Some years ago now, I discovered that the journals of the great English diarist of the 17th century, Samuel Pepys, were being published on the web as a blog. And just today, I learn of the Orwell Diaries.
Today’s entry is for December 8, 1938. Tom Chatfield of First Drafts sets out the context:
George—or Eric, as I suppose we should call him—is currently wintering in French Morocco. It’s December 1938, he’s 36 years old, and he’s there to recover from a severe bout of tuberculosis; it probably hasn’t helped his health, too, that a sniper’s bullet went through his neck in Barcelona in 1937, where he fought against Fascism (and wrote Homage to Catalonia, which was published, and flopped, in April 1938).
His diary, though, has yet to mention a single piece of his own writing in any detail. And he isn’t yet the author of the two books above all associated with his name today, Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) … He has been a policeman in Burma, a down-and-out in London and Paris and a combatant in Spain; but he has also spent a lot of time living in cottages, gardening, and participating in British provincial life.
. . .
. . . No detail is beneath his attention. Unlike so many diarists, he never chooses to amuse himself with bon mots or snap judgements. His intent is precision, and understanding, and honest record-keeping; there is no alchemical magic of “great writing” being practised, and no pretension to it. Just time and patience.
. . .
. . . How many of us today manage to spend the time Orwell did looking at what’s right under our noses?