Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2495
Special Commissioned Entry on George Orwell
See also Animal Farm Criticism and 1984 Criticism.
The following chronology provides an overview of Orwell's life and writing career. In-depth explication of these subjects is presented in the “Criticism” section of this entry.
1857: Richard Blair is born in Milborne St. Andrew, Dorset, England, the youngest of ten children of a village vicar.
1875: Ida Limouzin, the daughter of a French father and English mother, is born in the London suburb of Penge but is raised in Moulmein, Burma.
1896: Richard Blair, an official in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service, marries Ida Limouzin.
1898: Eric Blair's older sister, Marjorie, is born on 21 April.
1903: Eric Blair is born in Motihari, Bengal, India, on 25 June.
1904: Ida Blair moves to England with Eric and Marjorie, settling in Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire.
1908: Eric Blair's younger sister, Avril, is born on 6 April.
1911: Richard Blair retires from the Indian Civil Service and joins his family in England. Eric attends St. Cyprian's School, outside Eastbourne in Sussex, on a scholarship.
1914: Eric Blair's first published poem, “Awake! Young Men of England,” appears in the 2 October issue of the Henley and South Oxfordshire Standard.
1916: Eric Blair publishes a second patriotic poem, “Kitchener,” in the 21 July Henley and South Oxfordshire Standard.
1917: In May, Eric Blair enters the elite public school Eton College on a scholarship. In September, Richard Blair joins the Royal Army as a second lieutenant and is put in charge of mules in a camp near Marseilles, France. Ida Blair takes a clerical job with the Ministry of Pensions and moves with her older daughter, Marjorie, to Earls Court, London.
1921: In December, Eric Blair leaves Eton, placing 138th out of 167 students in the final-year examinations. That same month, his parents move to Southwold in Essex.
1922: In June, Blair takes the week long examinations for entry into the Imperial Police of the India Office.
1922: On 27 October, Blair sails for Rangoon, Burma, as a probationary assistant district superintendent of police. In November he attends training school in Mandalay.
1924: In January, Blair takes up his first provincial post in Myaungmya, eighty miles west of Rangoon. In the spring he moves to Twante, twelve miles from Rangoon.
1925: Blair is posted in January to Syriam, ten miles from Rangoon, and put in charge of security at a refinery of the Burmah Oil Company. In October he becomes an assistant superintendent at the large police headquarters in Insein, ten miles north of Rangoon.
1926: Blair moves in April to Moulmein, the third-largest city in Burma. In December he takes up his last post, at Katha, in the jungle of Upper Burma.
1927: In July, Blair resigns from the Imperial Police, leaving the service early on unspecified medical grounds. The following winter he goes “down and out” in the East End of London and then begins “tramping” about the city.
1928: Blair moves in the spring to Paris, living in a cheap hotel at 6 rue du Pot de Fer in the Latin Quarter. On 6 October his first published article, “La Censure en Angleterre,” appears in the newspaper Le Monde. His first English-language publication, “A Farthing Newspaper,” appears in the 29 December issue of G. K. Chesterton's G. K.'s Weekly. The first part of a three-part series on the unemployment situation in England is published in Le Progrès civique, also on 29 December.
1929: Early in the year the concluding parts of Blair's series on unemployment, as well as another on the British presence in Burma, are published in Le Progrès civique. From April to June the McClure Newspaper Syndicate rejects three of his short stories. In August, Blair submits a version of “The Spike,” based on his tramping in London, to The New Adelphi. In the fall, after the theft of almost all his money, he pawns his good clothes and takes a job doing menial work in the kitchen of a Paris hotel. Blair leaves Paris in December for his parents' home in Southwold, Essex, and works as a caregiver and tutor.
1930: In the spring Blair publishes his first book review, of Lewis Mumford's biography Herman Melville (1929), for The New Adelphi. In April, Blair resumes his tramping, both in London and in the counties of Kent, Bedfordshire, Essex, and Suffolk. He finishes “A Scullion's Diary,” the first version of the Paris section of Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), in October.
1931: In April The Adelphi (the magazine reverted to its original name in October 1930) publishes “The Spike,” portions of which are revised for inclusion in Down and Out in Paris and London. In August and September, Blair tramps from London to the hop fields of Kent. His article “Hop-picking” is published in the 17 October edition of The New Statesman and Nation. Late in the year, Blair hesitantly asks Leonard Moore of the literary agency Christy and Moore to represent him, but Moore is put off by the cool tone of his letters. In December, Blair goes “down and out” in the East End of London a final time, attempting for several days to be arrested and imprisoned by drinking in public and violating the Vagrancy Act. His essay about this experience, “The Clink,” is never published. Also in December, Blair moves from Paddington to cheap housing in Westminster, south of the Thames.
1932: After Jonathan Cape's rejection of the original version of “A Scullion's Diary,” Blair expands the manuscript by adding the section devoted to his tramping in England, but Cape and then Faber and Faber (represented by T. S. Eliot) reject this revised text. In April, Blair takes up a teaching post at the Hawthorns, a school in Hayes, Middlesex, northwest of London. That same month, after a friend of Blair's takes the manuscript of the book on Paris and London to Moore, the agent agrees to contact publishers. In June a reader for Victor Gollancz recommends Blair's “Days in London and Paris” for publication but warns of possible problems with charges of obscenity, blasphemy, and libel. Blair begins to court Eleanor Jaques, a friend from Southwold, but she eventually marries another Southwold friend of Blair's, Dennis Collings.
1933: On 9 January Down and Out in Paris and London (a compromise title between Blair's choice, “The Confessions of a Dishwasher,” and Gollancz's, “The Confessions of a Down and Out”) is published under Blair's pseudonym, George Orwell. In March, an untitled poem by Orwell (as Blair) on pessimism and faith appears in The Adelphi. In June, Harper publishes Down and Out in Paris and London in the United States. Two more untitled poems by Orwell (as Blair) are published in The Adelphi this year. He completes the revised manuscript of Burmese Days (1934) in December. That same month, Orwell develops pneumonia, the first of his protracted battles with lung problems, after a motorcycle ride in an icy storm; he recovers in Southwold.
1934: Early in the year Heinemann and Gollancz turn down Burmese Days, fearing charges of libel, but Harper signs a contract to publish the book in the United States. In April a poem by Orwell (as Blair), “On a Ruined Farm near the His Master's Voice Gramophone Factory,” is published in The Adelphi; it is subsequently included in The Best Poems of 1934. Orwell completes the manuscript of A Clergyman's Daughter (1935) on 3 October. Later in the month he takes a job and lodgings at Booklovers' Corner, a bookshop in Hampstead, London. Harper publishes the U.S. edition of Burmese Days on 25 October.
1935: Gollancz publishes A Clergyman's Daughter on 11 March. That spring, Orwell meets Eileen O'Shaughnessy, a graduate student in psychology at University College, London. On 24 June, Gollancz publishes Burmese Days, with changes to the characters' names. Orwell begins a regular column of book reviews for The New English Weekly in August. That same month, he moves into an apartment with two other writers, Michael Sayers and Rayner Heppenstall, in the Camden area of north London.
1936: In January, Orwell submits the manuscript of Keep the Aspidistra Flying to Gollancz, and the firm commissions him to write a book about economic conditions in northern England. He leaves his job at the bookshop and, from 31 January to 30 March, travels throughout the West Midlands, Lancashire, and Yorkshire. On 1 April, Orwell moves to a cottage in Wallington, Hertfordshire. Keep the Aspidistra Flying is published by Gollancz on 20 April. Orwell and Eileen O'Shaughnessy are married in Wallington on 9 June. In August, Harper publishes A Clergyman's Daughter in the United States, and Orwell attends and speaks at the Adelphi summer school. He delivers the manuscript of The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) to Gollancz on 15 December. On 23 December he leaves London for Spain and joins the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista, POUM).
1937: In January, Orwell's unit arrives at the front in Aragon; it soon joins the siege of Huesca. His wife travels in February to Barcelona to work for the office of the International Labour Party. In March The Road to Wigan Pier is published in an edition of 43,690 copies for the Left Book Club. On 3 May, while Orwell is on leave, civil conflict between government forces and others on the left breaks out in Barcelona. Seven days later he returns to the front line with the POUM militia. On 20 May Orwell is shot in the neck by a sniper, the bullet passing only an inch from his carotid artery. He is discharged from the militia in June; he, Eileen, and two members of the International Labour Party flee Spain a week later, avoiding arrest by government authorities. After Orwell's two-part exposé on the Spanish Civil War is turned down by The New Statesman and Nation, it is published in the 29 July and 2 September issues of The New English Weekly. Orwell attends the summer school of the International Labour Party in August.
1938: Orwell completes the manuscript of Homage to Catalonia in January. On 15 March he is taken to the sanatorium at Preston Hall in Aylesford, Kent, after prolonged bleeding of a tubercular lesion on his left lung. Homage to Catalonia is published on 25 April. Orwell joins the International Labour Party on 13 June; his article “Why I Joined the I.L.P.” is published eleven days later. On 2 September, Orwell, released from the sanatorium, sails for Morocco with Eileen. He finishes the draft of Coming Up for Air (1939) in December.
1939: Orwell and Eileen return to Wallington in March. Coming Up for Air is published on 12 June. Richard Blair, Orwell's father, dies in Southwold on 28 June. With the outbreak of World War II in September, Eileen joins the Censorship Department in London, while Orwell remains in Wallington.
1940: Penguin publishes a paperback edition of Down and Out in Paris and London, printing fifty-five thousand inexpensive copies. On 11 March, Orwell's Inside the Whale, and Other Essays is published. He moves to London in May, renting a flat with Eileen near Baker Street. On 25 May he becomes the movie and theater critic for the journal Time and Tide. In June, Eileen's brother, Laurence O'Shaughnessy, is killed at Dunkirk, France, while treating wounded soldiers. Orwell, unable to enlist in the Royal Army for medical reasons, joins the Home Guard on 12 June.
1941: Orwell's The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius is published in February. The following month, two of his essays are published in the anthology The Betrayal of the Left: An Examination and Refutation of Communist Policy. On 18 August, Orwell is offered a contract as a talks producer in the Empire Department of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
1942: Eileen changes government posts in the summer, developing broadcasts for the Ministry of Food.
1943: Orwell's mother, Ida Blair, dies in London on 19 March. He begins writing Animal Farm (1945) in November. Orwell leaves the BBC on 24 November and becomes the literary editor of the weekly newspaper The Tribune, starting the column “As I Please.”
1944: Orwell completes the draft of Animal Farm in February. He and Eileen adopt a baby boy in June, naming him Richard Horatio Blair. In July, after Animal Farm is rejected by several publishers, Orwell sends it to Fredric Warburg, who commits on 29 August to bring out the book within a year.
1945: Orwell leaves The Tribune in February and on 15 March begins work as a war correspondent in France and Germany for The Observer. On 29 March, Eileen dies unexpectedly during a hysterectomy in Newcastle. Orwell returns to work as a correspondent on the Continent in April and then covers the British general election in July.Animal Farm is published on 17 August. Orwell and his adopted son spend the Christmas holidays at Arthur Koestler's home in North Wales with Koestler; his wife, Mamaine; and her twin sister, Celia Paget. Paget subsequently turns down Orwell's proposal of marriage.
1946: Early in the year Harcourt, Brace publishes an American edition of Animal Farm. Orwell's second volume of literary and cultural criticism, Critical Essays, is published in February. The collection is published in the United States as Dickens, Dali & Others in April. On 3 May, Orwell's older sister, Marjorie, dies of kidney disease. On 23 May he begins staying at a rented cottage on the Scottish island of Jura, where he remains until October. Orwell resumes his “As I Please” column in November and continues to write it until April of the following year.
1947: After finishing the first draft of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Orwell is bedridden with tuberculosis in October. On 24 December he is admitted to a hospital near Glasgow.
1948: Orwell begins to receive experimental treatment with the new drug streptomycin in February. He is discharged from the hospital in July and returns to Jura. In November, despite continuing ill health, Orwell finishes a revised draft of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
1949: Orwell enters the Cotswold Sanatorium in Cranham, Gloucestershire, early in January. He is treated with the experimental drug para-amino salicylic acid, but he does not improve. On 21 January, after long deliberation, Orwell and Warburg decide on the title Nineteen Eighty-Four for the novel rather than “The Last Man in Europe.” In March and April, Orwell and Celia Paget Kirwan, now working for British intelligence, discuss “suspect” individuals. He eventually provides a select list of thirty-six people, drawn from a notebook of 105 names, for Britain's information Research Department. Orwell's treatment with streptomycin is resumed in April but is stopped immediately because of adverse side effects. Nineteen Eighty-Four is published in England on 8 June and in America five days later. On 3 September, Orwell moves to University College Hospital in London. On 13 October he marries Sonia Brownell, an editorial assistant at the journal Horizon, in the hospital.
1950: Orwell dies on 21 January from a lung hemorrhage. He is buried five days later in a churchyard in Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire.
1952: Homage to Catalonia is published in the United States for the first time.
1956: The first American edition of Keep the Aspidistra Flying is published by Harcourt, Brace.
1960: The George Orwell Archive is opened at University College, London.
1968: The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, is published in four volumes by Secker and Warburg in England and by Harcourt, Brace in the United States.
1980: Sonia Orwell dies on 11 December.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6835
W. Scott Lucas
SOURCE: Lucas, W. Scott. “An Overview of the Life and Career of George Orwell.” In Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 128, edited by Scott Darga and Linda Pavlovski. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group, 2002.
[In the following original essay, Lucas discusses Orwell's life, career, awards and recognition, and overall body of work, while also examining the era in which Orwell wrote and the critical reception of his works.]
Eric Blair, later known as George Orwell, was a child of the British Empire, born in Motihari, India, on 25 June 1903. He was the second child and only son of Richard Blair, an official in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service, and Ida Limouzin Blair. She was the daughter of an English mother and a French father who frittered away the family's businesses in Burma. Richard Blair was forty-six when his son was born; his wife was twenty-eight.
When Richard Blair took up a new post in a large Indian town, his wife took Eric and his older sister, Marjorie, to Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire. Between 1904 and his retirement in 1911, Richard Blair saw his family for only three months, during leave in 1907. One can speculate about the effect on Eric of his father's absence. Richard Blair spent little time with his son after his return from India, preferring gardening and golf. In 1917 he joined the Royal Army and was sent to a camp in France, where he supervised the care of mules; he then returned home and worked at the Ministry of Pensions before retiring for good at the end of 1919. Later, he resolutely opposed his son's leaving the Indian Imperial Police for a career as a writer. Only in the last days before his death in 1939 did he express approval.
Eric Blair had mixed memories of his early years in Henley-on-Thames, which became a model for the idyllic countryside in Coming Up for Air (1939). He had few friends, but he was an avid reader, and his mother encouraged his first attempts at writing. Later he recalled class prejudices that had prevented him from playing with “common” children and disconcerting conversations between his mother and her friends about “the hatefulness—above all the physical unattractiveness—of men.”
At the age of eight Eric was enrolled in St. Cyprian's School, a preparatory school in Sussex. His five years there have provoked controversy because of an essay, “Such, Such Were the Joys” (published posthumously in 1952), that he wrote after World War II. Blair (as Orwell) describes a hostile school run by a malevolent headmaster and his even more intimidating wife, concerned more about order than the welfare of the boys. In the graphic opening scene of the essay, he recounts his humiliation when the headmaster's wife told a stranger of his bed-wetting and threatened to have him beaten for the offense. Some authors believe that such memories of St. Cyprian's, rather than fears of totalitarianism, were the primary impetus for Nineteen Eighty-four (1949).
Orwell scholars have debated whether his experiences at St. Cyprian's were really so distressing. Some of his contemporaries support his story of bullying by the staff; others strongly dispute it. What is evident is that Orwell would always have a distrust, if not a dislike, of the preparatory-school system. One section of A Clergyman's Daughter (1935) condemns a third-rate school in vivid language, and Orwell castigated the British government after World War II for failing to abolish privately-funded education.
After a short stay at another school, Eric Blair received a scholarship in 1917 to attend Eton College, perhaps the premier “public” school in England.1 Here, despite the institution's tradition of beatings in the first year, he was apparently happier than at St. Cyprian's. At the same time, because he was “a bit of a slacker and a dodger,”2 his academic results were poor. His most enjoyable reading came outside the classroom, as he consumed the works of Jack London, George Bernard Shaw, and H. G. Wells, as well as poets A. E. Housman and Percy Bysshe Shelley. He did compulsory service in the Officer Training Corps, enjoying its activities if not the military attitude; played soccer and Eton's famous “wall game,” despite an initial lack of skill; went through confirmation in the Church of England; and started a magazine, College Days, to which he contributed several unexceptional poems. During vacations he pursued his first infatuation with a childhood friend, Jacintha Buddicom.
Lacking the academic results to attend Oxford on scholarship, Blair took the exams of the India Office. He passed, despite a poor riding test, and sailed for Burma in October 1922 as a probationary assistant superintendent of police. He remained five years, completing his training and then moving from post to post. He carried out his duties competently, although he was uncomfortable with the social life of the expatriate community. Little happened to break the routine of police work. He wrote about the rare unusual occurrence, as in the essay “Shooting the Elephant” (1936), and found humanity in the ordinary but disturbing event (“A Hanging” ). While in Burma, however, Blair's output was limited to some unpublished poems—the best, “Romance,” concerning an encounter with a prostitute—and a few sketches.
In 1927, while recovering from dengue fever, a painful and debilitating ailment, Blair was granted permission to return to England for sick leave. He never returned to Burma. Some scholars claim that his decision was prompted by boredom and disillusion with police service, while others believe it was the outcome of his growing hatred of imperialism, and others attribute it to the desire to begin a career as a writer.
The initial months in England were not promising, as Blair struggled with his sketches. A friend recalled, “[W]e used to laugh till we cried at some of the bits which he showed us.”3 There was an unusual and important dimension to his efforts, however. As one of his literary heroes, Jack London, had done at the turn of the century,4 he ventured to the East End to meet tramps and beggars, eventually spending several nights at a time in lodging houses and “spikes”5 on the outskirts of London.
Blair struck out for Paris in the spring of 1928. He did not set out to live the impoverished life described in Down and Out in Paris and London (1933). For more than a year, he lived in a shabby but far from intolerable area of the Latin Quarter. The short stories and novels that he wrote were never published, but in late 1928 he published his first articles, including an evaluation of French right-wing newspapers in G. K. Chesterton's G. K.'s Weekly and the first part of a three-part consideration of the British unemployed in Le Progrès Civique. The French journal published the second and third parts of the series in January 1929 and, in May, a study by Blair condemning British imperialism in Burma. More significantly, he was hospitalized in early 1929 with pneumonia, the beginning of his lifelong battle with pulmonary illnesses.
In the summer of 1929, after his money was stolen by a woman he picked up in a café (in Down and Out in Paris and London she is turned into an Italian thief), Blair's struggle for subsistence began. He cut his expenditures to the minimum necessary for food and shelter, pawned his clothes, and spent many hours looking for the most menial of jobs. Eventually, with the help of a Russian acquaintance, he found work as a plongeur, washing dishes and carrying out menial tasks in a hotel kitchen. For financial security he was working fourteen hours each day. Just before Christmas, Blair returned to Britain, accepting a job caring for a mentally impaired boy in Southwold, a coastal village in Essex where his parents now lived.
For the next two years Blair stayed with his parents, worked part-time as a tutor, and traveled with hop pickers in Essex. He sometimes went to London to live roughly, farcically attempting to get arrested on one occasion so he could experience Christmas in prison. His first significant essay, titled “The Spike” and based on his tramping days, was published in The Adelphi in April 1931; this was followed by a few book reviews and two more essays, “A Hanging” and “Hop-Picking.”
Most importantly, Blair drafted and redrafted Down and Out in Paris and London. After the manuscript was rejected twice—by the publishing house Jonathan Cape and by T. S. Eliot at Faber and Faber—Blair handed the chapters to a friend and said, “Throw them away but keep the paper clips.”6 Instead, she took the work to a literary agent, Leonard Moore, who offered to find a publisher. It was a change of fortune for Blair: Moore, who represented the author for the rest of his life, arranged a contract with the “left-wing” publishing house of Victor Gollancz in August 1932.
Down and Out in Paris and London was published in January 1933. The title was only settled on at the last minute—“Confessions of a Dishwasher” was another possibility—and Blair used the pseudonym George Orwell for the first time. The financial returns from the book were modest, but the reviews in leading newspapers and journals were more than encouraging, with C. Day-Lewis, the future poet laureate of England, commending its “clarity and good sense.”7 Moore arranged for publication in the United States, where most reviewers repeated the compliments.8
Meanwhile, Orwell, short of money and with his parents disapproving of his career as a writer, had taken a teaching post at a small private school in Hayes, west of London. He loathed the job, but at least the holidays gave him the chance to begin the draft that would become his first published novel, Burmese Days (1934). Orwell had done sketches, including the character of the protagonist John Flory, while in Burma. Now he developed a plot and structure, placing the story of Flory's reaction to and action against imperialism within the narratives of his friendship with the Indian Dr. Veraswami, his courtship of Elizabeth Lackersteen, the schemes of the Burmese leader U Po Kyin, and the rising of the local residents against the British community.
Orwell was uncertain about the quality of the novel in progress, writing Moore early in 1933 that, “I know that as it stands it is fearful from a literary point of view, but I wanted to know whether given a proper polishing up, exclusion of prolixities and general tightening up, it was at all the sort of thing people want to read about.” Although the agent was reassuring, Orwell wrote him in November, a month before he finished the typescript, saying he was submitting it only because he was “sick of the sight of it.”9
Then another problem emerged. Gollancz feared the novel would provoke lawsuits from colonial administrators who saw themselves in the characters. Orwell's American publisher, Harper, did sign a contract in March 1934, but the book, delayed while Harper's legal advisors reassured themselves, did not appear until October. Gollancz finally published a British edition in June 1935, after further changes in the names of the characters. Reviews were generally good on both sides of the Atlantic. Sales were moderate.
Never inactive, Orwell did not relax while waiting for the resolution of the legal wrangle over Burmese Day. While drafting the novel, he was also writing poetry. Four of these poems (untitled) were published in The Adelphi in 1933 and 1934. The best observed two tramps, “A dressed man and naked man … / Bargaining for a deal; / Naked sink for empty skin, / Clothes against a meal.”10 Orwell was also caught up in a serious romance with Eleanor Jaques, an acquaintance of his family in Southwold. Passages in the novels Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936) and Nineteen Eighty-four were drawn from his desperate courtship; Eleanor married an official in the British Colonial Service in 1934.
In autumn 1933 Orwell moved to a new school a few miles from Hayes, but he had only been there a few months when, just after completing Burmese Days, he was caught in a downpour of sleet while riding his motorcycle. A chill turned into pneumonia, raising fears that he might not survive. Yet, by the following spring, recovering in Southwold, he began his next novel. A Clergyman's Daughter is the story of a young woman, caught up in the routine of village life and service for her father and his church, whose life is changed when an amnesiac episode leads her to a life in the countryside of Kent and on the streets of London. The novel was based upon Orwell's experience of village life, his tramping and hop-picking, and his dislike of his teaching posts. Its style owes much to the influence of James Joyce's Ulysses (1922), which Orwell was rereading. As with Burmese Days, he complained about his efforts when he submitted the novel to Moore: “It was a good idea, but I am afraid I have made a muck of it.”11 Still, Orwell was bolstered by Gollancz's quick acceptance of the manuscript, an advance from Harper's for the publication of Burmese Days, and a new job in a London bookshop, with lodging in a room above the premises.
Orwell was soon engaged in new projects. A verse epic of the history of the English people was started; it survives only as a humorous reference in the plot of Keep the Aspidistra Flying, which he was writing at the same time. Once again, Orwell took liberally from his environment, telling the story of a struggling and malcontented poet who works in a bookshop and rails against the materialism of London. Pressed by Gollancz to complete the manuscript by the end of 1935, he met the deadline. This was again accomplished with self-deprecating comment, Orwell later calling the novel “a silly potboiler.”12 Reviewers had received A Clergyman's Daughter with a mixture of praise and criticism; after Keep the Aspidistra Flying, some were hostile about Orwell's work because of its strident “realism,” particularly about the evils of the money society.
Orwell had embarked on a literary career that was proving to be productive but limited. After the initial success of the “documentary” form with Down and Out in Paris and London, he had pressed ahead to complete three novels in three years. Whatever the merits of the individual works, Orwell had concluded that he would never be a “literary” novelist of the standard of those he admired, such as Joyce. Yet, the demands of making enough money to continue writing meant that he could not easily break out of the “potboiler” routine.
Two events altered Orwell's course and probably secured his later reputation. The first was that his quest of love and marriage, almost as relentless as the demand to write, was about to be rewarded. At a party he threw in London in spring 1936, he met Eileen O'Shaughnessy, a graduate student in psychology. Within three weeks, he had proposed to her; she refrained from accepting, but only until she could complete her degree and earn some money.
The match was not idyllic—Orwell continued to see other girlfriends despite his declaration, after first meeting her, that “Eileen O'Shaughnessy is the girl I want to marry,”13 and there would be tensions and affairs throughout the marriage—but the relationship with Eileen checked Orwell's pessimism about his life and his work. It also focused his intellectual energies. Eileen was intelligent, firm in her opinions, and engaging in her comments. Although she did not belong to a political organization, she was interested in current affairs and espoused a general “socialism.”
The second catalyst for Orwell was Gollancz's suggestion, supported by the offer of a £500 advance, that the author write about workers and the unemployed in the cities of northern England. From January to March 1936, Orwell stayed with working-class families and in unkempt lodging houses (including one above a tripe shop), interviewed people in their homes, crawled through coal mines, consulted official reports in public libraries, and attended political talks. By May he was converting the material into The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), part social survey and observation, part peroration against the failure of political organizations to address the problems of working-class conditions.
Orwell was making his mark as a political writer. He later recalled, “What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice.”14 He submitted the manuscript of The Road to Wigan Pier in December 1936; this time he was “fairly pleased” with the outcome.15 Four days later Gollancz asked Orwell if the “documentary” could be a selection for the Left Book Club, created for readers “who desire to play an intelligent part in the struggle for World Peace and a better social and economic order, and against Fascism.”16 The decision ensured a wide circulation among subscribers; more than forty thousand copies of the first edition were sold, and the book was reprinted twice.
In April 1936 Orwell, eager for a quieter life, had rented a small, spartan cottage in Wallington in Hertfordshire. He and Eileen married two months later. Orwell found, however, that politics precluded settling down. Not only had The Road to Wigan Pier stimulated his interest in socialism; he was also concerned about the prospect of war. Keep the Aspidistra Flying had portrayed his nightmare of “enemy aeroplanes flying over London; the deep threatening hum of the propellers, the shattering thunder of the bombs.”17 That summer Orwell went to a school organized by The Adelphi, the London literary journal to which he had contributed poems and essays, which was attended by a cross-section of the political Left. He gave the talk, “An Outsider Sees the Depressed Areas,” participated in seminars, and debated the tenets of Marxism.
A month before the summer school, civil war had broken out in Spain when workers took up arms to support the republican Government against an insurgency led by General Francisco Franco. Orwell recalled, “Every anti-Fascist felt a thrill of hope.”18 By mid-December 1936, days after handing over the manuscript of The Road to Wigan Pier, he was in Spain. Searching for a way to help the republican cause, he finally joined a militia of the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista—Workers' Party of Marxist Unification), which was supported by England's Independent Labour Party.19 After a week in Barcelona, where he was impressed by the collective spirit of the workers, Orwell was on the battlefront continuously from January to the end of April 1937. Most of the time, his unit sat in its dugout waiting for something to happen, but the author distinguished himself with his leadership and bravery. He led infiltrations close to the Fascist lines and, on one occasion, raided an enemy trench.
More exciting action was to come. On leave in Barcelona, Orwell had only a few days with Eileen before the city erupted in fighting amongst the Left. The government, supported by Communist parties, tried to suppress POUM and the Anarchists. Orwell sat on a rooftop guarding POUM's executive building for four days and watched the street fighting. A short-lived truce was arranged, and he returned to his unit, only to be shot in the neck by a sniper.
From the end of May to mid June, Orwell was recovering in a sanatorium outside Barcelona and then traveling to gather the documents for his medical discharge from the militia. During that time, the government resumed its campaign against POUM, banning its newspaper, outlawing the party, and arresting members. Orwell returned to Barcelona to find that police had searched Eileen's hotel room and that his militia commander was in jail. After Orwell tried unsuccessfully to obtain the commander's release, he, Eileen, and other associates from the Independent Labour Party fled to France.
Orwell was offended by the British press's treatment of the Spanish Civil War, in particular, the events in Barcelona in May and June 1937, in which the Communist-supported local government had tried to suppress POUM and other leftist parties. He was further piqued when the leading political journal, The New Statesman and Nation, rejected an essay on his experiences and observations and then his review of a book on the conflict. Orwell even suspected that the Daily Worker, the paper of the British Communist Party, was conducting “a campaign of organized libel” against him by claiming that he said in The Road to Wigan Pier that the working classes smell.20 He found his voice once more in the documentary.
Homage to Catalonia (1938), Orwell's personal account of the war, as well as an exposition of the politics in Spain and the propaganda of the Communists and the British press, was finished by January 1938. Gollancz rejected the book; it was published by Secker and Warburg in April. The political content of the work divided reviews, and its impact was limited: some of the initial 1,500 copies were still in stock when it was reprinted in 1951.
Orwell had more immediate concerns. In March a lesion on his lung began to bleed. He was in a sanatorium in Kent for six months. Eileen could afford to visit him only once every two weeks. Yet, far from retreating in his isolation, he made his first formal political commitment, joining the Independent Labour Party in June 1938. In a short essay, “Why I Joined the I.L.P.,” published in the party's weekly, he explained that “the I.L.P. is the only party which, as a party, is likely to take the right line either against imperialist war or against Fascism when this appears in its British form.”21 Orwell believed that, rather than defeating fascism and national socialism, the social and economic measures required for war with Germany could turn England into a fascist state. He was so concerned that he wrote colleagues of stocking “printing presses etc. in some discreet place” to avoid being silenced.22
Orwell was occupied with these thoughts even as he returned to fiction. In midsummer 1938, when doctors finally allowed him to resume typing, he began Coming Up for Air, the story of an insurance salesman trying to escape the mediocrity of his life with a sudden visit to his childhood village. The novel combined Orwell's nostalgia for the golden countryside of his youth with his skepticism of the materialism and amorality of the contemporary town. It also, however, incorporated his emerging political concerns about the menace of modern dictators and the peril of bombs and internment camps. Gollancz had no problem publishing Orwell's political views in fictional form, and the book came out in June 1939 to good reviews and moderate sales. It was Orwell's last “conventional” novel.
In the early months of World War II, Orwell completed Inside the Whale, and Other Essays (1940), a collection of essays of literary criticism combining studies of Charles Dickens and Henry Miller with an analysis of boys' magazines. He planned a long, three-part “family saga” and began reviewing books for The Tribune, the newspaper of the “mainstream” Labour Party, and theater for the journal Time and Tide.
Orwell's most significant work, however, was political, where he made a significant break with his earlier views. As late as July 1939, he was publishing strident antiwar essays against “Quakers shouting for a bigger army, Communists waving union jacks, Winston Churchill posing as a democrat,”23 but by the end of the war, he had become a fervent patriot and left the Independent Labour Party. He was turned down for military service and had to be content with training in the Home Guard and fanciful notions of arming the unit for combat.
