Nicolas Walter heaps praise on the definitive complete works. It adds little to our knowledge of Orwell, but at least reminds us of his consistent integrityby Nicolas Walter / October 20, 1998 / Leave a comment
The best reviewer of the latest-and surely last-collected edition of George Orwell would be Orwell himself. Only he could say how far it is complete; whether it contains enough or-more likely-too much material; what is good and bad about it; why it is remarkable and why it is questionable. Similarly, only the editor could tell-and has indeed told, several times-the story of his adventures in producing one of the most impressive editorial achievements of our time. An outside reviewer can only give the reaction of an ordinary reader to this exceptional monument to a writer.
First reviews were irresponsibly written and published before anyone could possibly have studied the edition properly; even most of the later reviews failed to see or say what it contains. So this should be made clear. The 20 volumes, including published writings covering 20 years and unpublished writings covering 40 years, contain more than 8,600 pages. Together, they weigh three stone (19 kilograms in Oceanian units), fill nearly a yard (or metre) of shelf-space and cost ?750 (or $1,200).
This apparently single collection actually consists of two separate projects. Peter Davison was initially commissioned in 1981 to produce corrected versions of Orwell’s nine separate books-three works of reportage, four straight novels and two satires-for a deluxe collected edition intended to appear during 1984, the magic year. He succeeded in completing his work in 1982, but the publishers failed to complete theirs in time, and the new edition appeared only during 1986-87, reappearing in Penguin paperback a couple of years later. Meanwhile, Davison also produced the facsimile manuscript edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four, which did appear in 1984. In addition, he was commissioned in 1982 to produce a collected edition of Orwell’s shorter writings, either to supplement or to supersede the four-volume The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, which had appeared in 1968. This veered between a simple project of providing a single extra volume and a much more formidable undertaking of producing a complete edition of everything else written by Orwell. After many changes of mind and ownership by both the British and the US publishers, the final result is a new 11-volume collection, three times as long as its predecessor.
Peter Davison realistically admits that this isn’t a complete edition, because a few known and presumably other unknown items are missing. He also explains why the concept…