Alfred Richard Orage Essay - Critical Essays

Orage, Alfred Richard


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.

Principal Works

Consciousness: Animal, Human, and Superman (essays) 1907

Friedrich Nietzsche: The Dionysian Spirit of the Age (essays) 1911

An Alphabet of Economics (nonfiction) 1917

Readers and Writers (1917-1921) (essays) 1922

The Art of Reading (essays) 1930

On Love (essays) 1932

Selected Essays and Critical Writings of A. R. Orage (essays) 1935

Political and Economic Writings (essays) 1936

Orage as Critic (essays) 1975


Waldo David Frank (essay date 1926)

SOURCE: Frank, Waldo David. “Mystery in a Sack Suit.” In Time Exposures By Searchlight, pp. 151-56. New York: Boni and Liveright, Inc., 1926.

[In the following excerpt from a book of portraits about cultural figures from the 1920's, Frank presents a colorful image of Orage, a man who “despises the world so well that he is at peace with it.”]

With a bird's-eye view of our City, you will have noticed for the past two years growing numbers of little knots of people scattered about town in comfortable places—very intent, largely silent. Closer, you observed that these groups consisted of editors, wives of Wall Street, professors, novelists, shingled girls, restless business men, artistic youths. Here were true intellectuals who despise Greenwich Village. Here were socially elect who looked down on Park Avenue as a gilded slum. Here indeed were men and women dry and fresh, smart and solemn, rich or merely famous—perpendicular extremes of our extremely perpendicular New York. And now if you looked still closer, you saw that they were listening with passionate concern to a man they call Orage (pronounce it precisely like the French for storm): and that Orage was most intempestuously sitting in an upholstered armchair, smoking a cigarette and cavalierly smiling.

He seems a proverbial schoolboy, slightly damaged by the years, yet on the whole intact—as he sits enwreathed in all those seeking brains and eager eyes. He has a hard body in a tight drab suit. He has hair like a cap drawn close upon his skull. The finger tips are yellow with tobacco. The face is gray with thought. And its prominent part is the nose. The nose is the pinnacle of Orage. Intense brow, willful jaw, keen eyes, ironic mouth—they all converge upon this proboscidean symbol of pertinence and search.

Who is he? and what is he telling the good men and ladies, that they should hearken to him—leaders though they are—with humble rapture? He is propounding a simple, matter-of-fact psychologic method. A method too simple, really, to be written down either by him or by me. So what that Method is, you'll have to find out for yourself. What it does—or claims to do—is nothing less than the whole and utter overturning of everything you live by. All your standards—ethical, religious. All your darlings—historical, artistic. From Æschylus to Bertie Russell, he sweeps them off the table. From Pentateuch to Theosophy, he shows them up. All the world's religions are wrong. All the good intentions are bad. All the truths are lies. All self-improvement is vain. With a most humane smile, Orage blights the claims of humaneness. With valedictory sentiment, wipes sentiment off the slate. With logic swift as a machine, he discredits logic. With courteous manner, drops spiritual bombs into the laps of ladies who adore him.

Oh, ho! you say. Another fanatic? Yes—a most cool and balanced one. Another mystifier? Yes—one whose logical gifts gained him, long years ago, the name of the most dangerous debater in all England. He may be a poisoner of traditional wells; but what sweet venom he drips. He may be a revolutionist; but can you gainsay his classical, scholarly words? Perhaps this is a sect. But if the men and women whom he draws are themselves leaders of men and women?

In London they tried to keep pace with Alfred Richard Orage, and they failed. He came to that Metropolis in 1903, from the hinterlands of Birmingham and Yorkshire. He was thirty, then, and already versed in the mysteries of Socialism, Occultism, Nietzscheanism. He had written books on such timid little subjects as The Dionysian Spirit of the Age, Consciousness: Animal, Human, Superman, An Alphabet of Economics. Now he started a magazine with a name similarly modest (The New Age) and proceeded to midwife, prune, or otherwise direct a good measure of the respectable—and some of the infamous—literary...

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C. Hartley Grattan (review date 11 June 1930)

SOURCE: Grattan, C. Hartley. “The Mahabharata Blues.” The Nation 130, no. 3388 (11 June 1930): 684-86.

[In the following negative review of Orage's The Art of Reading, Grattan finds few ideas of lasting import despite Orage's reputation.]

A. R. Orage has a vast reputation for profundity, and indeed is more than a literary critic in the eyes of his intimates: he is a sage. But I fail to see what it is that so interests our Columbuses of the spirit, for I can find nothing in the man except an Englishman who happens to be a fairly interesting critic. And it would be a gross bit of flattery to say that as a critic he deserves the majuscule.


(The entire section is 969 words.)

F. R. Leavis (review date December 1935)

SOURCE: Leavis, F. R. “The Orage Legend.” Scrutiny 4, no. 3 (December 1935): 319.

[In the following review, Leavis believes that given Orage's powerful influence and literary standing, Selected Essays and Critical Writings of A. R. Orage is disappointing for its lack of originality and critical thinking.]

[Selected Essays and Critical Writings of A. R. Orage] will be opened with some eagerness by those whose acquaintance with the New English Weekly leaves them wondering over the legend of A. R. Orage. They will hope to find some explanation of the influence he is said to have wielded and the enormous impression he appears to have made in...