Some of Orwell's elevation of “Englishness” came through his “London Letter,” a column written from January 1941 for the Partisan Review, a small but influential American political and literary journal that was left-wing but anti-Communist. He reported on the developing political situation, not only in the prosecution of the war but also in the debate over domestic changes, and monitored the state of British literary culture. Yet, it was only in The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius, a short book published in 1941, that Orwell put forth a striking summary of his political philosophy. This call to arms was commissioned by his friend T. R. Fyvel for a new series, Searchlight Books, to “stress Britain's international and imperial responsibilities and the aim of a planned Britain at the head of a greater and freer British Commonwealth, linked with the United States of America and other countries, as a framework of world order.”24 Orwell responded with the clearest statement he would ever make about his “socialism,” outlining a six-point program for domestic and overseas activity. Even this was overshadowed, however, by his championing of “the English character,” which had been betrayed by intellectuals but would always reside in the goodness of the “common man.”
Orwell had moved far from the profession of “literary” novelist; with The Lion and the Unicorn, he appeared to be on a path that would distinguish him as one of England's most influential, if not most profound, political thinkers. Then his patriotism sidetracked him. In autumn 1941 he accepted a temporary contract from the Empire Department of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and attended an intensive course for would-be producers of radio programs. He was placed in charge of cultural programming for India and Southeast Asia.
For two years, Orwell's main service was in booking others to appear on this BBC service. Eliot, Stephen Spender, and Dylan Thomas read their poems; E. M. Forster gave talks on his writing. Other broadcasts evaluated politics, history, science, and culture, all to project overseas the virtues of a “British” and, more specifically, an “English” way of life. Orwell also wrote news commentaries, but none of these had more than a passing impact.
Orwell was soon frustrated by the job. It was all too clear that the Indian and Southeast Asian audience was small and probably insignificant for the achievement of any English aims. To reach this limited group of listeners, Orwell fought endless battles with bureaucracy. He struggled with censors in the Ministry of Information who banned broadcasts on short notice, and he was chastised, in his recruitment of speakers, for acting “too independently of the existing organization.”25 The only lasting benefit of the post was the material it gave Orwell for his portrayal of the “Ministry of Truth” in Nineteen Eighty-four.
Orwell resigned from the BBC in September 1943. While this was a significant financial sacrifice, he was not bereft of support. From early 1942 he had written anonymous commentaries for the Sunday newspaper The Observer. He was now offered the position of correspondent in North Africa and Italy. He had to turn down the opportunity because of his chest ailments, although he continued to make biweekly contributions to the paper and to write a weekly article on books for the Manchester Evening News.
This disappointment was soon assuaged, however, when Orwell accepted the post of literary editor and acquired his own weekly column at The Tribune. He proved a mixed blessing for the paper. On the one hand, he lacked the time and organization to be an effective editor. Piles of manuscripts, some of which would be reviewed, others never to be read, filled the office, and he commissioned more articles than he could ever use. Orwell later commented, “It is questionable whether anyone who has had long experience as a freelance journalist ought to become an editor. It is too like taking a convict out of his cell and making him governor of the prison.”26 On the other hand, the style and content of his writing flourished in his column, “As I Please.” He had the freedom to consider any subject; for the first time for a large audience, Orwell could blend his literary, cultural, and political thoughts through writing about his eclectic interests. His first column illustrated this with comments on the behavior of American soldiers, his pamphlet collection, and the work of the nineteenth-century English author Mark Rutherford.
Orwell finally had a job that gave him both financial stability and intellectual enjoyment. While he had to fulfill his editorial duties, he was not under the kind of pressure, as in the 1930s, that both fueled and restricted his literary output. In these circumstances he could develop an idea that was “in my mind for a period of six years before it was actually written.”27 The observations, lessons, and hatreds fostered by his time in Spain were now to be put on paper, albeit in an unusual form.
In November 1943, as he joined The Tribune, Orwell wrote the editor of the Partisan Review, “I have got another book underway which I hope to finish in a few months.” England and the Soviet Union were wartime allies in the fight against Germany, but that only fueled Orwell's belief that readers should be reminded of the perils of a revolution that ended by oppressing workers rather than ensuring their freedom and rights. This would be the first book in which he “tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.”28
The draft of Animal Farm (1945) was finished within four months. Orwell was aware of the potential for political controversy of his “little fairy story.” He first showed the manuscript to Gollancz, to whom he was still under contract for his next novel, to ensure Gollancz's rejection. Then Orwell's travails began. Readers from Cape, the next publisher approached, recommended publication, but an official in the Ministry of Information pressed the firm to retract its decision. Eliot at Faber and Faber, who had turned down Down and Out in Paris and London, now earned the distinction of having rejected Orwell twice. He judged that the draft lacked “a positive point of view.”29 In the United States, the Dial Press, showing no appreciation for satire, commented that “it was impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.”30 Orwell finally accepted a contract with Fredric Warburg, whose firm, Secker and Warburg, was establishing a reputation for publishing work with a “left” viewpoint that had been turned down elsewhere.
Because he was a relatively small publisher, Warburg had limited supplies of paper during wartime rationing, and Animal Farm did not appear until August 1945.31 As was his habit, the restless Orwell was completing other projects during the delay. Continuing to write for The Tribune and other newspapers, he fulfilled a contract for a small booklet, The English People (1947), a modified version of the portrayal of English character in The Lion and the Unicorn. More significant was the appearance of Critical Essays (1946), which included the analyses of Dickens and of boys' magazines from Inside the Whale, and Other Essays; work from the journal Horizon on topics such as comic postcards, the writings and reputation of Rudyard Kipling, and the cruelty of American detective fiction; and a new essay on the concept of obscenity and the art of Salvador Dali. Years before the academic community took up the challenge, Orwell was linking the consideration of both “high” and “low” culture to broader social and political issues.
Given its later significance, Animal Farm was slow to make a mark. The first printing of 4,500 copies sold out quickly, but a second run of 10,000 could not be produced until November 1945. Moreover, several American publishers, including Harper, Knopf, Viking, and Little, Brown, rejected the manuscript. The U.S. rights were sold only after an editor at Harcourt, Brace, working in a Cambridge bookshop to get an idea of the British market, learned of the demand for the sold-out book. It finally appeared in the United States in August 1946.
Most reviews were effusive about the literary style of Animal Farm, comparing it favorably with the work of Jonathan Swift, but there were different interpretations of Orwell's political message. Some comments emphasized that the book was anti-Soviet; others looked for broader lessons about tyranny and the betrayal of revolution; many American reviews praised the book as an exposure not only of the evils of communism but also of the perils of socialism. What was clear was that Animal Farm, despite its limited circulation, was going to be of more than ephemeral significance.
Orwell had never before asked for substantial advice in the drafting of his work, but with Animal Farm he approached his wife, Eileen, for her views. She did not live to see the publication of the book. In March 1945, while Orwell was in western Germany reporting for The Observer, she entered a hospital for a hysterectomy. She never awakened from the anaesthetic.
Orwell was now alone with an eleven-month-old son, Richard, whom he and Eileen had adopted the previous June. After her death, Orwell completed his reporting assignment on France, Germany, and Austria at the end of the war and returned to England to cover the general election, but he then settled down with Richard. While Orwell still wrote for newspapers, he did not resume his editorship, and “As I Please” did not resume until November 1946.
Orwell was unhappy and emotionally unstable. He fell into the habit of proposing marriage to female friends and new acquaintances; he was turned down on at least four occasions. One of these women was Sonia Brownell, who finally married Orwell just before his death. He also had to contend with medical problems. In February 1946 he suffered a hemorrhage in his lungs, putting him in bed for two weeks. He played down the incident, refusing a doctor and continuing some of his weekly writing, but it was an ominous sign of what lay ahead.
Solace for Orwell came in a change of environment. In 1944 he had begun to inquire about renting a farmhouse in Jura, one of the inner Hebrides Islands off the western coast of Scotland. The arrangements were finally completed two years later; Orwell arrived at his new home on 23 May 1946.
While Orwell removed himself, at least for part of the year, from the activity of London, the engagement of his work with politics was increasing. In several articles he foresaw the division of the world into three hostile blocs, one centered on the United States, another on the Soviet Union, and the third on China. Even more significant were his essays “Politics and the English Language” (1946) and “The Prevention of Literature” (1946), in which he decisively argued that written expression was never neutral but could be used to deceive and control mass opinion. The author's responsibility was to ensure, through clear and precise language, that freedom of thought was defended. Orwell protested the government's prosecution of political groups such as the Anarchists. In essays based on long-past experiences, such as “How the Poor Die” (1946), his account of a stay in a Parisian hospital in 1929, he implicitly called for action against social evils.
Orwell was testing ideas that would propel the narrative of Nineteen Eighty-four. Compared with his other books, the novel was a long time in production. He spent much of his first summer in Jura entertaining friends whom he had urged to visit, and he was also writing frequently for American journals, as well as resuming “As I Please.” By May 1947, he was only a third of the way through a rough draft and was in “most wretched health”;32 his attention was distracted by the completion of his bitter essay on his school days, “Such, Such Were the Joys.”
Now established at Jura and with fewer distractions from visitors, Orwell made one last effort. He finished the rough draft of Nineteen Eighty-four in October and, almost immediately, collapsed into bed from exhaustion. This time there would be no long-term improvement. On Christmas Eve of 1947, he entered a hospital near Glasgow, where he remained for seven months.
The completion of Nineteen Eighty-four and of Orwell's life were intertwined. He kept a notebook in the hospital, making notes on alterations for the manuscript. In May the doctors finally allowed him to resume typing, and in July he returned to Jura. While revising the text of the novel, he also wrote articles such as “Britain's Struggle for Survival: The Labour Government after Three Years” (1948) and “Reflections on Gandhi” (1949), surprisingly little-known despite its provocative assessment of Mahatma Gandhi's aims as “anti-human and reactionary.”33 By early November 1948 Orwell had finished Nineteen Eighty-four. He fell ill again but insisted on retyping the final draft. Just before Christmas, he admitted to friends, “I am really very unwell indeed.”34 Three weeks later he was in a sanatorium in Gloucestershire.
Nineteen Eighty-Four was published by Secker and Warburg on 8 June 1949 in London and five days later by Harcourt, Brace in New York. Both publishers were prepared for major sales. Within a year, almost 50,000 copies had been sold in England, 170,000 by Harcourt, Brace, and 190,000 by the Book-of-the-Month Club. Reviewers were again enthusiastic, but, as with Animal Farm, there was debate and even confusion over Orwell's message. Some read the novel as a warning against all forms of totalitarianism, and Orwell's fear of the “machine society” was noted. Others offered a more specific interpretation in the context of the Cold War: Nineteen Eighty-four was clearly a polemic against the Soviet Union. The author was so unsettled by that supposition that he dictated a press release asserting that “members of the present British government … [would] never willingly sell the pass to the enemy,” whoever that might be.35
Orwell's last year was spent in the Gloucestershire sanatorium and in University College Hospital in London. In April doctors administered streptomycin to check the tuberculosis. The experimental drug had worked the previous year, but this time the results were “ghastly.”36 The patient could only put his faith in complete rest.
It is not clear whether Orwell knew he was dying. He fulfilled one wish in October when he and Sonia Brownell were married in a special ceremony in University College Hospital. His health improved temporarily after the wedding, but Sonia gradually took over his correspondence. Plans were made for a stay in a Swiss sanatorium but just before the scheduled departure, on 21 January 1950, Orwell died suddenly of a lung hemorrhage. He was forty-six years old.
The “public” school in England, far from being a state institution as in the United States, is privately financed and operated.
A. S. F. Gow, quoted in Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1982), p. 105.
Ruth Pitter, “Ruth Pitter's Personal Memories of George Orwell,” BBC radio broadcast, January 1956.
London's venture is recorded in his The People of the Abyss (New York: Macmillan, 1903).
A “spike” was a casual ward where homeless men could spend the night for a few pence.
Mabel Fierz, quoted in Michael Shelden, Orwell: The Authorised Biography (London: Minerva, 1992), p. 167.
C. Day-Lewis, Adelphi (February 1933): 381-382.
Avril Dunn, “My Brother, George Orwell,” Twentieth Century (March 1961): 258
George Orwell to Leonard Moore, 1 February 1933, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (London: Secker & Warburg, 1968), volume 1, p. 115; Orwell to Moore, 26 November 1933, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 125.
Orwell, untitled poem, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 123-125.
Orwell to Moore, 3 October 1934, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 141.
Orwell, quoted in Crick, George Orwell, p. 472.
Orwell, quoted by Rosalind Obermeyer (his landlady), quoted in Crick, George Orwell, p. 267.
Orwell, “Why I Write,” The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 6.
Orwell to Moore, 15 December 1936, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 256.
Quoted in Sheila Hodges, Gollancz: The Story of a Publishing House (London: Gollancz, 1978), pp. 126-127.
Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1963), p. 22.
Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1989), p. 189.
The Independent Labour Party had split from the better-known Labour Party after the latter, in the financial crisis of 1931, had carried out severe spending cuts and agreed to a coalition government with the Conservatives.
See Crick, George Orwell, pp. 344-345.
Orwell, “Why I Joined the I.L.P.,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 338.
Orwell to Herbert Read, 5 March 1939, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 387.
Orwell, “Not Counting Niggers,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 395.
Publisher's announcement for Searchlight Books, 1941, quoted in Crick, George Orwell, p. 402.
W. J. West, ed., Orwell: The War Broadcasts (London: Duckworth, 1985), p. 297.
Orwell, “As I Pleased,” Tribune, no. 527 (31 January 1947): 7-8.
Orwell, preface to the Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm (1947), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 405-406.
Orwell, “Why I Write,” p. 7.
T. S. Eliot to Orwell, 13 July 1944, quoted in Crick, George Orwell, pp. 437-438.
Quoted in a letter from Orwell to Moore, 23 January 1946, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 110.
Contrary to Orwell's prediction, the Labour Party had dramatically defeated the Conservatives and Winston Churchill, taking power with a clear Parliamentary majority for the first time in its history.
Orwell to Fredric Warburg, 31 May 1947, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 329.
Orwell, “Reflections on Gandhi,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 463-470.
Orwell to Warburg, 21 December 1948, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 459.
Orwell, press release, June 1949, quoted in Crick, George Orwell, p. 566.
Orwell to T. R. Fyvel, 15 April 1949, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 492.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10254
Orwell claimed in 1946 that he had wanted to be a writer from an early age: “I wrote my first poem at the age of four or five, my mother taking it down to dictation. I cannot remember anything about it except that it was a tiger and the tiger had ‘chair-like teeth’—a good enough phrase, but I fancy the poem was a plagiarism of Blake's ‘Tiger, Tiger.’”1
On his eighth birthday, Eric Blair received from his mother a copy of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726); Swift would become a significant influence, particularly upon the writing of Animal Farm. Other favorite writers included William Makepeace Thackeray, Rudyard Kipling, and H. G. Wells.
While at his preparatory school, St. Cyprian's, the eleven-year-old Blair published his first poem in a local newspaper. At his secondary school, Eton College, he started a short-lived magazine, Election Times, which included his poetry and stories. He also wrote meaningful lines to Jacintha Buddicom, the object of his youthful infatuation.
There was no immediate success. While in Burma with the Indian Imperial Police, Blair started a couple of novels, one of which would provide some material for Burmese Days. He also wrote some poems, the two most striking concerning encounters with prostitutes. In Paris, Blair's attempts at journalism led to a few articles, in French and in English, but not enough to make ends meet. It was only in 1932, at the age of twenty-nine, that Blair converted his French experiences and his experiments with the “down and out” lifestyle in the East End of London and the fields of Kent into a breakthrough work, Down and Out in Paris and London, published the following year under the pseudonym George Orwell.
Even then, Orwell would struggle to make an impact as a novelist. Throughout the 1930s he was insecure about his ability. Typical of his opinions was a letter of 1934: “Everything is going badly. My novel about Burma made me spew when I saw it in print, & I would have rewritten large chunks of it, only that costs money and means delay as well. As for the novel I am now completing, it makes me spew even worse, & yet there are some decent passages in it.”2 Orwell's fear of failure might have driven him to even greater efforts to publish, but his success was due as much to a favorable set of circumstances as it was to his ability and perseverance.
RICHARD REES AND THE LITERARY CULTURE OF LONDON
Throughout the 1930s Orwell raged at alleged cliques, caricaturing the “typical literary man” as “an eager-minded schoolboy with a leaning towards Communism” and claiming “nearly all the younger writers fit easily into the public-school-university-Bloomsbury pattern.”3 The necessary irony is that it was precisely this “cliquish” environment that propelled Orwell to his initial prominence as a writer. Far from being open to only a few privileged Oxford and Cambridge graduates, the London literary scene in the 1930s was fluid, covering a breadth of political, social, and aesthetic perspectives.
In 1929 Orwell presented himself to the offices of The New Adelphi, describing “himself as a Tory anarchist but admitt[ing] the Adelphi's socialist case on moral grounds.”4 (The Adelphi was called The New Adelphi from September 1927 to August 1930, then reverted to its original name). One of the co-editors was Sir Richard Rees, a painter, author, and critic whose chief talent lay not in these areas but in spotting new writers, whom he supported from his family's not inconsiderable income.
Rees was instrumental in publishing Orwell's first book reviews and early essays, such as “The Spike” and “A Hanging,” but his support went far beyond this. He commended the young writer's first manuscript, “A Scullion's Diary,” to T. S. Eliot at Faber and Faber, lent money to Orwell, and introduced him to other writers and publishers. When Orwell traveled for the research on The Road to Wigan Pier, he carried letters of introduction from Rees to political and social activists. Although Orwell's contributions to The Adelphi tapered off as he worked increasingly with Victor Gollancz and with journals such as The New English Weekly, Rees continued to be influential in his friend's political development. It was at an Adelphi summer school that Orwell proclaimed his conversion to socialism, and it was through Rees that he made the initial connections that would take him to fight in Spain.
Orwell's returns for this support were not altogether positive. Rees was the model for the pathetic Ravelston in Keep the Aspidistra Flying, the millionaire who plays at being a socialist: “he was softer-hearted than an editor ought to be, and consequently was at the mercy of his contributors.”5 Unlike others, however, Rees never incurred Orwell's wrath for wrong-headed politics in real life, and their friendship continued until the author's death. Orwell's adopted son was named Richard, not after Richard Blair, Orwell's father, but after Rees, his first literary benefactor.
Gollancz, the son of a prosperous London jeweller, was ten years older than Orwell. He first became a schoolmaster after graduation from Oxford but, after service on a committee planning the reconstruction of England after World War I, joined the publishers Benn Brothers. He produced a series of art books that eventually generated £250,000 a year and recruited novelists such as Wells.
In 1927 Gollancz left to form his own company. Nine years later he joined the Labour parliamentarian, John Strachey, and Harold Laski, the prominent political scientist, to form the Left Book Club. The club, designed to spread the ideas of socialism and resistance to fascism to a mass audience, had fifty thousand members by 1939.
It was Gollancz who first saw Down and Out in Paris and London as “an extraordinary and important book”6 and who persisted in publishing Orwell's novels even though sales were disappointing. Gollancz had the idea for The Road to Wigan Pier, commissioning Orwell for the project and then suggesting that it become one of the Left Book Club's first selections.
Gollancz's support would soon be overshadowed, however, by the political rift that began with Orwell's denunciation of fellow Socialists in The Road to Wigan Pier. Even before his return to England after his participation in the Spanish Civil War, Orwell was preparing to move to another publisher since he contended that Gollancz, “distressed” at his connection with the “independent” Marxists who were in conflict with the Communist Party and the Spanish Republican Government, had turned down the proposal for Homage to Catalonia sight unseen.7
This rejection did not lead Gollancz to drop Orwell or lead the author to ask for release from his contract to write further novels for the publisher. Coming Up for Air was published by Gollancz in 1939. Moreover, their shared distress over the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact (23 August 1939) brought a temporary reunion of publisher and writer, as Orwell contributed two essays for Gollancz's 1941 volume The Betrayal of the Left: An Examination and Refutation of Communist Policy. The final break came only with Animal Farm in 1945, as Orwell guessed, rightly, that Gollancz would not bring out a book that so blatantly attacked the Soviet Union, still allied with England in the war effort.
ERIC BLAIR BECOMES GEORGE ORWELL
In April 1932 Eric Blair asked his agent Leonard Moore to “see that [Down and Out in Paris and London] is published pseudonymously, as I am not proud of it.”8 Seven months later Blair set out his preferences: “A name I always use when tramping etc. is P. S. Burton but if you don't think this sounds a probable kind of name, what about Kenneth Miles, George Orwell, H. Lewis Allways. I rather favour George Orwell.”9 Orwell was the name of a river south of his parents' home in Southwold, Essex; there is no explanation for the name George, other than that the author hated his first name, complaining, “It took me nearly thirty years to work off the effects of being called Eric.”10 Gollancz, who had previously suggested the less-than-imaginative “X,” agreed immediately with the choice.
Blair told his younger sister that he was taking a pseudonym so that the published book would not shock their parents; she replied that their parents were not so easily upset. Blair's initial explanation to Moore rings truer: “George Orwell” offered protection if the book proved a flop. The first good review of Down and Out in Paris and London settled the issue. George Orwell was a success.
A WRITER IN MANY GENRES
NOVELIST: Orwell's initial ambition was to become a great literary writer. While he might produce works of nonfiction to make a living, he believed that lasting stature could only come through the novel. From 1934 to 1939 Orwell published four novels, none of them more than moderately successful at the time in sales and critical reception. While some of them have been held in higher regard since his death, notably Coming Up for Air, Orwell's long-term reputation has never rested upon these books.
DOCUMENTARIAN: Down and Out in Paris and London, Orwell's first book, established him not as a novelist but as an observer and commentator on the specifics of lower-class life. The Road to Wigan Pier, the book that brought him his prewar prominence, was in the same vein. Orwell reached many times more people with The Road to Wigan Pier and its distribution through the Left Book Club than he did with all of his 1930s novels. Homage to Catalonia, his memoir of his participation in the Spanish Civil War, was an immediate disappointment in sales; however, it was acclaimed by many critics.
LITERARY AND CULTURAL CRITIC: Orwell was a prolific reviewer of books, more for the steady revenue this provided than for enjoyment; as he wrote in a viciously funny 1946 essay, the reviewer “is pouring his immortal spirit down the drain, half a pint at a time.” By 1940 he had established a serious reputation for his critiques of the past and current literature of both “high” and “low” culture. He made his mark with critiques, for journals such as The New English Weekly, of writers such as Kipling and the sixpence paperbacks of Penguin, but it was his 1940 collection Inside the Whale, and Other Essays, with its lengthy analyses on such diverse topics as Henry Miller, Charles Dickens, and boys' weekly magazines, that placed him at the forefront of literary criticism. Orwell never confined his evaluation to the text under consideration but placed it within broader political, social, and cultural contexts, foreshadowing schools of academic criticism that were to come years later. Q. D. Leavis, who was herself a prominent literary critic, commented, “He has a special kind of honesty; he corrects any astigmatic tendency in himself because in literature as in politics he has taken up a stand which gives him freedom.”11
ESSAYIST: Arguably, Orwell was most at ease with the essay genre. His earliest publications were a sharp criticism of censorship in Britain and of the right-wing French press, and Down and Out in Paris and London was an extension of pieces such as “The Spike.” Orwell's most notable essays before the war, such as “A Hanging” and “Shooting an Elephant,” were observational, but he used concise, emotive description to make powerful political and social commentaries on topics such as the nature of and response to British imperialism. In contrast, his most influential postwar essays are polemics centered on the defense of political and literary freedom against totalitarian threats.
COLUMNIST: From December 1943 to February 1945 and then from November 1946 to March 1947, Orwell wrote a weekly column for The Tribune, the newspaper connected with the British Labour Party. The column, “As I Please,” was the ideal forum for him to mix political comment with passing consideration of everyday life. Consisting of Orwell's thoughts on two or three varied topics, the nature of the column encouraged him to be concise and direct in his observations. He could put into practice the admonition for simple but powerful expression that he offered in essays such as “Politics and the English Language.”
BROADCASTER: Orwell was featured by the BBC in a 1940 discussion of proletarian literature, and for much of World War II, he worked for the same organization as a producer of broadcasts for the Eastern Service, mainly directed to India. Orwell's scripts are not among his better work. He never made the transition from writing for the print medium to writing for the spoken medium; the scripts were often rushed, and the material was far above the heads of a mass audience. Particular topics, however, were a valuable complement to Orwell's other work, such as a talk on Leo Tolstoy and William Shakespeare, which became the basis for an extended essay, and a discussion of literature and totalitarianism.
ORWELL THE NOVELIST
THE “IMPERIAL” NOVELIST: Burmese Days is both a social novel in its depiction of the British expatriate community in Burma and a melodrama about the doomed love of John Flory for Elizabeth Lackersteen. It is primarily, however, a novel of empire, both of the British rulers and of their colonial subjects. Orwell's novel is thus in the tradition of Kipling, whom Orwell admired as a writer of “good bad” prose, and E. M. Forster.
THE ENGLISH SOCIAL NOVELIST: Orwell's other novels of the 1930s, with varying success, are observations and critiques of contemporary English society. While the settings vary between countryside, the city, and the suburbs, the novels all offer a realistic portrait of society through the circumstances, conflicts, and pessimism of the protagonists and through the vivid, sometimes harsh, descriptions of the environment. It can be argued that, in social and political outlook, the works are in the tradition of Dickens, one of Orwell's favorite writers. Others have noted the influence of George Gissing, the Victorian author of such novels as The Odd Women (1893), whom Orwell greatly admired and who was the subject of his last piece of literary criticism.
THE ALLEGORY: The effectiveness of the allegorical Animal Farm is based on its rendering of a “simple” animal story. This allows for a distinctive satire of the Russian Revolution, both through the black comedy of the villainous and deceitful pigs and through empathy with the hard-working, naive, hopeful animals that are the Revolution's victims. Critics compared the work with the satires of Swift.
THE FUTURIST NOVEL: Orwell, supposedly influenced by the Soviet novelist Evgeny Zamyatin's We (1924), decided to stage his next political allegory in a near-future of technological advance and systematic state oppression. The outcome, Nineteen Eighty-four, while a less specific representation of the Soviet experience, allowed a greater complexity both in themes and in political interpretation. The work fits into a trend of futurist writing, albeit one of differing perspectives on the positive or negative aspects of “progress,” that includes Wells (an author read avidly by Orwell in his youth) and Aldous Huxley.
ORWELL AS A POLITICAL WRITER
Because of the variety of Orwell's writing, scholars have debated the relative literary and political merits of his work. For some, he was a writer who made a mark only with his “political” output. Keith Alldritt has argued, for example, that “[w]ith the possible exception of Nineteen Eighty-four, Orwell created no valuable work of literary art; rather his contribution was to literary culture.”12 Bernard Crick, Orwell's most prominent champion, contends that some of his novels are underrated but that his praise rests primarily on his position as “a supreme political writer.”13 Others contend that Orwell was a good, if not great, literary author who happened to address political concerns. Peter Davison, the most comprehensive chronicler of the author, concludes that “Orwell may not be a novelist of the first rank, although even the potboilers he himself dismissed have a curious capacity for touching the readers' sensibilities and causing them to see the world, especially the dispossessed, in a new and sympathetic light.”14
SUBJECTS AND THEMES
SUBJECT MATTER: With the possible exception of A Clergyman's Daughter, Orwell's novels, as well as his nonfiction works, take on broad topics, such as British imperialism, a money-oriented society, and the threats of war and totalitarianism. He always drew from his personal experiences and beliefs, giving the impression (except in Animal Farm) that the protagonists represented Orwell himself. In Burmese Days John Flory not only provides Orwell's perspective on both the English and native societies in Burma but also embodies the author's uncertainty and pessimism, particularly his discomfort in his relationships with women. One section of A Clergyman's Daughter is a reworking of Orwell's factual accounts of living in the streets of London, tramping through Kent, and working in the hop fields; another section, on the horrors of a “third-rate public school,” was written as he was suffering in a teaching post. Gordon Comstock in Keep the Aspidistra Flying is Orwell the struggling writer, complete with unattractive characteristics, brought to fictional life. There is bitterness arising from poverty, antagonism toward those writers who have already succeeded, sneering at naive socialists, and ambivalence towards sex, marriage, and a middle-class existence.
Perhaps the most complex embodiment of Orwell is George Bowling in Coming Up for Air. Orwell wrote the novel while on extended vacation in Morocco, but the outcome was, according to Crick, “the most English of all his novels.”15 While Bowling is the physical antithesis of Orwell, his mental conception of the world—past, present, and future—is so bound up with Orwell's own vision that the novel often slips between the protagonist's and author's voice. Orwell's distaste for the suburbs, fueled by his schoolteacher's life in the outer-London district of Hayes. His nostalgia for an idyllic countryside came not only from childhood but also from his recent move to the village of Wallington in Hertfordshire. Bowling is also an outlet for Orwell's short-lived but strident pacifism on the eve of World War II.
Even the futurist Nineteen Eighty-four and its protagonist, Winston Smith, are drawn extensively from Orwell's immediate experience. His fight against the Fascist and Japanese enemies in World War II and the emerging menace of Soviet Communism provided the obvious models for the super-states of Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia, but other elements in the novel emphasize Orwell's reverence for the countryside, reinforced by his life on the Scottish island of Jura from 1946, and for the “lost” England of the nineteenth century.
Thus, Winston is another extension of Orwell. The author's work at the BBC generating propaganda is the basis for Winston's service at the Ministry of Truth, albeit in this case for an evil system. Orwell's lifelong tensions in his relationships with women, eased by his marriage to Eileen O'Shaughnessy but returning forcefully after her death in 1945, are the basis not only for Winston's fluctuating courtship of Julia but also for the emerging memory of Winston's betrayal of his mother and sister.
PROTAGONISTS: Orwell's human protagonists differ in age, gender, and family situation, but all share certain characteristics, especially in their relationship to their environment. All are part of families or even communities in decline. John Flory (Burmese Days) is part of the stagnant British Empire; Dorothy Hare (A Clergyman's Daughter) is the daughter of an impoverished vicar in a mundane village; the ancestors of Gordon Comstock (Keep the Aspidistra Flying) have squandered the benefits of minor aristocracy; George Bowling (Coming Up for Air) lives in mediocre suburbia with a burdensome wife and children and an unrewarding job; and Winston Smith is the orphan of a family taken away by the state.
All of the protagonists are flawed, primarily by hesitancy and passivity, but all are redeemed in some way. Flory has his friendship with Dr. Veraswami and pursues genuine love rather than his exploitative relationship with his Burmese mistress. Hare is long-suffering in part because of her caring and forgiving nature. The thoughts of Bowling are the epitome of common sense. Even Comstock, in the end, does the right thing and marries his girlfriend, Rosemary, rather than having her undergo an abortion.
Through his protagonists Orwell promotes decency. The excesses of any ideology, be it fascist or communist, are countered by a practical approach to politics and society. That approach does not necessarily bring happiness. Flory commits suicide, Winston Smith's individualism is crushed by the state, and the others return to or take on the mediocrity of their lives. At the end of Animal Farm, the animals are witnesses to the final betrayal of the revolution as their leaders consort with the capitalist enemy.
In an important sense, Orwell's pessimism about the oppressions of modern society prevails. At the same time, in his portrayal of his protagonists, he promotes the courage of resisting or standing apart, at least in one's thoughts and beliefs, from these oppressions. For a few days Bowling escapes his suburban life, even if the venture ends in disappointment. Winston's rebellion is crushed, but at least he has rebelled.
