In the middle of last year, I began hunting down second-hand copies of The Complete Works of George Orwell. I use the word copies advisedly, because the complete Orwell consists of twenty tomes: nine novels and eleven volumes of collected letters, essays, journalism and fascinatingly varied jottings.
Twenty volumes. Over eight thousand, five hundred pages in total. And the fruit of seventeen years of hard graft by its editor, Peter Davison.
Orwell’s literary output is a perpetual astonishment to me: eight thousand, five hundred pages of writings and this from a man whose last decade was a constant struggle with ill health: a man who didn’t even reach the age of fifty.
I have at this point tracked down four of the Secker and Warburg paperbacks. They are formidable looking books: sternly navy blue, as upright as guardsmen and each the size of a breeze-block. It’s my aim to get volumes ten to twenty before I look into the novels. Because I’m completely insane, of course, I’m not going to buy any of them new. The thrill of the second-hand chase is what I’m after here (I know, I know… I can’t help it though. I’ve been told that my bibliomania is untreatable anyway). One of my volumes has come from Berlin, two from London and the other from (of all places) Perth.
Judging by the prices (including postage) that I’ve paid so far, it looks like the whole set will end up costing me over eleven hundred dollars. But we’re talking Orwell’s prose, here: so that’s peanuts.
It’s been a while since I’ve invested in another, and this is mostly because browsing through the four I’ve got so far is so fascinating. There seems to have been little that Orwell didn’t write on at some point in his career. Politics (naturally), book reviews, theatre reviews, film reviews, polemics and Op. Eds., ideas for training the Home Guard…
Davison has also included Orwell’s diary entries, his payment records, his sketches of his garden… if Orwell put a pen to paper, Davison found that paper and wrestled it into strict chronological place amongst all the rest.
It’ll probably take me years to track down every last one, but then we all need a hobby, no?
And The Complete Works of George Orwell gets me thinking: is there another author I’d buy the complete works of?
Well, readers of this blog won’t be surprised to hear me nominate Clive James, Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie immediately.
But how about you? Is there an author you like so much you’d read every word they ever wrote?