Animal Farm is an allegorical novella by George Orwell published in England on 17 August 1945. According to Orwell the book reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917, and then on into the Stalin era in the Soviet Union. Orwell, a democratic socialist, was a critic of Joseph Stalin and hostile to Moscow-directed Stalinism, especially after his experiences with the NKVD and the Spanish Civil War. The Soviet Union he believed, had become a brutal dictatorship, built upon a cult of personality and enforced by a reign of terror. In a letter to Yvonne Davet, Orwell described Animal Farm as his novel “contre Stalin” and in his essay of 1946, Why I Write, he wrote that Animal Farm was the first book in which he had tried, with full consciousness of what he was doing, “to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole”. The original title was Animal Farm: A Fairy Story, but the subtitle was dropped by U.S. publishers for its 1946 publication and subsequently all but one of the translations during Orwell’s lifetime omitted the addition.
Other variations in the title include: A Satire and A Contemporary Satire. Orwell suggested the title Union des républiques socialistes animales for the French translation, which recalled the French name of the Soviet Union, Union des républiques socialistes soviétiques, and which abbreviates to URSA, the Latin for “bear”, a symbol of Russia. It was written at a time (November 1943-February 1944) when the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union was at its height and Stalin was held in highest esteem in Britain both among the people and intelligentsia, a fact that Orwell hated. It was initially rejected by a number of British and American publishers, including one of Orwell’s own, Victor Gollancz. Its publication was thus delayed, though it became a great commercial success when it did finally appear—in part because the Cold War so quickly followed WW2.
Time magazine chose the book as one of the 100 best English-language novels (1923 to 2005); it also places at number 31 on the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Novels. It won a Retrospective Hugo Award in 1996 and is also included in the Great Books of the Western World. The novel addresses not only the corruption of the revolution by its leaders but also how wickedness, indifference, ignorance, greed and myopia corrupt the revolution. It portrays corrupt leadership as the flaw in revolution, rather than the act of revolution itself. It also shows how potential ignorance and indifference to problems within a revolution could allow horrors to happen if a smooth transition to a people’s government is not achieved.