Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Pop History Moment: "Animal Farm" Was Published

On this day in 1945 George Orwell's satirical novella Animal Farm was first published, in London, by Fredric Warburg; the book is a sterling condemnation of Stalinism - a condemnation made all the more sterling by the fact that it was published before most of the world had twigged to the fact that Joseph Stalin was even then one of history's worst villains. There's nothing so unusual about that in and of itself, of course, except it does underline the fact that the author was clearly gifted with considerable powers of insight*...

PhotobucketThe story concerns a plot by animals to overthrow the rule of the humans who run Manor Farm, where they all live; since it's written in an allegorical style each character, naturally, represents an historical figure. Old Major, for instance, represents Karl Marx whereas the farmer Mr. Jones represents Tsar Nicholas II, and so on; still, it's clear where Orwell's sympathies lie - all the pigs are Communists**. Where Orwell's cynicism proves prescient is in how the utopian society initially desired by the animals is soon riven with class distinctions and generally destroyed by the same tensions it was meant to overcome - in the same way Leninism and Stalinism gave rise to the same sort of elites within the Politburo that Communism was supposed to eliminate.

Orwell encountered considerable reluctance when seeking a publisher for Animal Farm, since at the time he was writing it most of the Western powers were still aligned with the Soviet Union; one publisher was dissuaded from publishing the book by a supposed government official who was later revealed as a Soviet spy! In the United Kingdom, oddly enough, Orwell's preface to the book was more heavily censored than the book itself, probably because it didn't hide behind allegory, but directly addressed the censorious attitude of the British people and their press, which in his view was entirely self-imposed.

Animal Farm has been adapted for film twice: an animated version, made in 1954, which was Britain's first feature length animated film to receive an international release, and a live-action version in 1999 which was slightly rewritten to provide the story with a happy ending - in which Napoleon's regime collapses in on itself, a reflection of that happiest of all endings, the fall of European Communism in 1990. Additionally, the book has been the subject of many cultural references, including The Kinks' song Animal Farm, from their superlative 1968 album The Village Green Preservation Society.

*Another of Orwell's masterpieces, Nineteen Eighty-Four, is flat-out spooky in its perception of the future as a world controlled by the lies and propaganda of mass media, whose specious hatred shrieks - Fox News-like - out of viewscreens on every wall...
**Leading us to surmise that Orwell's view of Communists was equally porcine.
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