Rediscovery Re-Viewed

L. J. Hurst asks How was the work of George Orwell presented and then read during his lifetime? And suggests that an examination of a magazine in which Orwell’s work appeared  helps answer the question.



How was the work of George Orwell presented and then read during his lifetime? Much of it appeared in small magazines and reviews*, but when it was published, for instance, in book form, his publishers gave his name just as much prominence as those of other authors, and laid out his book jackets with just as much attention to detail.

Reading the print history of his essays in his posthumous collections may under-emphasise the care given by magazine publishers when they had the opportunity to feature his work. Here is an example. A footnote follows his essay “The Rediscovery Of Europe” when printed today: “Broadcast talk in the B.B.C. Eastern Service, 10 March 1942; The Listener, 19 March 1942″.

The short period between the delivery on the wireless and the appearance in print indicates something of the importance or relevance of this script. It was broadcast on a service probably inaudible in the British Isles, yet the editorial staff of The Listener, the BBC’s official organ, must have had it in production – indeed been made aware of it even earlier – almost as soon as it was broadcast.

Copies of weekly magazines, particularly during times of paper shortage and paper-drives, tend not to survive. Fortunately a copy of The Listener for March 19th 1942 has come to hand, and it provides absolute proof of the importance given to this essay at the time. One can see that not only in the space that it occupies but in the care taken to lay out and then illustrate the text.

Let us progress through the issue as if we were reading it for the first time.


The cover, battered and torn today**

We turn the page to discover what is in our copy this week.


The Contents page: Orwell is one of the headlined authors. The injury to the cover page continues, but not for long

Excited by its exotic, almost science-fictional title, we turn to the article.


The article begins, spread across two pages, with illustrations across both. The two pages are shown in one illustration here, for brevity

And the article continues, overleaf:


The illustrations have ended. The next section has only a text heading.

“Rediscovery of Europe” became “The Rediscovery of Europe” when it was published between boards in Talking To India in 1943, a collection of articles broadcast on the Eastern Service by E M Forster, Cedric Dover, Orwell himself, and others. Illustrations are available on Andrew Whitehead’s blog.

Orwell began his talk by rejecting the concept of history as “a series of completely different periods changing abruptly at the end of a century, or at any rate at some sharply defined date”, pointing out “these abrupt transitions don’t happen, either in politics, manners or literature. Each age lives on into the next”. It seems that despite Orwell’s best efforts this misunderstanding has continued: one can find Orwell’s point being repeated as recently as 2010 when a Times Higher Education Supplement review of A World by Itself: A History of the British Isles quoted the authors saying “the understanding of the past is not so easy as it is sometimes made to appear”; the review itself beginning with Orwell’s own words.

Some of Orwell’s conclusions, which one might have thought (and possibly did think when this essay was rescued from twenty-five years of obscurity and included in the Collected Essays Journalism and Letters in 1968), were defunct, “Themes like revenge, patriotism, exile, persecution, race hatred, religious faith, loyalty, leader worship, suddenly seemed real again. Tamerlane and Genghis Khan seem credible figures now, and Machiavelli seems a serious thinker”, have become relevant again since 1990, even down to the territories of those men, let alone their tactics and those of their opponents.

As with so much of Orwell’s work, there is still much to be learned from “The Rediscovery of Europe”, probably starting with the use and abuse of the continental name.



** Our thanks to our photographer his work.

Uploaded 13th May 2018



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