Big Brother Is Born

By Charlotte Bruce Harvey '78 / May / June 2003
June 22nd, 2007
Critics have dismissed 1984 as the tired fantasy of a dying man, and, indeed, George Orwell, who was born 100 years ago this June, died of tuberculosis in 1950, two years after completing it. But the manuscript tells another story. The pages are penned in a strong, deliberate hand; there is no evidence of a mind wavering or taking shortcuts.

Rare-book dealer Dan Siegel ’57 bought the manuscript in 1969 at Scribner’s in New York City after shelving a writing career and turning to collecting full-time. “Let me show you something,” the dealer had said, opening his safe. Siegel blinked. Before him lay Orwell’s manuscript.

Like many writers, Orwell destroyed his early drafts, and although the 1984 manuscript is incomplete (it contains just under half of the novel’s text), it remains the only substantial Orwell draft to survive. Siegel says he paid $5,000 for it: “a goodly sum in those days.”

Concerned that the manuscript be accessible to scholars—(“Institutions have a way of censoring materials just by never cataloging them,” he observes tartly)—he was reluctant to sell it. But in 1992 he gave it to the John Hay Library, which already had one of the world’s great Orwell holdings, the Daniel J. Leab Collection.

“From the start what blew my mind was the relentlessness of Orwell’s handwriting,” says Siegel. “Just look at it. He goes and goes and goes.”

What do you think?
See what other readers are saying about this article and add your voice. 
Related Issue
May / June 2003