“This was the beginning of the fairy tale, he thought…”

Assassination Scene, Jason Atkinson

New Ghost Stories IV
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.

13 Comments on “George Orwell’s manuscript for 1984”

  1. Petulia Says:

    This is great! I guess seeing something like this gives hope to a lot of young writers.

  2. Rob Says:

    Thanks, Petu! It’s a great book. Sadly, I have to give my (borrowed) copy back tonight. Ah well, there’s always AbeBooks…

  3. gav (nextread) Says:

    It’s amazing when you see it like this. A published book just looks like it all arrived that way. You never see what goes on behind the scenes. I’ve got The Writers Tale by Russell T Davies that I’m eager to read it shows the development of the last Dr Who series through a series of emails. Maybe the modern day equivalent?

  4. NextRead » Links: Other places than here Says:

    […] The Fiction Desk has pages from the manuscript for George Orwell’s 1984. A great reminder of what you see at the end might not have been how it started out. […]

  5. Petulia Says:

    When are we going to see another book review from you? I need smart things to read!

  6. Rob Says:

    It’s right here!

  7. The Original of Laura by Vladimir Nabokov Says:

    […] beautifully done, and a wonderful piece of reproduction ephemera. Like the 1980s facsimile edition of Orwell’s 1984, this is a book to bring out after dinner, when everybody’s neck-deep in grappa. ‘Oh! […]

  8. Jill Walton Says:

    Can you tell me where I can buy a copy of this facsililie of George Orwells 1984 showing crossingouts and cahnges.
    Jill Walton

  9. Rob Says:

    Hi Jill,

    As far as I know, this has been out of print for years. You could try your local secondhand book dealer, or sites like ebay and abebooks.

  10. Steven Ramirez Says:

    Many of us who are not famous authors tend to believe that words flow perfectly onto the page from the pens of great authors. What this original manuscript shows is that, although the ideas for a novel are often brilliant, there is still a lot of work that goes into creating something worth reading. For me, it also demonstrates the undeniable importance of hiring an editor. Thanks so much for bringing this to our attention.

  11. » George Orwell’s Manuscript for 1984 West Lothian Writers Says:

    […] Well it is possible and to show you it is here is an article from The Fiction Desk that looks at George Orwell’s Manuscript for 1984 and compares it to the finished novel and shows the changes he […]

  12. George Orwell’s manuscript for 1984 | Write Away Says:

    […] George Orwell’s manuscript for 1984. […]

  13. Nisti K Delgroothe Says:

    I am feeling so much better about my current project. I fail to remember we are producing “works in progress”. Thank you for this article! And, for the encouragement! ~Nisti K

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