Orwell's Diaries Go Online Previously unpublished George Orwell diaries are being released online as a daily blog. The first entry, from Aug. 9, 1938, will appear online Saturday, exactly 70 years after Orwell wrote it. The diaries shed light on European history and Orwell's life.
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Orwell's Diaries Go Online

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Orwell's Diaries Go Online

Orwell's Diaries Go Online

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Back now with Day to Day. How sad for dead writers to have missed the Internet. Why, young people may never encounter them. A British literary award, the Orwell Prize - it goes for political writing - sees a way around that. Tomorrow, and every day for the next four years, it will publish a daily blog by the author of "1984," and "Animal Farm" and many, many political essays. This is quite a trick. George Orwell has been dead for 58 years. Jean Seaton is director of the Orwell Prize and a professor of media history at the University of Westminster. She joins us from the BBC Bush House in London. Professor Seaton, welcome. How are you going to do this?

Professor JEAN SEATON (Media History, University of Westminster; Director, Orwell Prize): Well, we are going to publish in real time as it where. We thought that was a really interesting way of actually letting people into a diary. Day by day, as Orwell wrote it, in a really critical part of his life, when he was coming into himself, really, as a very great writer and a very great political mind.

CHADWICK: And you got the idea of publishing several years of his diary as a daily blog...

Prof. SEATON: Yeah.

CHADWICK: Seventy years to the day after he wrote these pieces. So, you'll - that's what you're going to do, these are his diary entries, and you're going to do this for the next several years, just like a blog.

Prof. SEATON: You see a big volume of diaries. It feels kind of only - you feel it's rather academic, in a way. I mean, that big - they're an important part of the writing. Some of it's very original, you can see it going straight into the literature. But if you're an ordinary person, you know, kind of, it feels remote. If you do it day by day, particularly, I think - we're starting now and we're going to - we're in the run-up to the break out of the Second World War, on September the 3rd.

CHADWICK: World War II. So, this is...

Prof. SEATON: Yeah.

CHADWICK: This is 1938 and George Orwell...

Prof. SEATON: Yeah, exactly.

CHADWICK: Is actually - as he begins writing this, he's in Morocco.

Prof. SEATON: Yeah.

CHADWICK: He's come there from his - he had a war wound. He fought in the Spanish Civil War. He's wounded...

Prof. SEATON: Yeah.

CHADWICK: And he's - he's down in Morocco kind of recuperating.

Prof. SEATON: Absolutely. And from TB as well. But he knows war is coming. And it seems to me that if you publish bits of the diary, people reading it get a sense of that unfolding daily reality.

CHADWICK: So, what is it that George Orwell is writing about 70 years ago that readers today are going to want to follow the way they do daily blogs?

Prof. SEATON: I think he's writing about what the world looks like when a world war is imminent, and the world is trembling on a very uncomfortable brink.

CHADWICK: OK. Here's an excerpt. This is an excerpt from the diary, and we're pleased that you have managed to bring in George Orwell's son, his adopted son, Richard Blair, to read an excerpt from the diary. Here it is.

Mr. RICHARD BLAIR: (Reading) Marrakesh, 27th of September, 1938. All the troops here are said to be standing by and ready to move at a moment's notice. On the fortified hill immediately west of the town, there are guns which command the Arab quarter. Nevertheless, the local French show an utter lack of interest in the European crisis, so much so as to make it impossible to think that they believe war will break out. There is no scramble for papers, no one broaches the subject of war, and one hears no conversations on the subjects in the cafes.

CHADWICK: That's an excerpt from George Orwell's diary, published as a blog everyday for the next several years. Jean Seaton is director of the Orwell Prize, which is publishing it. You know, Jean, this is a diary, but it's not a - it's not sort of really a personal diary, isn't it? It doesn't sound like, I'm angry with my sister or that kind of thing.

Prof. SEATON: I couldn't possibly let out some of our scoops. There are one or two bits of sex that are going to come up. He spent his energy as writers do, they manage things by writing. And he's writing his everyday life, what's going on, and he's observing. I mean, I think what you've got is Orwell practicing (ph) being a writer, and Orwell ever rapaciously hungry for evidence about the world around him. When he has a lung hemorrhage later on in the diary, does he say, I nearly died yesterday? Does he say, it was a nearly - a really bad thing? He says, no, he's British, of that generation. He says, lungs not too good, you know? So, you know...

CHADWICK: This is his diary entry for a lung hemorrhage which nearly killed him?

Prof. SEATON: Yes. Yes, you know, stoicism, it's a non-fashionable virtue, but it's one I think is undervalued.

CHADWICK: Here's another excerpt. He's writing about his garden.

Mr. BLAIR: (Reading) Marrakesh, 16th of March, 1939. Yesterday, not quite so hot, overcast and clouds of dust. Ditto today, probably presaging rain. Men are still plying in places. Yesterday a man selling (unintelligible) out of a bag. Flocks of domestic pigeons swooping down, to try and steal the seed and the men chasing them off. Yesterday, saw a very young camel cub, evidently only a few days born, has had a bit of navel string. Nevertheless, its legs are almost as long as its mother's. Cavalry passing us today. Note that all the horses seemed to be stallions.

CHADWICK: That's George Orwell's adopted son, Richard Blair, reading from his diaries. Jean Seaton, you're a professor of media history. What do you learn reading these diaries, listening to these diaries? What do you learn about George Orwell?

Prof. SEATON: I learned most of all, the thing that's really compelling actually, I think, about the diaries, is the going and seeing and having you views amended. That unwillingness to be, as it were, hoodwinked by conventions is why he's such a powerful voice. He's always warning us, use your eyes, use your ears, use your faculties, live, and use all the facts to make sure that you are not falling into conventional and dangerous habits of political mind.

CHADWICK: So, if he were alive today, he would be a blogger?

Prof. SEATON: I think he would have been, because he's completely obsessed, you know, he's going to write "1984." I mean, he's one of the first people that alerts us to the shaping power of the media as they were then. Elsewhere in the Morocco diary, he says, you know, they read this newspaper, these are where they get information from this - so I think that he would have been right out there in the vanguard of technological, you know, access to people hearts and minds, because that's what he was interested in.

CHADWICK: Jean Seaton is director of the British literary award, the Orwell Prize. Tomorrow, it begins publishing in blog form, George Orwell's Diary. Jean Seaton, thank you, and thanks also to Richard Blair, the adopted son of George Orwell.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: Day to Day is a production of NPR News with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

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