Eric Arthur Blair (1903-1950), known by his pen name George Orwell, is one of the most influential, quoted and debated writers of the 20th century. Orwell is best known for his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and the allegorical novella reviewed in this article, Animal Farm (1945), which he sub-titled ‘A Fairy Tale’. His non-fiction work Homage to Catalonia (1938), an account of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, is one of the greatest works of non-fiction in the last century. His influence is massive. Has any other author in the last couple hundred years introduced so many terms which have made it into popular culture: cold war, Big Brother, thought police, doublethink, and thoughtcrime; let alone having their name turned into an adjective, that being ‘Orwellian‘? Orwell died at 46 years old, of tuberculosis, in 1950.
Animal Farm was first published in England in 1945, followed by in the United States in 1946. It is a dystopian novel, allegorizing the events culminating in the Russian Revolution of 1917 up through the Stalin era in the Soviet Union. He was aghast at the brutal dictatorship that Stalin had formed; he felt the Soviet myth had to be torn down so ‘real’ socialism could take its place. He initially had problems getting it published since World War II was still in progress and Stalin was a supposed ally; though since the Cold War started soon after the hot war ended, it became a huge commercial success, as well as a critical success despite some criticism from the left that did not like seeing the USSR painted in such a negative light. It is now almost universally admired, and is # 31 on the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Novels.
Many of you know the story. The animals who live on work on Manor Farm, owned by Mr. Jones, are over-worked and not treated well. The old and dying Boar named Major, representing Lenin/Marx, and channeling Hobbes, tells his fellow animals, so to inspire them to rebellion, “Let us face it: our lives are miserable, laborious, and short.” In classic socialist terms, he goes on to tell them:
And above all, no animal must ever tyrannize over his own kind. Weak or strong, clever or simple, we are all brothers. No animal must ever kill any other animal. All animals are equal.
The animals rebel and succeed. Manor Farm in now Animal Farm. All are equal, though the pigs Napoleon (representing Stalin) and Snowball (representing Trotsky) are the leaders, often at odds. It is not long before problems start arising. Milk, to be shared by all, disappears. It turns out it was being taken and mixed in the pigs’ mash every day. Apples, that again were to be shared equally, are collected and brought for the pigs exclusive use. Squealer, essentially the minister of propaganda, tells the other animals:
Comrades, you do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples…Our sole object is to preserve our health.. Milk and apples contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organization of this farm depends on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink the milk and eat the apples.
Eventually Napoleon and Snowball have a falling out. Napoleon had taken nine puppies that were born away from their mother when they were young, for the collective good (of course!), and raised them into fierce dogs into what amounts to be his own security force. The dogs go after Snowball to kill him; he narrowly escapes and is never seen again. Squealer, re-writing history, tells the other animals that it was found that Snowball was actually an enemy and had worked against them. Napoleon now has sole power. Squealer tells the animals:
Comrades, I trust that every animal here appreciates the sacrifice that Comrade Napoleon has made in taking this extra labor upon himself. Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure! On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions for yourselves.
That last sentence haunts me, and reflects the base rationale all governments use to take decisions away from people themselves; it is to ‘protect us from ourselves’ or ‘for the children’. Orwell captures this perfectly.
Despite working like slaves, harvest production is down, so Napoleon announces that there will be work on Sundays also. “This work is strictly voluntary, but any animal who absented himself from it would have his rations reduced by half.” Hmmm, penalties for voluntary decisions, who would ever come up with that?!!! The pigs keep taking more power and more luxury, now sleeping in beds. Animal Farm is constantly at odds with their neighbors, playing one off the other, where animals rarely know from one day to the next which was the enemy and which was the friend.
Life on the farm got worse.
Life was hard…food was even shorter. Once again all rations were reduced, except those of the pigs and dogs. A too-rigid equality in rations, Squealer explained, would have been contrary to the principles of Animalism (ed. note, socialism). In any case he had no difficulty in proving to the other animals that they were not in reality short of food, whatever the appearances might be.
Squealer would read out figures explaining how things were much better than before under the previous system. The animals believed every word. Sounds familiar, huh? Really, the economy is better, unemployment is better than before. Really, we promise, just look at these numbers. Numbers do not lie, do not believe your eyes! In any case, the animals are ordered to have a “Spontaneous Demonstration” each week, to celebrate the struggles and triumphs of Animal Farm. The animals found this comforting, as it reminded them that they were “truly their own masters and that the work they did was for their own benefit.” This, along with Squealer’s statistics allowed them to “forget that their bellies were empty, at least part of the time.”
Over time, the farm does get richer, though without making any of the animals richer, except the pigs and dogs of course. This despite the fact that “neither the pigs nor dogs produced any food by their own labor.” (Those in the United States, sorry to remind you that the highest income county in the U.S., and six of the ten highest, are Washington D.C. suburbs. Just saying!). Eventually, all animals forgot what life was like before the revolution. Hunger and hard work is all they ever knew. Napoleon makes peace with his neighbor, the same one that all had been taught to hate and distrust, though arguments start immediately again.
