George Orwell Essays on Literature and Language

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Essays on Literature and Language

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Orwell’s views on censorship crystalized during World War II and bore fruit in his writings immediately afterward. In “The Prevention of Literature,” an essay he published in January, 1946, he noted that intellectual liberty in England was under attack from three sources: totalitarians, monopolies (primarily radio and film), and bureaucracies. By the latter he meant particularly the Ministry of Information and the British Council, which employed or financially aided writers, while assuming that the writers could have their opinions dictated to them. The particular focus of Orwell’s essay, however, was on the intellectuals who should be the most vigorous in their defense of individual integrity, but who were not speaking out. He had in mind left-wing writers and intellectuals who had convinced themselves that it was not even desirable to tell the truth about certain contemporary events—usually anything that might put the Soviet Union in a negative light. They had accepted a kind of self-censorship, tacitly agreeing to put preservation of ideologies—the depravity of which they had not comprehended—before the need for objective truth.

Orwell had long been concerned about the nature of political writing. In his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” he claimed that political language had deteriorated to the point that it consisted mainly of euphemisms designed to draw veils over the real nature of events. Such language is heavy in abstractions so that unpleasant things may be said and events and actions may be described without any mental pictures accompanying them. Lies are made to sound truthful and murder respectable. This amounts to censorship through a kind of creeping bureaucratese.