George Orwell's1984 is the classic of classics. One of the most celebrated book in the English canon that speaks and sells powerfully to this day. Yes 1984 is a classic. Yet for Orwell, the writing of it was most testing. Early drafts were seen by Orwell as "ghastly" and "dreadful" messes. While writing 1984 in May 1947, Orwell wrote to his publisher Fred Warburg:
"Of course the rough draft is always a ghastly mess bearing little relation to the finished result, but all the same it is the main part of the job."
Later, in October 1947, he said:
"A most dreadful mess and about two-thirds of it will have to be retyped entirely".
After heavy illness with TB he said to his publisher in October 1948:
"I am just struggling with the last stages of this bloody book [which is] about the possible state of affairs if the atomic war isn't conclusive."
By 30 November 1948 it was almost complete. He described it as "unbelievably bad". He said: "I am not pleased with the book but I am not absolutely dissatisfied... I think it is a good idea but the execution would have been better if I had not written it under the influence of TB."
He did get "that bloody book'" finished, and it finished as a masterpiece. Yet he continued to be downcast post-final edit, calling it "a good idea ruined". He wrote, "I ballsed it up rather, partly owing to being so ill while I was writing it."
1984 was published on 8 June 1949 (five days later in the US) and on the famous line, "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen" Robert McCrum said:
"Sixty years after the publication of Orwell's masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, that crystal first line sounds as natural and compelling as ever. But when you see the original manuscript, you find something else: not so much the ringing clarity, more the obsessive rewriting, in different inks, that betrays the extraordinary turmoil behind its composition."
The idea for Nineteen Eighty-Four, alternatively, "The Last Man in Europe", had been incubating in Orwell's mind since the Spanish civil war. He wrote in Why I Write:
"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist or [sic] understand. For all one knows that demon is the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's personality."