04 April 2009

“Your Pigs Are Far More Intelligent”

The British press is touting T. S. Eliot's letter rejecting George Orwell's Animal Farm on behalf of Faber & Faber in 1944. This letter was supposedly just "released" by Eliot's widow for a new BBC documentary.

In fact, the letter was printed in the Times of London in 1969 and has been quoted in several books about Orwell and Animal Farm since that date. Marcia Miner has the full text on her Room with a View blog.

The press spin this time is that Eliot and his fellow publishers were leery of offending Stalin because in 1944 he was a British ally. But that's not what the letter says. Though he acknowledges the delicacy of criticizing the Soviet regime, Eliot's political objection was that the only good guy in Orwell's allegory seemed to be Trotsky, and he didn't like Trotsky:

Now I think my own dissatisfaction with this apologue is that the effect is simply one of negation. It ought to excite some sympathy with what the author wants, as well as sympathy with his objections to something: and the positive point of view, which I take to be generally Trotskyite, is not convincing. . . .

After all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm, in fact, there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them; so that what was needed (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.
In sum, Eliot wished the politics in this political allegory were more like his own conservative leanings. Having read Animal Farm, he felt the novel showed that some animals really were more equal than others.

1 comment:

wrigleyfield said...

Thanks so much for this post. As a Trotskyist myself who loved Animal Farm in high school but has often been frustrated by how it's taught, this is fascinating history.