GENDER: One can make the argument that there is not a single positive female character in Orwell's fiction. Even Dorothy Hare, his only female protagonist, and Rosemary in Keep the Aspidistra Flying, the most fully and sympathetically portrayed supporting character, provoke mixed reactions in the end. Dorothy passively accepts her fate, and one might conclude that Rosemary has trapped Gordon Comstock into marrying her. Other women are more obviously targets of Orwell's dislike: Hilda Bowling (Coming Up for Air) is no more than a shrewish, nagging housewife, and Elizabeth Lackersteen (Burmese Days) is a fickle, conniving social climber whose foolish mother has dabbled with women's suffrage and higher thought while shirking her household duties. Most provocative are Orwell's depictions of women in Nineteen Eighty-four through their sexuality or lack of it. Julia is “only a rebel from the waist downwards”;16 her revolt against the Party consists solely of her physical affair with Winston, and she has no interest in politics. The “prole” washerwoman has no political power, although she does have “powerful, mare-like buttocks.”17 Winston's former wife, Katharine, is notable for her frigidity.
Some critics have contended that Orwell's portrayal of women is more complex than characters such as Julia or Rosemary suggest; others have argued that almost all prominent authors in the 1930s placed women at the margins of their works. The fact remains that Orwell, who always considered the potential for individual power, treated women as powerless. His documentaries bear out the point. Women are limited to cameos as grotesque landladies, as housewives trapped in drudgery, and, in a disturbing passage in Down and Out in Paris and London, as victims of rape. In an oft-quoted passage from The Road to Wigan Pier Orwell describes a woman, engaged in clearing a drainpipe, who has “the usual exhausted face of the slum girl who is twenty-five and looks forty” with “the most desolate, hopeless expression I have ever seen.”18
CLASS: Orwell's naturalism nominally elevates the unemployed and impoverished in their valiant struggle for existence against the oppression of industrial society. The tribute is only superficial, however. Orwell may pay homage to certain groups, notably coal miners, and to the abstract notion of the “common man,” but his depiction of specific members of the working class is less than flattering. The Road to Wigan Pier opens with the abominable Brookers, the wife “a soft mound of fat and self-pity,” the husband “chew[ing] … grievances like a cud,”19 and the proles in Nineteen Eighty-four are either objects of patronizing nostalgia (the washerwoman) or irrational creatures (the old man in the pub). Even the transformation in Animal Farm of the working class into the cart horses of revolution, hard-working but vulnerable to manipulative leadership, is indicative of a patronizing, even patriarchal, attitude. As Rees, long a friend and admirer of Orwell, confessed, “What is pathetic … in both Animal Farm and 1984 is the helpless, inert, and almost imbecile role which he attributes to the common man.”20
THE EXOTIC NATIVE: As Raymond Williams noted of Orwell's time in Burma, “He was at once opposed to the dirty work of imperialism and involved in it.”21Burmese Days might be critical of the British system and attitudes, but Orwell also reproduces, through his own descriptions rather than the words of his characters, “imperial” stereotypes of the Burmese as exotic, venal, and scheming, capable of being led into mob activity by an unscrupulous local “leader.” The Road to Wigan Pier might be written to expose the true conditions of the working class but it falls into middle-class caricatures of that class as alternatively heroic (the coal miners), unclean and indolent (the landlords in the tripe shop), or comfortable and secure (the family in the parlor).
This tension over Orwell's portrayal of those who are supposedly oppressed is reinforced by his treatment of their environment. In Burmese Days the jungle and the Burmese people might be physically attractive, but they are little more than passive objects to excite Flory's admiration and Elizabeth's disgust. Only the villain, U Po Kyin, stands apart from this portrayal of a people who are oppressed or manipulated; nevertheless, he never meets or communicates directly with any of the English characters. The only Burmese in contact with the British are servants or Ma Hla May, Flory's discarded mistress, who becomes a pawn in U Po Kyin's schemes.
The exception that proves this rule of the “exotic other” is Dr. Veraswami, the good-hearted Indian friend of Flory. While the doctor is not as passive as the Burmese, it is clear that Veraswami, or “Very-slimy,” as he is called by a racist British character, will never be accepted by the colonizers. More significantly, Orwell's treatment of race and color also sets Veraswami apart as he is identified in part by his “darkness” in contrast with Flory's light skin. This stigma of color even extends to Flory, who has a “hideous,” dark-blue birthmark that discolors his whiteness.
ORWELL AS ANTI-INTELLECTUAL: Orwell, later commemorated as the “wintry conscience” of his generation,22 helped to create this image by positioning himself as the man of “common sense” standing against intellectuals obsessed with theory and subservient to foreign powers. His literary criticism offered a sinister portrayal of intellectuals from “the soft-boiled emancipated middle class … [who] can swallow totalitarianism because they have no experience of anything except liberalism.”23 During the war he insisted that “[t]he quisling intellectual is a phenomenon of the last two years.”24 At the end of his life Orwell condemned “a whole literary generation, or at least the most prominent members of a generation, either pretending to be proletarians or indulging in public orgies of self-hatred because they were not proletarians.”25
Orwell also vented his anger through his fiction. Perhaps the most vivid sustained attack is one found in Coming Up for Air. Early in the novel, George Bowling goes to a meeting of the Left Book Club, the organization that had fostered Orwell's fame and provided him with a secure income with its distribution of The Road to Wigan Pier. Bowling sees the lecturer as “a mean-looking chap … with a bald head which he'd tried rather unsuccessfully to cover up with wisps of hair.” The lecturer's speech on the Nazis and “Bestial atrocities. … Hideous outbursts of sadism. … Rubber truncheons. … Concentration camps. … Iniquitous persecution of the Jews” is diminished in Bowling's critique: “What's he doing? Quite deliberately, and quite openly, he's stirring up hatred. Doing the damnedest to make you hate certain foreigners called Fascists.”26 The scene, a forerunner of the “Two Minute Hate” in Nineteen Eighty-four, also foreshadows the intellectual menace of O'Brien in that novel.
Other intellectuals pose different threats. Leaving the Left Book Club meeting, Bowling looks up an old schoolmaster, only to find him detached from current affairs. Bowling ponders, “Funny, these public-school chaps. Schoolboys all their days. Whole life revolving round the old school and their bits of Latin and Greek and poetry. … A curious thought struck me. He's dead. He's a ghost. All people like that are dead.”27
Still another example occurs when Bowling travels to his childhood village to find his idyllic fishing pond reduced to a hole for garbage. Here he meets a well-read but eccentric old man who evokes images of “vegetarianism, simple life, poetry, nature-worship, roll in the dew before breakfast.” Once again, Bowling is the mouthpiece for Orwell's interjection: “Say what you like—call it silly, childish, anything—but doesn't it make you puke sometimes to see what they're doing to England, with their bird-baths and their plaster gnomes, and their pixies and tin cans, where the beechwoods used to be?”28
ORWELL AND POLITICS: Most of the British political targets of Orwell's writing were not on the Right but on the Left. From 1936 he was writing of “so many” Socialists as “the sort of eunuch type with a vegetarian smell who goes about spreading sweetness and light.”29 The second section of The Road to Wigan Pier is a sustained attack on the organized activism of Socialists: “Everyone who uses his brain knows that Socialism, as a world-system and wholeheartedly applied, is a way out.” Middle-class socialists were “out of touch with common humanity” while “no genuine working man grasp[ed] the deeper implications of Socialism.”30
Homage to Catalonia, Orwell's subsequent documentary of the Spanish Civil War, furthered this hostility. He denounced “hack-journalists and the pansy Left” and labeled poets such as W. H. Auden and Stephen Spender “parlour Bolsheviks.”31 World War II did nothing to lessen this animosity; indeed, it reinforced the sentiment. In The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius Orwell issued a prolonged denunciation of the intelligentsia and “their generally negative, querulous attitude, their complete lack at all times of any constructive suggestion,” and their “emotional shallowness.” He concluded, “England [was] perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals [were] ashamed of their own nationality.”32
Some have argued that socialism abandoned Orwell in 1936 or 1937 rather than the other way around; however, he had already used his novels to caricature the Left. In Keep the Aspidistra Flying Gordon Comstock directs his ridicule at the naive millionaire “socialist” Ravelston. The Left Book Club is mocked in Coming Up for Air not only for its hate-mongering lecturer but also for its membership. The audience at the lecture includes a spinster who has “a vague yearning to do something she calls ‘developing her mind,’ only she doesn't quite know how to start”; “a little woman with red hair … knitting a jumper”; a teacher with “her mouth a little bit open, drinking it all in”; “two old blokes from the local Labour Party”; and a Trotskyist arguing about “the dialectic of the dialectic” with the three members of the local branch of the Communist Party.33
In both Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four Orwell goes beyond socialism to the evils of Soviet Communism and totalitarianism, but even here there are disturbing remnants of his general stigmatizing of the Left. Notable is his choice of “Ingsoc” (English Socialism) to describe the political philosophy of Oceania in Nineteen Eighty-four. In the United States mainstream publications such as Time and Life contended that the novel was a clear castigation of the socialism of the Labour government of England. The author might have protested that this was a misreading, but even his publisher, Fredric Warburg, had commented when he first read the manuscript, “This I take to be a deliberate and sadistic attack on socialism and socialist parties generally.”34
ORWELL AND “ENGLISHNESS”: Orwell's conception of a special “Englishness” became increasingly important in his career. The cultural essence of this Englishness was captured most famously in his columns. Some of his most influential work for present-day scholars and the English media are his short essays from The Tribune. Today, most references to Orwell in the British press are not to his Orwellian world but to his columns on English cooking, the perfect cup of tea, the consummate pub, and even virtues of the common toad.
Orwell's “England” was superficial at best. Not only did he exclude the rest of the British Isles, he railed against “the whisky-swilling Scottish drunks” who administered the Empire, sneered at “the delusion that Eire [Ireland], Scotland, or even Wales could preserve its independence unaided and owes nothing to British protection,” and reduced nationalism in these areas to “small but violent separatist movements which exist within our own island.”35 The residual “England” was not an England of the present but an England of the past or even an England that never was: Orwell's perfect pub did not exist. His portrait of “solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar-boxes [mailboxes]”36 owed as much to British Council pamphlets of the 1930s, trying to convince foreigners of the qualities of the British Empire in an age of instability and dictatorships, as to his first-hand observations.
Orwell's early novels do not give an indication of this mythical England. Dorothy Hare and Gordon Comstock both struggle in the England of reality. Orwell as George Bowling tries to escape into the country of his childhood, only to find that this country is gone: “One thing, I thought as I drove down the hill, I'm finished with this notion of getting back into the past.”37 World War II changed all this. Now the England of Orwell's time, with its potential for greatness in the virtues of the mythical man in the street, had to be exalted. As he wrote in 1944, “By the end of another decade it will be finally clear whether England is to survive as a great nation or not. And if the answer is to be ‘Yes,’ it is the common people who must make it so.”38
TECHNIQUES AND STYLE
CLARITY OF LANGUAGE: Orwell placed great emphasis on simple, precise communication. In the essay “Why I Write” (1946) he argued that “Good prose is like a window pane.”39 His aims were not only literary: he maintained that poor writing concealed and even prevented thought. Dying metaphors, excessive verbiage, pretentious diction, and meaningless words could easily be used by a state or political groups that wished to disseminate propaganda and block the emergence of the truth from other sources. As Orwell concluded in “Politics and the English Language,” “If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy.”40
THE ILLUSION OF AUTHENTICITY: While giving the impression of authenticity, Orwell was willing to alter events. Chronological order was transposed, composite or fictional characters created (such as the mysterious benefactor who rescues Orwell from France in Down and Out in Paris and London), and places were changed. Orwell annotated a first edition of Down and Out in Paris and London, “Succeeding chapters not actually autobiography, but drawn from what I have seen.” An American reviewer shrewdly guessed that Orwell's imagination had “colored the facts a little. … One reads on with a sort of horrid fascination, happy in the suspicion (eventually verified) that this existence in the gutter is but the temporary condition of a man who rather enjoys being down and out.”41
In real life Orwell had been living rough in the East End of London before he ventured to make his career in France; in Down and Out in Paris and London he starts in Paris and only begins his tramping in England when he finds the start of his job delayed for a month. Orwell's famous vision in The Road to Wigan Pier of an exhausted young woman poking a stick up a blocked drainpipe was altered for even more dramatic effect. In reality, he saw her in mid February as he walked past a side alley in Wigan; for effect, the book has him sitting on a train in a wintry March, taking him away “through the monstrous scenery of slag-heaps, chimneys, piled scrap-iron, foul canals, paths of cindery mud criss-crossed by the prints of clogs.”42
The artificial distinction between fact and fiction is also illustrated by the crossover of characters from essay to novel. The real-life characters in “Hop-Picking,” a 1931 essay based on Orwell's adventures that same year, reappeared in A Clergyman's Daughter four years later. “Young Ginger,” who “seemed rather a likely lad,”43 became the ginger-haired Nobby in the novel. Orwell's starting point for his tramping, a night in Trafalgar Square, is transformed into the surreal setting for the third chapter of the novel.
REALISM: Orwell's early novels work in the tradition of the realistic novels of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He included Emile Zola in the list of “writers I care most about and never grow tired of.” One of Orwell's book reviews from 1936 pointed to elements of Zola that he admired: “The scenes of violence Zola describes in Germinal and La Débacle are supposed to symbolize capitalist corruption, but they are also scenes. At his best, Zola is not synthetic. He works under a sense of compulsion, and not like an amateur cook following the instructions on a packet of Crestona cake-flour.”44
Orwell's depictions of street scenes in Paris or of British colonial life in Burma are methodical. The opening of Down and Out in Paris and London is typical: “The rue du Coq d'Or, Paris, seven in the morning. A succession of furious, choking yells from the street. Madame Monce, who kept the little hotel opposite mine, had come out on to the pavement to address a lodger on the third floor. Her bare feet were stuck into sabots and her grey hair was streaming down.”45 In his later writing Orwell continued to emphasize the vivid description of the unusual and the commonplace, the exotic and the mundane. The realism may be a straightforward account of a circumstances, as in Homage to Catalonia, or it may take on a cynically humourous tone, as in Coming Up For Air. It may even verge on surrealism, as in some of the scenes in Nineteen Eighty-four, but Orwell still gives the reader the sense that the narrative depicts actual locations and events.
NATURALISM: It can be argued that Orwell, from the start of his career, went beyond realism into naturalism, or, as some critics have labeled it, “sordid realism.” Much of his descriptive writing turns upon a contrast between the drab—as in the leaden London of the present (Keep the Aspidistra Flying) or near-future (Nineteen Eighty-four)—and the vivid. Some critics have noted the influence of the poet A. E. Housman, including his celebration of the rural landscape, on Burmese Days; however, brightness and activity, as in Housman's poetry, are not necessarily positive. The Burmese jungle could bring dangers as well as release from the banal British club life.
In Down and Out in Paris and London, for example, Orwell opens with a graphic description of the Parisian quarter where he lives, including screaming concierges; small, noisy rooms; and bug-ridden wallpaper. At the heart of the book the naturalism is even more intense. Orwell places the reader in the hotel kitchen where he is working in the “stifling, low-ceilinged inferno of a cellar.”46 While this hellish description is at the extreme of Orwell's portrayal, the reader is always reminded of such discomfort until Orwell is spirited away from Paris by the mysterious benefactor.
The narrative of Orwell's tramping in England is less intense in expression but just as descriptive; he takes the reader into his confidence as he descends into the lower classes. When he first swaps his clothes for some old rags, he shares his shock: “I had worn bad enough things before, but nothing at all like these; they were not merely dirty and shapeless, they had—how is one to express it?—a gracelessness, a patina of antique filth, quite different from mere shabbiness.”47 The change of pace and tone is deliberate and effective: whereas Orwell is an obvious “alien” in France, his alienation in England, where he is among his fellow countrymen, is portrayed as a surprising revelation. Conversely, his unlikely (given his own background) bonding with his fellow down-and-outers comes through measured descriptions of unusual settings, such as the tramps obtaining a cup of tea through the pretense of prayer in a tin-roofed mission (”we knelt down among the dirty teacups and began to mumble that we had left undone those things that we ought to have done, and done those things that we ought not to have done, and there was no health in us”48).
In the end Orwell used naturalism to bring readers to empathize, as he had through his own experience, with the impoverished. He concludes his account, “I shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give him a penny, nor be surprised if men out of work lack energy, nor subscribe to the Salvation Army, nor pawn my clothes, nor refuse a handbill, nor enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant. That is a beginning.”49
The naturalism in Burmese Days is of a far different character. The atmosphere is not as intense as the underworld of Paris or as ominous as life on the seamy side of London. There is also a general variation in description depending on whether Orwell is portraying the British world of the club and John Flory's house or the Burmese world of the jungle. The British space is described matter-of-factly as a “mildewed” or “sleeping” place; the Burmese space is portrayed as distasteful in the opening section but becomes lush, colorful, and vibrant.
On the surface, this division of space embodies Orwell's anti-imperialism, the decaying British system set against the emerging country. Yet, this is a simplification. Through the use of color, Burma is reduced to a symbolic counterpoint in the novel, marked out simply as “not British.” The reader's empathy is for a token representation of the Burmese world before returning to the core of the story, the doomed fate of Flory.
Elements of this naturalism are present in Orwell's writing up to the end of his career, most notably in the graphic portrayals in The Road to Wigan Pier of working-class life in northern England and in Homage of Catalonia of “the winter cold, the ragged uniforms of militiamen, the oval Spanish faces, the morse-like tapping of machine-guns, the smells of urine and rotting bread, the tinny taste of bean-stews wolfed hurriedly out of unclean pannikins.”50 These elements were to be confined to Orwell's nonfiction. The title of Keep the Aspidistra Flying refers to the aspidistra plant, a common feature in middle-class living rooms. In the novel there are descriptions of the rooms of Gordon and his sister Julia, the police cells and the pubs, and, more pleasantly, the representation of the countryside. Coming Up for Air draws on the imagery of suburbia and of the village, both past and present. Nineteen Eighty-four contrasts drab settings, such as Victory Mansions, with the brightness of a location such as the Ministry of Love to put the mundane and the terrifying side-by-side. Yet, as early as 1934, Orwell was experimenting with literary techniques that went beyond naturalism.
POINT OF VIEW: Orwell's use of point of view is problematic, for the apparent division between the first-person account of his documentaries and the third-person representation of the protagonists in his novels collapses upon close reading. John Flory in Burmese Days, Gordon Comstock in Keep the Aspidistra Flying, George Bowling in Coming Up for Air, and Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-four are all manifestations of Orwell's personality and beliefs. Even Dorothy Hare in The Clergyman's Daughter, Orwell's only female protagonist, becomes a conduit for many of Orwell's impressions through their shared experiences of hop-picking, tramping, and teaching. At times, these characters risk being little more than an extension of Orwell the narrator. Occasionally, there is a shift in the point of view—in Burmese Days there are notable passages in which it is Elizabeth Lackersteen or Dr. Veraswami, rather than John Flory, who provides a narration of events.
MODERNISM: Orwell's conception of point of view became increasingly prominent from the mid 1930s as he adopted the techniques of modernism, in which the focus moved from description of characters' surroundings to the representation of their thoughts. While drafting A Clergyman's Daughter, Orwell had become fascinated with James Joyce. He wrote after reading Ulysses, “When I read a book like that and then come back to my own work, I feel like a eunuch who has taken a course in voice production and can pass himself off fairly well as a bass or a baritone, but if you listen closely you can hear the good old squeak just the same as ever.”51
The immediate effect of this influence was on the third section of A Clergyman's Daughter, the scene in which Dorothy Hare spends the night with the homeless in Trafalgar Square. The section is based on the “nighttown” episode in Ulysses, involving a surreal street scene of characters coming and going in the crowded, noisy street. In both works there is no single, focused viewpoint and thus no single, coherent narrative. Conversations occur simultaneously, but as they are overlapping and occur amidst stray remarks and fragments of songs, only the most diligent reader can piece them together.
Orwell refined the modernist techniques in his next two novels. Keep the Aspidistra Flying moves back and forth between the author's objective description and Gordon Comstock's thoughts to build up both the grimness of modern London and the frustration and futility of Gordon's life. The handling of this is far from perfect: there are annoying shifts when the point of view becomes Rosemary's or Ravelston's. Similarly, the reader is furnished with Gordon's family background through an awkward, chapter-long intervention by the narrator. Coming Up for Air is more consistent in its handling of the tension between the protagonist and the external world, primarily through George Bowling's use of the first person. His “flashbacks” are somewhat staged, conveniently taking a linear structure from earliest childhood through the decline of his marriage, but the point of view is always that of George's perception and commentary rather than the author's observation of him. More problematic is the relationship between protagonist and narrator: there are many passages in which George's ponderings are a vehicle for Orwell's beliefs and opinions rather than for development of the character.
Nineteen Eighty-four, for all the discussion of its political content, is Orwell's greatest modernist success, for it rests not on a comprehensive, naturalist representation of Winston Smith's world but on the modernist depiction of his interior thought. The novel is by far Orwell's most psychological work, turning upon the shifting moods and perceptions of Winston. This success in turn is founded upon Winston as an extension of Orwell, who was becoming more and more pessimistic about the fate of the postwar world. Like Gordon Comstock and George Bowling, Winston goes through phases of reverie as well as of frustration and anger; the difference is that whereas the two earlier protagonists find an accommodation with their world, however flawed it may be, there is no such hope for the protagonist of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
ALLEGORY AND SATIRE: In many ways Animal Farm is exceptional in Orwell's writing. While he had critiqued Swift's work, notably in “Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver's Travels” (1946), he had rarely employed satire in either his fiction or nonfiction, and his storytelling had been direct, relying upon the observations or thoughts of his human protagonists. There might have been black comedy in the travails and anger of Gordon Comstock and humor in the common-sense conclusions of George Bowling, but nothing approached the fantasy world of Gulliver.
Orwell had long clung to an image from his days in the small village of Wallington of a small boy leading a cart horse. Using animals as personifications both of his oppressed “common man” and of the corruption of revolutionary leadership, he could make his political argument through a fable rather than the direct, sometimes haranguing tone he had adopted in his columns and essays. At the same time, Orwell could concentrate on a narrative, far simpler than in his previous three novels, focusing on events rather than environment. His language was at its most basic, with precise, active words to “think more clearly” as “a necessary first step towards political regeneration.”52
The achievement of Animal Farm is an ironic comment on Orwell's development as a novelist. From Burmese Days through Nineteen Eighty-four, he embraced and tried to develop naturalist and modernist approaches, both through language and point of view. For most critics, his high point would come with the short book that broke from these experiments and, instead, used the classical form of the fable.
WORK ETHIC: Perhaps the most notable characteristic of Orwell the writer was his dedication to the task. He felt he had failed if he did not spend part of every day working on a text, be it a novel, essay, or book review.
Orwell was not a naturally gifted writer. Ruth Pitter, a friend from his earliest days in London, recalled, “He wrote so badly. He had to teach himself writing. He was like a cow with a musket. … He became a master of English, but it was sheer hard grind.” His efforts from this period were either stilted by literalism—Pitter noted, “We lent him an old oil-stove and he wrote a story about two young girls who lent an old man an oil stove”—or by awkward attempts at symbolism. In an attempt at a play about a man refusing to write advertising for the sake of his starving family, Orwell wrote the stage direction, “Everything goes dark, there is a sound like the roaring of waters. What actually happens is that the furniture is removed.” The protagonist “sits … reading a large book. He has a placard inscribed Deaf round his neck.”53
Yet, through persistence, Orwell raised his work to publishable standard. His nonfiction brought him to the attention of a wide audience, and his prewar novels, while flawed, demonstrated the quality of his observations and the precision of some of his writing. By 1945 he was completing one novel and starting another, writing a weekly column for one newspaper and contributing regularly to three others, and publishing essays in a variety of journals. In 1946 alone, he published more than 130 articles and reviews.
CONSULTATION WITH OTHERS: In general, Orwell's work was the product of lone effort. He did not confer in detail with other writers. He did not draw upon the services of an editor, and his publishers were primarily concerned with revisions to avoid any possibility of libel or obscenity. Norman Collins, Gollancz's co-director, said in response to the firm's lawyer's offer of literary advice about the draft of A Clergyman's Daughter, “[Orwell's] reply to such suggestions would, I am convinced, be … a perfectly plain and unequivocal ‘Go to hell.’ I think then that it is up to us to publish the book, making a ballyhoo of the fact that in many respects this is perhaps the most remarkable novel that we have ever published, etc., etc.”54
The striking exception to this rule was Orwell's reliance in the 1930s upon feedback from his friend Brenda Salkeld, a teacher of physical education. He began an intense correspondence with her that included musings on literature, as in his comment that George Bernard Shaw had “squandered what talent he may have had back in the '80s” and “suffer[ed] from an inferiority complex towards Shakespeare.”55 Orwell's infatuation with the work of Joyce was set out in great detail to Salkeld, and he turned to her to read the manuscript of Burmese Days.
On another occasion Orwell sought extensive advice from his wife, Eileen. Up to 1943 she had complained to friends that he did not want her to read and criticize his drafts; then, for no apparent reason, he began reading aloud his day's work on Animal Farm as they lay in bed. Eileen's criticism and suggestions were welcomed, although it is unclear how they affected the final draft of the book.
With Nineteen Eighty-four Orwell returned to his lonely pattern of earlier novels. He showed the manuscript to no one and, even as he lay seriously ill, carried out the final revisions and typed the manuscript. The effort hastened his return to the sanatorium and probably contributed to his untimely death.
DRAFTING AND REVISIONS: While Orwell was a methodical writer, he was also an extremely quick one. Down and Out in Paris and London was the most protracted work in development, primarily because of the extensive changes suggested by publishers who rejected the first draft and partly because Orwell fretted over the project. After this early experience, once he embarked on a manuscript, he soon completed a draft, always meeting the strict deadlines he offered to his agent and publisher. The first hundred pages of Burmese Days may have taken many months before their completion in January 1933, but, encouraged by his agent “to get on with it,” the next hundred were finished in three months, and the complete manuscript was submitted in December.56 Years later, the same pattern occurred with Nineteen Eighty-four. Only fifty pages had been completed when he went to the island of Jura in spring 1947; the first draft was finished seven months later.
Orwell's most significant revisions came not in the rewriting of a first draft but in the translation of factual material into documentary or fictional form. He may have learned this lesson of enhancing reality from his experience with Down and Out in Paris and London. The initial submission was criticized for being too tied to the format of a diary and too short and fragmentary to make an adequate book. Orwell expanded the book by moving to a narrative based on his experiences in both Paris and London. The revised documentary is still sketchy in places and the sections on the two cities sit together uneasily, but the outcome flows far more easily than the original series of entries.
With his fiction Orwell was far more likely to write a single draft, making only minor changes before publication. Burmese Days was altered in some places to meet the comments of Salkeld, but because of time and distance, she was not shown the draft of A Clergyman's Daughter. Instead, he rushed the disjointed manuscript to his agent. Orwell commented ominously, “The book does … contain an inherent fault of structure … [but] this could not be rectified in any way that I can think of.”57
Similarly, the more promising but flawed Keep the Aspidistra Flying was published with little intervention from external readers, agent, or publisher. Orwell again blamed the need to survive for the rushed efforts, but it is questionable if he ever envisaged substantial redrafts. It was his own impatience and frustration with reworking the structure of his novels, not fear of starvation, that prompted his quick completion of the novels.
Indeed, the biggest obstacle to publication was the bureaucratic irritation of clearing Orwell's manuscripts for obscenity and libel. Down and Out in Paris and London was not significantly held up, as he removed hints of certain swearwords and altered names of people and places, but Burmese Days presented more serious difficulties. Orwell, from naiveté or a sense of mischief, had used the names of real people throughout the novel, and both Gollancz and Heinemann rejected the manuscript for fear of a lawsuit. Some alterations were made to bring out Burmese Days in the United States, and Gollancz eventually arranged British publication after other names were changed. Orwell was quicker in making accommodations over his next two novels, toning down the school scene in A Clergyman's Daughter and revising advertising slogans and products in Keep the Aspidistra Flying that were too close to real-life sources.
Orwell stood firm when it came to substantial changes in the content or theme of his books. Although he acted on the comment of Gollancz's lawyer that the relationship between Dorothy and Warburton in A Clergyman's Daughter stretched credulity, inserting a paragraph on “the hold that the blasphemer and evil-liver always has over the pious,” he told the publisher that if any other changes were demanded, he would withdraw the manuscript.58 He refused the request of the editor in chief of Harper to delete the last pages of Burmese Days, detailing the fate of other characters after Flory's suicide, for publication in America. To Jonathan Cape's comment on Animal Farm—“It would be less offensive if the predominant caste in the fable were not pigs”—he offered the succinct reaction, “Balls.”59
Months before his death, Orwell took an important stand. The Book-of-the-Month Club, whose distribution would ensure widespread reception for Nineteen Eighty-four in the United States, indicated that it would accept the novel only if Emmanuel Goldstein's lengthy political treatise and the appendix on Newspeak were deleted. Orwell stood firm, and the Book-of-the-Month Club backed down.60
The extent to which Orwell's speed in writing and his aversion to substantial revision affected his work is still debated. One could argue that Animal Farm, completed in less than four months, is his best work. While his early novels suffered greatly from haste in their completion, it is unclear whether Orwell, at this early stage in his career and with his uncomfortable commitment to being a literary writer, had the ability to make significant improvements. More intriguing is the question whether Nineteen Eighty-four would have been a stronger work if Orwell, seriously ill, had not rushed the completion of the final draft. Questions over characterization (notably that of Julia), the awkward inclusion of Goldstein's manifesto and the Newspeak appendix, and the representation of the proletariat might have been addressed. Then again, such weaknesses are found throughout Orwell's work and could have been beyond remedy.
George Orwell, “Why I Write,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (London: Secker & Warburg, 1968), volume 1, p. 1.
Orwell to Brenda Salkeld, undated (August or September 1934), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 138.
Orwell, “Inside the Whale,” in Inside the Whale, and Other Essays (New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001), p. 31.
Rayner Heppenstall, Four Absentees (London: Barrie & Rockcliff, 1960), p. 32.
Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, in The Complete Novels (London: Penguin, 2001), p. 627.
Victor Gollancz to Harold Rubinstein, 17 June 1932, reprinted in Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1982), p. 224.
Orwell to Geoffrey Gorer, 15 September 1937, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 285.
Orwell to Leonard Moore, 26 April 1932, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 77-78.
Orwell to Moore, 19 November 1932, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 106.
Orwell to Heppenstall, 16 April 1940, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, p. 22.
Q. D. Leavis, “The Literary Life Respectable: Mr. George Orwell,” Scrutiny (September 1940): 176.
Keith Alldritt, The Making of George Orwell: An Essay in Literary History (London: Arnold, 1969), p. 2.
Crick, George Orwell, p. 18.
Peter Davison, George Orwell: A Literary Life (Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 1996), p. 144.
Crick, George Orwell, p. 369.
Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (New York: Penguin Putnam, 2000), p. 836.
Ibid., p. 170.
Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1962), pp. 16-17.
Ibid., pp. 11-12.
Richard Rees, George Orwell: Fugitive from the Camp of Victory (London: Secker & Warburg, 1961), p. 88.
Raymond Williams, Orwell (London: Fontana, 1971), p. 9.
V. S. Pritchett, quoted in Audrey Coppard and Crick, Orwell Remembered (London: BBC, 1984), p. 275.
Orwell, “Inside the Whale,” in Inside the Whale, and Other Essays, pp. 51-56.
