Editing and revising a novel can be a long, depressing task. A lot of the initial thrill of creation goes after the first draft has been completed, leaving behind the job of going through your work again and again: does this character come across convincingly? Could this phrase be a little tighter? In the cold light of day, does the plot really, genuinely make any sense? And the more general thoughts: How could you have made so many mistakes? What does this sea of red ink (or pixels) say about you as a writer?

There are authors out there who can produce an extended piece of polished prose in their first draft, but most novels are shaped in the editing process. Normally, this process is hidden from public view, as it should be, but occasionally a publisher will twitch the curtain aside and release a critical edition of an earlier draft, like the Cambridge University Press edition of Trimalchio (F. Scott Fitzgerald’s early version of The Great Gatsby), or the facsimile edition of George Orwell’s manuscript for Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Nineteen Eighty-Four manuscript pageThe Nineteen Eighty-Four facsimile was published in the UK by Secker & Warburg in, not surprisingly, 1984. (The US edition was published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.) It’s actually less than half of the published novel, the rest of the manuscript having disappeared somewhere along the way, but you wouldn’t buy this copy to read the story anyway: it’s a mess. Most of the text is handwritten, some is typed, but almost all of it is crisscrossed with corrections. Each page is printed twice: once as a facsimile of the original page, and once as a tidied-up typescript.

So while Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Facsimile of the Extant Manuscript (to give it its full title), might not be well suited to settling down with a cup of tea and a plate of shortbread, it’s a fascinating chance to look at how one of the great writers edited and polished his prose. Take, for example, the first page with its famous first line. Here’s the original version from the manuscript:

1984: draft version

It was a cold day in early April, and a million radios were striking thirteen. Winston Smith pushed open the glass door of Victory Mansions, turned to the right down the passage-way and pressed the button of the lift. Nothing happened. He had just pressed a second time when a door at the end of the passage opened, letting out a smell of boiled greens and old rag mats, and the aged prole who acted as porter and caretaker thrust out a grey, seamed face and stood for a moment sucking his teeth and watching Winston malignantly.

“Lift ain’t working,” he announced at last.

“Why isn’t it working?”

No lifts ain’t working. The currents is out at the main. The ‘eat ain’t workin’ neither. All currents to be cut orf during daylight hours. Orders!” he barked in military style, and slammed the door again, leaving it uncertain wheter the greivance he evidently felt was against Winston, or against the authorities who had cut off the current.

Winston remembered now. It was part of the economy drive in preparation for Hate Week. The flat was seven flights up, and Winston, conscious of his thirty-nine years and of he varicose ulcer above his right ankle, rested at each landing to avoid putting himself out of breath. On every landing the same poster was gummed to the wall – a huge coloured poster, too large for indoor display. It depicted simply and enormous face, the face of a man of about forty-five, with ruggedly handsome features, thick black hair, a heavy moustache and an expression at once benevolent and menacing. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption ran.

And here’s the opening of the novel as published:

1984: published version

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.

The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At one end of it a coloured poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features. Winston made for the stairs. It was no use trying the lift. Even at the best of times it was seldom working, and at present the electric current was cut off during daylight hours. It was part of the economy drive in preparation for Hate Week. the flat was seven flights up, and Winston, who was thirty-nine and had a varicose ulcer above his right ankle, went slowly, resting several times on the way. On each landing, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.

1984 Manuscript (page one)
Notice the changes to the first line: “a million radios” becomes simply “the clocks”, tightening both the phrase and the idea, allowing it to focus on the strangeness of the thirteenth hour, rather than on the more mundane idea of timekeeping radios, or having the reader stumble over the awkward image of a million radios.

The corny “Oh, yes, I remember…” exposition of the power cuts and Hate Week is dropped in favour of simply telling us about it, just another dull, frustrating fact in another dull, frustrating day. It’s a good example of when “telling” can work better than “showing”, in reversal of the creative writing student’s creed.

Then there’s the porter, neatly excised from the final version, leaving behind only the lingering smell of his boiled cabbages… and more importantly, leaving Winston Smith alone with those images of Big Brother.