- 15.2.36 – Wigan Pier diary entry
- Two Orwell Prize winners on fact and fiction in reportage: Neal Ascherson – Ryszard Kapuściński was a great story-teller, not a liar (The Guardian) and Timothy Garton Ash – Bearing witness is a sacred trust (The Guardian)
- David McKie: When fact is really fiction (The Guardian)
The train bore me away, through the monstrous scenery of slag-heaps, chimneys, piled scrap-iron, foul canals, paths of cindery mud criss-crossed by the prints of clogs. This was March, but the weather had been horribly cold and everywhere there were mounds of blackened snow. As we moved slowly through the outskirts of the town we passed row after row of little grey slum houses running at right angles to the embankment. At the back of one of the houses a young woman was kneeling on the stones, poking a stick up the leaden waste-pipe which ran from the sink inside and which I suppose was blocked. I had time to see everything about her – her sacking apron, her clumsy clogs, her arms reddened by the cold. She looked up as the train passed, and I was almost near enough to catch her eye. She had a round pale face, the usual exhausted face of the slum girl who is twenty-five and looks forty, thanks to miscarriages and drudgery; and it wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate, hopeless expression I have ever seen. It struck me then that we are mistaken when we say that ‘It isn’t the same for them as it would be for us’, and that people bred in the slums can imagine nothing but the slums. For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal. She knew well enough what was happening to her – understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold, on the slimy stones of a slum backyard, poking a stick up a foul drain-pipe.
But quite soon the train drew away into open country, and that seemed strange, almost unnatural, as though the open country had been a kind of park; for in the industrial areas one always feels that the smoke and filth must go on forever and that no part of the earth’s surface can escape them. In a crowded, dirty little country like ours one takes defilement almost for granted. Slag-heaps and chimneys seem a more normal, probable landscape than grass and trees, and even in the depths of the country when you drive your fork into the ground you half expect to lever up a broken bottle or a rusty can. But out here the snow was untrodden and lay so deep that only the tops of the stone boundary-walls were showing, winding over the hills like black paths. I remembered that D. H. Lawrence, writing of this same landscape or another nearby, said that the snow-covered hills rippled away into the distance ‘like muscle’. It was not the simile that would have occurred to me. To my eye the snow and the black walls were more like a white dress with black piping running across it.
Extract from Chapter 1 of The Road to Wigan Pier.
The contrast between the two passages will be apparent. In the Diary, Orwell is on foot when passing the squalid side-alley. When the young women looks up and catches Orwell’s eye there is an obvious immediacy. In the book, Orwell is at a distance, in a train, looking through a window and being drawn away from the young women at the waste-pipe: there is a distancing effect emphasised by Orwell’s ‘I was almost near enough to catch her eye’. Peter Davison, from George Orwell: Diaries (pp. 35-6).