Aug 11, 2008, 06:03AM

Orwell's Herbaceous Border

George Orwell's famous for teaching us that animals don't understand the principles of socialism and that we shouldn't trust Big Brother. But in between writing prescient, cutting books on government he had time for the prosaic moments in life. We can now read up on his epic battles with garden snakes, thanks to his diary entries. The Orwell Prize is publishing one a day, and they just started last week.

Caught a large snake in the herbaceous border beside the drive. About 2’ 6” long, grey colour, black markings on belly but none on back except, on the neck, a mark resembling an arrow head (ñ) all down the back. Did not care to handle it too recklessly, so only picked it up by extreme tip of tail. Held thus it could nearly turn far enough to bite my hand, but not quite. Marx¹ interested at first, but after smelling it was frightened & ran away. The people here normally kill all snakes. As usual, the tongue referred to as “fangs”².


Notes by Peter Davison, from the Complete Works:

¹The Orwells’ dog.

²It was an ancient belief that a poisonous snake injects its poison by means of a forked tongue and not, as is the case, through two fangs. So Shakespeare in Richard II, 3.20 – 22.

            Guard it, I pray thee, with a lurking adder

            Whose double tongue may with a mortal touch

            Throw death upon thy sovereign’s enemies.


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