The creatures looked outside from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
Orwell is saying, of course, Socialism, Capitalism, for those not in power, what difference does it make? The poor are poor. While I could say about Capitalism ‘at least they are less poor’, but let’s not go there. The political left and right like to claim Orwell as authority where his beliefs and writings provide intellectual underpinnings for their arguments. Orwell was a dedicated socialist with an acute awareness of social injustice; yet he also recognized the danger and corruptive nature of centralized power and was a stalwart opponent of totalitarianism. Orwell read F.A. Hayek‘s classic and influential The Road to Serfdom, in which Hayek posited that “by bringing the whole of life under the control of the State, Socialism necessarily gives power to an inner ring of bureaucrats, who in almost every case will be men who want power for its own sake and will stick at nothing in order to retain it,” agreeing with critical aspects of Hayek’s arguments saying “It cannot be said too often – at any rate, it is not being said nearly often enough – that collectivism is not inherently democratic, but, on the contrary, gives to a tyrannical minority such powers as the Spanish Inquisitors never dreamed of.” So while Orwell disagrees with Hayek’s defense of laissez faire Capitalism, he understands and agrees with Hayek on the inherent dangers of centralizing power, and Animal Farm is a perfect fictional demonstration of Hayek’s thesis. Unfortunately, due to Orwell’s early death, we were never to get from Orwell an all encompassing theory on how to square the circle, how to attain the economic society he wished for without ending up with totalitarianism which he despised.
Animal Farm is the 99th publication from Arion Press and the last of their 2013 publishing year. The book includes 24 prints from artist Jonathan Hammer. Hammer has had over forty one-person exhibitions across Europe, the United States and Mexico, and his work is in many public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He is represented by the Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery of New York. Hammer has worked in several mediums over the past 25 years, including paper, photography, sculpture, prints and signature screens made from marquetry of exotic skins. He currently lives and works in the Spanish village of Laguarres, a Spanish village of twenty-eight human inhabitants. Hammer writes concerning his work for Animal Farm:
I have always worked with books and bindings. Skin is my tool, to be cut and skived, hacked, and chopped. Write with the knife. Expose the extreme to the bone. Here, like everywhere, we have a veneer of education that somehow holds it all together in civility. But education in the hands of whom, as a tool for what purpose? Who is the victim and who is the victimizer? Who is the master and who is the gelding? A silk purse from a sow’s ear. Pearls juxtaposed with swine. Indeed, what more natural way for me to make Animal Farm art, than through the welcome of butchery and finery in cohabitation.
The illustrations are printed by letterpress from polymer plates made from films scratched by the artist with an etching needle for the black images, with photo-polymer plates made from overlay drawings in pencil for the red tints. The book is nicely proportioned, large octavo in format, 10 1/8″ x 7 1/2″, with 204 pages. The type is Times New Roman in Monotype, with display sizes set by hand, all printed letterpress on Zerkall ivory book, a German mouldmade paper with a soft, yet substantial feel. The paper has a slight off-white, almost yellowish color. The binding is three piece cloth, with maroon spine and ochre sides, imprinted with images of the gate of Manor Farm on the back and the gate of Animal Farm on the front. The same material is used on the slipcase.
I have often thought that Animal Farm would make an excellent fine press book, and so have had scores of ideas in my head on what I would do; which makes it tough for anything else to live up to my dreams! As for the Arion Press edition, I like the overall design and feel of the layout, which is handsomely done. I cannot help but think that perhaps a pig skin spine would have been apropos! The bite of the type on the paper is on the light side, though classically and masterfully executed. Reading is easy, with good spacing allowing a natural flow. The illustrations are an interesting take, sometimes startling, a juxtaposition of ‘butchery and finery’ representing the base use of animals by humanity. In staying with the allegorical nature of the story, substituting animals for humanity, one could interpret these illustrations as representing the often cruel use of humans by humanity. I do wonder how the book would have turned out with slightly more direct illustrations, such as one species fighting another, animals in chains, or sick, hungry or without shelter, female animals forced to remain covered head to tail, or animals being monitored by an overzealous NSA type organization (that would never happen!). None-the-less, the illustrations are eye-catching, thoughtful and nicely executed. The introduction by Stanford historian Peter Stansky is excellent, providing background on Orwell’s life and useful context from which to read Animal Farm. I am glad Arion Press choose Animal Farm to publish, it is a nicely done work. I look forward to their 2014 publishing year!
About the Edition
- 24 prints by Jonathan Hammer
- Introduction by Stanford historian Peter Stansky
- Large octavo, 10 1/8″ x 7 1/2″, 204 pages
- Type is Times New Roman in Monotype, with display sizes set by hand
- Printed letterpress on Zerkall ivory book, a German mouldmade paper
- 24 relief prints are printed by letterpress from polymer plates made from films scratched by the artist with an etching needle for the black images, with photo-polymer plates made from overlay drawings in pencil for the red tints
- Binding is three piece cloth, with maroon spine and ochre sides, imprinted with images of the gate of Manor Farm on the back and the gate of Animal Farm on the front; same materials used by the slipcase
- Limited to 300 numbered copies for sale ($600, or $420 for subscribers)
Pictures of the Edition
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