Orwell, “London Letter,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, p. 182.
Orwell, review of Osbert Sitwell, Great Morning, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 443.
Orwell, Coming Up for Air (London: Secker & Warburg, 1959), p. 516.
Ibid., p. 525.
Ibid., pp. 559-560.
Orwell to Jack Common, undated (April 1936), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 216.
See Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, pp. 149-162.
Orwell to the editor of The New English Weekly, 26 May 1938, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 332; Orwell to Stephen Spender, April 1938, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 313.
Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius (New York: Penguin, 1982), pp. 63-64.
Orwell, Coming Up for Air, pp. 149-151.
Fredric Warburg, quoted in Crick, George Orwell, p. 567.
Orwell, quoted in Crick, George Orwell, p. 263; Orwell, review of Sean O'Casey, Drums under the Windows, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 13-15; Orwell, “As I Please,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 284-285.
Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn, p. 37.
Orwell, Coming Up for Air, p. 220.
Orwell, “The English People,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, p. 38.
Orwell, “Why I Write,” p. 7.
Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 139.
Quoted in Peter Stansky and William Abrahams, Orwell: The Transformation (London: Constable, 1979), pp. 23-24.
Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, p. 16.
Orwell, “Hop-Picking,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 55.
Orwell, review of Scholem Asch, The Calf of Paper, and Julian Green, Midnight, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 247.
Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London (New York: Penguin, 1984), p. 5.
Ibid., p. 51.
Ibid., p. 115.
Ibid., p. 126.
Ibid., p. 189.
Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (New York: Penguin, 1984), p. 103.
Orwell to Salkeld, September 1934, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 139.
See Roger Fowler, The Language of George Orwell (Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 1995), pp. 159-180.
Orwell, quoted in Crick George Orwell, pp. 178-180.
Norman Collins, quoted in Crick George Orwell, p. 257.
Orwell to Brenda Salkeld, March 1933, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 119.
Orwell to Eleanor Jaques, 18 February 1933, quoted in Michael Shelden, Orwell: The Authorised Biography (London: Minerva, 1992), p. 189.
Orwell to Moore, 14 November 1934, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 142-143.
Orwell, quoted in Shelden, Orwell, p. 221.
Jonathan Cape and Orwell, quoted in Crick, George Orwell, p. 456.
Orwell to Rees, 8 April 1949, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 487-488.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6152
To evaluate the work of Orwell, one must consider him primarily as a political writer. As he noted in his 1946 essay “Why I Write,” “What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art.”1 His writing cannot be separated from the ideology of his society and time. However valiantly his admirers might try to portray him as a writer who showed principled opposition to the faults of his own country as well as those of others, Orwell's writing reveals the signs of his upbringing and experiences working for the “establishment,” and his beliefs ultimately led him to defend the political system that he was supposedly criticizing. The final irony is that, by the end of his life, the author who portrayed the individual confronting the tyrannical state in Nineteen Eighty-four was passing information, listing individuals (including friends) who held suspect beliefs, to intelligence officers of the British government.
It is questionable whether Orwell was a socialist. There is no evidence, for example, that he ever read the work of Karl Marx or other writers who contributed to contemporary theories of socialism. His socialism may have praised the efforts and sacrifice of coal miners, condemned substandard housing, and elevated the Spanish workers to the status of heroes, but it never took the form of a coherent economic and political program to achieve a fairer system at home and abroad.
Orwell's approach toward economic problems, notably in The Road to Wigan Pier, is descriptive rather than analytical. The reader can gather that there is something amiss with an economy that could leave so many destitute, but Orwell provides nothing to explain how and why this situation has occurred. Similarly, his views on class, an essential concern in twentieth-century England, are superficial at best. While his observations of specific incidents or settings can be moving, as in The Road to Wigan Pier, his depictions of the working class are superficial, the ruling classes are little more than a specter, and no description or even understanding is shown of the economic process that has led to the deep divisions in British society. It is easy to list what Orwell was against—political orthodoxy, ill-planned industrialization, restrictions on what he could write—but, apart from his superficial exaltation of the common man, almost impossible to elucidate what he was for.
Part of the problem is that Orwell was always in political transition. He left the Indian Imperial Police with a dislike of British imperialism but he was in no way committed to the cause of Indian nationalism. He wrote of the deprivations and poor working conditions of 1930s England; however, it was only in 1936 that he embraced a vague form of socialism. Orwell did not join a political organization until 1938; when he did become a member of the Independent Labour Party, it was more from a fear of fascism than from a desire to rectify the social inequalities about which he had written. A year later, he had renounced the ILP and pacifism to become a fervent defender of England's involvement in World War II and British nationalism. During and after the war, his attention turned to the perils of the Soviet system.
Orwell covered up this weakness in his own political thought by lashing out at those who might challenge his work. The hatred undermined any progressive vision in his work. What he offered the reader was a negative conception of what was wrong with the world; the positive dimension of what could be done to remedy the situation was minimal at best. The economic answer in The Road to Wigan Pier is absent as the political remedy in Homage to Catalonia or the alternative to Big Brother in Nineteen Eighty-four.
The foundation for Orwell's work was not socialism but Englishness. In 1941 he elucidated this fully in The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius, a short volume seeking to define the aims of World War II. Orwell set out the task in his opening: “Above all, [England] is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time. The suet puddings and the red pillar-boxes have entered into your soul. Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it, and this side of the grave you will never get away from the marks that it has given you.”2 While Orwell set out a six-point program for his own socialism in the book, he returned to his nationalistic theme at the end: “We must add to our heritage or lose it, we must grow greater or grow less, we must go forward or backward. I believe in England, and I believe that we shall go forward.”3
WORLD WAR I AND BEYOND: Orwell was eleven years old when World War I began in 1914. Much later, he portrayed himself as unmoved by the conflict, and in his writing he criticized the nationalism that led to the loss of so many lives. In Coming Up for Air George Bowling lectures a young Communist, arguing for war against Adolf Hitler's Germany: “In 1914, we thought it was going to be a glorious business. Well, it wasn't. It was just a bloody mess. If it comes again, you keep out of it. Why should you get your body plugged full of lead?”4 In fact, Orwell was a schoolboy supporter of the English cause. His first two poems, published in a local newspaper, called for volunteers and extolled the military hero Lord Kitchener. In 1917 and 1918, while at Eton College, he participated in the compulsory Officers' Training Corps and took charge of the Signal Corps, albeit with a touch of youthful rebelliousness.
THE BRITISH EMPIRE OF THE 1920s: World War I exacted an extraordinary human and financial cost, but it led to an unprecedented expansion of British political and economic influence in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. One-fifth of the land on the Earth was controlled directly or indirectly by London, and it was proudly stated that the sun never set on the British Empire. The “jewel in the crown” of this system was the Indian subcontinent, which included the province of Burma.
In Burmese Days Orwell portrays the stock villains of the imperial system, with their racism, arrogance, officiousness, and vanity, and he skillfully depicts the corrosive effects of imperialism on the decent protagonist, John Flory. Most illuminating is Orwell's portrayal of himself, not only through Flory but also through his autobiographical essays “A Hanging” and “Shooting an Elephant.” Unlike Down and Out in Paris and London, in which events act upon a passive narrator, Orwell in Burmese Days is an active subject and representative of British imperialism. He cannot remain a passive protagonist but must undergo a self-critique. The outcome is a more complex conception of imperialism than one finds in superficial defenses or criticisms. Orwell depicts British imperialism as both powerful and impotent, resolute and uncertain, progressive and reactionary.
Yet, one must also recognize the limitations of Orwell's portrayal of British imperialism. He crafts two detailed “native” characters to set up a clear moral choice. A local official, U Po Kyin, is the scheming villain whose pursuit of power has as its ultimate goal admission to the British whites-only club. Flory's friend Dr. Veraswami (he is not Burmese but Indian) is the innocent who is punished by U Po Kyin's treachery and Flory's cowardice. Even more troubling, the local people who rise up in opposition to British rule are portrayed as a mob who can be manipulated by U Po Kyin. Orwell may have been disturbed by the exercise of imperial power, but he shied away from presenting any alternative to it.
“A Hanging” does have passages that provide a “human” picture of the Burmese subject, notably the depiction of the condemned man carefully avoiding a puddle. The tone, however, is one of resignation to the iniquities of power rather than of any determined challenge. “Shooting An Elephant” is even more troubling. Whereas the local population is inert in “A Hanging,” in this essay they are an irrational crowd. They beseech the protection of Orwell, the British representative, against the elephant which, in heat, has trampled a bamboo hut, killed a cow, and raided some fruit stalls. Orwell may face a dilemma between “saving face” and shooting an innocent animal, but there is no indication that the Burmese are capable of assuming any responsibility.
DOWN AND OUT IN THE 1930s: By 1931 England was in a political and economic crisis. Between 1928 and 1930, unemployment doubled; eventually 25 percent of the workforce was out of a job. The Labour Party government was unable to borrow gold to defend the British currency unless it made deep cuts in social expenditure; divided over such a course of action, the government left office. A coalition government of Conservatives, Liberals, and some Labour members provided some stability, but only at the cost of sharply reduced social programs. Unemployment did not fall below 10 percent until after the outbreak of World War II.
The economic downturn particularly affected areas, including large parts of northern England, that were dependent on heavy manufacturing and activities such as coal mining. Conditions in the mines had long been a matter for discontent; wages were held down, and there was little regard for health and safety. Management's refusal to make improvements was one of the causes of the General Strike of 1926, but it collapsed in the face of government opposition.
While the graphic passages in The Road to Wigan Pier might elicit revulsion at substandard housing and unclean food and consciousness of the divide between the haves and the have-nots, it is uncertain if the book has had an impact beyond the immediate imagery. Orwell gives no indication of why the disparity in lifestyles has arisen. His poverty in Paris was due to the misfortune of the theft of his money rather than an ongoing struggle for subsistence, and it is clear that his living on the streets in London was a matter of choice rather than necessity.
Nor does Orwell offer any suggestion for a way out of this misery. His own “rescue” is due not to any significant change in the political or social system but to providence: his friend Bruno's discovery of jobs in a Paris hotel, the unidentified benefactor's payment of his return fare from France, and the offer of employment in Essex caring for a “backward boy.” Those whom Orwell has encountered, such as the “curious specimen” of a storyteller, Charlie, and the Russian refugee Boris, Orwell's “close friend for a long time,” are left behind when the narrative ends.
It was The Road to Wigan Pier that brought both the strengths and weaknesses of Orwell's emerging political vision to the fore. Many consider his portrayal, in the first of the two parts of the book, of working-class conditions as among the moving and effective criticisms of British politics and society. A 1979 study of Orwell puts the case eloquently: “In those seven chapters [are] a portrait of poverty and its consequences that catches at the imagination and awakens sympathy and anger, even now, some forty years later, when the appalling conditions it describes have long since been ameliorated—perhaps, in some slight degree, a consequence of the book itself.”5
Orwell's diatribe against the Left in the second part of The Road to Wigan Pier exposes his own lack of a conception to deal with the working-class situation. Describing his return to England after service in Burma, he rejects any systematic approach and espouses a vague aspiration: “I had at that time no interest in Socialism or any other economic theory. It seemed to me then—it sometimes seems to me now, for that matter—that economic injustice will stop the moment we want it to stop, and no sooner, and if we genuinely want it to stop the method adopted hardly matters.”6 Orwell recorded his observations of poverty and hardship in The Road to Wigan Pier, but he was unable to evaluate the causes and possible solutions for these conditions, whether of families crowded into substandard housing or of miners whose reward for courage was danger, ill health, and job insecurity.
Orwell offers no reference to such significant events as the Jarrow March of 1936, in which hundreds marched three hundred miles from northeast England to London to protest economic conditions, and he gives only a fleeting glimpse of groups such as the National Unemployed Workers' Movement, despite his recognition that “by far the best work for the unemployed is being done” by the organization. (He is far harsher about the NUWM in his diary, caricaturing a meeting as “the same sheeplike crowd—gaping girls and shapeless middle-aged women dozing over their knitting—that you see everywhere else.”)7
Instead, in the one hundred pages of The Road to Wigan Pier devoted to analysis of British society and politics, Orwell can only swing wildly at the Socialists. They were either “warm-hearted, unthinking” Socialists from the working class or “intellectual, book-trained” Socialists with their “soggy half-baked insincerity,” complemented by a “prevalence of cranks,” including “every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.”8 Amidst this bleak assessment, Orwell offered only a glib solution: “Different classes must be persuaded to act together without, for the moment, being asked to drop their class-differences.” Somehow, Socialism must capture the “exploited Middle Class.”9
ORWELL AND THE “MONEY GOD”: Keep the Aspidistra Flying, with the shrill diatribes of the protagonist, Gordon Comstock, against the “money god” and associated evils such as advertising, gave Orwell more scope for expressing his dislike of modern British life. Yet, Comstock's rantings against the materialism of London are directed not against economic or political masters but against the manifestations of mass culture, such as the disregard for quality literature, posters for “Vitamalt” and “Bovex,” and “those desolate hotels which exist all along the motor roads and are frequented by stockbrokers airing their whores on Sunday afternoons.”10 When Orwell identifies a specific target for Comstock's ridicule, it is not those who have produced this mass culture but the naive millionaire “socialist” Ravelston (a character based on Orwell's lawyer, Richard Rees), who plays at being a friend of the working class. Instead of taking the opportunity for a detailed examination of the political and economic conditions of the 1930s that contributed to unhappiness and even desperation, Orwell scored cheap points against the Left with which he was supposedly associated. The result is that the ambiguity of Comstock's decisions at the end of the novel—to marry Rosemary and to accept a job with an advertising agency that he detests—is more than a literary device. The lack of a political position means that it is unclear whether Comstock is reaching an accommodation or submitting in resignation to a system that is too powerful for the resistance of any one individual.
THE CATALYST OF SPAIN: The Spanish Civil War, which is an unknown conflict for many people today, was both a catalyst for and a powerful symbol of the European tensions that led to World War II. Its complexity took in the major issues of class, religion, and political movements—from fascism to communism, nationalism, and regionalism—not only for Spaniards but also for activists throughout Europe. On one level, the increasing support of Germany and Italy for the Nationalist forces of General Francisco Franco convinced many people that the defense of the Spanish Republican Government had become a defense of European stability and democracy. On another, the refusal of the British and French governments to support the Republic, in contrast to the involvement of the Soviet Union, meant that there was never a concerted international intervention against the Nationalists.
The major contribution of the Spanish Civil War to Orwell was to his political development. The outcome, however, was not a sustained commitment to a clear political philosophy. It is notable that Orwell had only joined the militia of POUM, an “independent” Marxist party, after he was unable to serve in the Communist-supported International Brigade and that only weeks before his return to England he was still advocating the strategy pursued by the Spanish government, backed by the Communists. The war brought out Orwell's unrelenting hostility to other intellectuals and activists on the Left. He complained, “What sickens me about left-wing people, especially the intellectuals, is their utter ignorance of the way things actually happen.”11
In Homage to Catalonia Orwell depicts clearly the divisions that turned the Spanish Republican government against nominal allies, such as “independent” socialists and anarchists. He established a foundation for his later work on politics and literature with his denunciation of the propaganda of the Spanish government and its British supporters, such as The New Statesman and Nation. This propaganda consisted both of biased news and commentary and of suppression of reports and opinions that challenged the Spanish government.
Because of the significance of Homage to Catalonia, it is essential to recognize the limited political vision of the book. Orwell's concentration on the dispute within the Left means other dimensions of the Spanish Civil War of equal or even greater importance are given little or no attention. Readers will not find any explanation for the outbreak of the war because of Orwell's lack of understanding of, or even concern with, Spanish politics and history. The war was not only about class and power for the workers but also about the place of religion in Spanish life, the optimal type of government, the role of the military, and various divisions—urban versus rural, north versus south, national versus regional—in Spain. Orwell obscures these issues by referring to the enemy, incorrectly, as “fascists”; many of those fighting for the Nationalists had little sympathy for or even knowledge of fascism. Even the title of the book is misleading, for Orwell offers little information about Catalonia, the region centering on Barcelona that had long sought independence or autonomy within Spain.
Even more significant, given the supposed evolution of Orwell's political awareness, is the absence of any reference to the international dimension of the war beyond repeated denunciations of Soviet influence on the Republic. From its inception, the Spanish conflict was an important test case of European power politics, with Germany and Italy supporting the rebel forces with equipment, advisors, and bombs. Some historians have argued that a decisive intervention against the insurrection could have prevented World War II, but England and France refused to support the Republican government. All of this is beyond Orwell's narrative.
It is ironic, given Orwell's denunciation of propaganda, that the argument of Homage to Catalonia is given strength by its own distortions. Orwell depicts a misguided Spanish government, in league with or manipulated by the Communists, betraying the people by persecuting other movements on the Left. The government's case—that it was those movements, through their emphasis on a workers' revolution rather than on the priority of defeating the insurrection, that jeopardized the war effort—is never mentioned.
PACIFISM: In Keep the Aspidistra Flying Orwell used Gordon Comstock to express his own fatalistic expectations of “the reverberations of future wars. Enemy aeroplanes flying over London, the deep threatening hum of the propellers, the shattering thunder of the bombs.” But it is George Bowling in Coming Up for Air who embodies the author's pacifism. Whereas Gordon's opinions are somewhat devalued by his constant cynicism, George is a thoroughly decent man beset by worries: “In the whole of England at this moment there probably isn't a single bedroom window from which anyone's firing a machine-gun. But how about five years from now? Or two years? Or one year?”12 Even during his “escape” to Lower Binfield to recapture a quieter past, Bowling cannot evade such fears, especially when a bomb falls on the village. He thinks, “It's started. I knew it! Old Hitler didn't wait. Just sent his bombers across without warning.” In fact, the bomb has accidentally fallen from a British plane on a training flight, but the damage is done to Bowling's illusions: “I'd chucked a pineapple into my dreams, and lest there should be any mistake the Royal Air Force had followed up with five hundred pounds of T.N.T.”13
In his essays dating from before World War II, Orwell argued vehemently that preparations for a war against Germany should not be supported because British leaders would institute their own “fascist” political and economic controls. In the July 1939 essay “Not Counting Niggers” he put the case that “the political obscenities of the past two years, the sort of monstrous harlequinade in which everyone is constantly bounding across the stage in a false nose—Quakers shouting for a bigger army, Communists waving Union Jacks, Winston Churchill posing as a democrat—would not have been possible without this guilty consciousness that we are all in the same boat [against fascism].”14
PATRIOTISM AND WORLD WAR II: On 23 August 1939, just over a week before the German assault on Poland that started World War II, Germany and the Soviet Union surprised the world by announcing a nonaggression pact. Orwell later claimed that, on the eve of the pact, he had “dreamed that the war had started.” Apparently the vision absolved him of any previous beliefs regarding aggression, for it showed him “that I was patriotic at heart, would not sabotage or act against my own side, would support the war, would fight in it.”15 In fact, although Orwell would not say it openly, the major change was that the issue was no longer just opposition to Hitler's National Socialists but also to Joseph Stalin's Communists.
Orwell complained to a friend about his inability to serve in the military because of his weak lungs.16 He chided the Socialists for failing to grasp that the “patriotism of the middle classes is a thing to be made use of. The people who stand to attention during ‘God Save the King’ would readily transfer their loyalty to a Socialist regime, if they were handled with the minimum of tact.”17 Meanwhile, Orwell's former colleagues in the International Labour Party and others on the Left now received the fury of his pen, as he sneered, “The quisling intellectual is a phenomenon of the last two years” and claimed that pacifists were “objectively pro-Fascist.”18
In 1942, in a roundtable discussion in the Partisan Review, Orwell's position was challenged by three pacifists, Alex Comfort, George Woodcock, and D. S. Savage. Comfort noted, “I see Mr. Orwell is intellectual-hunting again.” Woodcock, who later became a friend and admiring critic of Orwell, made the most telling charge:
If we are to expose antecedents, Orwell does not come off very well. Comrade Orwell, the former police officer of British imperialism (from which the Fascists learnt all they know) in those regions of the Far East where the sun at last sets for ever on the bedraggled Union Jack! Comrade Orwell, former fellow-traveller of the pacifists and regular contributor to the pacifist Adelphi—which he now attacks! Comrade Orwell, former extreme left-winger, ILP partisan and defender of Anarchists (see Homage to Catalonia)! And now Comrade Orwell who returns to his old imperialist allegiances and works at the BBC conducting British propaganda to fox [i.e., mislead] the Indian masses!19
Orwell, however, was no unqualified defender of the status quo, even if his attitude toward the Indian masses was a shade more than patronizing. Rather, he had taken to the fanciful notion that the war could spark a revolution of the “common people.” This revolution would not be a bloody one—that was the European way—but, amidst the turmoil caused by the war and economic sacrifice at home, the common people would assert their values and policies so forcefully that they would emerge as the new British regime. If all this seemed a bit vague, Orwell assured his readers, “Like all else in England, [the revolution] happens in a sleepy, unwilling way, but it is happening. … The right men will be there when the people really want them, for it is movements that make leaders and not leaders movements.”20
Orwell even had a mechanism for his “revolution”: the Home Guard, in which the esteemed common people were organized into quasi-military units to resist any German invasion. As early as June 1940, he was writing to journals, “Arm The People,” advocating the issuance of hand grenades and shotguns to Guard units. These would become “a democratic guerrilla force.”21
Orwell could not sustain this vision of English qualities leading to meaningful political and social change. The rigors of World War II might have initially offered the prospect that Englishmen might demand that the war be fought for a new country, but Orwell eventually sank into a cynical depression about the future. His own role at the BBC directing programs for the Indian subcontinent had not put him in a prime position to influence domestic opinion, and his grand idea of arming the Home Guard had come to nothing. (Unsurprisingly, the government was unwilling to distribute hand grenades and shotguns to potential revolutionaries.) At the end of 1944 Orwell wrote, “There has been no real shift of power and no increase in genuine democracy. The same people still own the property and usurp all the best jobs.”22 Orwell was discovering that he had nothing with which to fulfill the aspiration of “Englishness.”
THE COLD WARRIOR
By the time Animal Farm appeared in August 1945, the war in Europe had ended. Eleven days before its publication, the first atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan. There was also a new government in England, as the Labour Party had defeated Churchill's Conservatives in a general election in June. It was the first time Labour had led the country since 1931, and it heralded the introduction of the social and economic program known as the welfare state.
On the surface, Orwell should have welcomed this victory for socialism. He had not foreseen the election of Labour, predicting that the Conservatives would win by a small majority. After the electoral surprise, he was surprisingly grudging in his embrace of Labour's cause: “One cannot take this slide to the Left as meaning that Britain is on the verge of revolution. … The mood of the country seems to me less revolutionary, less Utopian, even less hopeful, than it was in 1940 or 1942.”23 True, Orwell did write for The Tribune, the newspaper led by Labour Minister Aneurin Bevan, but it was more as an independent columnist rather than as a voice of the party.
More importantly, the world soon moved from World War II into the Cold War, with the grand alliance of the United States, England, and the Soviet Union dissolving over economic and territorial disputes. By 1947 America had launched a global crusade against Soviet Communism, with positive measures such as the Marshall Plan and covert campaigns to overthrow Soviet-backed governments in Eastern Europe. The government of Clement Attlee in England, which had sought a “third force” between capitalism and communism, was increasingly pressed to follow the American line; if it did not, it would suffer the loss of economic support from the United States.
In this atmosphere Orwell's own socialism soon faded. Unable to find a positive vision to meet his concerns, he was more and more strident in his campaigns against “enemies.” His position was reinforced by close and influential relationships with intellectuals who were leading anti-Communist campaigns. He was part of an informal luncheon club with writers such as Anthony Powell and Malcolm Muggeridge; the latter went on to work with British intelligence to check the Soviet menace. Even more important was Orwell's developing friendship with Arthur Koestler, the émigré from Hungary who had left the Communist Party and written the novel Darkness at Noon (1940). The two increasingly directed their attention toward the crusade against intellectuals allegedly directed by Moscow. Celia Kirwan, the sister of Koestler's wife, also played a large role in Orwell's personal and political life, especially after his marriage proposal to her in 1946, which she declined.
From 1943, when Orwell first had the idea that developed into Nineteen Eighty-four, his political and personal development was pointing toward a dystopian view of the near future. Despite his denials, the novel offered little beyond a negative conception of humanity and was directed at the Soviet Union and those on the Left who did not share his vague approach to socialism: “I believe … that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere, and I have tried to draw these ideas out to their logical consequences.”24 Still, Orwell's personal campaign was not solely against these Leftist demons. Nineteen Eighty-four is also a warning against an ill-considered acceleration in technology and the machine society, particularly in its shaping of mass activity through communications. These fears or, in some cases, hopes, underlay the novels of writers such as H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, and, most influential in the case of Nineteen Eighty-four, the Soviet writer Evgeny Zamyatin. (Zamyatin's 1924 novel We was little known in Western Europe, but Orwell had obtained a translated copy and greatly admired Zamyatin's futurist and dystopian vision.)
Against these fears and angers Orwell did try to reestablish the bulwark of Englishness with his short essays and his column in The Tribune. Like George Bowling in Coming Up for Air, however, Orwell was coming to recognize that this idyll could not be recovered. A little more than a month after the surrender of Japan, he wrote in a piece titled “You and the Atom Bomb” that the bomb was likely “to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a ‘peace that is no peace.’”25
Nineteen Eighty-four was the fulfillment of this prophecy. Orwell was influenced by the American political theorist James Burnham's conception of three power blocs led by the United States, the Soviet Union, and China (respectively, Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia in Nineteen Eighty-four). In this world England was reduced to the status of an unquestioning ally of America. The vision of the older, gentler, lost England, which Winston Smith finds in an antique glass sphere, is ultimately shattered.
Orwell could have used Nineteen Eighty-four to fashion a far different critique, in which his England rejected the tyrannies of both the Soviet Union and the United States. He was far from a staunch admirer of the American way of life, criticizing the violence of its detective stories and its comic books, “in which sinister professors manufacture atomic bombs in underground labs while Superman whizzes through the clouds, the machine-gun bullets bouncing off his chest like peas, and platinum blondes are raped, or very nearly, by steel robots and 50-foot dinosaurs.”26 Orwell's naming of England as “Airstrip One” was later adopted later by those criticizing British subservience to the United States. In 1947 he even broached the idea of a British-led Europe steering a course between capitalist Uncle Sam and Communist Uncle Joe: “Socialism cannot properly be said to be established until it is world-wide, but the process must begin somewhere, and I cannot imagine it beginning except through the federation of the western European states, transformed into Socialist republics without colonial dependencies.”27
Having cut himself off from a positive conception of socialism, Orwell could not reclaim it. He had been reduced to complaining “that political behaviour is largely non-rational, that the world is suffering from some kind of mental disease which must be diagnosed before it can be cured” and hoping that his adopted son would become a farmer so that he could escape the threat of the atomic bomb, which Orwell expected would be dropped on cities.28 Working-class people, far from being empowered or even ennobled in Nineteen Eighty-four, are either good-hearted but passive or threatening, even irrational, such as an old “prole” in a pub who can offer no sense to Winston Smith. In the end, Winston's crusade, like Orwell's, is that of a lone liberal; in the end, it is doomed to failure.
Orwell's crusade was now devoted to anti-Communism. To pursue this aim, the same man who had denounced Big Brother was willing to cooperate with the secret services of the British government. The author who had written in the starkest of terms about the effects of public denunciation was ready to blacklist others. For years Orwell had kept and updated a list of suspect figures in a notebook. Koestler encouraged the project and annotated the list. Lying in a Gloucestershire sanatorium in February 1949, Orwell mentioned it to Celia Kirwan, the target of his affections a few years earlier. Kirwan had a professional as well as a personal interest in this list, for she was working for the top-secret Information Research Department (IRD), created in 1948 to disseminate anti-Communist propaganda throughout England and overseas.
Orwell's original list had 105 names; of these people, 36 were singled out for special attention and passed to the IRD.29 The suspects included not only Labour Party members of Parliament but also the future poet laureate, C. Day-Lewis, poet Stephen Spender, actors Charlie Chaplin and Michael Redgrave, actor and director Orson Welles, writer J. B. Priestley, actor and singer Paul Robeson, scholar Harold Laski, and historians Isaac Deutscher and A. J. P. Taylor.
On behalf of the Information Research Department, Kirwan offered profuse thanks to Orwell for the list, but this was only the beginning of the author's usefulness to British and American intelligence services. Christopher Woodhouse, a British intelligence officer, “reviewed” Animal Farm for The Times Literary Supplement in 1954, and the IRD developed an Animal Farm comic strip that was distributed by British embassies and published in countries such as India, Burma, Eritrea, Thailand, Mexico, Venezuela, and Brazil. The CIA sought the movie rights to Animal Farm, obtaining them from Orwell's widow, Sonia, after they arranged for her introduction to Clark Gable. The American Committee for Cultural Freedom, a private group secretly funded by the CIA, provided advice on the screenplay for a motion-picture adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-four. Animal Farm was produced as an animated feature in 1955; the movie 1984 was released the following year.30
George Orwell, “Why I Write,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (London: Secker & Warburg, 1968), volume 1, p. 6.
Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius (New York: Penguin, 1982), p. 37.
Ibid., p. 123.
Orwell, Coming Up for Air, in The Complete Novels (London: Penguin, 2001), p. 520.
Peter Stansky and William Abrahams, Orwell: The Transformation (London: Constable, 1979), p. 153.
Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1962), p. 130.
Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier diary, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 181.
Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, pp. 139, 152, 159.
Ibid., p. 199.
Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, in The Complete Novels, pp. 578, 586.
Orwell to Jack Common, 12 October 1938, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 357.
Orwell, Coming Up for Air, p. 442.
Ibid., pp. 562, 565.
Orwell, “Not Counting Niggers,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 395.
Orwell, “My Country Right or Left,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 539.
Orwell to John Lehmann, 6 July 1940, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, p. 29.
Orwell, “London Letter,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, p. 50.
Orwell, “London Letter,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, p. 182; “A Controversy,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, p. 226.
D. S. Savage, George Woodcock, Alex Comfort, and Orwell, “A Controversy,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, pp. 224.
Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn, p. 93.
Orwell to the editor of Time and Tide, 22 June 1940, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, p. 278.
Orwell, “London Letter,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, p. 294.
Orwell, “London Letter,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, p. 395.
Orwell to Francis Henson, 16 June 1949, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 502.
Orwell, “You and the Atom Bomb,” The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 10.
Orwell, “Riding Down from Bangor,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 242.
Orwell, “Toward European Unity,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 370.
Orwell to Julian Symons, 29 October 1948, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 449-451.
The British Government still refuses to release the names of the thirty-six, and Orwell's list is still withheld from public view. Peter Davison, the editor of twenty volumes of Orwell's correspondence and writings, has published an abridged version of the list with twenty-eight names deleted. See The Complete Works of George Orwell, edited by Davison, volume 20: Our Job Is to Make Life Worth Living (London: Secker & Warburg, 1998), pp. 242-258.
