Weekend Edition: 10-23

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubez

  • America is ending (“The fights over masks and vaccinations for Covid-19 is an overwhelming measure of intellectual and moral deterioration of the country.”)

Nonbookish Linkage

Bookish Linkage

[A] successful printed book is a stone dropped in water, its message rippling outwards to hundreds, thousands, millions.

John Man, The Gutenberg Revolution

World War II almost killed Animal Farm

Find a list of the best 20th-century novels, and you’re likely to find both George Orwell’s 1984 and his Animal Farm. The former, published in 1949, is such a classic of dystopian literature that it’s hit the top of Amazon’s bestseller lists twice in the last four years. Yet his first tale of dictatorships, Animal Farm, struggled to find a publisher due to World War II politics.

For those unfamiliar with it, Animal Farm is a tale of a group of farm animals overthrowing the farmer to create a society where they are all equal and share the fruits of their labor. Ultimately, though, the farm ends up under a dictatorship whose motto is “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

First edition of Animal Farm

Orwell said the idea for Animal Farm came to him in 1937, but he didn’t begin writing it until the end of 1943, finishing it early the following year. He freely admitted that his goal was for readers to see the Soviet Union “for what it really was.” He felt Joseph Stalin betrayed the purposes of the 1917 Russian Revolution, turning the country into a totalitarian society “in which the rulers have no more reason to give up their power than any other ruling class.”

As Britain was still at war with Germany, the British government and public opinion supported the Soviet war effort. And the fear of upsetting the Anglo-Soviet alliance led to Orwell having difficulty getting Animal Farm published. He said four publishers rejected it. One, Jonathan Cape, actually accepted the book but, after consulting with the British Ministry of Information, believed it “highly ill-advised to publish at the present time.” The founder wrote Orwell:

If the fable were addressed generally to dictators and dictatorships at large then publication would be all right, but the fable does follow, as I see now, so completely the progress of the Russian Soviets and their two dictators [Lenin and Stalin], that it can apply only to Russia, to the exclusion of the other dictatorships. Another thing: it would be less offensive if the predominant caste in the fable were not pigs. I think the choice of pigs as the ruling caste will no doubt give offence to many people, and particularly to anyone who is a bit touchy, as undoubtedly the Russians are.

Ironically, the ministry official with whom Cape consulted was later revealed to be a Soviet spy, according to D.J. Taylor’s 2003 book, Orwell: The Life.

In mid-July 1943, T.S. Eliot, on the board of another publishing firm, wrote Orwell of that firm’s rejection of the book. “[W]e have no conviction … that this is the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation at the present time,” Eliot wrote. He also told Orwell the book’s viewpoint, “which I take to be generally Trotskyite, is not convincing.”

Secker & Warburg, considered to be anti-fascist and anti-Soviet, eventually published Animal Farm – on August 17, 1946, more than three months after the war in Europe ended. Orwell wrote a proposed preface called “The Freedom of the Press,” telling of the difficulty publishing anything considered anti-Soviet, a situation, he said, in which “the principle of free speech lapses.” Even though the book’s proofs left space for it, the preface wasn’t published. Discovered in 1972, The Times Literary Supplement published it in September that year.

Animal Farm’s publications in Britain didn’t mean clear sailing. At least three American publishers turned it down. Harcourt Brace finally published it in 1946. It was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection and hasn’t been out of print since. Someone published some 5,000 copies of a Ukrainian translation in Germany in March 1947. The American military confiscated 3,000 copies and gave them to Soviet authorities, who destroyed them.

Sadly, Orwell’s struggle to publish Animal Farm supports what he wrote in his preface, “Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban.”

If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.

George Orwell, Animal Farm

(This post originally appeared at Exploring History.)

Weekend Edition: 10-16

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubes

Headline of the Week

Nonbookish Linkage

Bookish Linkage

  • When he became Nobel Literature laureate, Abdulrazak Gurnah’s had sold 3,000 books in the U.S.

Life assembles itself on accumulating mistakes.

Richard Powers, Bewilderment

Loco Lawsuits: Beyoncé, Part 2 – She’s a kitten murderer

In the last installment of this series, Beyoncé faced a 2016 lawsuit accusing her of, among other things, conspiring with the CIA. On September 19, 2018, Kimberly Thompson, a former drummer in Beyoncé’s band, sought a restraining order, alleging the singer was constantly harassing her. But it was far more than what just those facts might lead you to believe. No, this harassment came through “extreme witchcraft.”

At the outset, it should be noted that Thompson is, by all accounts, an excellent drummer who continues to perform and record. The bizarre nature of her claims hints at mental health issues, although Thompson told The Daily Mail that Beyoncé bullied her for six years out of jealousy. She also said she requested the temporary restraining order “to cut the cord” with someone she once loved and “put on a pedestal.”

