Penguin Modern Classics
It’s about thirty years since I last read Animal Farm and I would say that I definitely enjoyed it more now that I’m older and more experienced. (I don’t think that I could comprehend actual tyranny when I read it in my youth).
Although it is a satire on Soviet Russia it seems just as relevant today. I’m dismayed by the current political climate, as it seems we have learned absolutely nothing from history. Indeed, we seem to be stuck in some sort of time loop where the evils of both Communism and Fascism are in danger of revival.
I’m mightily sick of politics, particularly the politicisation of absolutely everything, whereby I can’t even enjoy a nice cup of tea without thinking about colonialism and cultural appropriation. George Orwell loved a cup of tea, by the way. He took it very strong, like ‘builder’s tea’. and would think my wishy-washy ‘just show it the tea bag’ brew, a complete waste of time.
If you are tempted to read or re-read Animal Farm then I would recommend also reading Orwell’s original preface, entitled Freedom of the Press. In it he explains the political climate of the time and his struggle to get the book published due to the English intelligensia’s veneration of Stalin and the Soviet regime. In his defence Orwell quotes Milton:
“By the known rules of ancient liberty”
and then goes on to say:
The word ancient emphasizes the fact that intellectual freedom is a deep-rooted tradition without which our characteristic western culture could only doubtfully exist.
“Liberty”: that is, freedom of thought and speech, were vitally important to Orwell. He identified in the British press of his era a tendency towards self-censorship that we would perhaps now call “political correctness”. He justified the publication of his fable against totalitarianism in the these terms:
If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
In fact, even though Orwell had a specific totalitarian regime in mind when he wrote it, I would say that you could gain a great deal from reading it, even if you knew nothing of Soviet Russia. Though, because of Animal Farm, I now intend to gen up on the Russian Revolution, but first I am reading Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia.
I’m only a few chapters in, but I had a shiver down my spine when I read Orwell’s description of revolutionary Barcelona, as the experience was obviously a direct influence on his final novel Nineteen-eighty-four. I’m not sure why, but I felt there was something uncanny in reading of his true life experience and seeing how it developed in his fiction. For that reason, I feel compelled to read everything Orwell wrote, to see how it all fits together and how it culminated in one of the most influential novels of the twentieth century.