T. S. Eliot and Animal Farm

So T. S. Eliot, when he was a senior editor at Faber & Faber, turned down Orwell’s Animal Farm:

It is regularly voted one of the best books of all time, a timeless piece of satire which has never gone out of print in the 64 years since it was first published. But when George Orwell sent Animal Farm to TS Eliot for consideration, the poet - then a director of Faber and Faber - rejected it as “unconvincing”.

In a letter from 1944 explaining why he would not be publishing the work, Eliot told Orwell that he was not persuaded by the “Trotskyite” politics which underpin the narrative. To publish such an anti-Russian novel would jar in the contemporary political climate, explained the poet.

“We have no conviction ... that this is the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation at the present time. It is certainly the duty of any publishing firm which pretends to other interests and motives other than mere commercial prosperity to publish books which go against the current of the moment,” wrote Eliot, before going on to say that he was not convinced that “this is the thing that needs saying at the moment.”

The Guardian article assumes that Eliot is using the royal “we” here and that the decision was wholly his own, but that’s not certain. It seems likely, though, given Eliot’s stature in the company at this time.

What’s odd is that Eliot’s (or the firm’s) complaints are wholly political. “We agree,” he writes, “that it is a distinguished piece of writing; that the fable is very skillfully handled, and that the narrative keeps one's interest on its own plane - and that is something very few authors have achieved since Gulliver.” Wouldn't that be grounds for publication? Apparently not, for Eliot says that the editors believe that Orwell’s political “view, which I take to be Trotskyite, is not convincing.” (Eliot took wrongly, by the way: Orwell was not a Communist of any variety but a democratic Socialist.) The concern seems to have been not to alienate a vital ally in what was obviously the endgame of the war in Europe. Was there any pressure from the government in these matters?

In any event, Faber didn't exactly cover itself in glory with this decision. Every publishing company has its wince-inducing list of unwise rejections — you could make a book out of them — but I bet Eliot got some teasing about this one. Well, if anyone ever actually teased T. S. Eliot.