Thompson’s sworn, handwritten request contained some relatively ordinary harassment allegations, such as anonymous phone calls, tapping her phone, and stalking, as well as stealing intellectual property. But the majority of her claims were strange, to put it mildly. Among other things, she said Beyoncé was guilty of

  • practicing “black magic” and “sexua magic.”
  • “[s]talking me w/black birds.”
  • paying past employers to fire her.
  • controlling her finances and tapping her bank accounts.
  • “[p]utting witchcraft on my past lovers + working relationships.”
  • “[s]howing up as my uber + lyft drivers [and] as workers in common areas like grocery stores.”
  • placing a spell on Thompson’s three-month-old kitten and murdering the kitten three months later.

The request offers no explanation for this alleged activity. Thompson does not appear to have publicly commented on the case other than in The Daily Mail interview. Beyoncé neither responded to the request nor commented publicly on it.

Thompson’s request was denied the same day it was filed, pending an October 11, 2018, hearing. She did not appear at the hearing so the judge assigned to the case dismissed it. But perhaps the judge acted too quickly. After all, it’s well known that Beyoncé is part of the Illuminati.

Being a professional musician doesn’t mean you spend 12 hours a day playing music. It means you spend up to 12 hours a day taking care of business, dealing with litigation, with the various characters who’ve stolen your interests, or fending off hostile lawsuits from former members of the band.

Robert Fripp, The Telegraph, December 8, 2005

War booty helped create Oxford’s renowned Bodleian Library

Oxford University’s Bodleian Library is one of Europe’s oldest libraries and one of the world’s eminent research libraries. Yet, some of its books carry a taint of unscrupulousness given the time of its founding. One of its founding collections is plunder from Portugal in 1596.

Between 1584 and 1604, Protestant England and Catholic Spain fought an intermittent undeclared war sparked by religion and privateering. Portugal, also Catholic, was ruled by and considered part of Spain beginning in 1580. In June 1596, troops led by the second Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux, sailed with a joint English-Dutch fleet. On June 30, the troops captured Cadiz, Spain, and ransacked it.

Devereux’s forces sailed northwest and on July 23 attacked Faro, the capital of the Algarve region of southern Portugal. Meeting little resistance, they quickly controlled the city. Devereux occupied the palace of D. Fernando Martins de Mascarenhas, Bishop of the Algarve. Mascarenhas, a renowned scholar and theologian, had an important private library on theology and canon law. There was little wealth in the town, so the English set it afire and departed on July 27. To avoid leaving empty-handed, Devereux plundered items from the bishop’s library.

Two years later, Thomas Bodley offered to restore the University of Oxford’s library, abandoned a few decades before. In 1600, Devereux gave Bodley 215 volumes, according to Peter Booker of the Algarve History Association. The covers of 91 volumes carried Bishop Mascarenhas’ coat of arms embossed in gold. It’s unknown if they’re the entirety of the bishop’s library, as one other volume and another manuscript are dedicated to the bishop but don’t have his coat of arms, Booker reports. Likewise, some of the library’s books may have belonged to the bishop’s predecessors.

17th-century engraving of Bodleian library interior

Bodley’s rebuilt library opened on November 8, 1602, under the name “Bodleian Library,” with 2,000-2,500 books. According to Richard Ovenden, Bodleian’s Librarian, the Mascarenhas books remain on the shelves and “have moved only a few yards” in more than 400 years. “The theft of knowledge has a long history,” Ovenden says in his 2020 book Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack.

That libraries around the world may contain plundered material raises complex issues. “To Essex, Bodley and others in the country, these books would have been seen as a legitimate ‘prize’,” he writes. At the same time, these “displaced or migrated” books raise the question of control of a community’s cultural and political identity.

The view of “Faro 1540,” an association formed to defend and promote Faro’s cultural heritage, is clear. In December 2013, it unanimously approved a motion requesting the return of the books, which it considers historical and cultural treasure. The association sent a formal request and a copy of the motion to the Bodleian Library, Queen Elizabeth II, the British Prime Minister, and the British Embassy in Portugal. The existence or status of any discussions between the association and the library or their respective governments is unknown.

Others ask how the books would have fared were they not in the library. Before Devereux’s literary looting, they were “tormented in a pittifull [sic] manner, [such] that it would grieve a man’s heart to see them,” Thomas James, the Bodleian’s first librarian, recorded. Inquisition censors blotted out what they regarded as heretical sentences and pasted supposedly offensive pages together. Ironically, in July 1616, Mascarenhas became the Inquisitor General of Portugal and compiled a list of authors condemned on religious grounds. Yet today, they are in good shape for their age, on climate-controlled shelves, and accessible to researchers worldwide.

While “ownership” of the books is unresolved, they are safe and secure, Devereux’s fate was worse. The year after donating the books – and before the Bodleian Library opened – he was beheaded for treason.

Libraries and archives were not created or run with the same motivation as those in the modern world, and it is dangerous to draw analogies between these ancient collections and those of today.

Richard Ovenden, Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack

(Originally posted at History of Yesterday)