TS Eliot refused to publish Animal Farm by George Orwell because of its “Trotskyite” politics, it has been claimed.
By Stephen Adams
The poet, a former director of the publisher Faber & Faber, made his feelings clear in a rejection letter to Orwell in 1944.
Orwell succeeded in having Animal Farm, an allegory on Stalinist communism, published the following year by Secker & Warburg, after being turned down by four publishers.
But Eliot, author of The Waste Land, wrote that although he found Orwell’s writing “good” and praised its “fundamental integrity”, he thought that its argument was “not convincing”.
The letter has been released by Valerie Eliot, 82, the poet’s widow, for a BBC Two Arena documentary to be broadcast in the summer.
Animal Farm concerns a group of talking pigs who take over a farm, purportedly for the benefit of all its inhabitants, but end up running it for their own selfish ends.
Its plot sees the pig Napoleon, based on Stalin, forcing out his rival Snowball, who genuinely works for the good of the farm. Many commentators have concluded that Snowball was based on Stalin’s rival Leon Trotsky, who was expelled from the Communist Party in 1927.
In his dismissive letter, Eliot wrote that Orwell’s view “which I take to be generally Trotsykite, is not convincing”.
He argued: “We have no conviction that this is the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation at the current time.”
He went on: “After all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore are the best qualified to run the farm – in fact there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm without them: so that what was needed (someone might argue) was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.”
Eliot’s rejection might have been prompted by the political situation at the time, when Russia was regarded as an essential ally to defeat Hitler.
Animal Farm was only published in August 1945, three months after the war in Europe ended.
During the war Orwell’s usual publisher Gollancz wrote to him saying they would be “highly ill-advised” to publish because it could “apply only to Russia” rather than “dictators and dictatorships at large”.
Intriguingly, there was no preface in the first edition even though Orwell had proposed one titled The Freedom of the Press. In it, he attacked self-censorship during the war, writing: “Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.”
He wrote that Animal Farm had been rejected by four publishers, but stated only one had “any ideological motive” for doing so.