I have a Russian wife. We work together – articles, talks, translations, books, to keep the wolf from the door. Sometimes, when a bigger than usual energy bill slides through the letterbox, or the car breaks down or the tax-man cometh, one of us will look at the other with a rueful grin and say: ‘The solution as I see it, Comrade, is to work harder.’
It’s a direct quotation from Animal Farm (1945) and the character we are quoting is the big carthorse Boxer, eighteen hands high, and the stalwart representative of the proletariat in George Orwell’s book. The quip consists in the fact that merely to work harder is not the solution. Nor was it the answer to the problems faced by the Russian people in the wake of the 1917 Revolution and the era of Lenin and Stalin. But Boxer’s faith in hard work is as admirable as his fate is shocking, and for all the story’s humour, it is Boxer who gives it its tragic centre and its emotional power.
Most of us have read Animal Farm. We all know pretty well what it is: a satirical allegory in the form of a fable, and a parable on the history of Communist Russia from the 1917 Revolution to the end of 1943. That would be my literary definition, to which I would add that the book also has a wider symbolic purpose. In other words it’s about the Revolution but that’s not all it’s about. And while we know what the book’s about, what should be better known is how difficult it was for Orwell to get it published. One American publisher rejected it because he said there was no real market for animal stories. And even after it was published some bookshops placed it in the children’s section.
You could of course argue that Orwell had nobody but himself to blame, because he called it Animal Farm: A Fairy Story, an ironic subtitle to say the least. But any bookseller with a grain of sense should have recognized at once that the ‘fairy story’ possessed a meaning far beyond talking a
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