T.S. Eliot on the need for more ‘public-spirited pigs’

I guess it’s OK to quote this whole thing, since the WSJ was quoting it from somewhere else. This is the Journal’s “Notable and Quotable” item from yesterday:

From the Guardian (U.K.) online, “ ‘It needs more public-spirited pigs’:TS Eliot’s rejection of Orwell’s Animal Farm,” May 26:

Addressing the author as “Dear Orwell”, Eliot, then a director at publishing firm Faber & Faber, writes on 13 July 1944 that the publisher will not be acquiring Animal Farm for publication. Eliot described its strengths: “We agree that it is a distinguished piece of writing; that the fable is very skilfully handled, and that the narrative keeps one’s interest on its own plane—and that is something very few authors have achieved since Gulliver.” . . .



“I think my own dissatisfaction with this apologue is that the effect is simply one of negation. It ought to excite some sympathy with what the author wants, as well as sympathy with his objections to something: and the positive point of view, which I take to be generally Trotskyite, is not convincing,” wrote Eliot to Orwell. “And after all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm—in fact, there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.”

6 thoughts on “T.S. Eliot on the need for more ‘public-spirited pigs’

  1. David Carlton

    Wow–a fascinating letter. The one thing that most strikes me is Eliot’s thoroughgoing elitism. Of course pigs should rule! The only problem is that they aren’t ruling responsibly! Hmmm–sounds familiar, but I can’t quite place where I’ve heard a similar sentiment.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, of course the more able animals should run things. It’s just that these were awful pigs. 🙂

      Ability counts. So does character.

      So Eliot had a point in yearning for better pigs.

      But he was wrong to reject the book….

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Speaking of elitism… I like that Eliot used the word “apologue.”

        That forced me to look it up, and I found that it was perfect. It’s as though the word had been coined specifically to describe Animal Farm

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        And while I did say Eliot was wrong to reject the book…

        I don’t like it nearly as much as 1984.

        Maybe that’s because I read Animal Farm in junior high and with a complete lack of understanding of the historical references. In fact, that English class may have been the first time I ever heard Lenin and Stalin — certainly the first I knew of Trotsky. My understanding at the time went about this deep: This is about communism, and while communism might sound good to a lot of people at first blush, it’s a false promise that betrays the innocent believers. In other words, a fairly simplistic reading by a kid growing up in the Cold War, and fully persuaded by the American side of the argument.

        If I had liked it a little more, I might have been motivated to read it again later, when I might have had a more complex understanding of it. But I didn’t, and I wasn’t.

        On the other hand, I’ve read 1984 several times, and have enjoyed it much more in maturity than I did as a kid…

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