Freedom to Read George Orwell at Bruce Peel

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Freedom to Read George Orwell at Bruce Peel Special Collections


This week (26 February - 4 March 2017), Canadians across the country are celebrating Freedom to Read Week, an annual event that "encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom." Books that have been challenged or banned for controversial content are one of Freedom to Read Week's main focuses. One frequently challenged book is George Orwell's dystopian classic, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Bruce Peel Special Collections, the University of Alberta's rare book library, is home to a number of materials by or about Orwell, including two first edition copies of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The first Canadian edition

Nineteen Eighty-Four was first published on 8 June 1949 in London by Secker & Warburg, and five days later in New York by Harcourt, Brace & Co. The first Canadian edition, which came later in the same year, was published in Toronto by S.J. Reginald Saunders & Co. The Canadian edition is a peculiarity, as it features a small impression (called a "blind stamp") on the bottom of the back cover, indicating that it was likely published for a book club. On the inside flap of the dust jacket is printed the book's original price of $3.00. This copy also features the signature of the book's former owner, W.J. [Mouatt], signed in July of 1949.

Call number: PR 6029 R98 N7 1949

The first Canadian edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four, showing the book club blind stamp on the back cover

A manuscript facsimile

As a rule, George Orwell did not keep his manuscripts (i.e.hand-written drafts). However, Nineteen Eighty-Four stands as an exception to this rule, and around 44% of the published text survives in manuscript form. The Peel library has a facsimile (i.e. a high-quality reproduction) of the original, hand-written drafts of parts of the book, representing four stages of Orwell’s rewrites and edits. This manuscript material offers a wealth of information about Orwell’s approach to writing, showing how his ideas evolved and how he went about editing his work. It includes sections that were excluded from the final, published version, as well changes to components of the story, most notably the titular date. It may come as a surprise to know that the iconic year went through several changes. Orwell’s manuscript indicates that the story was originally set in 1980, but was changed to 1982 and then again to the iconic 1984.

One page of the manuscript facsimile, featuring one of the
slogans of the English Socialist Party in Nineteen Eighty-Four

Journalism by and about George Orwell

Another item of note at the Peel library is The Times Author series folder on George Orwell. The folder contains copies of a range of materials by and about Orwell.There are samples of some of his writing, including a copy of The English People, a commentary on various aspects of England and its people, and excerpts from Tribune, a left-wing magazine that Orwell edited for a time. There are also reviews from a number of different newspapers over several decades that allow the reader to see how perceptions of Orwell’s writing has evolved over time.

Call number: PR 6039 H75 Z7 D99

A few items from The Times Authors series folder on Orwell


Visiting Bruce Peel Special Collections

These three items, as well as a number of others relating to George Orwell, can be viewed at Bruce Peel Special Collections at the University of Alberta, open Monday to Friday, 12:00pm to 4:30pm. To find these and other items by or about George Orwell, search for "Orwell" in the University of Alberta Libraries catalogue and under "Library" select "University of Alberta Bruce Peel Special Collections." If you would like to see these items, please submit a Retrieval Request Form 24 hours prior to visiting.

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