Wrote Russell to Orwell?

An appeal by Dr Kenneth Blackwell, editor of the Bertrand Russell papers.


My query concerns the whereabouts of two letters from Bertrand Russell to George Orwell. These letters existed in 1967, just a year before the Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters was published in 4 volumes. In that year, on April 4th, Sonia Orwell wrote with urgency to Bertrand Russell’s secretary to ask if Russell had preserved any letters from Orwell. (He had not.) She mentioned, without reference to the George Orwell Archive established in 1960, that “I have” two letters from him. She provided exact dates: 30.8.45 and 17.9.45, and said that the letters look as if they must have been replied to. The first date is intriguing because the letter might be about Animal Farm, published earlier in August 1945. It is known that Russell greatly admired Animal Farm. I have found no subsequent reference to these letters, including in the Complete Works (edited by Peter Davison), and the Orwell Archive staff tell me that they don’t have the two letters. They do have one from Russell the next year setting up his lunch date with Orwell on February 12th, and this one is extracted in the Complete Works. An account of the Archive by her co-editor and then UCL deputy librarian, Ian Angus, in 1963 mentions many letters, but not Russell’s. It appears that Sonia Orwell retained possession of the Russell letters, but where could they have gone? The Orwell Archive has, I understand, the bulk of her papers, but their handlist contains no reference to the missing letters.

Can anyone advise me where the two 1945 letters might have gone? They could be important testimony to the esteem in which Orwell and Russell held each other, and which may have led to their political cooperation on the “League” with Arthur Koestler the next year and joint actions on the Freedom Defence Committee.


Sonia Orwell to Farley


Kenneth Blackwell <blackwk@mcmaster.ca>

Hon. Russell Archivist

McMaster University




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