Today in Literary History – August 17, 1945 – George Orwell’s Animal Farm is published

Animal Farm, George Orwell’s satirical dystopian fable, was first published on August 17, 1945. He had begun the novel in 1943 after resigning from his position at the BBC to concentrate on writing.

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The story of Animal Farm is one of a revolution by the barnyard animals against Farmer Jones, his wife and his hired hands. The revolution is led by the pigs Snowball and Napoleon who set up an egalitarian utopia on the renamed “Animal Farm” where “all animals are equal.”

Things don’t go as idealistically as planned, and the pigs quietly change the original motto to “All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.” Orwell intended his fable to reflect on the 1917 Russian Revolution and its descent into Stalinism with thought control, secret police, show trials, corruption and a cult of personality.

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Initially, Orwell had difficulty finding a publisher for Animal Farm, since it was wartime and The Soviet Union and Stalin were important allies of Britain and America in the fight against Nazi Germany. Orwell despaired that it is “now next door to impossible to get anything overtly anti-Russian printed. Anti-Russian books do appear, but mostly from Catholic publishing firms and always from a religious or frankly reactionary angle.”

Animal Farm was rejected by most major British publishers (including T.S. Eliot at Faber & Faber) not on artistic grounds but for political reasons. Jonathan Cape originally accepted the book, but dropped it after being warned off by the British Ministry of Information. Eventually the novel was accepted by Secker & Warburg, who published it after a brief delay.

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 Animal Farm was an immediate bestseller. It has gone on, along with Orwell’s next book 1984, to become a classic anti-totalitarian novel. The changing views of The Soviet Union after World War II and the start of The Cold War era helped people appreciate the book more and added to Orwell’s reputation for prescience.

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