Letter to Fredric Warburg regarding Zamyatin’s dystopian novel “We” (30 March 1949)

Cranham, Gloucester

30 March 1949

Dear Fred,

First UK edition (1970) of Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel "We"

First UK edition (1970) of Zamyatin’s dystopian novel “We”

Thanks for your letter.1 I read “We” about a couple of years ago & don’t think I particularly want the galleys. I didn’t wish to force it on you, & I merely thought it might be worth your while & at any rate ought to be re-issued by somebody. Certainly it has faults, but it seems to me to form an interesting link in the chain of Utopia books. On the one hand it debunks the super-rational, hedonistic type of Utopia (I think Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” must be plagiarised from it to some extent), but on the other hand it takes account of the diabolism & the tendency to return to an earlier form of civilization which seem to be part of totalitarianism. It seems to me a good book in the same way as “The Iron Heel”, but better written. But of course there’s no knowing whether it would sell & I have no wish to land you with a white elephant. I just think somebody ought to print it & that it is disgraceful that a book of this kind, with its curious history as well as its intrinsic interest, should stay out of print when so much rubbish is published every day.

I have been rather poorly & have been having “haemoptyses”.2 That is why I have written this by hand. They have forbidden me to use my typewriter for a week, as it is supposed to tire me. Please give everyone my love.

Yours
George

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Notes:

  1. Gleb Struve had written to Orwell on 1 January 1949 from Berkeley, California (where he was teaching), explaining that John Westhouse Ltd, the publishing house which was to bring out Zamyatin’s We, was in the hands of liquidators. Various amounts were unpaid, though Madame Zamyatin (in Paris) had received an advance of £25. Struve asked Orwell whether he had heard anything from Warburg. On 26 January 1949, Warburg wrote to Struve. Some two months earlier, Orwell had spoken to Warburg about the problems associated with the publishing of We, and Warburg had obtained from the liquidators an assurance that he could see the proofs with a view to taking over from Westhouse. In the third week of January, Orwell had shown him Struve’s letter of 1 January, and Warburg then assured Struve that he was keenly interested in publishing We. Struve, who was then at Harvard as a visiting lecturer, wrote to Warburg on 22 February. He explained that the translation into English had been unsatisfactory but on his recommendation it had been revised and he thought it would now be accurate. He remarked that ‘Mr. Frost’s translation [as revised by Mr. Sieff] is better than the awful American translation which appeared in 1925 and the knowledge of which the American publisher (Dutton) now seems to deny.’ Warburg replied on 8 March, telling Struve that the liquidators ‘hope in the near future to put the whole question of Zamyatin’s book before us.’
  2. Spitting blood from the lungs.

See also: George Orwell’s 1946 review of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We”

Source: CW20-3583

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