Today’s book is one of the gems of the Left Book Club series of publications, probably one of the only books produced by the club that is still widely read today. George Orwell, the English essayist and socialist writer, wrote ‘Wigan Pier’ after a long journey and experiential visit of working class housing and workplaces in the north of England during the 1930s. His publisher at the time was Victor Gollancz, the man who published the Left Book Club, and who was also one of the three selectors, hence why Orwell had this book published by them. It was not to be a long standing relationship, however.
The book itself is in good condition, in traditional early LBC orange/red softcover. It dates from 1937, although the text was written before then; when the book was published, Orwell was in Spain, fighting in the civil war. We can also tell the owner of the book; there is a rather fantastic signature of a Cyril E Iles.
‘Wigan Pier’ was the only Orwell book ever printed by the Left Book Club; despite Orwell’s long standing relationship with Gollancz, his book on the Spanish Civil War, ‘Homage to Catalonia’, disagreed with the LBC pro-Soviet position, and ‘Animal Farm’ famously went against Gollancz’s Stalinist motivations. ‘Wigan Pier’ itself was controversial; the book, written in two parts, begins with a pretty standard account of poor living and working conditions, and then goes into a damning attack on the left wing of politics of the day, of which the LBC were obviously a part. In fact, so aggressive was the attack in places (including a vicious description of John Strachey’s writing style, which was perhaps a little poorly judged considering Strachey’s place on the selector’s board) that Gollancz placed an introduction at the start of the book, stating that he did not agree with Orwell on many things, and even attacking some of Orwell’s arguments.
After publication, and the subsequent anger expressed by much of the LBC readership, Gollancz gave into pressure and removed the second half of the book from the second edition, which was made easier by Orwell not being able to complain because he was in Spain, and also because, due to the book’s printing as an LBC publication, it had become his best-selling book to date, and therefore a major source of income. However, the second edition did not sell many copies, and much of the stock was later destroyed in a German bombing raid during WWII, making it much much rarer; ‘Wigan Pier’ is almost unique in the book world in that respect, in that the first edition is worth considerably less than the second.