Fair highlight from Lucius Books
‘Private school teachers had to commit such jolly atrocities to keep their jobs'
Orwell, George [pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair]. KING CHARLES II. Typescript of an Unpublished School Play. 1932
Typescript comprising two sections: first, three pages of carbon copy with Orwell's autograph pencil side-notes recording sound effects, the name 'Geoffrey' written twice in red crayon; second, twelve roneograph pages with some pencil markings probably in the hand of one of the boy actors [Geoffrey Stevens], 15 pages, folio and 4to, spindle holes, some slight wear and creasing, marginal fraying at outer leaves, final leaf torn and reinforced; together with an original photograph of Orwell and his school at this time, mounted and labelled. Housed in a purpose made quarter black morocco solander box.
Provenance: Geoffrey Stevens; sold Sothebys, London Dec. 15th 1988; Private Collection.
This short historical play, which is written partly in blank verse, was composed by the twenty-nine-year-old Eric Blair when he was headmaster at the Hawthorns High School for Boys in Hayes, Middlesex, a small private school having little more than a dozen pupils (as the accompanying photograph shows). It was performed as the school's Christmas play at St Mary's Church Hall in Hayes in 1932. This was in a period when Orwell had finished Down and Out in Paris and London (or Days in London and Paris, as it was originally titled) and was looking for a publisher. He was working on Burmese Days and had only sought the job at Hawthorns because he needed an income.
Fed up with his job and his lack of disposable income, he then spent the best part of a term writing and rehearsing a school play for the boys to perform. With dramatic speeches, noisy altercations involving stocks and pikes, unlikely coincidences and some very theatrical dialogue, it is little wonder that Geoffrey Stevens, one of the boys who performed in the play, enjoyed the experience considerably more than Orwell himself, who referred to it in a letter to Eleanor Jacques on 19 October as 'a mucky play the boys are to act later'. By 18 November he could record: 'I have had to write & produce a play- am now in the throes of rehearsing it- & what is worst of all, have had to make most of the suits of armour etc. for the boys to act it. For the last few weeks I have been suffering untold agonies with glue & brown paper etc.' (Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, 1968, I, 102-105). Geoffrey Stevens, whose copy this is, remembers the undertaking more fondly: 'The performance lasted only half an hour, but we spent hours in preparation, finding props, constructing the scenery etc., all of which he [Orwell] supervised closely. It was ambitious... He arranged for plywood doors on either side to have saw cuts made in them so that Cromwell's men could break them open with their pikes. It worked perfectly and made a great crashing noise coming down.' (Orwell, The Authorised Biography, Michael Shelden, 1991, p172.)
Orwell was seldom pleased with his work and destroyed the majority of his manuscripts. This play remains unpublished, and this is the sole known copy.