C. M. Woodhouse, “Animal Farm,” Times Literary Supplement, 6 August 1945, pp. xxx-xxxi; Richard Norton-Taylor and Seamus Milne, Guardian (London), 11 July 1996, p. 1; Scott Lucas, Freedom's War: The U.S. Crusade against the Soviet Union, 1945-1956 (New York: New York University Press, 1999), pp. 64-65; Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London: Granta, 1999), pp. 293-301.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 17523
Down and Out in Paris and London (1933): Eric Blair, an aspiring writer, lives in the Latin Quarter of Paris and subsists by giving English lessons. The area is crowded with rundown lodgings; the residents are an eccentric mix, impoverished by ill fortune, drink, or choice. The center of social life is the bistro, where characters entertain each other with songs, stories, and games of chance.1
After more than a year, Blair decides to seek a permanent job, but almost all his money is stolen by a fellow lodger. Life becomes a daily struggle for food and lodging, with Blair pawning his good clothes, and he seeks out a Russian waiter, Boris, who has assured him of kitchen work. After several false opportunities, including reportage for the newspaper of a Communist secret society and employment at a new Russian restaurant, the two men find jobs at the Hotel X, Blair as a plongeur (kitchen assistant) working more than eighty hours a week. The long-promised Russian restaurant finally opens, and Boris and Blair join the staff for a few weeks. Blair is appalled by the filth and incompetence, and when an English contact writes of a job caring for “a congenital imbecile,”2 he seizes the chance and returns to London.
Upon arrival, Blair is told that his new employers are abroad for a month. He pawns some more clothes for a shilling and some older rags, stays at “doss-houses” (crowded dormitories) and “spikes” (lodging houses for tramps), and walks the streets. Blair eventually roams with Paddy, an unemployed Irish factory worker, and Bozo, a crippled pavement artist. After two weeks of walking about the outskirts of London, Blair borrows enough money from his English contact to tide him over until his job begins, and he ends his “fairly trivial story” (188).
The Road to Wigan Pier (1937): Orwell describes a stay in a filthy, crowded room above a tripe shop, profiling the indolent, brooding owners and the mixture of old-age pensioners, unemployed, and traveling salesmen staying there. He is driven away not only by the dirt and the stench of the house but also by “the feeling of stagnant, meaningless decay.”3 He travels north by train, through fresh snow, to the mines.
Orwell crawls a mile through a mine to appreciate the rigors of the work. He writes with great admiration of the miners with “their most noble bodies” (21) and details the low wages, long hours, and unsafe conditions in mining. Orwell then considers the working class in general, devoting chapters to specific economic and social aspects. The description of the appalling state of housing, with its dirt, decay, and overcrowding, is complemented by sections on unemployment, poverty, and working-class attitudes in the north of England.
If the first part of the book is an exposition on the state of working-class life, the second is a polemic against Orwell's fellow socialists. He begins with a depiction of the prejudices of the “shabby genteel,” who think that “the lower classes smell” (108, 113), and with the change in his own attitude from schooldays to his tramping in London. Orwell moves from criticizing the illusion that class distinctions can be easily abolished to castigating socialism, particularly that variety based on Marxist theory. The critique of ideas soon becomes a caricature of “the intellectual, tract-writing type of Socialist, with his pullover, his fuzzy hair, and his Marxian quotation” (156). The outcome, in Orwell's eyes, is that “the thinking person” (186) is turned away from socialism and that “Fascism may win” (193). He closes with a vague injunction for bringing “an effective Socialist party into existence” (204).
Homage to Catalonia (1938): This autobiographical account begins with Orwell in December 1936 at an induction center in Barcelona, observing an Italian militiaman with “the face of a man who would commit murder and throw away his life for a friend.”4 The scene shifts to the battlefront, where Orwell serves with a militia of POUM (the United Marxist Workers' Party). His description of life in the trenches combines black humor over the cold, the general lack of activity, and the military preparations—”the Spanish are good at many things, but not at making war” (16)—with praise of the working-class troops as a “sort of temporary working model of the classless society” (28-29).
Interspersed in Orwell's recollection is his consideration of the development of the Spanish Civil War and the internal political situation. He has special words for the “sleek persons in London and Paris” and the “party hacks and sleek little professors” spreading Communist propaganda against POUM (64, 65).
When Orwell returns to Barcelona on leave in spring 1937, he notes “no outward sign of working class predominance” and “fat, prosperous men, elegant women, and sleek cars … everywhere” (106-107). A dispute between the Communists and other parties, such as POUM and the Anarchists, leads to arrests and street fighting. Orwell spends most of the next ten days “guarding” the POUM headquarters, gazing from his rooftop post onto the street and across to a government Civil Guard atop the adjacent building. He leaves the city for the battlefront but soon returns after he is shot in the neck. With POUM outlawed by the government and its members being detained, Orwell and his wife leave Spain. On seeing his native country, he thinks of “the deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs” (221).
“The Spike,” Adelphi, 2 (April 1931): 24-33: Orwell's first published essay in an English journal, this descriptive account of tramping in London is notable mainly as the basis for two chapters of Down and Out in Paris and London. The character “Nobby” is the basis for Dorothy Hare's tramping companion in A Clergyman's Daughter.5
“A Hanging,” Adelphi, 2 (August 1931): 417-422: Orwell's account is a powerful description of the pathos and horror of an everyday incident during his service in Burma. A “puny wisp of a man” has been sentenced to death for an unnamed crime. Orwell brings the essay to life through the black comedy of the unexpected, with “a large woolly dog, half Airedale, half pariah,” suddenly appearing in the gallows yard, as well as an image of the condemned man stepping aside to avoid a puddle. He comments, “Till that moment I had never realised what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man.” The juxtaposition between the serious and the mundane is accentuated with the closing anecdote of laughter at the story of six prison guards pulling on the legs of the condemned to get him out of his cell: “We all had a drink together, native and European alike, quite amicably. The dead man was a hundred yards away.”6
“Hop-Picking,” New Statesman and Nation, new series 2 (October 1931): 477: Like “The Spike,” the significance of “Hop-Picking” lay in its future use. The description of “kips” and begging, including the evocation of Trafalgar Square, as well as the sketching of the characters, were influential in the development of A Clergyman's Daughter. There is a disturbing undercurrent of Orwell's prejudices, notably in his portrayal of a Liverpool Jew and his revulsion at workhouses: “There is something intensely disgusting in the atmosphere of them. The thought of all those grey-faced, ageing men living a very quiet, withdrawn life in a smell of WCs [toilets], and practising homosexuality, makes me feel sick.”7
“Common Lodging Houses,” New Statesman and Nation, 4 (3 September 1932): 256-257: With its graphic description of dormitories as “horrible fetid dens,” “Common Lodging Houses” is more overtly political than Orwell's previous essays. He focuses on the trade-off between shelter and freedom: “In London … the common lodging house where one gets both liberty and a decent bed does not exist.” He castigates government legislation regulating social life, such as the separation of men and women, and concludes, “It is absurd that [the unemployed] should be compelled to choose, as they are at present, between an easy-going pigsty and a hygienic prison.”8
“Rudyard Kipling,” New English Weekly, 8 (23 January 23 1936): 289: A lesser-known essay, “Rudyard Kipling” is significant for Orwell's complex treatment of imperialism, conditioned by a genuine affection for Kipling's work and character. Orwell asserts, “The imperialism of the 'eighties and 'nineties was sentimental, ignorant, and dangerous, but it was not entirely despicable. … It was still possible to be an imperialist and a gentleman, and of Kipling's personal decency there can be no doubt.” The essay laid the foundation for a more extensive treatment of Kipling, imperialism, and Englishness five years later.9
“Shooting an Elephant,” New Writing, no. 2 (Autumn 1936): 1-7: Orwell's second significant Burma essay, “Shooting an Elephant” skillfully combines a simple story with an intricate portrayal of the relationship between “ruler” and “ruled.” Orwell, the British police officer, opens with the “perplexing and upsetting” incident of being laughed at by a crowd when a Burmese player trips him in a soccer match. He is divided between a theoretical hatred of British oppression and anger at local undermining of that oppression: “With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down … upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts.”
When a tame elephant in heat escapes and rampages through a village, Orwell is summoned by the villagers. While he is disliked, he is now expected to defend the Burmese by shooting the elephant. While he supposedly holds power in his hands, he is captive to their wishes: “When the white man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom that he destroys.” Orwell does not want to kill the animal, but to refrain would indicate a weakness of will to the Burmese, who have to be ruled. He wounds the elephant with two shots and fires more when it has fallen, but still the elephant does not die. Orwell leaves. He wonders, when Europeans discuss the shooting of the elephant, if “any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking like a fool.” 10
“In Defence of the Novel, I,” New English Weekly, 10 (12 November 1936): 91-92; “In Defence of the Novel, II,” New English Weekly, 10 (19 November 1936): 111-112: “In Defence of the Novel” is not a critique of the form of the novel but a consideration of the process of production, publication, and review. Orwell's argument is that the assembly-line process of reviewing has blotted out recognition of quality by elevating all works unnecessarily: “When all novels are thrust upon you as works of genius, it is quite natural to assume that all of them are tripe.” Drawing on his own experience, Orwell describes how the job of the reviewer has been emptied of all significance because of the excessive number of books about which he is expected to write. Orwell predicts that in this mass marketing of the novel, it will “survive in some perfunctory, despised and hopelessly degenerate form, like modern tomb-stones, or the Punch and Judy show.”11
“Spilling the Spanish Beans, I,” New English Weekly, 11 (29 July 1937): 307-308; “Spilling the Spanish Beans, II,” New English Weekly, 11 (2 September 1937): 328-329: Much of “Spilling the Spanish Beans” was reproduced in Homage to Catalonia, but the history of its publication was significant in Orwell's political development. The New Statesman and Nation originally commissioned the work but refused to publish it, sending Orwell into a rage against the British Left. Besides attacking the propaganda surrounding the Spanish Civil War and blaming his fellow Socialists as well as the Communists for doing the most harm, Orwell foreshadows his move to pacifism: “We are one step nearer to the great war ‘against Fascism.’ … which will allow fascism, British variety, to be slipped over our necks during the first week.” Orwell emphasized these arguments throughout 1937 and 1938 in a series of book reviews.12
“Marrakech,” New Writing, new series no. 3 (Christmas 1939): 272-277: “Marrakech,” written after Orwell's long vacation in Morocco, is not one of his strongest, but it remains influential. The opening paragraphs of thoughts on Morocco set a pattern for his later columns in the newspaper The Tribune. Politically, the essay reproduces Orwell's complex position on British imperialism. He comments on the white man's dismissal of the locals—“[The native] is the same colour as the earth, and a great deal less interesting to look at”—or reduction of them to invisibility, but he notes that every white man is also thinking, “How much longer can we go on kidding these people?” At the same time, Orwell's own attitudes are exposed when he compares his observation of Moroccan soldiers to “watching a flock of cattle.”13
“Not Counting Niggers,” Adelphi, 10 (July 1939): 469-473: “Not Counting Niggers,” the only major essay from Orwell's period as a pacifist, is striking in its linkage of his standard polemic against the Left with his opposition to a war against Germany. He asserts that those socialists who easily condemn imperialism and call for the independence of colonies have not considered that England's (and their own) well-being rests upon economic exploitation. Similarly, “anti-militarists,” such as the organization Union Now, had called for the union of England and France, including the British and French Empires. In their principles, Orwell notes scathingly, “The unspoken clause is always ‘not counting niggers.’” He wonders about the purpose of bringing down Adolf Hitler “to stabilise something that is far bigger and in its different way just as bad” and issues a vague call for the mobilization of decency.14
Inside the Whale, and Other Essays (1940): Orwell's first collection of essays is striking in its scope, considering the classic novels of Charles Dickens, the populist literature of magazines for boys, and the contemporary and controversial novels of Henry Miller. The complexity of these essays is not only literary but political, with Orwell choosing his subjects to comment on current attitudes and to issue his prescription for a better socialism.
In “Charles Dickens” Orwell's challenges the image of Dickens as a bourgeois author and attempts to establish him as “a subversive writer, a radical, one might truthfully say a rebel.” Orwell notes that Dickens was not a proletarian writer and that he was not a revolutionary. Indeed, Dickens' moralism feared “mob” violence and opposed revolution, since “what is the use of changing the system before you have changed human nature?” Yet, this makes him no less a role model for Orwell, for Dickens invoked the “enormous platitude” that “if men would behave decently, the world would be decent.” This is an acceptable “radicalism,” as opposed to the Marxist radicalism that Orwell deplores. The essay is a vehicle for Orwell's reduction of socialism and “all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.”15
“Boys' Weeklies” is most significant for opening up the realm of popular culture to serious scrutiny. Orwell's evaluation of style and content notes the moral code of the long-established magazines, with their clear division between “good” and “bad” boys and their distaste for (but also fascination with) drinking, smoking, and gambling. There are some sharp comments on class, notably the “perfectly deliberate incitement to wealth-fantasy,” with the glamour of public-school life and the entry of the working class only “as comics or semi-villains.” Orwell notes the politics (pre-1914 Conservative) of the publications and especially their assumption that “foreigners are funny.” He claims that in the newer version of the weeklies there is an emphasis on scientific (including futuristic) themes and the emergence of “bully-worship and the cult of violence.” He argues there has been no development in political and social outlook; class prejudices are reinforced. Orwell concludes, “Boys' fiction … is sodden in the worst illusions of 1910.”16
As in the essay on Dickens, “Inside the Whale” begins with the rehabilitation of Orwell's subject, Henry Miller, whose work was banned in Britain because of its frank portrayal of sexual relationships. Orwell links Miller to James Joyce for his understanding of the commonplace and to Walt Whitman for his “acceptance” of life. This, however, is a starting point for a far different project. Orwell is concerned here, as in Coming Up for Air, with the passivity of the ordinary man who “feels himself master of his fate” in his home and local community but who “against major events … is as helpless as against the elements.”
Orwell does not condemn this passivity. Indeed, he turns his fire upon “political” British writers of the early 1930s, such as W. H. Auden and Stephen Spender. The English Communists and, by extension, these writers, “are mentally subservient to Russia,” so their “form of Socialism … makes mental honesty impossible.” Miller is a positive counterpoint to this viewpoint. He is “not only individualistic but completely passive … a man who believes the world-process to be outside his control and who in any case hardly wishes to control it.” Orwell, at a loss for solutions on the eve of World War II, embraces Miller for expressing the opinion that “there was nothing a thinking and sensitive person could do, except to remain human, if possible.”
How then can one resolve the apparent contradiction between Orwell's embrace of Dickens's “radical” liberalism and his approval of Miller's passivity? Apart from noting that the two essays were written at different points in Orwell's rapid transition from socialist to pacifist to advocate of the war against Germany, one can consider his distinction between the desirable and the practical: “Whether or not it is an expression of what people ought to feel, it probably comes somewhere near to expressing what they do feel.”17
“My Country Right or Left,” Folios of New Writing, no. 2 (Autumn 1940): 36-41: This essay, a forerunner of The Lion and the Unicorn, is Orwell's justification of his shift from a pacifist to a supporter of World War II. Having previously cited memories of World War I as a reason for nonintervention, he now reduces those memories to the recollection of some petty events. He is now supposedly influenced by a dream on the eve of the alliance between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, which paved the way for the German attack on Poland that started the war. More important than Orwell's embrace of the conflict is his linkage of prowar patriotism to the “good” Left and, conversely, the lack of this sentiment in the “bad” Left: “It is exactly the people whose hearts have never leapt at the sight of a Union Jack who will flinch from revolution when the time comes.”18
The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius (1941): Orwell's most significant political essay, published as a short book, is little known outside Britain. The Lion and the Unicorn is the most comprehensive statement of his beliefs and his socialist program. Yet, it is also a paean to “Englishness” as the title and section headings—“England, Your England,” “Shopkeepers at War,” “The English Revolution”—indicate. Orwell's platform is a nationalism of the senses: “When you come back to England from any country, you have immediately the sensation of breathing a different a different air. … Above all, it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time.” His generalizations range from the English lack of artistic gifts to love of flowers to “the gentleness of the English civilization” and its respect for the law. Troublesome notions, such as the English class divide, are skirted by the argument that “patriotism is usually stronger than class-hatred.”19
Orwell asserts that there has been a “decay of ability in the ruling class,” although they are “morally fairly sound.” He observes, “What is to be expected of them is not treachery, or physical cowardice, but stupidity, unconscious sabotage, an infallible instinct for doing the wrong thing” (56, 61). But Orwell also targets the intelligentsia of the Left, who “take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow. … England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality” (63, 64). Orwell puts his faith in an Englishness that will continue even as the war “wipes out most of the existing class privileges,” for in the British retreat culminating in Dunkirk, “the working class, the middle class, and even a section of the business community could see the utter rottenness of private capitalism” (69, 73). The outcome will be an English revolution in which the mass of people support socialism for the first time.
In the final section of the book, Orwell sets out a political agenda. Its six points include nationalization of key industries, land, and banks; limitations on top incomes; reform of the educational system; and independence for India. Beyond these points, Orwell is vague, admitting that his English socialism would “not be doctrinaire, nor even logical.” He concludes, “I believe in England, and I believe that we shall go forward” (112, 123).
Orwell put forth shorter versions of these arguments in the essays “Fascism and Democracy” and “Patriots and Revolutionaries.” Both appeared in The Betrayal of the Left, a collaborative volume published the same year as The Lion and the Unicorn. Two years later, in 1943, Orwell wrote a long essay, “The English People,” in which he asserted that “there is no revolutionary tradition in England, and even in extremist political parties, it is only the middle-class membership that thinks in revolutionary terms.”20 Initially held up by the publication problems of the series in which it was to appear, The English People was finally published as a booklet in 1947, just as England was deciding its political position in the emerging Cold War.
“London Letter,” Partisan Review (March-April 1941-Summer 1946): The first in Orwell's series of contributions to the Partisan Review titled “London Letter,” published in the March-April 1941 issue, was the second of his invocations of “Englishness” for the war. By claiming that the desire to defeat Hitler went beyond the working class to the “bulk of the middle class,” Orwell again puts distance between himself and the “bad” Socialists and invokes a vague concept of the revolution, claiming, “The people who stand to attention during ‘God Save the King’ would readily transfer their loyalty to a Socialist regime, if they were handled with the minimum of tact.” His conclusion, however, offers little of substance: “When all is said and done, one's main impression is the immense stolidity of ordinary people, the widespread vague consciousness that things can never be the same again, and yet, together with that, the tendency of life to slip back into the familiar pattern.”21
In the July-August 1942 “London Letter,” Orwell still predicts a political crisis as people are “fed up and ready for a radical policy.” Yet, he tellingly observes, while this meant more social equality, it did not mean socialism. Although he returns to his consideration of revolution or disaster, he closes with thoughts of “crocuses in the park, another day pear blossom, another day hawthorn.”22
Orwell's growing uncertainty suddenly turned into pessimism in early 1943. In the “London Letter” for January of that year, six months after anticipating a decisive change, he grumbles, “The forces of reaction have won hands down.” His dislike of a capitalist future overrode even his belief in an Anglo-American alliance; he writes of “the dreary world which the American millionaires and their British hangers-on intend to impose upon us.”23
The Summer 1944 “London Letter” shows Orwell at his most antagonistic. Despite economic shortages, he says, “the bourgeoisie are coming more and more out of their holes.” Meanwhile, “the Labour Party has sunk a few feet deeper in everyone's estimation,” the intelligentsia are caught up in “extraordinary contradictions” or “astonishing servility” to the Soviet Union, and pacifists are notable for “sheer cowardice.”24
The Winter 1945 “London Letter” may be the most significant of Orwell's wartime essays, particularly as it was written when he was starting work on Nineteen Eighty-four. He verges on political nihilism as he reviews his errant optimism earlier in the war and concludes, “There has been no real shift of power and no increase in genuine democracy. The same people still own the property and usurp all the best jobs.” He reduces criticism of that system to the resigned comment, “Particularly on the Left, political thought is a sort of masturbation fantasy in which the world of facts hardly matters.” Not for the first time, Orwell falls back on the claim, “It is possible to be more objective than most of us are, but it involves a moral effort.”25
In the Summer 1945 “London Letter” Orwell begins with the inaccurate prediction that the Conservative Party will win the general election, although “it is … conceivable that Labour may win the election against the will of its leaders.” His main concern, however, is “the lack of reaction of any kind” by the British people. Orwell is unsure “whether this semi-anaesthesia in which the British people contrive to live is a sign of decadence, or whether on the other hand it is a kind of instinctive wisdom.”26
Orwell was in a muddle. In the Fall 1945 “London Letter” he admits the waywardness of his forecast: “I was … wrong in suggesting that the Labour leaders might flinch from power.” Yet, England still seemed “less revolutionary, less Utopian, even less hopeful than it was in 1940 or 1942,” and Orwell fretted that “the weakness of all left-wing parties is their inability to tell the truth about the immediate future.” He resigns himself to the whims of the new Labour administration, saying, “Heaven knows whether the Government has any serious intention of introducing Socialism, but if it has, I don't see what there is to stop it.”27
In the Summer 1946 “London Letter,” Orwell's anti-Communism is mobilized into a call for vigilance. He notes the limited number of open Communists and their supporters; however, they had assumed importance because of their placement in key positions. Trade unions, Parliament, and the press, Orwell charges, were being subverted by the red menace.28
“The Art of Donald McGill,” Horizon, 4 (September 1941): 153-163: This essay on McGill, a cartoonist, is one of Orwell's contributions to the elevation of popular culture through its study. He considers a distinctive feature of British life, the comic postcard (often associated with seaside holidays), with its caricatured figures and “very ‘low’ humour,” jokes about sex, home life, and drunkenness. There are some provocative statements regarding the portrayal of women (“monstrously parodied, with bottoms like Hottentots”), which Orwell claims is an outgrowth of “a fairly strict moral code.” He also sees the images as representing a battle between “noble folly and base wisdom”: “There is one part of you that wishes to be hero or saint, but another part of you is a little fat man who sees very clearly the advantages of staying alive with a whole skin.” As usual in his writings on British culture, Orwell concludes with affection for these postcards: “The corner of the human heart that they speak for might easily manifest itself in worse forms, and I for one should be sorry to see them vanish.”29
“Rudyard Kipling,” Horizon, 5 (February 1942): 111-125: “Rudyard Kipling” is a remarkable sequel to Orwell's short 1936 essay on the occasion of Kipling's death. While targeting “pansy-left” critics who have misread Kipling, Orwell holds up the late author's attitude as that of a “salaried bureaucrat” who at least had a sense of responsibility “which ‘enlightened’ people seldom or never possess.” The Orwell of Burmese Days is now an Orwell who argues, “It may be that all that [Anglo-Indians] did was evil, but they changed the face of the earth.” Partly because of this responsibility, Kipling is characterized by Orwell as a “good bad poet.”30
“Literature and the Left,” Tribune, 4 June 1943, p. 19: Throughout the war Orwell repeatedly bashed the British Left, but “Literature and the Left” marks the beginning of his political attacks through the medium of literature. He contends, “There is no knowing just how much the Socialist movement has lost by alienating the literary intelligentsia. But it has alienated them, partly by confusing tracts with literature, and partly by having no room in it for a humanistic culture.” Orwell argues that, because of the Left's intransigence, most gifted young writers were now pacifist and a few were leaning toward fascism. The essay is not sophisticated literary criticism but is marked more by statements such as the following: “Auden is watching his navel in America.”31
“As I Please,” Tribune, 3 December 1943-16 February 1945, 8 November 1946-4 April 1947: Orwell's weekly column in The Tribune was the ideal forum for him to mix political comment with passing consideration of everyday life. Consisting of his thoughts on two or three varied topics, the nature of the column encouraged him to be concise and direct with his observations. He could put into practice the admonition for simple but powerful expression that he offered in essays such as “Politics and the English Language.”
The first “As I Please” (3 December 1943) is notable for two observations. A commentary on Mark Rutherford, a nineteenth-century English novelist, and his denigration of the working class as savages softens the injunction Orwell made against the “mob” in his essay on Dickens in Inside the Whale. A second observation is even more telling for an audience unfamiliar with Orwell's ambivalent attitude toward the United States. Observing a loutish American soldier, he comments, “It is difficult to go anywhere in London without having the feeling that Britain is now Occupied Territory.”32
In the 24 December 1943 “As I Please,” Orwell turns a book review into a call for the salvation of socialism, arguing that the movement must be distinguished from the illusions of utopianism. Once again, he is too vague about his socialism to be effective, but the essay marks another swing from pessimism to optimism in his outlook.33
The 4 February 1944 “As I Please” marks the introduction of a theme that dominated the next five years of Orwell's writing: the difficulty of discovering the truth amidst propaganda and lies. He begins the story of Sir Walter Raleigh's abandoning his “History of the World” because he could not discover the “real” reason for a quarrel and killing beneath the window of his cell in the Tower of London. Orwell details his own conclusion, formed in Spain—“I found myself feeling very strongly that a true history of this war never would or could be written”—and outlines other examples from World War II. In the end he cannot give an absolute justification as to why his “history” or any other should meet these concerns about the truth: “In the last analysis our only claim to victory is that if we win the war we shall tell fewer lies about it than our adversaries.”34
Orwell makes a strange intervention on “the Jewish question” in the 11 February 1944 “As I Please.” His novels and documentaries feature negative images of Jews, but his first political commentary on them does not further these stereotypes. Indeed, he begins by noting the anti-Semitic letters he has received in response to his review of a book on the persecution of Jews in medieval and modern Europe. However, in considering how to confront these “reasonable, well-balanced letters,” which “do not all come from lunatics,” Orwell struggles for a response. He even notes that it is not “any use … to talk about the persecution of the Jews in Germany.” He concludes weakly, “Clearly the neurosis [of anti-Semitism] lies very deep, and just what it is that people hate when they say that they hate a non-existent entity called ‘the Jews’ is still uncertain.”35 Orwell expanded on these thoughts in “Anti-Semitism in Britain,” published in the April 1945 Contemporary Jewish Record. In calling for an investigation of the phenomenon, he asserts that one should start not from the premise that anti-Semitism is irrational but with the question, “Why does anti-Semitism appeal to me?” Orwell adds that anti-Semitism cannot be cured without elimination of “the larger disease of nationalism.”36
In the 17 March 1944 “As I Please,” Orwell foreshadows his later commentary on politics and literature with a note on the “perversion” of language. The Left bears the brunt of the attack as he condemns “Marxist English” as “a style of writing that bears the same relation to writing real English as doing a jigsaw puzzle bears to painting a picture.”37
The theme of propaganda, so prominent in Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four, is introduced in the 4 June 1944 “As I Please.” Orwell asserts, “For quite long periods … people can remain undisturbed by obvious lies, either because they simply forget what is said from day to day or because they are under such a constant propaganda bombardment that they become anesthetized to the whole business.”38
In the 28 July 1944 “As I Please,” Orwell inadvertently makes a damaging criticism of his own work. Commenting on cheap papers directed at women, he complains, “This business about the moral superiority of the poor is one of the deadliest forms of escapism the ruling class has evolved.” Orwell does not recall his own moral elevation of the working class in The Road to Wigan Pier, nor does he refrain from this one-dimensional portrayal of “prole” characters in Nineteen Eighty-four.39
In contrast to many of Orwell's polemics during the war, the 8 September 1944 “As I Please,” on the treatment of French female “collaborators,” offers a complex and incisive challenge to prevailing thought. Noting a newspaper photograph of the women, heads shaved and swastikas branded on their faces, being led through the streets of Paris, Orwell remembers the Jews who were marched past the German public. He quotes Friedrich Nietzsche: “He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself, and if you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you.”40
Predicting the shape of international affairs after World War II, Orwell constructs a scenario in the 2 February 1945 “As I Please” that is the basis for Nineteen Eighty-four. Invoking the political theorist James Burnham, he suggests that the world be aligned into two or three super-states: “Not only will each of them be too big to be conquered, but they will be under no necessity to trade with one another, and in a position to prevent all contact between their nationals.”41
“The English Ritual,” Manchester Evening News, 20 April 1944, p. 2: Orwell reviews Edmund Blunden's Cricket Country (1944), a study of the peculiar English ritual, spread to parts of the British Empire, known as cricket. After noting Blunden's list of writers who loved the game, including Lord Byron, John Keats, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Siegfried Sassoon, Orwell makes the telling point that the appeal of cricket lies not in the game itself but in an atmosphere linked to “the golden age before 1914, when the world was peaceful as it has never since been.” He notes the decline of cricket owing to a faster-paced urban life, the dullness of the game, and the rise of golf and tennis, but he allows himself a sentimental conclusion that Blunden's book is “a useful reminder that peace means something more than a temporary stoppage of the guns.”42
“Raffles and Miss Blandish,” Horizon, 10 (October 1944): 232-244; published (U.S.) as “The Ethics of the Detective Story—from Raffles to Miss Blandish,” Politics, 1 (November 1944): 310-315: Once again, Orwell brings the issue of decency into his consideration of literary merits, this time of the genre of crime fiction. He compares E. W. Hornung's popular stories centering on the character Raffles (collected 1889-1905) with James Hadley Chase's novel No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1939), both “being crime stories which play the limelight on the criminal rather than the policeman.”
For Orwell, Raffles may be a burglar, but he is a gentleman, “a public-school boy who has gone astray.” His crimes are social, rather than moral, for “such standards as [he has] are not to be violated.” He will not commit murder, he avoids violence when possible, he is chivalrous with women, and, “above all, he is intensely patriotic.” In contrast, No Orchids for Miss Blandish “is a header into the cesspool,” for it has “eight full-dress murders” and other casual killings, flogging and torture of women, and even “a strip-tease act.” The book is an escape into cruelty and sexual perversion and worships power over justice.
Behind this immediate comparison lies a broader and more interesting perspective, for Orwell is contrasting a decent Englishness with the worrying phenomenon of “great numbers of English people who are partly Americanised in language and, one ought to add, in moral outlook.” He even flirts with a return to the English class system rather than adoption of the American ideal of social equality: “comparing the schoolboy atmosphere of the one book [Raffles (1901)] with the cruelty and corruption of the other, one is driven to feel that snobbishness, like hypocrisy, is a check upon behaviour whose value from a social point of view has been underrated.”43
“You and the Atom Bomb,” Tribune, 19 October 1945, pp. 7-8: In a powerful and perceptive assessment of the effects of the atomic bomb, Orwell places it within his wider political outlook. Unlike other commentators, his primary fear is not of the bomb's destructive power. Instead, he sees it as the bulwark of a world ruled by “three great empires, each self-contained and cut off from contact with the outer world.” Such a world would be “an epoch as horribly stable as the slave empires of antiquity.”44
“Notes on Nationalism,” Polemic, no. 1 (October 1945): 32-47: One of Orwell's better-known political essays, the importance of “Notes on Nationalism” goes beyond its surface discussion of nationalism, for it is no less than his defense of Englishness at a time when Nazism and Soviet Communism had brought nationalism into disrepute. Orwell establishes his distinction at the outset by defining nationalism as “the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism.”
