I have been reading a selection of Orwell’s letters. This is like reading a short version of his biography and indeed, it might be a good idea to read both the letters and a good biography at the same time. And one should add his diaries as they are now being published day by day on the internet.
What strikes me in both the letters and his diaries is his preoccupation with farming. The farm he rented in Jura the last years of his life really was a dream for him, and he often writes about gardening, about a donkey or a pig, etc. Of course, these letters are but the shadow of a man, but they make a picture to some extent. There are a few letters written by Eileen, his first wife, and they have a completely different atmosphere.
It seems that he had ideas for two more books. One can only dream about what he would have written after Nineteen eighty-four. What a pity he died of a disease that was curable a few years later.
In many a letter we read about the difficulties he had to publish his novels: political opposition by Gollancz, paper shortage after the war, meddlesome editors. For instance, the American publisher of 1984 (the title in the US in stead of Nineteen eighty-four) wanted to cut almost 40 percent of the novel. Of course, Orwell resisted vehemently.
In his more political letters he shows the lucidity of his mind, as he does in his essays. For instance, a remark about Gandhi in one of his letters made me reread his essay about him. I had just seen Richard Attenborough’s magnificent film again, so I was interested in Orwell’s view. Orwell admired Gandhi in a way, but he remarks that his satyagraha — resistance through nonviolent mass civil disobedience — could only work with a political system as the British, and under a Labour government. Hitler would have dealt with him otherwise.