Alfred Richard Orage Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Alfred Richard Orage 1873-1934

English journalist and literary critic.

The following entry provides criticism on Orage's works from 1926 through 1992.

Orage's career combined economic socialism, religious mysticism and a keen desire to integrate aesthetic norms into daily life. His most important public role was as editor for fifteen years of The New Age, a literary journal that published many of the leading lights of the Edwardian Age—and many of those who would become important literary figures in decades to follow. Orage's fluctuating economic beliefs made him an interesting political figure but left no lasting mark. His emphasis on textual analysis in literary criticism and his persistent attention to style in his own work and that of others earned him a minor place in the history of early twentieth century letters.

Biographical Information

Orage was born on January 22, 1873, in Yorkshire, England. His father died when he was one year old and his mother was forced to support the family by taking in washing. A wealthy local patron sent Orage to a teacher's college, leading him to become a schoolmaster in Leeds. Here Orage joined various intellectual and socialist groups. Orage moved to London in 1906, where he became active in the socialist Fabian Society. Orage sought to convince his fellow Fabians to pay greater attention to aesthetic concerns and, with help from friends, purchased The New Age periodical, turning it into a leading journal of eclectic literary style and economic beliefs. As editor he published work by such leading figures as George Bernard Shaw and Ezra Pound. Orage also published specifically socialist journalism, particularly expositions of the theory of social credit, which demanded government programs to increase workers' purchasing power so that they might be less dependent on their own labor. Orage also published essays on mysticism and his own spiritual leanings influenced much of his work. He resigned as editor in 1922 to become a disciple of the mystic Georgy Gurdjieff in France and New York. He returned to England and in 1932 founded another journal, The New English Weekly, which he ran much as he had The New Age until his death on November 5, 1934.

Major Works

Early in his career Orage published two books interpreting the writing of Friedrich Nietzsche. In 1917 he published an economics primer, An Alphabet of Economics, in an attempt to gain adherents for his socialist views. But Orage was best known during his lifetime for his journalism and literary criticism. Over the fifteen years in which he edited The New Age and the two years he edited The New English Weekly, he produced hundreds of essays on economics, art and literature. Chief collections include Readers and Writers (1917-1921) (1922) and The Art of Reading (1930). Both volumes have the strengths and weaknesses of their genre. They include many engaging essays showing wit, style and at times significant depth of critical understanding, yet contain writings of such short length and journalistic intent that their lasting importance is sometimes open to question. Three posthumous collections, Selected Essays and Critical Writings of A. R. Orage (1935), Political and Economic Writings (1936) and Orage as Critic (1975) give further evidence of Orage's eclectic interests and journalistic style.

Critical Reception

Critical appraisal of Orage’s writings was often intertwined with opinions on his political and social beliefs. In general, adherents to his causes found more substance and value in his works than nonbelievers, who emphasized the limitations of his chosen genre and found Orage’s ideas less persuasive to those not already in agreement with the tenets of socialism. Although his writing is not considered highly relevant in modern times, Orage was quite influential among his contemporaries, including G. K. Chesterton, Ezra Pound, H. G. Wells, and Frank Swinnerton, many of whose works are still of interest in the twenty-first century.