He uses nationalism as a catchall term for the movements he opposes. The obvious target, Hitler's Germany and the Soviet Union, are joined by such other candidates as “Celtic nationalism,” “neo-Toryism,” “Zionism,” “political Catholicism,” “colour feeling,” “class feeling,” and “pacifism.” Orwell examines these at length under the categories of “positive nationalism,” “transferred nationalism,” and “negative nationalism.” What is most interesting, however, is Orwell's subtle effort to put patriotism in a contrasting, positive light. He never discusses the concept but notes, almost in passing, “[Nationalism's] worst follies have been made possible by the breakdown of patriotism and religious belief.”45
“Good Bad Books,” Tribune, 2 November 1945, p. 15: Orwell builds on his assessment of Kipling with the identification of “good bad books.” Examples familiar to today's readers include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories and Orwell's supreme case, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1851-1852). With this label, Orwell can uphold works that may not meet the standards of “high” literature but have had a significant social impact.46
“In Defence of English Cooking,” Evening Standard, 15 December 1945, p. 6: Orwell's argument is interesting, given that the stereotype of English cooking as bland and unappealing still exists today. He surveys the qualities of “kippers, Yorkshire pudding, Devonshire cream, muffins and crumpets,” desserts, potatoes, sauces, cheeses, apples, and English bread. “We have no cause to be ashamed of our cookery, so far as originality goes or so far as the ingredients go.”47
“Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali,” in Critical Essays (1946): Orwell's intriguing essay on Salvador Dali was originally written for the 1944 edition of The Saturday Book, an annual, but it was pulled from the volume at the last minute on the grounds that Dali's works were obscene. Orwell uses Dali to try to negotiate between aesthetic and moral judgments of art. After summarizing some graphic extracts (especially for England in 1944) from Dali's autobiography, Orwell observes bluntly, “This book stinks. … You have here a direct, unmistakable assault on sanity and decency; and even … on life itself.” True to his conception of the freedom of the author, he notes that Dali's work should not suppressed; however, he calls for a moral as well as aesthetic consideration of the artist. In one of his most memorable passages, Orwell argues that:
One ought to be able to hold in one's head simultaneously the two facts that Dali is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being. The one does not invalidate or, in a sense, affect the other. The first thing that we demand of a wall is that it shall stand up. If it stands up, it is a good wall, and the question of what purpose it serves is separable from that. And yet even the best wall in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration camp.
Orwell tries to locate Dali's work in an “old-fashioned, over-ornate, Edwardian style of drawing,” but his own grounding in “decency” finally comes to the fore: “[Dali's pictures] are diseased and disgusting, and any investigation ought to start out from that fact.”48
“A Nice Cup of Tea,” Evening Standard, 12 January 1946, p. 6: Since tea “is one of the mainstays of civilisation in this country, as well as in Eire [Ireland], Australia and New Zealand,” Orwell intervenes in the debate over how to make the perfect cup of tea. “A Nice Cup of Tea” contains detailed instructions on the type and strength of tea (loose-leaf, Indian, strong, and without sugar), what to make it in (a teapot), special details (always warm the pot first), and the way to drink it (a “cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type”). He even takes on “one of the most controversial points of all”: tea, rather than milk, should be poured into the cup first.49
“The Prevention of Literature,” Polemic, no. 2 (January 1946): 4-14: “The Prevention of Literature” is the second of Orwell's classic commentaries on literature and politics after the war. Initially, the essay combines his standard denunciation of his opponents, from Catholics to Communists, with attacks on technological society, with its concentration of economic and cultural powers in the hands of the wealthy. Soon, however, the discussion moves into the territory of “the poisonous effect of the Russian mythos on English intellectual life.” Echoing thoughts from his column “As I Please,” Orwell stresses that “[f]rom the totalitarian point of view, history is something to be created rather than learned.” Thus, the threat to liberty and writing comes not from the Right but from the Left. Still, Orwell admits, “The big public do not care about [liberty] one way or the other.” His hope for progress dashed, he is left with nothing but venom for his fellow writers: “The direct, conscious attack on intellectual decency comes from the intellectuals themselves.”50
“The Moon under Water,” Evening Standard, 9 February 1946, p. 6: Orwell pays tribute to that English institution, the public drinking house, in this description of his favorite pub, “The Moon under Water.” There are no drunks or “rowdies” but mostly regular customers “who occupy the same chair every evening and go there for conversation as much as for the beer.” The furnishings are “uncompromisingly Victorian”; there is a good fire burning in the winter, and “it is always quiet enough to talk.” Lunches are cheap and filling, served with draft stout, and there is even a garden: “On summer evenings there are family parties, and you sit under the plane trees having beer or draught cider to the tune of delighted squeals from children going down the chute. The prams with the younger children are parked near the gate.” Only near the end of the essay does Orwell let the reader into his secret: there is no such place as “The Moon under Water.”51
“Politics and the English Language,” Horizon, 13 (April 1946): 252-265: Orwell's most famous essay on literature and politics is taught in many schools. In it he describes a reinforcing link between writing and ideas: “[The English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” Therefore, eliminating “bad habits … is a necessary step toward political regeneration.”
It may be argued, however, that Orwell's primary target is not bad language but his political opponents. His five cases of bad practice include old enemies such as the socialist academic Harold Laski, theorists on psychology, and Communists. Orwell does broaden his scope to consider, as examples of political language used for “the defence of the indefensible,” support for continued British rule in India and the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan, and he emphasizes that the effort “to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable” can be found in “all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists.” His foremost thoughts, however, point toward Nineteen Eighty-four and those who would defend totalitarianism.52
“Some Thoughts on the Common Toad,” Tribune, 12 April 1946, 9-10: Orwell's tribute to the toad emerging from his winter hibernation, with “a very spiritual look, like a strict Anglo-Catholic towards the end of Lent,” is nothing less than a defense against modern politics: “The atomic bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going around the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.”53
Unsigned editorial, Polemic, no. 3 (May 1946): 2-: Orwell's editorial is an angry response to an article by the scientist J. D. Bernal, in which Bernal accused Polemic of “persistent attempts to confuse moral issues to break down the distinction between right and wrong.” Orwell seizes on Bernal's moral argument by claiming that there are clear rights: “Polemic is attacked because it upholds certain moral and intellectual values whose survival is dangerous from the totalitarian point of view. These are what is loosely called the liberal values—using the word ‘liberal’ in its old sense of ‘liberty-loving.’” Bernal's call for cooperation with Moscow is rejected because, “as any Communist would and must interpret it, [cooperation] means subservience to the Soviet Union.”54
“Second Thoughts on James Burnham,” Polemic, no. 3 (May 1946): 13-33: Orwell's critique is a significant contribution to political philosophy in the early Cold War and anticipates Nineteen Eighty-four. He had been influenced by Burnham's contention in his The Managerial Revolution (1941) that the world was moving toward a few super-states organized as “managerial societies.” Yet, to hold to a vestige of hope in his socialism, Orwell had to put some distance between himself and Burnham. Documenting the latter's failed predictions, such as a German victory in 1940, Orwell criticizes the “essentially American attitude” and “power worship” that views both an American superpower and a European enemy, be it Germany or the Soviet Union, as inevitable. Orwell contends that both National Socialism and Stalinism are doomed to failure, leading to their abolition or a democratic transformation.55
“Why I Write,” Gangrel, no. 4 (Summer 1946): 5-10: Orwell gives an intimate description of his desire to write from childhood, powered by loneliness as well as his “facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts”; he cites “sheer egoism” and “aesthetic enthusiasm” among the motives for his work. At the same time, Orwell rewrites his career to focus on the other two motives, “historical impulse” and “political purpose.” His early novels, with their aspirations of being “great” literature, are pushed aside as Orwell admits he was “forced into becoming a sort of pamphleteer.” The turning point was the Spanish Civil War: “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism.” From that point, what Orwell has “most wanted to do … is to make political writing into an art.”
In the final lines, Orwell confesses his sleight of hand in advancing literature to promote his political views. He notes, “I see that I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don't want to leave that impression.” It is a telling admission of both success as a political writer and unfulfilled literary ambition.56
“Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver's Travels,” Polemic, no. 5 (September-October 1946): 5-21: “Politics vs. Literature” is one of the clearest examples of how politics came to redefine Orwell's literary criticism. His major concern in the essay is to demonstrate that “Swift's greatest contribution to political thought … is his attack … on what would now be called totalitarianism.” Reading passages in Gulliver's Travels, “we seem to be positively in the middle of the Russian purges.” Orwell is careful to explain that Swift is no liberal, not “thinking better of the common people than of their rulers”; instead, he is a “Tory radical” whose “political aims were on the whole reactionary ones.” Yet, for all his protests against Swift's political and moral sense, it is clear that Orwell admired Gulliver's Travels as a political tract: “The durability of Gulliver's Travels goes to show that, if the force of belief is behind it, a world-view which only just passes the test of sanity is sufficient to produce a great work of art.”57
“Riding Down from Bangor,” Tribune (22 November 1946): 20-21: “Riding Down from Bangor” is a curious essay. Orwell criticizes contemporary American culture: “Who, without misgivings, would bring up a child on the coloured ‘comics’ in which sinister professors manufacture atomic bombs in underground laboratories while Superman whizzes through the clouds, the machine-gun bullets bouncing off his chest like peas, and platinum blondes are raped, or very nearly, by steel robots and 50-foot dinosaurs?” Yet, he also holds up nineteenth-century America as “capitalist civilisation at its best.” Orwell does not explain how he reconciles this view with his democratic socialism.58
Preface to Kolgosp Tvarin [Ukrainian translation of Animal Farm] (Munich: Vidavnitstvi, Prometei, 1947): The significance of Orwell's preface to the Ukrainian translation of Animal Farm lies not in its content but in its timing. He again makes clear his disassociation from most of the Left: “I became pro-Socialist more out of disgust with the way the poorer section of the industrial workers were oppressed and neglected than out of any theoretical admiration for a planned society.” Orwell condemns the Soviet Union and holds up the glories of England, “a country in which people have lived together for several hundred years without knowing civil war, in which the laws are relatively just and official news and statistics can almost invariably be believed, and, last but not least, in which to hold and to voice minority views does not involve any mortal danger.” Both the United States and England had hopes of turning the Ukrainian people against the rule of Moscow, and the distribution of Orwell's fable was one way of motivating Ukrainian refugees to pursue “liberation.”59
“Toward European Unity,” Partisan Review, 14 (July-August 1947): 346-351: “Toward European Unity” is an extraordinary and, in some respects, out-of-place essay in Orwell's political work. He argues that “democratic Socialism must be made to work throughout some large area.” Even more striking, with North America committed to capitalism and the Soviet Union in the grip of the Communist Party, this socialism must come from a “federation of the western European states” shed of their colonial dependencies. This is the only time Orwell ever proposed a socialist Europe as a third force between the United States and the Soviet Union.60
“Writers and Leviathan,” Politics and Letters, no. 4 (Summer 1948): 36-40; New Leader (19 June 1948): 10-11: “Writers and Leviathan” is another statement of the necessity of free writing and thought for a free political system: “What kind of State rules over us must depend partly on the prevailing intellectual atmosphere: meaning, in this context, partly on the attitude of writers and artists themselves, and on their willingness or otherwise to keep the spirit of liberalism alive.” The essay is significant, however, in its liberal rather than “socialist” grounding. Socialism is ruled out with Orwell's reduction of left-wing thought to a “perfectionist ideology” with “a whole series of unadmitted contradictions,” embodied in the problems of the Russian Revolution and the dependence of progress in England on the exploitation of its colonies. Indeed, any organized political movement is now unacceptable to Orwell, since “acceptance of any political discipline seems to be incompatible with literary integrity.” Unable to support his freedom with a defined economic and political program, he can only make a general call for the freedom of the author “as an individual, an outsider, at the most an unwelcome guerrilla on the flank of a regular army.”61
“Reflections on Gandhi,” Partisan Review, 16 (January 1949): 85-92: “Reflections on Gandhi” is a dramatic illustration of how the Cold War had come to dominate Orwell's thinking. He is not as critical of Mahatma Gandhi, who led India to independence before being assassinated in 1948, as he was in comments during World War II. Orwell praises Gandhi's “natural physical courage,” his freedom “from that maniacal suspiciousness which … is the besetting Indian vice,” and his belief in the good faith and good nature of all people. Soon, however, Orwell is grumbling, “There is reason to think that Gandhi … did not understand the nature of totalitarianism. … It is difficult to see how Gandhi's methods could be applied in a country where opponents of the regime disappear in the middle of the night and are never heard of again. … Is there a Gandhi in Russia at this moment? And if there is, what is he accomplishing?”62
“Such, Such Were the Joys,” Partisan Review, 19 (September-October 1952): 505-545: Orwell's controversial account of his days at St. Cyprian's School, written in 1947, was not published in his lifetime and did not appear in England for fear of libel until the 1960s. The essay is distinguished by the intensity and bitterness of his descriptions. Beginning with Orwell's humiliation for bed-wetting by the headmaster's wife, “Flip” (“an intimidating, masculine-looking person wearing a riding-habit, or something that I took to be a riding-habit”), and a beating by the headmaster, “Sambo,” the memoir damns the teaching as learning by rote to pass examinations and raises the social issue of class. According to Orwell, who attended the school on reduced fees, it was the poor but clever boys who suffered, “humiliated over clothes and petty possessions.” At the age of ten or eleven, Orwell asserts, “you were no good unless you had £100,000.”
Orwell is browbeaten by Flip and Sambo into excelling so he can win a scholarship to a prestigious school for his secondary (high school) education. He is burdened with guilt and shame: “I hated Sambo and Flip, with a sort of shamefaced, remorseful hatred, but it did not occur to me to doubt their judgement.” Orwell is also scathing about the school environment: “I should be falsifying my own memories if I did not record that they are largely memories of disgust. The overcrowded, underfed, underwashed life that we had led was disgusting.” Many have debated the accuracy of Orwell's recollections, but it is clear that they influenced both his specific writing on public schools, as in A Clergyman's Daughter, and his general susceptibility and antipathy to “smells” and dirt.63
Burmese Days (1934): John Flory is a timber merchant in Kyauktada in Upper Burma. Unmarried and in his mid thirties, his appearance is marred by a dark blue birthmark on his left cheek. Flory's social life revolves around his friendship with Dr. Veraswami, an Indian physician; his affair with his Burmese mistress, Ma Hla May; and his leisure hours in the local British Club. Other members of the club include Macgregor, the bumbling deputy commissioner of the province; Westfield, the officious superintendent of police; Maxwell and Ellis, virulently racist company managers; and the permanently drunk Lackersteen and his shrill, complaining wife. The club is preoccupied with the suggestion that it should admit Oriental officials as members. Veraswami dreams of being accepted, but he is threatened by the scheming of the evil U Po Kyin, the local magistrate.
The Lackersteens' niece, Elizabeth, arrives from Paris, and Flory falls in love with her, evicting Ma Hla May. His courtship is fumbling, particularly when he tries to introduce Elizabeth to local life through visits to a bazaar and a Burmese house. Flory wins her affection when he kills a leopard on a shooting trip, and she resolves to accept his imminent proposal of marriage. His proposal is forestalled by an earthquake and the arrival of Verrall, the commander of a company of military police. Flory embarrasses himself in front of Elizabeth when, competing with Verrall, he is thrown from a pony. While Flory goes into the field to inspect his company's forests, Elizabeth goes out on daily rides with Verrall.
U Po Kyin manipulates the local people into an abortive rebellion, and the members of the British Club are shaken when they receive the body of Maxwell, slain in the field by relatives of a man he had shot. Ellis strikes out with his cane at five schoolboys, blinding one of them. When Macgregor refuses to hand over Ellis to protesting Burmese, the club is surrounded and stoned. Flory orders the local police to shoot over the heads of the crowd, dispersing it. With his standing elevated amongst the club members and Verrall, disgusted with Kyauktada life, returning to Mandalay, Flory has high hopes for Dr. Veraswami's admission to the club and for his marriage to Elizabeth. These marriage plans are dashed, however, when U Po Kyin pays Ma Hla May to interrupt a church service and tell how Flory abandoned her.
Elizabeth turns her back on Flory, and he shoots himself. U Po Kyin is promoted and decorated by the Indian government for his suppression of the rebellion, and he becomes the first Oriental member of the British Club. Elizabeth marries Macgregor and becomes the local matriarch of the Kyauktada community.
A Clergyman's Daughter (1935): Dorothy Hare is the overworked daughter of the rector of a Suffolk parish. With her insensitive father oblivious both to finance and to duties beyond the pulpit, she struggles to keep the house and the church on a limited budget, visits the poor and infirm, and organizes children's activities. She is also being pursued by the amoral atheist Mr. Warburton. She resists his advances, observed by a snooping neighbor, one evening after an animated discussion about religion and morality. Returning home, she passes out while gluing costumes for a children's play.
Eight days later Dorothy, her memory lost, awakens in a London street. She joins Nobby, a genial tramp, and two others who are walking to Kent to pick hops. Dorothy and Nobby—their companions having vanished with their possessions—find work among four hundred other pickers, half of them gypsies. The pay is “just enough to keep body and soul together, and no more,”64 and the kindness of their workmates keeps Dorothy and Nobby from starving in the first few days. Dorothy comes across her photograph in a newspaper account of her disappearance but fails to recognize it. It is only when Nobby is arrested for theft and taken that Dorothy recalls her identity.
Dorothy writes her father but receives no reply. With the hop-picking season at an end, she returns to London. Unable to find work, she is thrown out of her lodgings and joins the homeless in Trafalgar Square, eventually being detained by the police for begging. Dorothy's father belatedly persuades a cousin to locate her and give her £10. She buys some clothes and takes a job as a schoolmistress in a private school in a London suburb. The conditions are appalling, with a miserly headmistress maintaining cold and lifeless lodgings. Dorothy's initiative in stimulating her students is stifled by the parents, who demand that their children be given “practacle work, not all this fancy stuff,” and protest when she explains the word womb to the students, who have encountered it in reading Macbeth (385-388).
Dorothy is dismissed abruptly when the headmistress finds a replacement who will bring additional students from another school. Coincidentally, Warburton arrives to urge Dorothy to return home, revealing that the snooping neighbor has lost a libel case and her reputation has been restored. Dorothy discusses her loss of faith with Warburton, who maintains his atheistic hedonism, but she rebuffs his offer of marriage. She returns to the burden of her duties in her father's parish.
Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936): Gordon Comstock, the “last member” of a declining middle-class family and “moth-eaten already” at the age of twenty-nine,65 struggles to find fame and fortune as a poet while working in a bookstore in central London. He rails against the power of money and its effect on literature in general and his stuttering career in particular. Gordon's depression deepens when, pinning his hopes on a literary tea party, he arrives on the wrong day. He decides to write a “snippy” letter to Rosemary, his girlfriend, and post it with the last of his money.
Gordon's friend Ravelston, a millionaire lawyer and the publisher of the journal Antichrist, says he will publish the poet's work, but Gordon mocks him for his declarations in favor of socialism: “No rich man ever succeeds in disguising himself as a poor man; for money, like murder, will out” (626). Gordon rebuffs Ravelston's attempts to convert him politically and to help him financially. Gordon meets Rosemary by chance, but the encounter is spoiled by his worries over money. Borrowing some from his long-suffering sister Julia, he finally arranges for a trip outside London into the country. The journey goes awry, however, over an awful, overpriced lunch in a hotel. Gordon's attempt to make love to Rosemary is fraught and, without precautions, unsuccessful. He gives up hope of finishing his epic poem, “London Pleasures.”
Apparent salvation comes in a $50 check for a poem published in the Californian Review. Gordon initially resolves to use half the money to repay Julia for past loans, but he immediately spends the entire amount on an extravagant meal with Ravelston and Rosemary, a drunken spree in a pub, and a visit to a prostitute. He wakes in jail. Ravelston pays his fine, but Gordon loses his job. He holds out when Ravelston and Rosemary urge him to resume employment as a copywriter at an advertising agency; instead, he takes a reduction in pay to work at a bookstore with “no room for ambition, no effort, no hope” (707). Gordon moves into a dingy room above the store.
A visit by Rosemary ends with passionless lovemaking that leaves her “dismayed, disappointed, and very cold” (720). Two months later, she enters the bookstore to tell Gordon she is pregnant. The two consider but reject the option of abortion. After much deliberation over whether to leave Rosemary to have the baby alone or to marry her, Gordon chooses the lesser evil of marrying her and returning to the advertising agency. He envisages a respectable existence with Rosemary in a clean apartment, complete with an aspidistra. Taking out his manuscript of “London Pleasures,” he throws it down a drain.
Coming Up for Air (1939): George “Fatty” Bowling, an insurance salesman, considers himself and his life as he shaves and washes on a January morning. Amidst depressing thoughts about his middle-aged physical decline, his wife, Hilda, his children, and his small suburban house, he consoles himself by pondering how to spend £17 he has won in a bet on a horse. A random reference to Albania's King Zog triggers memories of his childhood in Lower Binfield, “a good world to live in.”66 George describes lazy summers, market days, and his parents with their small general store and the “natural process” of the household (458).
George speaks of his family's economic decline, which results in his working for another grocer for six years, and of his first girlfriend, Elsie Waters. He remembers being wounded in a trench in World War I and how his parents died during his military service. His reminiscence continues as he recalls his struggle as an “on-commission” salesman and his chance employment by an insurance firm. He ponders why he ever married Hilda: “Right from the start it was a flop,” with her lack of joy and her constant worrying over money. George had “serious thoughts of killing” her in the first years of the marriage, but he is now used to her unrewarding presence (510).
With visions of impending war, George accompanies Hilda to a Left Book Club meeting. He is offended by the guest speaker, “a sort of human barrel-organ shouting propaganda at you,” and the audience of naive women, aged Labor Party members, and eager Communists. He tells a surprised Trotskyist that, after the experience of World War I, he would not go to war to “smash Fascism” (516-521). Still brooding on the future and the past, George visits a retired schoolmaster “who stands for Culture.” He is disappointed when the schoolmaster will not discuss Hitler—“I don't think of him”—but returns to passages about ancient Greek tyrants. George concludes, “All the decent people are paralysed. Dead men and live gorillas. Doesn't seem to be anything between” (521-525).
Two months later, George suddenly decides to go back to Lower Binfield, living off his secret windfall from the horse-racing bet. He finds that the village has been swallowed by a new town—“where was Lower Binfield?” (536)—that no one remembers his family, and that his former girlfriend has grown old, fat, and ugly. George's final shock comes when he searches for the old fishing pool. The local manor house is now a “loony-bin,” the woods have been replaced by “sham-Tudor colonies,” and the pool is “a great round hole,” half-full of tin cans (557-560).
George hears an SOS on the news that “his wife, Hilda Bowling, is seriously ill” but, convinced that she is “shamming,” stays another night (560-561). Just before he leaves Lower Binfield, a bomb falls near the old market square. George is convinced that the war has started but learns that the bomb has been accidentally released during aerial practice. The trip has taught George that “It's all going to happen. … There's no escape” (565).
George returns to find Hilda well (the SOS was about another woman), but she has discovered that he has not been on a business trip. She accuses him of having a mistress. George realizes that he cannot make Hilda believe the truth, for “the real reason why I'd gone to Lower Binfield wouldn't even be conceivable” (570).
Animal Farm (1945): Sometimes drunk, always greedy, Mr. Jones of Manor Farm cruelly exploits his animals. These include the horses Clover and Boxer, with their “steadiness of character and tremendous powers of work”;67 Benjamin, the cynical donkey; and the pigs Major, Napoleon, Snowball, and Squealer, as well as cows, sheep, hens, dogs, and even “the wild creatures,” rabbits and rats. Major tells the animals of his dream. “The life of an animal is misery and slavery: that is the plain truth,” he notes as he comments on the evil of man's capitalism. He commands the animals to rise against this tyranny but warns, “In fighting against Man, we must not come to resemble him” (14-16). With the anthem “Beasts of England” and the memory of Major, who dies soon after his speech, the animals rebel and evict Jones.
The pigs issue the Seven Commandments of Animalism, including the tenet “All animals are equal,” although the pigs receive special privileges. The animals bring in the harvest, try to learn to read and write, and defend themselves against an assault from neighboring farms. Organized and led by Snowball, the animals repel the invasion in the Battle of the Cowshed.
Internal divisions soon appear, however. The animals are split over Snowball's plans for a windmill, which are opposed by Napoleon. At a meeting to decide the issue, dogs commanded by Napoleon chase Snowball from the farm. Napoleon establishes a dictatorship, supported by the brute force of the dogs and the propaganda of Squealer. The windmill is built after all, and the pigs move into the farmhouse.
Most animals cannot or do not wish to understand the betrayal of the revolution, even as they work harder for less reward than they did under Jones. When the windmill is destroyed in a gale, Napoleon blames Snowball and proclaims a death sentence upon him, soon declaring that he was an agent of Jones and is now with the enemy Frederick of Pinchfield Farm. To avoid a famine, Napoleon orders the sale of eggs; when the hens protest, they are starved into submission. He stages show trials of animals who have questioned his leadership, and they are then torn apart by the dogs. “Beasts of England” is replaced as the anthem by the innocuous “Animal Farm,” and Napoleon is proclaimed “our Leader.”
Inspired by the hard work of Boxer, the animals complete the windmill. Their celebrations are curbed by the announcement that Animal Farm is now allied with Frederick, the former enemy. Napoleon has been deceived, however; Frederick pays for Animal Farm's timber with counterfeit money and then attacks with fifteen men. The assault is repulsed, but not before the windmill has been blown up. The pigs continue a dissolute life, getting drunk on whisky and beer. The other animals suffer from food shortages, but Squealer the propagandist manipulates the figures to indicate they are better off. The animals are further appeased by celebrations of the “rebellion” and the election of President Napoleon. Snowball is revealed to have fought with Jones at the Battle of the Cowshed.
Boxer, weary from age and overwork, is taken away to the glue factory. The animals are persuaded that he has died peacefully. At a meeting in Boxer's honor, Napoleon reminds the animals of the horse's two favorite sayings, “I will work harder” and “Napoleon is always right.”
The narrative jumps to a scene years later. The farm is prospering, with a windmill and new machinery, and trading with human farmers, although most of the animals are no better off. The pigs are fatter and still in power. As they now walk on their hind legs, the revolutionary slogan “four legs good, two legs bad” has been changed to “four legs good, two legs better.” Except for the stoic Benjamin, the older animals cannot remember life before the revolution. With their history erased, they have “nothing to go upon except Squealer's list of figures.” Only one commandment remains: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” (60-63).
The pigs meet with other farmers, who praise Animal Farm for having a system in which animals do more work and get less food. Napoleon declares that he no longer wishes for revolution but for “cooperative enterprise.” Symbols of the revolution, such as the greeting “comrade,” Major's skull, and the hoof and horn on the flag, are removed, and the pigs restore the original name of Manor Farm. Between the pigs and the humans, “already it was impossible to say which was which” (66).
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949): PART 1: Winston Smith, an employee in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, returns to his dank, lifeless apartment block, Victory Mansions, on a cold April day in London. He huddles with Victory Gin and a Victory Cigarette in an alcove, the only spot in his apartment not observed by posters of Big Brother or the always-active telescreen, and begins a diary.
Winston has been moved to write the diary while attending the Two Minute Hate, at which Ministry of Truth employees are exhorted to despise the image of Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the People. Winston, however, has the impulse to turn his hatred against Big Brother and, in that moment, catches the eye of O'Brien, a Party functionary. Winston knows “that O'Brien was thinking the same thing as himself.”68 Winston returns to his diary and writes over and over, “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER.”
Winston dreams of his mother cradling his baby sister in a sinking ship and then of a dark-haired girl who works in the Fiction Department of the Ministry gracefully shedding her clothes in the Golden Country. He goes through the tedium of rewriting history by “correcting” old issues of The Times to meet the Party's current line of propaganda. A coworker eagerly describes the compilation of the eleventh edition of the Newspeak Dictionary—“It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words” (773); another glories in how his seven-year-old daughter turned in a “foreigner” to the authorities. The Ministry of Plenty announces another record year in the production of consumer goods.
Winston recalls his marriage to the frigid Katharine and speculates about the condition of the “proles”: “Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious” (784). He risks a walk into the proletarian section. A rocket bomb hits the street and a group argues over the outcome of the Lottery. Winston enters a pub to find someone who can tell him about the “old days,” but an elderly man offers “nothing but a rubbish-heap of details” (797).
Taking a chance, Winston enters the junk shop where he bought his diary. He is fascinated by a coral embedded in a hemisphere of glass, made in the nineteenth century, and purchases it. Returning home, Winston panics about the Thought Police and thinks of Big Brother: “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength” (804).
PART 2: In a corridor of the Ministry of Truth, Winston encounters the dark-haired girl, who falls and hurts her arm. When he helps her up, she presses into his hand a note: “I love you.”
After days of scheming, the girl, named Julia, and Winston enjoy the illicit pleasure of chocolate and sex. He learns that she has no memories, no love of reading, and no interest in politics. Her chief experience has been love affairs: “With Julia, everything came back to her sexuality” (821).
Winston finally arranges the rental of the room above the junk shop. He and Julia indulge in sugar (“not saccharine” ), proper white bread, jam, milk, and real coffee and tea. She even puts on makeup and perfume. The pleasure of the evening is broken only when Julia spies a rat, an incident that reveals Winston's deathly fear of the rodent.
O'Brien finally approaches Winston for a meeting, which gives Winston “the sensation of stepping into the dampness of a grave” (838). This prompts him to recall how, the last time he saw his mother, he had greedily taken the family's ration of chocolate. Winston and Julia go to O'Brien's house and confirm that they are ready to die, commit murder, and kill innocent people for the sake of the Revolution; they balk only at the possibility of separation and never seeing each other again.
O'Brien gives Winston the manifesto of Goldstein, “traitor” to the Party, which reveals how the Party uses a state of permanent but inconclusive war—“War is Peace”—to subjugate the populace. Winston marvels at the book; Julia is uninterested. Their discussion is interrupted by the Thought Police (the proprietor of the junk shop is an agent), who have surrounded the room. The glass paperweight is shattered; the coral rolls across the floor.
PART 3: Winston is detained in the Ministry of Love and is eventually met by O'Brien, who reveals that the Party “got [him] a long time ago” (880). Winston goes through a protracted period of torture, first physical, then psychological, with relentless interrogation, instruction, and electrical shocks administered by O'Brien.
Winston capitulates, writing “2 and 2 make 5”; his only consolation is that he has not betrayed Julia. However, he is taken to Room 101, which holds “the worst thing in the world” in Winston's case: a wire cage with rats. Before this is placed on his face, he screams, “Do it to Julia! Not me!” (904-910).
Some time later, Winston is in the Chestnut Tree café. He drinks Victory Gin and listens to the telescreen, tracing “2+2=5” on the table. He describes a chance meeting with Julia; each reveals the betrayal of the other before they part for the final time. Winston has a brief thought of a happy moment with his mother and pushes it away as a “false memory.” Hearing the telescreen's declaration of a crushing victory over the current enemy, Winston realizes that he loves Big Brother (916).
