15 December 1948
My1 reaction to a book which has been highly praised by someone else in this office is liable to be highly critical. It was in a fault-finding mood, in consequence, that I approached the new Orwell, which perhaps lends additional force to my statement that if we can’t sell fifteen to twenty thousand copies of this book we ought to be shot.
In emotive power and craftsmanship this novel towers above the average. Orwell has done what Wells never did, created a fantasy world which yet is horribly real so that you mind what happens to the characters which inhabit it. He also has written political passages which will set everyone talking and an extremely exciting story—the arrest is superbly done; the mounting suspense in Part II is perhaps more nerve-racking even than the horrors of Part III; as for those horrors, I believe they are so well-written that, far from being put off, the public will gobble them up. In fact the only people likely to dislike “1984” are a narrow clique of highbrows!
“1984” might well do for Orwell what ‘The Heart of the Matter’ did for Graham Greene (it’s a much better book) — establish him as a real bestseller. I know that Heinemann went all out on the latter, appealing to booksellers and critics alike to back up their 50,000 printing. We obviously can’t print 50,000, but I think we ought in the next month or so to consider whether 15,000 ought not to be a minimum printing,2 for not only do I believe in Orwell’s book, I feel that with Orwell’s name and our recently won fresh prestige in the fiction field we can achieve a very large subscription and a spate of publication-week reviews.
1. David Farrer joined Secker & Warburg in November 1946 and was described by Fredric Warburg as ‘a key executive,’ shrewd and practical.
2. In fact, Secker & Warburg printed 26,575 copies on 8 June 1949 and a further 15,695 copies in that year.