‘Rethinking George Orwell: New Letters by a Major Author’ with Dr. Nathan Waddell – by Grace Davis

Published: Posted on

My name is Grace Davis and I am an English and Creative Writing student going into my final year, and this summer, I undertook the Collaborative Research Internship. The project I was working on was entitled, ‘Rethinking George Orwell: New Letters by a Major Author’ and was led by Dr Nathan Waddell. I wasn’t alone in this project though, as I worked with two other students, and we were given the opportunity to transcribe and annotate a newly-found batch of letters written by George Orwell himself.

The letters were written to his friends (though perhaps Orwell wanted it to be more) Brenda Salkeld and Eleanor Jacques from around 1931 to 1949, just before his untimely death in 1950. Our task, with the support and guidance from Dr Waddell, was to meticulously transcribe these letters, taking great care and time to decipher Orwell’s (at times, unreadable) handwriting. Taking a selection of letters each, we went through every handwritten and typed letter, transcribing each scribble, cross-out and idiosyncrasy. We then had to annotate a selection of letters that we had transcribed, making note of any interesting references to Orwell’s life, work or history, from names of papers, friends, politicians, places, writings and more.

I had no previous experience in academic research, but I was pleasantly surprised by how rewarding it was, and how easily you can immerse yourself with a small corner of the literary and historic world. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about George Orwell from a very unique and personal perspective, and finding out about his life before he was the famed writer that people think of him nowadays. As a writer who had interested me for a few years, it was exciting to explore the grumpy, nature-loving, albeit misogynistic, Eric Blair who stood behind Animal Farm and 1984.

What I did find challenging, though, was being able to align my student work with the academic tasks that were being asked of me. It was a challenge, but one I found rewarding, to be able to think from the perspective of someone writing the critical resources that I have constantly read in my career as a student. It was satisfying, however, linking up information and references across Orwell’s letters and taking the time to accurately transcribe the letters in Orwell’s voice.

Overall, I found my experience with the CRI very interesting, eye-opening and rewarding. I enjoyed working with the other girls and with Nathan Waddell to work through parts of the letters we found challenging, and having discussions about parts of the letters we found thought merited further research.

Grace Davis, BA English and Creative Writing