Before World War II and his emergence as a leading defender of English nationalism, Orwell received limited critical attention. The only comprehensive review of his work was published in 1940 by the critic Q. D. Leavis, and even this was brief and decidedly mixed in its assessment. While Leavis praised Orwell's nonfiction, she advised him to give up trying to write novels, commenting that Orwell “even managed to write a dull novel about a literary man [Keep the Aspidistra Flying].” Instead, “if he would give up trying to be a novelist, Mr. Orwell might find his métier in literary criticism, in a special line of it peculiar to himself and which is particularly needed now.” Leavis had moved from Orwell's literary to his political significance and his devotion to his political beliefs: “if the revolution here were to happen that he wants and prophesies, the advent of real Socialism, he would be the only man of letters we have whom we can imagine surviving the flood undisturbed.”69
This measured reception of Orwell was typical, even before the controversies over his views in The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia. His first book publication, Down and Out in Paris and London, had initially been rejected by T. S. Eliot, who read it for Faber and Faber; however, it struck a chord with the left-wing publisher Victor Gollancz as “an extraordinarily forceful and socially important document.” Gollancz's reader “found it utterly disgusting, as of course it is meant to be, [but] also found that it held my attention far more closely than the ordinary novel.”70 Newspaper comments on the book were just as favorable. The Manchester Guardian, in the first published review of Orwell's work, claimed the author had “so much to say in that quiet, level voice of his that he has written a book which might work a revolution in the minds of those who are totally unable to look on down-and-outs as other than something entirely unlike themselves.” The Times Literary Supplement praised “a vivid picture of an apparently mad world.” The future poet laureate C. Day-Lewis wrote, “The facts [Orwell] reveals should shake the complacence of twentieth-century civilization, if anything could; they are ‘sensational,’ yet presented without sensationalism.” J. B. Priestley praised the “social document of some value. It is, indeed, the best book of its kind that I have read in a long time.” In the United States, James T. Farrell wrote that “Orwell has escaped from the depths. There are thousands to whom no door of escape is opened. Down and Out in Paris and London will give readers a sense of what life means to these thousands.”71
It was as a novelist, however, that Orwell wanted to make a mark, and his next three books—the novels Burmese Days, A Clergyman's Daughter, and Keep the Aspidistra Flying—were all received with some skepticism. When Burmese Days was published in the United States in October 1934, those who reviewed the book were divided: F. T. Marsh in The New York Times thought it “a superior novel,” but Margaret Carson Hubbard in the New York Herald-Tribune condemned it as anti-imperial polemic.72 More significantly, Burmese Days, because of Gollancz's fear of libel, was only distributed in Britain six months later. This limited its impact. There was praise in The New Statesman and Nation from Cyril Connolly, a schoolmate of Orwell's—“Burmese Days is an admirable novel. It is a crisp, fierce, and almost boisterous attack on the Anglo-Indian”73—but other reviews limited themselves to a description of the plot. Positive comments such as those in The Adelphi did not appear until Burmese Days was out of print.
The reception of Orwell's books was further complicated because A Clergyman's Daughter had been rushed into publication in March 1935, a month before Burmese Days, delayed by fears of libel, was finally published in England. Readers for Gollancz had noted that A Clergyman's Daughter, while “an extraordinary book,” was only “good in parts,” and reviewers echoed that opinion. V. S. Pritchett wrote in The Spectator of Orwell's proficiency at satire but added that the novel too often fell into “the glib cruelties of caricature.” Pritchett wrote of the Trafalgar Square section, “This scene shows an immense knowledge of low life, its miseries, humours, and talk, but unfortunately has been written in ‘stunt’ Joyce fashion that utterly ruins the effect.” Peter Quennell in The New Statesman and Nation wrote that “A Clergyman's Daughter is ambitious yet not successful.” L. P. Hartley in The Observer highlighted the novel's “sure and bold” approach and “often brilliant” dialogue but concluded that the plot was “neither new nor convincing. … We have no feeling that [Dorothy's] flight from her home and her return to the rectory have any valid connection with the young woman herself.” Hartley also damned the novel with faint praise in The Daily Sketch: “It is not a work of art, but it is worth reading for its vivid, if overcoloured pictures of certain unfamiliar aspects of social life.”74
Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Orwell's great hope for his reputation as a novelist, also met with a lukewarm response. There were supportive reviews, including one by Orwell's literary patron, Richard Rees, and a tribute to the author as “the complete realist.” But there were also the assessment in The Spectator that the book was “crude” and double-edged compliments from Connolly in The New Statesman and Nation. The beauty of Orwell's Burmese landscape was contrasted with the hatred in Keep the Aspidistra Flying for “London and everything there.” Most pointedly, Connolly observed, “The obsession with money … is one which must prevent [the novel] from achieving the proportion of a work of art.” Compton Mackenzie in the Daily Mail began with praise but then warned that Orwell might have reached the limit of his ability: “No realistic writer of today has produced books of greater vigour and reality. But among the aspidistra Mr. Orwell seems to lose touch with reality. … There is some searching talk, and one or two ideas are given an airing which, though not strictly fresh, will pass as original. A novel, however, needs something more than this.”75Keep the Aspidistra Flying was also far from a popular success: no American publisher would take it, and most of the three thousand British copies went unsold.
Thus it was that a nonfiction book, The Road to Wigan Pier, secured Orwell's prewar reputation as well as his financial future. Ironically, this was not because of whatever merits Orwell's observations and analysis might have possessed, although the book received platitudes such as Arthur Calder-Marshall's: “Of Mr. Orwell's book, there is little to say except praise.”76 Instead, Orwell's insistence, against the wishes of Gollancz and the Left Book Club, on writing the controversial section of the book lambasting the Socialists, proved that no angry publicity is bad publicity. The reviewer for The New Leader, the magazine of the Independent Labour Party, said it was “a great pity … [Orwell] did not confine himself to facts and figures,” and Harold Laski complained about Orwell's ignorance of socialist theory. But these comments, along with a sneer in the Communist Daily Worker at Orwell as “a disillusioned little middle-class boy” and “a late imperialist policeman,” only raised the profile of the book.77
Given the widespread distribution of The Road to Wigan Pier, the equally significant controversy over Orwell's treatment of the Spanish Civil War in Homage to Catalonia, published in April 1938, should have bolstered Orwell's reputation as the emerging freethinker on the Left. That it did not was due to the troubled publishing history of the book. Gollancz would not handle Homage to Catalonia, and it was published by a smaller firm, Secker and Warburg. Only 700 of the first printing of 1,500 copies were sold, and there was no American edition until 1952. Orwell's friend Geoffrey Gorer helpfully wrote, “Homage to Catalonia is [a] phoenix, a book which is at the same time a work of first-class literature and a political document of the greatest importance.” John McNair, who was in Spain with Orwell, assured readers, “The writer is not a propagandist. So far as I know, he is a member of no political party.”78 Some tributes, such as that in The Observer (“Mr. Orwell is a great writer” with his “objective prose of stately, unhurried, unexaggerated clarity”), were tucked away on inside pages.79 Still, Homage to Catalonia was important because of key people who had noticed it. Herbert Read, the prominent poet, critic, and anarchist, wrote Orwell that the book “moved me deeply.” The praise may have pushed Orwell into openly joining the Independent Labour Party, the same party that had derided his lack of socialist principle in The Road to Wigan Pier.80
Orwell's niche as a “political” writer had been established. There were intervals in 1939 for the reception of Coming Up for Air, which had limited sales but received warmer reviews than Orwell's previous novels, and in 1940 for his literary and cultural criticism in Inside the Whale, and Other Essays. Yet, it was The Lion and the Unicorn, Orwell's World War II paean to the English people and call for a special type of “revolution,” that received the most significant attention. The Times Literary Supplement found in this “brilliant essay an eager desire to bridge the gulf between the too long silent strength of British patriotism and the unrooted internationalist Left-wing ideas which have dominated British thought between the wars.”81 Orwell's status as a spokesman for a cultural and political nation, possibly “English” rather than “British,” was reinforced by his weekly column in The Tribune. Julian Symons has summarized Orwell's achievement with the column: “He discussed a hundred subjects, ranging from the comparative amounts he spent on books and cigarettes or lamenting the decline of the English murder from the days of Crippen to a casual wartime killing to the spawning of toads in the spring. … [This was an] idiosyncratic freedom … often combined with a previously unsuspected humour.”82
Animal Farm elevated Orwell from being a notable to a celebrated political writer. The novel was praised in part because of its form and simple but effective style. Connolly emphasized the real-life “Animal Farm” in the betrayal of the revolution in Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union but also saw in the fable “the feeling, the penetration, and the verbal economy of Orwell's master Swift.” The Times Literary Supplement noted, “Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, and his book is as entertaining as narrative as it is apposite in satire.” Northrop Frye had a different perspective: “Mr. Orwell does not bother with motivation; he makes his Napoleon inscrutably ambitious, and lets it go at that, and as far as he is concerned some old reactionary bromide like ‘you can't change human nature’ is as good a moral as any other for his fable.”83
It was Orwell's message that made the lasting impression, however, even if critics could not agree on what that message was. Animal Farm benefited greatly from timing: with World War II drawing to an end, the question of England's future relationship with its wartime ally the Soviet Union was coming to the fore. Readers could not avoid placing Orwell's allegory of the failures of the Russian Revolution in this context.
As publishers were considering the manuscript, it was clear that Animal Farm would provoke this heated reaction. Gollancz concluded that he “could not possibly publish a general attack” on the Soviet Union during the war, and an official of the Ministry of Information advised the firm Jonathan Cape not to follow up its initial positive reaction to the novel. T. S. Eliot and the directors at Faber and Faber concluded, “We have no conviction … that this is the right point of view from which to criticize the political situation at the present time.” The Dial Press in New York also turned down the chance to publish the book.
When Fredric Warburg finally published Animal Farm in August 1945, days after the end of World War II, the first printing of 4,500 copies sold out in weeks. Some reviewers clashed over whether Orwell's “anti-Soviet” message was justified, with Kingsley Martin, Orwell's old nemesis at The New Statesman and Nation, sneering, “If we read the satire as a jibe at the failings of the USSR and realise that it is historically false and neglectful of the complex truth about Russia, we shall enjoy it and be grateful for our laugh.”84 Others took the novel further, claiming that it was a general commentary on the dangers of tyranny and debating Orwell's conception of a “revolution betrayed.” Still others, notably in the United States, rejoiced that he was attacking the very concept of socialism.
From 1945 to 1949 Orwell maintained his political prominence through his column in The Tribune and through other essays, such as “Notes on Nationalism,” “The Prevention of Literature,” and “Politics and the English Language.” Equally importantly, relations between the United States, England, and the Soviet Union reached a crisis point over issues such as the future of Eastern Europe, the division of Germany, and control of the atomic bomb. Fears of subversive Communists were widespread in England as well as in the United States. Thus, Nineteen Eighty-four was well positioned, when it was published in June 1949, to receive maximum attention. Reviewers seized upon the novel not as a futurist vision but as an interpretation of what could happen in the present. Many emphasized its value as a general warning rather than as a specific assault upon Soviet Communism. A reviewer in Time and Tide exulted, “It is no doubt with the intention of preventing his prediction from coming true that Mr. Orwell has set it down in the most valuable, the most absorbing, the most powerful book he has yet written.” Pritchett celebrated the satire, going “through the reader like an east wind,” on the “moral corruption of absolute power” and Symons, Orwell's good friend, offered “thanks for a writer who deals with the problems of the world rather than the ingrowing pains of individuals, and who is able to speak seriously and with originality of the nature of reality and the terrors of power.” In the United States, the noted critic Lionel Trilling praised Orwell for portraying all the aspects of modern life that could lead to “deprivation, dullness, and fear of pain”; Diana Trilling thought the novel “brilliant and fascinating,” although “the nature of its fantasy [was] so absolutely final and relentless” that she could “recommend it only with a certain reservation.” The reviewer for The New York Times proclaimed the book “a great work of kinetic art,” saying that “no other work of this generation has made us desire freedom more earnestly or loathe tyranny with such fullness.”85
Yet, for all the expectation that Nineteen Eighty-four was to be a great novel transcending the immediate political situation, others were pulling the book into the middle of the Cold War. Unsurprisingly, Samuel Sillen in the Communist Masses & Mainstream railed, “There is a hideous ingenuity in the perversions of a dying capitalism, and it will keep probing for new depths of rottenness which the maggots will find ‘brilliant and morally invigorating.’” More intriguing was the book's adoption by strident opponents of Communism, including The Economist and The Wall Street Journal, and its conversion into an antisocialist tract by the American press, led by Time and Life magazines. Philip Rahv of the Partisan Review, which had featured articles by Orwell during the war, observed, “This novel is the best antidote to the totalitarian disease that any writer has so far produced. … I recommend it particularly to those liberals who still cannot get over the political superstition that while absolute power is bad when exercised by the Right, it is in its very nature good and a boon to humanity once the Left, that is to say ‘our own people,’ takes hold of it.” Even the New York Times reviewer claimed the novel as “an expression of Mr. Orwell's irritation at many facets of British socialism, and most particularly, trivial as this may seem, at the drab gray pall that life in Britain today has drawn across the civilized amenities of life before the war.”86
Animal Farm, Associated British-Pathé, 1955. Directed by Joy Batchelor and John Halas; adapted by Batchelor, Halas, Borden Mace, Philip Stapp, and Lothar Wolf.
This adaptation of Orwell's allegorical novel is an extraordinary animated movie. It was produced by Louis de Rochemont, the maker of the American March of Time newsreel series. De Rochemont was in close contact with officials of the U.S. government, and it is probable that financial support was provided through the CIA. The movie retains much of Orwell's political approach, but the style, obviously influenced by Walt Disney's animated features, emphasizes the “human” qualities of the animals, diminishing the complexity and power of the book. In particular, the happy ending, with the “good” animals overthrowing the pigs, may be the victorious vision needed at the height of the Cold War, but it undermines the more troubling conclusions of Orwell's allegory.
1984, Columbia, 1956. Directed by Michael Anderson; adapted by Ralph Gilbert Bettison and William Templeton.
The first major production of an Orwell work, with a prominent American and British cast, including Edward O'Brien, Michael Redgrave (named in Orwell's list of “suspect” left-wingers), and Donald Pleasence. It has been overshadowed by the 1984 remake but is arguably more powerful because of its direct approach. The movie supposedly has two endings: in the British version, Winston and Julia are executed by the state; in the American version, more in line with the conclusion of the novel, they accept Big Brother.
Nineteen Eighty-Four, Umbrella/Virgin, 1984. Directed by Michael Radford; adapted by Jonathan Gems and Radford.
Probably the best-known of the screen adaptations of Orwell's works, the movie stars John Hurt as Winston Smith and Richard Burton (in his last role) as O'Brien. This version is unremittingly bleak, with vivid portrayals not only of Winston's torture but also of the rigors of daily life. The movie is stronger on atmosphere than on the political and sexual tensions in the plot of Orwell's novel.
Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Overseas FilmGroup, Inc./UBA/Sentinel Films, 1997 (released in the U.S. as A Merry War, 1998). Directed by Robert Bierman; adapted by Alan Plater.
A gentler version of Orwell's 1936 novel, with less emphasis on Gordon Comstock's hatred of money. The ending, playing to audiences in England and the United States, is less ambiguous than that of the novel, with a happier resolution of the relationship between Gordon and Rosemary and of Gordon's accommodation with middle-class life. The most positive aspect of the movie is that the female characters are far stronger than those in the novel.
1984, BBC, 12 December 1954. Directed by Rudolph Cartier; adapted by Nigel Kneale.
The first audiovisual adaptation of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four was broadcast live, with a strong cast, including Peter Cushing and the young Pleasence, and excellent production, despite limited resources. The portrayal of torture and sexuality were controversial at the time, leading to questions in Parliament about whether such programs were suitable for general viewing. This arguably remains the strongest and “truest” adaptation of Orwell's novel.
Theatre 625: The World of George Orwell, BBC, 1965. Directed by Christopher Morahan.
A three-part program featuring adaptations of Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Coming Up for Air, and Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Animal Farm, Turner Network Television, 1999. Directed by John Stephenson; adapted by Alan James and Martyn Burke.
A production of Jim Henson's Creature Shop, this adaptation of Animal Farm uses puppets, trained animals, computer effects, and celebrity voice-overs to create a significant impact. There are changes from the novel that reflect a perspective after the fall of the Soviet Union. The story is presented as the recollection of a minor character, Jessie the dog, and the human characters have more depth than in the book. The program, which has been compared to the movie Babe (1995), is far more graphic in portraying the cruelty of both the capitalist owner of the farm and the totalitarian regime of the pigs. However, like the original animated Animal Farm, the program has an upbeat ending that fits in with a view of “enlightened” capitalism, as Jessie looks forward to the new humans who will run Manor Farm.
Animal Farm, National Theatre, London, 1984. Adapted by Peter Hall, with lyrics by Adrian Mitchell and music by Richard Peaslee.
Reviewing this “horse opera” in which the actors wore “hooves” and animal masks, Irving Wardle of The Times concluded, “Once seen, never forgotten.”87
Orwell's six novels were first collected as Animal Farm; Burmese Days; A Clergyman's Daughter; Coming Up for Air; Keep the Aspidistra Flying; Nineteen Eighty-Four (London: Secker & Warburg/Octopus, 1976). This collection has been republished as The Penguin Complete Novels of George Orwell (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1983) and as The Complete Novels (London: Penguin, 2001).
George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London (New York: Penguin, 1984), p. 103. Subsequent parenthetical references in the text are to this edition.
Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier (New York: Penguin, 1962), p. 15. Subsequent parenthetical references in the text are to this edition.
Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (New York: Penguin, 1984), p. 7. Subsequent parenthetical references in the text are to this edition.
Orwell, “The Spike,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (London: Secker & Warburg, 1968), volume 1, pp. 36-43.
Orwell, “A Hanging,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 44-48.
Orwell, “Hop-Picking,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 52-71.
Orwell, “Common Lodging Houses,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 97-100.
Orwell, “[On Kipling's Death],” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 159-160.
Orwell, “Shooting an Elephant,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 235-242.
Orwell, “In Defence of the Novel,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 249-255.
Orwell, “Spilling the Spanish Beans,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 269-276.
Orwell, “Marrakech,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 387-393.
Orwell, “Not Counting Niggers,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 387-393.
Orwell, “Charles Dickens,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 413-460.
Orwell, “Boys' Weeklies,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 460-484.
Orwell, “Inside the Whale,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 493-527.
Orwell, “My Country, Right or Left,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 535-540.
Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius (New York: Penguin, 1982), pp. 40-41, 44, 48. Subsequent parenthetical references in the text are to this edition.
Orwell, “The English People,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, p. 3.
Orwell, “London Letter” (March-April 1941), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, pp. 49-55.
Orwell, “London Letter” (July-August 1942), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, pp. 207-216.
Orwell, “London Letter” (January 1943), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, pp. 276-283.
Orwell, “London Letter” (Summer 1944), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 123-128.
Orwell, “London Letter” (Winter 1945), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 293-299.
Orwell “London Letter” (Summer 1945), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 380-386.
Orwell, “London Letter” (Fall 1945), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 393-400.
Orwell, “London Letter” (Summer 1946), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 184-190.
Orwell, “The Art of Donald McGill,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, pp. 155-165.
Orwell, “Rudyard Kipling,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, pp. 184-197.
Orwell, “Literature and the Left,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, pp. 292-294.
Orwell, “As I Please” (3 December 1943), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 54-57.
Orwell, “As I Please” (24 December 1943), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 63-65.
Orwell, “As I Please” (4 February 1944), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 87-89.
Orwell, “As I Please” (11 February 1944), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 89-93.
Orwell, “Anti-Semitism in Britain,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 332-341.
Orwell, “As I Please” (17 March 1944), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 108-111.
Orwell, “As I Please” (2 June 1944), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 165-168.
Orwell, “As I Please” (28 July 1944), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 196-199.
Orwell, “As I Please” (8 September 1944), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 228-231.
Orwell, “As I Please” (2 February 1945), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 326-329.
Orwell, review of Edmund Blunden, Cricket Country, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 47-50.
Orwell, “Raffles and Miss Blandish,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 212-224.
Orwell, “You and the Atom Bomb,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 6-10.
Orwell, “Notes on Nationalism,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 361-380.
Orwell, “Good Bad Books,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 19-22.
Orwell, “In Defence of English Cooking,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 38-40.
Orwell, “Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 156-165.
Orwell, “A Nice Cup of Tea,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 40-43.
Orwell, “The Prevention of Literature,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 59-72.
Orwell, “The Moon under Water,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 44-47.
Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 127-140.
Orwell, “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 141-145.
Orwell, unsigned Polemic editorial, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 153-160.
Orwell, “Second Thoughts on James Burnham,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 160-181.
Orwell, “Why I Write,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 1-7.
Orwell, “Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver's Travels,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 205-223.
Orwell, “Riding Down from Bangor,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 242-247.
Orwell, preface to the Ukrainian translation of Animal Farm, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 402-406. Orwell's original English text has never been found; this version is a retranslation into English from the Ukrainian preface.
Orwell, “Toward European Unity,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 370-375.
Orwell, “Writers and Leviathan,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 407-414.
Orwell, “Reflections on Gandhi,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 463-470.
Orwell, “Such, Such Were the Joys,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 330-369.
Orwell, A Clergyman's Daughter, in The Complete Novels, p. 323. Subsequent parenthetical references in the text are to this edition.
Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, in The Complete Novels, p. 577. Subsequent parenthetical references in the text are to this edition.
Orwell, Coming Up for Air, in The Complete Novels, p. 448. Subsequent parenthetical references in the text are to this edition.
Orwell, Animal Farm, in The Complete Novels, p. 13. Subsequent parenthetical references in the text are to this edition.
Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, in The Complete Novels, p. 752. Subsequent parenthetical references in the text are to this edition.
Q. D. Leavis, “The Literary Life Respectable: Mr. George Orwell,” Scrutiny, 9 (September 1940): 173-176.
Quoted in Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1982), pp. 214, 223-224.
Reviews of Down and Out in Paris and London: Manchester Guardian, 9 January 1933; Times Literary Supplement, 12 January 1933, p. 22; C. Day-Lewis, Adelphi (February 1933): 381-382; J. B. Priestley, Evening Standard (London), 11 January 1933; James T. Farrell, New Republic (11 October 1933): 256-257.
Reviews of Burmese Days: New York Times Book Review, 28 October 1934, p. 7; New York Herald-Tribune Books, 28 October 1934, p. 3
Cyril Connolly, review of Burmese Days, New Statesman and Nation, 6 July 1935.
Readers for Gollancz, quoted in Crick, George Orwell, p. 257; reviews of A Clergyman's Daughter: V. S. Pritchett, Spectator (22 March 1935): 504; Peter Quennell, New Statesman and Nation (23 March 1935): 421-422; L. P. Hartley, Observer(London), 10 March 1935, p. 6; Hartley, Daily Sketch, 27 March 1935, p. xviii.
Reviews of Keep the Aspidistra Flying: Richard Rees, Adelphi (June 1936): 190; William Plomer, Spectator (24 April 1936): 768; Cyril Connolly, New Statesman and Nation (25 April 1936): 635; Compton Mackenzie, quoted in Peter Stansky and William Abrahams, Orwell: The Transformation (London: Constable, 1979), pp. 140-141.
Arthur Calder-Marshall, review of The Road to Wigan Pier, Time and Tide (20 March 1937): 382.
Reviews of The Road to Wigan Pier: New Leader, quoted in Crick, George Orwell, p. 343; Harold Laski, Left News (March 1937): 275-276; Daily Worker, quoted in Crick, George Orwell, p. 343.
Reviews of Homage to Catalonia: Geoffrey Gorer, Time and Tide (30 April 1938): 599; John McNair, New Leader, 6 May 1938, p. 7. Orwell joined McNair's Independent Labour Party weeks later.
Review of Homage to Catalonia, Observer, quoted in Michael Shelden, Orwell: The Authorised Biography (London: Minerva, 1992), p.320.
Herbert Read, quoted in Crick, George Orwell, p. 364.
“The British Miracle,” Times Literary Supplement, 8 March 1941, p. 110.
Julian Symons, “An Appreciation,” in Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (London: Heron, 1970), p. 329
Reviews of Animal Farm: Connolly, Horizon (September 1945): 215-216; “Myth Making,” Times Literary Supplement, 25 August 1945, p. 401; Northrop Frye, Canadian Forum (December 1946): 212.
Kingsley Martin, review of Animal Farm, New Statesman and Nation (8 September 1945): 166.
Reviews of Nineteen Eighty-Four: Time and Tide (11 June 1949): 494-495; Pritchett, New Statesman and Nation (18 June 1949) pp. 646-648; Symons, Times Literary Supplement, 10 June 1949, p. 380; Lionel Trilling, New Yorker (18 June 1949): 78-81; Diana Trilling, Nation, 25 (June 1949): 716; New York Times, 12 June 1949.
Reviews of Nineteen Eighty-Four: Samuel Sillen, Masses & Mainstream (August 1949): 276; Philip Rahv, Partisan Review (July 1949): 749; New York Times, 12 June 1949.
Irving Wardle, review of Animal Farm (play), Times (London), 26 April 1984, sec. A, p. 16.
