Thursday, May 5, 2016

Nineteen Eighty-four - The Reader's Digest version (Really!)

1984 - George Orwell. Covers displayed by a Google search

Ronald J. Jack
May 5, 2016

I have probably been guiding students through the 300-plus pages of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four far longer than is good for me,  but the job is not yet done. "1984" grows more influential each year, and it simply cannot be dispensed with.  Once young adults are convinced of its importance as a literary work, and its significance to modern political criticism, they commit to it, and finish the reading. However, too many students simply cannot read, or refuse to try. Here in British Columbia the novel is still in the Curriculum, but I know of teachers who simply show the movie, thus avoiding the obvious frustrations.  

Now and then I have caught myself giving up on a complainer, "Look, if I had a Reader's Digest edition I would give it to you!"  Frustration often peaks when we hit "Goldstein's book", or to be more precise,  "THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF OLIGARCHICAL COLLECTIVISM".

Image my surprise, and delight, to learn that there really was a Reader's Digest edition of Nineteen Eighty-four.  On Tuesday I encountered an old and very yellowed anthology, printed in postwar England. I paid my Loonie and carried home my prize.  As you will see for yourself, an un-named wordsmith had rendered the 312 page Orwell novel to a scant 29 pages!!!  Of course the irony is as thick as a mattress, given that very brutal process is the subject of the novel.  Winston Smith, a skilled employee of the Ministry of Truth,  spends his days destroying printed texts and condemned images, as well as rewriting other men's prose.

This Reader's Digest novel "condensation" is now 67 years old. Long out of print, it has no commercial value whatever.  And yet I did promise several students, if I had a copy...   So, as a gift to lazy students worldwide, I hereunder present you the scanned pages of George Orwell, his masterpiece gutted and trimmed as no literary work should ever be rendered. 

George Orwell's Literary Estate - the 2004 Sunday Times investigation

As an additional service, I would also point readers in the direction of a fascinating investigation into the fate of Eric Blair's literary estate.  Written by Tim Carroll and originally published by the SUNDAY TIMES in 2004, the scanned pages of the article "A WRITER WRONGED" can be read on the website called ORWELL TODAY.  The magazine cuttings are greatly reduced from the original page size, so I have enhanced them a bit,  and share them again here.

Orwell - A Writer Wronged, by Tim Carroll (2004)

Orwell - A Writer Wronged, by Tim Carroll (2004)

On April 22, 1947 Orwell's American publisher, Harcourt, Brace and Company, sent an ADVANCE COPY of the novel to J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the F.B.I.   The key points, I think, are the forthright statements - "The world of 1984 that he depicts is one in which wars are continually maintained without victories or defeats as an economic policy. ... The book leaves the reader with the shocked feeling that there is not a single horrible feature in the world of 1984 that is not present, in embryo, today."   Some embryo.

Orwell - Nineteen Eighty Four - Advance Copy to J. Edgar Hoover, F.B.I. Director

The READER'S DIGEST version (Sept. 1949)

1984 by George Orwell - the Reader's Digest 1949, Introduction

1984 - The Reader's Digest version, 29 pages long

1984 - The READER'S DIGEST condensation - 29 pages

Nineteen Eighty-four, The READER'S DIGEST version, 29 pages

Nineteen Eighty-four, George Orwell, READER'S DIGEST, 1949

1984 - Official trailer on YOUTUBE, high school student's posted comment

This is a screen grab from the DVD edition of NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR.  I checked for the official movie trailer on YOUTUBE today, and read a few of the posted comments. I don't know where Amy Cardenas is living, but I would believe Vancouver, Canada. Her experience matches what I have observed.

Amy Cardenas - the apple who makes a difference

George Orwell - 1984, READER'S DIGEST condensed book, 1949

1984b- by George Orwell, The Reader's Digest version = 29 pages

Nineteen Eighty-four by George Orwell, First edition, London 1949
Book collectors, (and I am one) often favour one edition of a novel over all others.  I have Nineteen Eighty-four in several editions as well as audio and video products,  but I suppose I do prefer the Penguin paperback edition that I encountered in high school English class.  The first London edition (above) had a jacket designed by Michael Kennard. He superimposed the novels title over the numeral "1984".   Students of today's FACEBOOK - TWITTER generation (who are easily bored by vocabulary) often consider spelling out the year date to be a fussy pretence, even after reading the opening line: "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." By the end of the novel they are receptive to Orwell's ideas about language as employed by totalitarian authority.