Thursday, August 28, 2008

What's new on George Orwell's blog?

Seventy years ago this week, George Orwell was recuperating from tuberculosis at a sanatorium in Kent, which one imagines was a good deal less developed than it is today. His diaries were filled with the careful observations of a trained journalist-- directed, in his present circumstances, toward the gradually ripening blackberries, the muggy summer weather in Kent, sketches of an ancient burial mound nearby, and newspaper clippings on sloe gin recipes.

If the literary form sounds familiar to the contemporary reader, there's a reason:

“I think he would have been a blogger,” said Jean Seaton, a professor at the University of Westminster in London who administers the Orwell writing prize […]

Orwell as blogger? A bit of a stretch, perhaps, but the analogy suggested an inspired plan to Seaton: Make the diaries available as if they were a blog, with each day's entry in 1938 forming a post on that date exactly 70 years later. So, for example, Orwell's entry on August 28, 1938, posted today:

Night before last an hour’s rain. Yesterday hot & overcast. Today ditto, with a few drops of rain in the afternoon. The hop-picking due to start in about a week.

Not exactly Shooting an Elephant, but the man was recovering from TB, and while his diary contains no complaint about being in the hinterlands (it's hard to imagine Orwell using the word "boondocks") the point of his residence at the sanatorium was to exchange the activity of London life for the clean air and quiet of Kent.

And for those who can take reports of the local flora and fauna for only so long, on September 7th the Orwell Diaries blog moves from his personal journals to his political diary.

“The diary isn’t Orwell at his most polemic; it is Orwell at his most steady, most observant,” Professor Seaton said.

Like any good political blogger, Orwell devoured the news, making clippings and looking for shifts in public and government opinion, Professor Seaton said. “He’s partly obsessed by the newspapers because of the start of the world war,” she said. “The diary is written against this almost traumatized understanding that there is going to have to be a second world war.”

The diary entries are reproduced in full, with careful but unobtrusive annotation via hyperlinks (including Google Maps) and endnotes. The project will continue publishing his diaries on a daily basis through 2010.

I've added The Orwell Diaries to the blog list in the sidebar.

(H/t to Anne.)

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