(The entire section is 386 words.)

Samuel Hynes (essay date 1968)

SOURCE: Hynes, Samuel. “Orage and the New Age.” In Edwardian Occasions: Essays on English Writing in the Early Twentieth Century, pp. 39-47. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1968, Hynes finds that despite Orage's personal failings, he was ultimately a successful editor who published works from some of the most groundbreaking and original thinkers of the day.]

Alfred Orage was a man who, as Shaw observed, ‘did not belong to the successful world’. He was an editor who never ran a profitable paper, a socialist who backed Guild Socialism against the Fabians, an economist who preached Social Credit...

(The entire section is 3457 words.)

Louise Welch (essay date spring 1969)

SOURCE: Welch, Louise. “A. R. Orage.” Gurdjieff International Review 2, no. 3 (spring 1999): 1-2.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1969, Welch details Orage's expertise in a myriad of fields while simultaneously demonstrating the esteem with which he was held by many literary figures of note.]

The brilliant editor of the New Age, regarded by T. S. Eliot as London's best literary critic of his time, abandons his journal and is next heard of cleaning stables in the farmyard of a French chateau. The magnet is a then little-known Greek named Gurdjieff, called by some a mystic and by others a magician. How could that departure from his lifework be...

(The entire section is 1304 words.)

Tom H. Gibbons (essay date 1973)

SOURCE: Gibbons, Tom H. “Art For Evolution's Sake: Alfred Orage.” In Rooms in the Darwin Hotel: Studies in English Literary Criticism and Ideas 1880-1920, pp. 98-126. Nedlands, Australia: University of Western Australia Press, 1973.

[In the following essay, Gibbons charts Orage's flirtations with many radical movements of the early twentieth century: from socialism, vorticism and Fabianism to his ultimate alignment with G. I. Gurdjieff's brand of mysticism.]

Alfred James Orage, familiarly known as Alfred Richard Orage, was born on 22 January 1873, at Dacre in Yorkshire. When his father died soon afterwards, the widow and her four children returned to...

(The entire section is 10072 words.)

Alan Young (review date spring 1976)

SOURCE: Young, Alan. Review of Orage as Critic, edited by Wallace Martin. Critical Quarterly 18, no. 1 (spring 1976): 84-6.

[In the following review of Orage as Critic, edited by Wallace Martin, Young praises Orage's honesty and conviction of belief in his role as a cultural critic.]

A. R. Orage (1873-1934) wrote weekly columns for Keir Hardie's The Labour Leader and for his own reviews The New Age and The New English Weekly. Wallace Martin has edited a selection from this writing [Orage as Critic] so that we may follow Orage's opinions as they developed on a number of important questions about critical attitudes, principles...

(The entire section is 1273 words.)

Michael Coyle (essay date spring 1988)

SOURCE: Coyle, Michael. “A Profounder Didacticism: Ruskin, Orage and Pound's Perception of Social Credit.” Paideuma 17, no. 1 (spring 1988): 7-28.

[In the following essay, Coyle expounds upon Orage's influence in shaping both Ezra Pound's literary career and his socialist views as well as examining the restless intellectual needs of Orage's that drove him from movement to movement.]

Under these circumstances, no designing or any other development of beautiful art will be possible.

—John Ruskin, 1859

So long as the system of competition in the production and exchange of the...

(The entire section is 9046 words.)

Tom Steele (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: Steele, Tom. “1893-1900: Socialism and Mysticism.” In Alfred Orage and the Leeds Arts Club, pp. 25-44. Hants, England: Scolar Press, 1990.

[In the following essay, Steele traces the roots of Orage's early professional and literary influences in attempting to build a explanatory foundation for his later drift towards radical causes.]

Alfred Orage was twenty when he returned to Yorkshire, the county of his birth, in the autumn of 1893. It was the first time since earliest childhood, when on the death of his father his near-penniless mother had returned with him and his sister to the family village of Fenstanton in Huntingdonshire. He had come to Leeds to take...

(The entire section is 8995 words.)

Charles Ferrall (essay date autumn 1992)

SOURCE: Ferrall, Charles. “The New Age and the Emergence of Reactionary Modernism Before the Great War.” Modern Fiction Studies 38, no. 3 (autumn 1992): 653-67.

[In the following essay, Ferrall examines the New Age and Orage's role in shaping both the modernist political fervor and the debate over the cultural role of art that existed prior to World War I.]

It is well known that the New Age played a vital role in the dissemination of literary modernism and post-Impressionist art in Britain before the First World War. Of the three main polemicists of early modernism—T. E. Hulme, Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis—Hulme wrote almost exclusively for...

(The entire section is 6578 words.)

Further Reading


Carswell, John. “The Moon-Girl From Port Elizabeth.” In Lives and Letters: A. R. Orage, Beatrice Hastings, Katherine Mansfield, John Middleton Murry, S. S. Koteliansky, pp. 28-51. New York: New Directions, 1978.

A biographical examination of how Orage came to the New Age and its influence on the era's writers.

Kadlec, David. “Pound, BLAST, and Syndicalism.” ELH 60, no. 4 (winter 1993): 1015-31.

An evaluation of Ezra Pound's efforts in the Syndicalist movement that discusses Orage's role in guiding these struggles.

Mairet, Philip. A. R. Orage: A Memoir....

(The entire section is 256 words.)