Orwell (Magill Book Reviews)
George Orwell, whose real name was Eric Blair, was a walking paradox: a great writer who never wrote an indisputably great novel, a socialist who spent much of his time criticizing socialism, an old Etonian and former officer in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma who renounced his advantages and lived with tramps and down-and-outs, a man who courted failure but achieved fame and success beyond what he could ever have imagined.
Michael Shelden’s biography of this fascinating and very likable man is a major achievement, superior in every way to Bernard Crick’s GEORGE ORWELL: A LIFE (1982) which up to now has been the only complete life of Orwell available. Shelden has done a prodigious amount of research and has turned up new documents and information on every phase of Orwell’s life. The result is a picture of both the man and the work that is insightful, sympathetic, even-handed, and generous in its judgments, Shelden does not bully the facts to advance a particular thesis, but gets inside Orwell’s life and allows it to speak for itself. And it odes so with considerable power. Orwell, although his manner was reserved and his health almost always bad, was a man of passionate commitment and great determination. He as an idealist who never compromised his deepest beliefs, a man of integrity who was prepared to admit it when he was wrong, and, in spite of the gloominess of much of his work (who can forget that nightmare image in 1984 of a boot...
(The entire section is 349 words.)
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Orwell (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
George Orwell, an inveterate and overworked book reviewer, once wrote that most reviewers, if they were honest, would have to begin their reviews with the words, “this book does not interest me in any way, and I would not write about it unless I were paid to.” It would be a rare book reviewer, however, who would say the same of Michael Shelden’s splendid and moving biography of Orwell, which will surely become the standard work for generations to come. It is far more lively, and gets far closer to the humanity of its subject, than the only previous biography that covers the whole of Orwell’s life, one written by Bernard Crick in 1982.
Crick, a professor of political science, subordinated the private life to the public one, content to trace the story of how Orwell’s books and journalism came to be written and published. Shelden has gone much further than this and has given a picture of both the man and the work that is insightful, sympathetic, evenhanded, and generous in its judgments.
One of the outstanding features of the book is Shelden’s meticulous research. He has managed to track down a number of people who knew Orwell at different stages of his life and who have not been contacted by earlier biographers. They include two friends from Orwell’s childhood, two men who served with him in Burma, a former girlfriend from the 1930’s, a former pupil at the school where Orwell taught, a former employee of the bookstore where he...
(The entire section is 2066 words.)