George Orwell is remembered as one of the greatest political novelists of the 20th century. But, while titles including Animal Farm and 1984 have been widely recognised as masterpieces, one of Orwell’s offerings failed to replicate their success. The composition in question? A recipe for orange marmalade.
Following the Second World War, Orwell was invited to write an essay about British food for overseas readers. The British Council, which aims to improve knowledge and understanding between the UK and other countries, commissioned the piece in 1946 to promote Britain’s culture abroad.
‘Bad recipe’ “In Defence of English Cooking” featured Orwell’s recipes for treacle tart, Christmas pudding, and orange marmalade – the last of which prompted the British Council editor to note: “Bad recipe! – too much sugar and water!”
The council declined to publish his piece, a rejection which apparently left Orwell stewing. In an essay on writing for a living for the literary magazine Horizon, published several months later, he wrote:
“The effort is too much to make if one has already squandered one’s energies on semi-creative work such as teaching, broadcasting or composing propaganda for bodies such as the British Council.”
Orwell vindicated Now, 72 years after Orwell’s essay was rejected, the British Council has apologised for the snub. Alasdair Donaldson, its senior policy analyst, said: “It seems that the organisation in those days was somewhat po-faced and risk-averse, and was anxious to avoid producing an essay about food in the aftermath of the hungry winter of 1945.”
He added: “Over 70 years later, the British Council is delighted to make amends for its slight on perhaps the UK’s greatest political writer of the 20th century, by reproducing the original essay in full – along with the unfortunate rejection letter.”
Opinion divided In the letter, Orwell’s editor apologises for the “stupid situation”, and describes the essay as “excellent” apart from “one or two minor criticisms”. Commenting on the essay this week, Mr Donaldson said: “When people overseas talk about the cultural assets of the United Kingdom, its cuisine tends to come fairly low down on a list that is dominated by education, arts, science, music and more.
“But despite this, Orwell mounts a sturdy defence of our cooking – and food is one of the best ways in which different world cultures can exchange traditions to learn from and appreciate each other.” He added: “Orwell was one of the finest minds on politics and the English language – but opinions are divided on his orange marmalade.”