went out and did it. Policeman, tramp, journalist, soldier, hop-picker, shopkeeper, proto-ecologist, Home Guard bod, critic and simply the greatest English Cultural observer and historian of the 20th Century.

Despite his sufferings, poor-health, seriously wounded, bombed-out, broke and widowed he always managed to get things down on paper. The diary entries show another side to Eric Blair that we had lost over the last 50 years; father, husband, lover, family-man, traveller and hospital patient.

An excellent addition to the Blair collection on your bookshelf and not just for the fans, these diaries are informative and entertaining for all.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 17 October 2011
People who have read and enjoyed George Orwell's works will find a great deal to interest them in these diaries. The books and essays bring us George Orwell the `writer'; these diary entries bring us Orwell, (or to be precise, Eric Arthur Blair) the `individual'. They are a revealing glimpse into an intriguing mind.

Orwell tended to write as if his life depended on it and he invariably put his views across in as straightforward and plain-speaking a manner as possible. Even his reviews of other writers' works seem to be suffused with his own need to put down on paper the expansion of an argument or line of thought. Here in these diaries we see this familiar tendency but we also see in his `Domestic Diary' (of which more later) how this almost obsessive part of his personality played its role in his day to day life.

There are a number of diaries included in the book. The selection begins with the `Hop-Picking Diary' from 1931, (many of the events therein being used in `A Clergyman's Daughter'), then moves forward to 1936 and `The Road to Wigan Pier Diary'. This gives a detailed insight into the famous journey he took to expose the living and working conditions suffered by the working classes in the north of England during the thirties, including his trips underground to investigate what working life was really like for the miners. Reading it gives us an opportunity to see Orwell gathering some of his source material for the book and also demonstrates the discomforts and indignities he often willingly put himself through to do so.

The `Morocco Diary' covers late 1938 and the first quarter of 1939. Orwell and his wife went there following advice he received to spend winter in a warmer climate after he suffered illness in 1938. The diary demonstrates his customary inquisitiveness about his new environment and the domestic and working habits of the local population. Interestingly, whilst in Morocco he wrote `Coming Up For Air'; the novel where Orwell's main character narrates a nostalgic evocation of the rural England he grew up in which has ultimately disappeared as a result of `progress', what replaces it now being in turn threatened by the imminence of war.

The war is here covered by his `Diary of Events Leading Up to the War', `War-time Diary' and `Second War-time Diary'. Orwell's work for the B.B.C.'s Overseas Service during the war and the contacts he thereby made put him in a position on occasion to hear snippets of privileged information which were not known by the wider public at the time. In his diaries we often find him analysing this information and conjecturing about what was happening behind the scenes in the corridors of power and what it might mean for the war effort. Of course, he could go way off-beam, but with the benefit of hindsight we can see, in general terms at least, how often he was right.

And so back to the `Domestic Diary'. I admit to initially finding the early parts of this, covering the period August '38 to April '40 at the cottage he rented with his wife Eileen, at Wallington, Hertfordshire, boring by comparison with the rest of the book. And I think it is pretty safe to bet that I will not have been the only reader who was tempted to skip a few entries upon reading yet again about how many eggs Orwell's hens had laid on a particular day or during a particular week - something he eventually makes a note of at the end of most entries. But I resisted the temptation by reminding myself that this diary was not written for us to read or make judgement upon; this is the man's personal diary, and if Orwell wanted to jot down how many eggs his hens knocked out each week, likewise record his goat's milk-yield and the success or otherwise of various projects, then that was his business alone. Indeed, I came to recognise this as another example of his fastidious nature, which we are so familiar with in his writing, demonstrating itself here in the way he managed domestic matters. He takes the same approach with the cottage garden, drawing up detailed plans of what vegetables and flowers he is going to plant and where. He keeps careful note of the weather and the progress or otherwise of his crops. Eventually I was drawn in and regarded it all for what it is - a rare chance to see the everyday Orwell, free from the interpretation of a biographer. Good Orwell biographies exist, but in the absence of an autobiography and the unbelievable lack so far of any sound recording or archive film of the man being discovered, I suppose these diaries and his letters provide the closest opportunity the average reader such as myself has to gain a somewhat more rounded understanding of one of the most important writers of the twentieth century.

Sadly, Eileen died in hospital at the end of March 1945, it is thought as a reaction to the anaesthetic she was given just before being taken down for an operation. The `Domestic Diary' continues from May 1946 covering Orwell's time at `Barnhill' on the island of Jura in the Hebrides. Here, as well as organising and working on the smallholding, which was a considerable undertaking in itself, he spent time with his young son Richard, who he and Eileen had adopted shortly before her death. It was at Jura that Orwell wrote `1984', often typing whilst sitting up in bed as his own illness came to considerably weaken him in the latter quarter of the decade. His younger sister Avril looked after him and took on an increasing role in the running of `Barnhill'. She also contributed some diary entries whilst he left the island for periodic stays in hospital.

Orwell married Sonia Brownell on 13th October 1949. The couple did not have long to enjoy their life together. He died on 21st January 1950.

I would recommend that anyone buying this book should also buy its companion `A Life in Letters'. Between these two books the reader should achieve a pretty good acquaintance with the personality behind the name `George Orwell'.

Ultimately, an absorbing and revealing read.
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on 8 April 2014
If you are a George Orwell fan and like to read everything he's ever written about life, the universe and everything in between, then you will enjoy this book. It is one of his lesser known and isn't fictional - as the title suggests - it's a diary.

Some people enjoy reading others' diaries and some don't - they aren't everyone's cup of tea and some are more interesting than others. This isn't the most interesting of his personal experiences and accounts but Orwell was a very intriguing person who had the wonderful talent of making even the most ordinary of events/experiences come alive on the page.

You might read this for the sheer pleasure of Orwell's writing talents - much like one might listen to a favourite piece of music - which is the best way, in my opinion (and it is just my opinion) to consider it.
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on 29 June 2013
Very please with purchase, this book is a great read. Will definitely recommend to other likeminded persons who enjoy George Orwell.
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on 19 August 2015
Classic essays that do not date. The major virtue of Orwell as an author is the clarity and strength of his prose
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on 23 February 2015
A must for Orwell enthusiasts
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on 20 June 2015
Excellent.
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3 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 31 August 2010
Whilst i have been a lifelong reader of Orwell i found this diary mostly full of trivia. How many pages should really be devoted to how many eggs his hens have laid?

if you want an insight into the man you will be better served reading one of the many excellent biographies
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