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LETTER TO DENNIS COLLINGS, OCTOBER 1931:
I am getting stories etc. to do for the new paper Modern Youth. (A poisonous name for a poisonous paper—& the things I write for them are also poisonous, but one must live.)1
LETTER TO ELEANOR JAQUES, 19 OCTOBER 1932, ON BURMESE DAYS:
My novel is making just a little progress. I see now more or less what will have to be done to it when the rough draft is finished, but the longness & complicatedness are terrible.2
LETTER TO BRENDA SALKELD, SPRING 1933:
[W]ith me almost any piece of writing has to be done over and over again. I wish I were one of those people who can sit down and fling off a novel in about four days. … Have you read [James Joyce's] Ulysses yet? It sums up better than any book I know the fearful despair that is almost normal in modern times. You get the same kind of thing, though only just touched upon, in Eliot's poems. With E, however, there is also a certain sniffish “I told you so” implication, because as he is the spoilt darling of the Church Times he is bound to point out that all this wouldn't have happened if we had not shut our eyes to the Light.3
LETTER TO SALKELD, DECEMBER 1933, ON ULYSSES:
[T]he queer and original thing about it is that instead of taking as his material the conventional and highly simplified version of life presented in most novels, Joyce attempts to present life more or less as it is lived. Of course he is not trying merely to represent life. … Only Joyce is attempting to select and represent events and thoughts as they occur in life and not as they occur in fiction. Of course he is not altogether successful but the very way in which he sets about it is enough to show how extraordinarily original his mind is.4
LETTER TO SALKELD, AUTUMN 1934:
My novel [A Clergyman's Daughter], instead of going forwards, goes backwards with the most alarming speed. There are whole wads of it that are so awful that I really don't know what to do with them. … I managed to get my copy of Ulysses through safely this time. [Ulysses had been banned in England for its “obscene” content.] I rather wish I had never read it. It gives me an inferiority complex. When I read a book like that and then come back to my own work, I feel like a eunuch who has taken a course in voice production and can pass himself off fairly well as a bass or a baritone, but if you listen closely you can hear the good old squeak just the same as ever.5
REVIEW OF JACK HILTON, CALIBAN SHRIEKS, FROM THE ADELPHI, MARCH 1935:
Books like this, which come from genuine workers and present a genuinely working-class outlook, are exceedingly rare and correspondingly important. They are the voices of a normally silent multitude. All over England, in every industrial town, there are men by scores of thousands whose attitude to life, if only they could express it, would be very much what Mr. Hilton's is. If all of them could get their thoughts on to paper they would change the whole consciousness of our race. Some of them try to do so, of course; but in almost every case, inevitably, what a mess they make of it!6
REVIEW OF HENRY MILLER, TROPIC OF CANCER, FROM THE NEW ENGLISH WEEKLY, 14 NOVEMBER 1935:
From a literary point of view [Miller's] book is competent, though not dazzlingly so. It is firmly done, with very few lapses into the typical modern slipshoddy [sic]. If it attracts critical attention, it will no doubt be coupled with Ulysses, quite wrongly. Ulysses is not only a vastly better book, but also quite different in intention. Joyce is primarily an artist; Mr. Miller is a discerning though hardboiled person giving his opinions about life.7
ESSAY ON RUDYARD KIPLING, FROM THE NEW ENGLISH WEEKLY, 23 JANUARY 1936:
Rudyard Kipling was the only popular English writer of this century who was not at the same time a thoroughly bad writer. His popularity was, of course, essentially middle-class.8
REVIEW OF PENGUIN BOOKS, FROM THE NEW ENGLISH WEEKLY, 5 MARCH 1936:
The Penguin Books are splendid value for sixpence, so splendid that if the other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them. … The cheaper books become, the less money is spent on books. This is an advantage from the reader's point of view and doesn't hurt trade as a whole, but for the publisher, the compositor, the author and the bookseller it is a disaster.9
LETTER TO JACK COMMON, 5 OCTOBER 1936, ON THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER:
I have just finished the rough draft of my book. … I am afraid I have made rather a muck of parts of it.10
REVIEW OF JULIAN GREEN, MIDNIGHT, FROM THE NEW ENGLISH WEEKLY, 12 NOVEMBER 1936:
The truth is that ours is not an age for mysterious romances about lunatics in ruined chateaux, because it is not an age in which one can be unaware of contemporary reality. You can't ignore Hitler, Mussolini, unemployment, aeroplanes and the radio; you can only pretend to do so, which means lopping off a large chunk of your consciousness. To turn away from everyday life and manipulate black paper silhouettes with the pretence that you are really interested in them, is a sort of game of make-believe, and therefore faintly futile, like telling ghost stories in the dark.11
REVIEW OF PHILIP HENDERSON, THE NOVEL TODAY, FROM THE NEW ENGLISH WEEKLY, 31 DECEMBER 1936:
[Critics] are employing a double set of values and dodging from one to the other according as it suits them. They praise or dispraise a book because its tendency is Communist, Catholic, Fascist or what-not; but at the same time, they pretend to be judging it on purely aesthetic grounds. Few people have the guts to say outright that art and propaganda are the same thing.12
LETTER TO RAYNER HEPPENSTALL, 31 JULY 1937, ON HOMAGE TO CATALONIA:
I am … having to change my publisher, at least for this book. [Victor] Gollancz is of course part of the Communism-racket. …13
LETTER TO COMMON, AUTUMN 1937:
This Spain business has upset me so that I really can't write about anything else, and unfortunately what one has to write about is not picturesque stuff but a blasted complicated story of political intrigue between a lot of cosmopolitan Communists, Anarchists etc.14
REVIEW OF JOHN GALSWORTHY, GLIMPSES AND REFLECTIONS, FROM THE NEW STATESMAN AND NATION, 12 MARCH 1938:
Galsworthy was a bad writer, and some inner trouble, sharpening his sensitiveness, nearly made him into a good one; his discontent healed itself, and he reverted to type. It is worth pausing to wonder in just what form the thing is happening to oneself.15
LETTER TO COMMON, SPRING 1938:
The trouble is that everyone in writing is torn between three motives, i. Art for art's saking in the ivory tower, ii. political propaganda & iii. pulling in the dough.16
LETTER TO COMMON, SPRING 1938, ON COMING UP FOR AIR:
[I am] keen to get started with my next novel, though … I had been thinking what with Hitler, Stalin & the rest of them the day of novel-writing was over. As it is if I start it in August I dare say I'll have to finish it in the concentration camp.17
“WHY I JOINED THE INDEPENDENT LABOUR PARTY,” FROM THE NEW LEADER, 24 JUNE 1938:
I am a writer. The impulse of every writer is to “keep out of politics.” What he wants is to be left alone so that he can go on writing books in peace. But unfortunately it is becoming obvious that this ideal is no more practicable than that of the petty shopkeeper who hopes to preserve his independence in the teeth of the chain-stores. …
The time is coming—not next year, perhaps not for ten or twenty years, but it is coming—when every writer will have the choice of being silenced altogether or of producing the dope that a privileged minority demands.18
LETTER TO CYRIL CONNOLLY, 14 DECEMBER 1938:
Everything one writes now is overshadowed by this ghastly feeling that we are rushing towards a precipice and, though we shan't actually prevent ourselves or anyone else from going over, must put up some sort of fight.19
LETTER TO GEOFFREY GORER, 20 JANUARY 1939:
I have an idea for a very big novel, in fact 3 in series, making something abt the size of War and Peace, but I want another year to think over the first part. I suppose it's a sign of approaching senile decay when one starts projecting a Saga, but in my case it may merely be another way of saying that I hope war won't break out, because I don't think I could write a Saga in the middle of a war, certainly not in the concentration camp.20
LETTER TO HERBERT READ, 5 MARCH 1939:
A thought that cheers me a lot is that each generation, which in literature means about ten years, is in revolt against the last, and just as the Audens etc. rose in revolt against the Squires and the Drinkwaters [John Drinkwater, a popular dramatist, poet, and biographer], there must be another gang about due to rise against the Audens.21
“CHARLES DICKENS,” FROM INSIDE THE WHALE, AND OTHER ESSAYS, 1940:
[Dickens] has no constructive suggestions, not even a clear grasp of the nature of the society he is attacking, only an emotional perception that something is wrong. All he can finally say is, “Behave decently,” which … is not necessarily so shallow as it sounds.22
“BOYS' WEEKLIES,” FROM INSIDE THE WHALE, AND OTHER ESSAYS:
[I]n England, popular imaginative literature is a field that left-wing thought has never begun to enter. All fiction from the novels in the mushroom libraries downwards is censored in the interests of the ruling class. And boys' fiction above all, the blood-and-thunder stuff which nearly every boy devours at some time or other, is sodden in the worst illusions of 1910.23
“INSIDE THE WHALE,” ON THE WRITING OF MILLER, FROM INSIDE THE WHALE, AND OTHER ESSAYS:
Progress and reaction have both turned out to be swindles. Seemingly there is nothing left but quietism—robbing reality of its terrors by simply submitting to it. Get inside the whale—or rather, admit that you are inside the whale (for you are, of course). Give yourself over to the world-process, stop fighting against it or pretending that you control it; simply accept it, endure it, record it. That seems to be the formula that any sensitive novelist is now likely to adopt. A novel on more positive, “constructive” lines, and not emotionally spurious, is at present very difficult to imagine.24
“NEW WORDS,” 1940 (?):
The art of writing is in fact largely the perversion of words, and I would even say that the less obvious this perversion is, the more thoroughly it has been done.25
“THE PROLETARIAN WRITER,” BBC HOME SERVICE BROADCAST, 6 DECEMBER 1940:
I don't believe the proletariat can create an independent literature while they are not the dominant class. I believe that their literature is and must be bourgeois literature with a slightly different slant.26
“LONDON LETTER,” FROM THE PARTISAN REVIEW, MARCH-APRIL 1941:
Only the mentally dead are capable of sitting down and writing novels while this nightmare is going on.27
“THE FRONTIERS OF ART AND PROPAGANDA,” BBC OVERSEAS SERVICE BROADCAST, 30 APRIL 1941:
If we look back at the English literature of the last ten years, not so much at the literature as at the prevailing literary attitude, the thing that strikes us is that it has almost ceased to be aesthetic. Literature has been swamped by propaganda.28
“TOLSTOY AND SHAKESPEARE,” BBC OVERSEAS SERVICE BROADCAST, 7 MAY 1941:
Every piece of writing has its propaganda aspect, and yet in any book or play or poem or what not that is to endure there has to be a residuum of something that simply is not affected by its moral or meaning—a residuum of something we can only call art.29
“LITERATURE AND TOTALITARIANISM,” BBC OVERSEAS SERVICE BROADCAST, PUBLISHED IN THE LISTENER, 19 JUNE 1941:
Whoever feels the value of literature, whoever sees the central part it plays in the development of human history, must also see the life and death necessity of resisting totalitarianism, whether it is imposed on us from without or from within.30
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOTE FOR TWENTIETH CENTURY AUTHORS, EDITED BY STANLEY J. KUNITZ AND H. HAYCRAFT, 1942:
The writers I care most about and never grow tired of are Shakespeare, Swift, Fielding, Dickens, Charles Reade, Samuel Butler, Zola, Flaubert and, among modern writers, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence. But I believe the modern writer who has influenced me most is Somerset Maugham, whom I admire immensely for his power of telling a story straightforwardly and without frills.31
“RUDYARD KIPLING,” FROM HORIZON, FEBRUARY 1942:
A good bad poem is a graceful monument to the obvious. It records in memorable form … some emotion which very nearly every human being can share. The merit of a poem like “When All the World Is Young, Lad” is that, however sentimental it may be, its sentiment is “true” sentiment in the sense that you are bound to find yourself thinking the thought it expresses sooner or later; and then, if you happen to know the poem, it will come back into your mind and seem better than it did before.32
“LITERATURE AND THE LEFT,” FROM THE TRIBUNE, 4 JUNE 1943:
There is no knowing just how much the Socialist movement has lost by alienating the literary intelligentsia. But it has alienated them, partly by confusing tracts with literature, and partly by having no room in it for a humanistic culture.33
“AS I PLEASE,” FROM THE TRIBUNE, 13 OCTOBER 1944:
What the artist does is not immediately and obviously necessary in the same way as what the milkman or the coal miner does. Except in the ideal society which has not yet arrived, or in very chaotic and prosperous ages like the one that is just ending, this means in practice that the artist must have some kind of patron—a ruling class, the Church, the State, or a political party. And the question “Which is best?” normally means “Which interferes least?”34
REVIEW OF SEVERAL WORKS OF JOSEPH CONRAD, FROM THE OBSERVER, 24 JUNE 1945:
Conrad's romanticism, his love of the grand gesture and of the lonely Prometheus struggling against fate, is … somehow un-English. He had the outlook of a European aristocrat, and he believed in the existence of the “English gentleman” at a time when this type had been extinct for about two generations.35
“GOOD BAD BOOKS,” FROM THE TRIBUNE, 2 NOVEMBER 1945:
There are music-hall songs which are better poems than three-quarters of the stuff that gets into the anthologies. … And by the same token I would back Uncle Tom's Cabin to outlive the complete works of Virginia Woolf or George Moore, though I know of no strictly literary test which would show where the superiority lies.36
“ARTHUR KOESTLER,” FROM FOCUS 2, 1946:
England is lacking … in what one might call concentration-camp literature. The special world created by secret-police forces, censorship of opinion, torture and frame-up trials is, of course, known about and to some extent disapproved of, but it has made very little emotional impact. One result of this is that there exists in England almost no literature of disillusionment about the Soviet Union.37
“THE PREVENTION OF LITERATURE,” FROM POLEMIC, JANUARY 1946:
[L]iterature is doomed if liberty of thought perishes. Not only is it doomed in any country which retains a totalitarian structure; but any writer who adopts the totalitarian outlook, who finds excuses for persecution and the falsification of reality, thereby destroys himself as a writer.38
“THE COST OF LETTERS,” FROM HORIZON, SEPTEMBER 1946:
If one simply wants to make a living by putting words on paper, then the BBC, the film companies and the like are reasonably helpful. But if one wants to be primarily a writer, then, in our society, one is an animal that is tolerated but not encouraged—something rather like a house sparrow—and one gets on better if one realises one's position from the start.39
LETTER TO GEORGE WOODCOCK, 28 SEPTEMBER 1946:
I haven't a copy of Keep the Aspidistra Flying. … There are two or three books which I am ashamed of and have not allowed to be reprinted or translated, and that is one of them. There is an even worse one called A Clergyman's Daughter. This was written simply as an exercise and I oughtn't to have published it, but I was desperate for money, ditto when I wrote Keep the A. At that time I simply hadn't a book in me, but I was half starved and had to turn out something to bring in £100 or so.40
“POLITICS VS. LITERATURE: AN EXAMINATION OF GULLIVER'S TRAVELS,” FROM POLEMIC, SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 1946:
Swift did not possess ordinary wisdom, but he did possess a terrible intensity of vision, capable of picking out a single hidden truth and then magnifying it and distorting it. The durability of Gulliver's Travels goes to show that, if the force of belief is behind it, a world-view which only just passes the test of sanity is sufficient to produce a great work of art.41
“AS I PLEASE,” FROM THE TRIBUNE, 6 DECEMBER 1946:
Many writers, perhaps most, ought simply to stop writing when they reach middle age. Unfortunately our society will not let them stop. Most of them know no other way of earning a living, and writing, with all that goes with it—quarrels, rivalries, flattery, the sense of being a semi-public figure—is habit-forming.42
“AS I PLEASE,” FROM THE TRIBUNE, 3 JANUARY 1947:
The thing that politicians are seemingly unable to understand is that you cannot produce a vigorous literature by terrorising everyone into conformity.43
LETTER TO FREDRIC WARBURG, 4 FEBRUARY 1948, ON NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR:
It is just a ghastly mess as it stands, but the idea is so good that I could not possibly abandon it.44
“WRITERS AND LEVIATHAN,” FROM THE NEW LEADER, 19 JUNE 1948:
[W]hat kind of State rules over us must depend partly on the prevailing intellectual atmosphere: meaning, in this context, partly on the attitude of writers and artists themselves, and on their willingness or otherwise to keep the spirit of liberalism alive.45
LETTER TO JULIAN SYMONS, 10 MAY 1948, ON COMING UP FOR AIR:
Of course you are perfectly right about my own character constantly intruding on that of the narrator. I am not a real novelist anyway, and that particular vice is inherent in writing a novel in the first person, which one should never do. One difficulty I have never solved is that one has masses of experience which one passionately wants to write about, e.g., the part about fishing in that book, and no way of using them up except by disguising them as a novel.46
REVIEW OF OSBERT SITWELL, GREAT MORNING, FROM THE ADELPHI, JULY-SEPTEMBER 1948:
In the nineteen-thirties we saw a whole literary generation, or at least the most prominent members of a generation, either pretending to be proletarians or indulging in public orgies of self-hatred because they were not proletarians. Even if they could have kept up this attitude (today, a surprising number of them have either fled to America or found themselves jobs in the BBC or the British Council), it was a stupid one, because their bourgeois origin was not a thing that could be altered.47
LETTERS TO WARBURG, 22 OCTOBER 1948 AND 21 DECEMBER 1948, ON NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR:
I am not pleased with the book but I am not absolutely dissatisfied. … I think it is a good idea but the execution would have been better if I had not written it under the influence of TB. …
It isn't a book I would gamble on for a big sale, but I suppose one could be sure of 10,000 anyway.48
George Orwell to Dennis Collings, October 1931, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (London: Secker & Warburg, 1968), volume 1, p. 51. Modern Youth folded before Orwell's material was published.
Orwell to Eleanor Jaques, 19 October 1932, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 103.
Orwell to Brenda Salkeld, Spring 1933, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 120, 121.
Orwell to Salkeld, December 1933, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 126.
Orwell to Salkeld, early September (?) 1934, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 139.
Orwell, review of Jack Hilton, Caliban Shrieks, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 149.
Orwell, review of Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 155-156.
Orwell, [On Kipling's Death], in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 159.
Orwell, review of Penguin Books, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 165-166.
Orwell to Jack Common, 5 October 1936, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 233.
Orwell, review of Scholem Asch, The Calf of Paper, and Julian Green, Midnight, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 249.
Orwell, review of Philip Henderson, The Novel Today, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 257.
Orwell to Rayner Heppenstall, 31 July 1937, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 279.
Orwell to Common, (October?) 1937, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 289.
Orwell, review of John Galsworthy, Glimpses and Reflections, 12 March 1938, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 308.
Orwell to Common, (late March?) 1938, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 310.
Orwell to Common, (May?) 1938, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 330.
Orwell, “Why I Joined the Independent Labour Party, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 336-337.
Orwell to Cyril Connolly, 14 December 1938, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 362.
Orwell to Geoffrey Gorer, 20 January 1939, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 382.
Orwell to Herbert Read, 5 March 1939, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 386.
Orwell, “Charles Dickens,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, pp. 457-458.
Orwell, “Boys' Weeklies,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 484.
Orwell, “Inside the Whale,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 1, p. 526.
Orwell, “New Words,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, pp. 5-6.
Orwell, “The Proletarian Writer,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, p. 38.
Orwell, “London Letter” (March-April 1941), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, p. 54.
Orwell, “The Frontiers of Art and Propaganda,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, p. 123.
Orwell, “Tolstoy and Shakespeare,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, p. 130.
Orwell, “Literature and Totalitarianism,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, p. 137.
Orwell, autobiographical note, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, p. 24.
Orwell, “Rudyard Kipling,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, pp. 195-196.
Orwell, “Literature and the Left,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 2, p. 293.
Orwell, “As I Please” (13 October 1944), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, p. 254.
Orwell, review of Joseph Conrad, The Nigger of the Narcissus, Typhoon, The Shadow-Line, and Within the Tides, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, pp. 388-389.
Orwell, “Good Bad Books,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 22.
Orwell, “Arthur Koestler,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 3, p. 235.
Orwell, “The Prevention of Literature,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 71.
Orwell, “The Cost of Letters,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 202-203.
Orwell to George Woodcock, 28 September 1946, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 205.
Orwell, “Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver's Travels,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 223.
Orwell, “As I Please” (6 December 1946), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 253.
Orwell, “As I Please” (3 January 1947), in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 267.
Orwell to Fredric Warburg, 4 February 1948, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 404.
Orwell, “Writers and Leviathan,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 407.
Orwell to Julian Symons, 10 May 1948, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 422.
Orwell, review of Osbert Sitwell, Great Morning, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, p. 446.
Orwell to Warburg, 22 October 1948 and 21 December 1948, in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, volume 4, pp. 448, 459.
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Since his death in 1950, Orwell may have received more academic and popular attention than any other British writer of the twentieth century. His work is now a standard source for authoritative comment not only on politics and ideology but also on culture. This commentary, however, has not been driven primarily by a search to evaluate and commemorate Orwell as a literary figure. Instead, it has been prompted by his central position in the political and cultural context of the Cold War and by his adoption, at a time when the future status and composition of England is the focus of general debate, as an archetypal representative of “Englishness.”
In an excellent 1984 essay that is still relevant today, Alan Brown noted that Orwell had been a constant presence on the British curriculum since World War II. Studying examination questions and syllabi, Brown concluded that the emphasis was not the literary quality of Orwell's works but on the quality of his ideas. Moreover, students were not asked to set Orwell's ideas against other ideas and events in the political, economic, and social environment but to put the “personal” before the “political.” Brown summarized: “It is characteristic of the ‘Orwell’ persona that it conveys a neutral, received wisdom, of ‘objective’ and ‘human’ truths.”1
This process began with the immediate reaction to Orwell's death, which occurred less than a year after the publication of Nineteen Eighty-four. A detailed critique of Orwell's literary qualities fell away before the overriding political and cultural impact of his writing. Stephen Spender, whom Orwell had condemned as a “nancy poet” and “parlour pink,” labeled him “an Innocent, a kind of English Candide of the twentieth century. The Innocent is ordinary because he accepts the value of ordinary human decency; he is not a mystic, nor a poet.”2 Tom Hopkinson summarized in June 1950: “I know only two present-day works of fiction before which the critic abdicates: one is Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon, the other Orwell's Animal Farm.”3
Orwell had become the icon of those claiming a moral center between the excesses of capitalism and communism. Julian Symons's obituary upheld Orwell's supposed faith in “the revolutionary power of the proletariat” while calling him “an Edwardian, even a Victorian” figure “whose unorthodoxy was valuable in an age of power worship.”4 V. S. Pritchett asserted that “George Orwell was the wintry conscience of a generation which in the thirties had heard the call to the rasher assumptions of political faith.”5 When Homage to Catalonia was finally published in the United States two years after Orwell's death, Lionel Trilling was selected to write the introduction. Trilling had established himself, in his novels and literary criticism, as the spokesman for the moral center in the America of the Cold War, and he represented Orwell as a fellow resident of this higher ground. He explained that Orwell told the truth “in an exemplary way, quietly, simply, with due warning to the reader that it was only one man's truth.”6
Even though Orwell had specified in his will that he wished no biographer to write an account of his life, full-length eulogies soon appeared. These works further hindered any effort to reclaim him as a literary novelist through their emphasis on his personal qualities rather than his skill with fiction. John Atkins opened his 1954 study, George Orwell, by saying that “[t]he common element in all George Orwell's writing was a sense of decency” and making clear that “the special connotation of this English word is a complex of English living and English attitudes.” Atkins even took up Orwell's battles with other socialists: “The intellectuals would not revert to a sense of decency.”7 Several years later, Orwell's friend Richard Rees wrote a short volume, George Orwell: Fugitive from the Camp of Victory (1961), which was careful to claim a balanced view of the author, with his “mood of sulky rebellion against life,” but fell back upon Orwell's “kind of integrity and steadfastness almost unique in his generation.” Like Atkins, Rees contrasted Orwell with a hysterical English intelligentsia who supposedly wanted “a breakdown of law and order which would produce a situation in Britain comparable to that in St. Petersburg in 1917.”8
Amid this praise, any criticism of the politics of Orwell's work could easily be dismissed as the mutterings of Marxist cranks, such as the comment of the British historian A. L. Morton that “Nineteen Eighty-four is, for this country at least, the last word to date in counter-revolutionary apologetics.”9 Thoughtful commentaries, such as measured praise marking the belated American publication of Homage to Catalonia from George Mayberry of The New Republic (“Orwell's enthusiastic vision of an equalitarian socialism might have been paired with a recognition of the fact that ‘the road to socialism is paved with bedbugs’”) and Herbert Matthews of The Nation (“The danger in this case is that Orwell was writing in a white heat about a confused, unimportant, and obscure incident in the Spanish Civil War”), were set aside.10
More significant was the dismissal of Orwell's literary work with statements such as John Wain's that “Orwell's essays are obviously much better than his novels.”11 Irving Howe, an admirer of Orwell's political views, noted that Nineteen Eighty-Four “is not, I suppose, really a novel, or at least it does not satisfy those expectations we have come to have with regard to the novel.”12 Even Orwell's literary friends did not highlight his literature. Spender remarked that “[Orwell] had a kind of quality about him that reminded one of plain living, bread and cheese, English beer, and so on,” while Anthony Powell thought of Orwell as someone “for whom you felt a curiously protective affection.”13 Christopher Hollis attempted in 1956 to treat Orwell not as a biographical subject but as a writer worthy of considered literary criticism, but he ended by noting, “In an age when all good things were desperately assailed … he almost alone from first to last dealt out his blows impartially and defended without fear and without compromise the cause of liberty and the decencies from whatever quarter they might be assailed.”14
George Woodcock, who engaged in a heated exchange with Orwell over left-wing politics during World War II before becoming friends with the author, summarized in 1967 how Orwell the man had come to dominate the conception of Orwell the writer: “Those who knew Orwell have never been able to perform that act of faith demanded by so many modern critics, to see the writings isolated from the man. Always that gaunt, gentle, angry and endlessly controversial image intervenes, if only to remind one of how often his works were good talk turned into better prose.”15 Woodcock's own study was far from uncritical, but he labeled Orwell “The Crystal Spirit” (a reference taken from the opening to Homage to Catalonia) and rescued him from those who claimed him as a champion of their ideas: “In comparison with such dubious disciples, Orwell still shines out, half a generation later, as a noble and colourful figure, large in act and vision, the almost complete opposite of the narrow-visioned academics who have closed in during the present generation on the literary worlds of both Britain and North America.” Woodcock classified Orwell as “the last of a nineteenth-century tradition of individualist radicals.”16
None of these commentators expressed concern that Orwell was being viewed in exclusively political terms. It was left to a more skeptical reviewer, the political scientist and historian Isaac Deutscher, to raise the likely problem. Writing in 1954 about Nineteen Eighty-four, he noted that the use of the book was out of Orwell's hands: “The novel has served as a sort of ideological super-weapon. … A book like 1984 may be used without much regard for the author's intention. Some of its features may be torn out of their context, while others, which do not suit the political purpose which the book is made to serve, are ignored or virtually suppressed.” Deutscher extended the point to raise a worry about Orwell's lack of literary credentials: “Nor need a book like 1984 be a literary masterpiece or even an important and original work to make its impact. Indeed a work of great literary merit is usually too rich in its texture and too subtle in thought and form to lend itself to adventitious exploitation. As a rule its symbols cannot easily be transformed into hypnotising bogies, or its ideas turned into slogans.”17
The next wave of intense attention to Orwell began in 1968 with the publication of a four-volume collection of his essays, journalism, and letters, edited by his widow and the curator of the Orwell Archive at University College, London. A new edition of Nineteen Eighty-four was published, and the BBC produced its first televised study of Orwell. Peter Stansky and William Abrahams brought out two volumes, The Unknown Orwell (1972) and Orwell: The Transformation (1979), documenting the author's life up to the Spanish Civil War and offering concise evaluations of his books. Not all of this reevaluation was positive, for Orwell was now being considered in the environment of social protest and the Vietnam War. Conor Cruise O'Brien, a prominent Irish writer, labeled Orwell “a Tory eccentric with a taste for self-immolation” and highlighted, amid revelations of CIA funding of intellectuals and authors, the influence of Orwell's anti-Communism upon imitators who were secretly sponsored by the U.S. government.18
The approach to Orwell as a special man, and thus to his writings as the output of a special man, was being modified. In 1971 a slight but significant volume, The World of George Orwell, brought together differing views of Orwell as person and as author. The work is a mix of memories of those who knew him, descriptions of the environments and contexts (Burma, Paris, 1930s Britain, Spain) that shaped his writing, and assessments of his cultural and political opinions. Some observations are trite (“He never allowed his imperfect sympathies to interfere with his actual judgement of what the situation demanded”), some irritating (“His first task had been to delouse the left-wing establishment”), and a few illuminating (“It seems that people of almost any political persuasion can find some of their beliefs expressed in Orwell's work, very eloquently”).19 The essays, however, laid the foundation for a richer interpretation of the author.
It was the British scholar Raymond Williams, already noted for his studies of culture and society, who brought out the potential of this analysis in a series of books and essays in the 1970s. Considering the transformation of Eric Blair into George Orwell, Williams contended that “the contradictions, the paradox of Orwell, must be seen as paramount” and that the author should be evaluated in the context of England between the wars. He concluded, “Orwell recognises and emphasises the complexity [of England], but he does not develop any kind of thinking which can sustain and extend a critical analysis of structures.”20 For Williams, admirers of Orwell have to treat his socialism as having mythical personal qualities because he had a limited conception of socialism: “Orwell hated what he saw of the consequences of capitalism, but he was never able to see it, fully, as an economic and political system.” He could succeed only through the “successful impersonation of the plain man who bumps into experience in an unmeditated way and is simply telling the truth about it.”21
Much of this interpretation was swept aside, however, with the juxtaposition of two events: the publication of the best-known and most influential biography of Orwell, Bernard Crick's George Orwell: A Life (1980), and the approach of 1984. Crick's work made an impact in part because it was the first biography based on Orwell's own papers and in part because Crick had a forceful political message that he wanted to put across. He wanted to return the author (and his country) to the exalted simplicity of “decency.” Orwell was a socialist, but he was an English socialist, a man concerned with morality rather than high intellect and theory: “What was remarkable in Orwell was not his political position, which was common enough, but that he demanded publicly that his own side should live up to their principles, both in their lives and in their policies, should respect the liberty of others and tell the truth.”22
Like Williams, however, Crick firmly reestablished Orwell as a political rather than a literary figure. While Crick claims that certain of the novels, notably Coming Up for Air, have been underestimated, he is more concerned with Orwell as “a supreme political writer,” “a great essayist,” “a brilliant journalist.”23 Crick also tried to sweep aside all debate, not about the complexity of Orwell's personality (“he was many-faceted, not a simple man at all”24), but about the complexity of his political beliefs. In this respect, the biography is as much a defense of an “English socialism”—one that could avoid difficult questions about the continuing Cold War as well as issues of class and economic well-being in Britain—as it is a vindication of Orwell.
Similarly, much of the analysis in or soon after the pivotal year of 1984 reevaluated Orwell and his work in a context in which British and American politics had been pulled sharply to the right. Orwell was now being claimed by free-market, Cold War intellectuals in the United States. Norman Podhoretz was far from subtle in titling a 1983 article “If Orwell Were Alive Today, He'd Be a Neo-Conservative.”25
Those who had established Orwell as the decent English socialist struggled to keep him out of the clutches of both the Right and the radical Left. T. R. Fyvel, a close friend and colleague from The Tribune, wrote an appreciative “personal memoir” about Orwell in 1982. Crick wrote numerous essays, advised the BBC on a three-part documentary on Orwell, and co-edited Orwell Remembered (1984), which featured the reminiscences of friends and acquaintances from the writer's earliest days. A collection of essays by various critics, George Orwell: A Reassessment (1988), was actually a reassertion of the standard line, Crick establishing the tone in the opening essay, “Orwell and English Socialism.” Most of the contributions focus on Nineteen Eighty-four. In another study published in 1988, Patrick Reilly asserted that “prevention is Orwell's aim, and not simply because prevention is better than cure, but for the far more terrifyingly urgent reason that there must be prevention because there is no cure.”26 The journalist Crispin Aubrey insisted that Orwell's “unorthodox, libertarian position should appeal in fact to many on the current British left concerned for a broader, more humanitarian socialism.”27
Other commentators were sidetracked by musings about the “predictions” of Nineteen Eighty-four, considering whether Orwell's “Big Brother” society had come to pass. There were numerous essays in newspapers, magazines, and academic journals about the manipulation of Newspeak by the media, surveillance by helicopters and video cameras, the rise of computers, and the shadowy activities of government secret services. These attempts to project Orwell's work into the present continue today—Orwellian is a commonplace adjective, and the “reality” television series Big Brother was a global phenomenon in 2000—but avoid the salient point that Orwell was concerned about his own era rather than the future in his writing.
Amid this contest over Orwell and the meaning of his work, there was some skepticism. Indeed, with the polarizing of political discussion in the Reagan and Thatcher era, criticism of Orwell reached a crescendo. A volume edited by Christopher Norris, Inside the Myth—Orwell: Views from the Left (1984), focused “on the ways in which Orwell has been kidnapped by the forces of reaction, taken over triumphantly by those who hold him up as the great example of a socialist who finally saw the light”; the author had become “the patron saint of current Cold-War doublethink.”28 Examples included the manipulation of Orwell and his texts by the popular media and by the school-examination system.
Some contributors to the Norris volume went further, charging that Orwell was not the passive victim of the Right but a collaborator with it, either through choice or through the ambiguity of his political writing. He was accused of misrepresenting and misunderstanding the facts and issues in the Spanish Civil War; of reducing women to passive dependence, frigidity, or ignorant sexual rebellion; and of treating working-class people as little more than simple-minded animals. These allegations overshadowed other essays on Orwell's attempt to understand the workings of the modern state and on the development of his literary narratives.
Perhaps most challenging was the allegation of Orwell's hostility to women. Beatrix Campbell sharply commented that in his writing he not only ignores “the culture of women, their concerns, their history, their movements” but also “makes women the bearers of his own class hatred.”29 For Deidre Beddoe, Orwell's novels had “some of the most obnoxious portrayals of women in English fiction,” and his documentaries ignored any evidence of women's political activity.30
Yet, the persona of Orwell as a decent political writer survived such scrutiny, if only because the 1950s portrayal, buttressed by Crick's biography, was so well established in English culture. As Soviet Communism collapsed, it could be casually observed that Orwell had been vindicated. John Rodden used his review of the battle for Orwell's reputation to make his own sweeping claim that Orwell was “a ‘true’ intellectual. … He flayed the Left intelligentsia in order to fortify it, not to weaken or abandon it.”31 John Rossi's 1992 essay in Contemporary Review sketched the lesson in cruder national terms: “Orwell never lost his faith in the rugged sense of the English people and their simple patriotism. They, and not the upper classes or the hopelessly degenerated intelligentsia, would save England.”32
The strongest defenses came not from literary scholars but from philosophers. Richard Rorty observed, “In the forty years since Orwell wrote, … nobody has come up with a better way of setting out the political alternatives which confront us.”33 Michael Walzer wrote, “The story of the last man was not intended to be his last word on politics. Nor need it be ours, so long as we speak with the terrifying awareness that was his gift.”34
In 1991 Michael Shelden, a professor at Indiana State University, published Orwell: The Authorized Biography, the second substantial biography of the author. Shelden consciously reacted against Crick's “reporting Orwell's actions without commenting much on the motives and feelings behind them”; however, Shelden's study of the author's “inner life,” meticulously researched and supported by interviews with almost seventy witnesses, lacks focus. He rejects a political emphasis, yet there is no extended analysis of Orwell's literary output. Instead, Shelden, like Crick and others before him, offers another narrative of Orwell the “decent” man: “one of his remarkable qualities was his ability to face grim possibilities without losing all hope.” His conclusion is little more than the assertion that Orwell “was always analyzing, always standing to one side and observing, trying to make sense of this life.”35
More recently, another reappraisal has been fostered by Peter Davison's completion of a two-decade project to publish almost all of Orwell's writings and correspondence. The twenty volumes added little that was not already known about the author, but press attention to their publication, in the period following the end of the Cold War, reopened debate on Orwell as a political writer and personality. Davison's analysis, George Orwell: A Literary Life (1996), is essentially a publishing history of the twenty-volume project, but it is also an attempt to enshrine Orwell as a lasting and positive influence.
Davison responded to the dismissal of Orwell as a literary author, but his most important mission was to reconfirm Orwell as an admirable person embodying all the values of the “liberal” society of the twentieth century: “Orwell's virtues are at their most attractive in his incredible determination to be a writer, whatever the difficulties and disappointments; in his passion for what he saw as social justice … to strive against the ‘beastly’ for ‘decency’ and, in writing to achieve that, to fight against the insistence of censors and publishers to ‘garble’ what he said.” Orwell's legacy is in the ongoing fight against the bad regimes (Davison uses the example of China) that could arise even at home: “Were we able to hope that such regimes had no place in the modern world, and that they would never arise in Britain, the ‘necessity’ for Nineteen Eighty-four would disappear and the novel itself could become a footnote, a mere ‘problem in intellectual history.’ Until that happy and unlikely state occurs, it will remain an essential warning.”36
Davison's project was paralleled by the emergence of information on Orwell in British government documents that had been withheld, because of their sensitivity, for almost fifty years. One of the genuine finds in Davison's collection was the partial publication of Orwell's notebook, maintained after World War II, listing “suspect” left-wingers and containing correspondence between Orwell and British intelligence officers. The government documents confirmed that he had provided a selection of names from his list. Once again, questions of Orwell's literary merits were overshadowed by the political question of whether, in collaborating with British secret services, he had cooperated with the kind of state that he had castigated in Nineteen Eighty-four.
There have been efforts to redress this fixation on the political Orwell. In 1974, amid debate over Williams's interpretation, Alan Sandison analyzed Orwell as a Protestant author in the tradition of Martin Luther, focusing on Orwell's treatment of the individual and nature in his novels and nonfiction.37 After the symbolic year of 1984, critics such as Jenni Calder emphasized that “the whole body of [Orwell's] work makes rewarding reading.”38 Much of this praise, however, was overshadowed by the political dimension. Calder's study, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1987), strays from evaluation of the texts into a defense of the books against the specter of criticism from the Left, citing “a problem of interpretation brought about by [Orwell's] own honesty and refusal to compromise. … Far from being a renegade, Orwell brought Animal Farm directly out of his belief in socialism.”39
As Calder's approach indicates, most criticism has focused on Orwell's final two books. One has to search for studies such as Lynette Hunter's essay on his early work, in which she analyzes the shifting relationship between narrator and character.40 Roger Fowler's The Language of George Orwell (1995) is an excellent survey of the entire range of Orwell's novels. Fowler offers no sweeping conclusions, only an attempt to identify a great diversity of stylistic technique: precise description, striking figurative expression, pastoral, naturalism, surrealism, representation of thought, powerful evocations of violence, a keen eye for the grotesque and an ear for … ‘voices of the other,’ trenchant parody of political styles; finally, quite different from these heightened modes of writing, the purest simplicity of style in the satires of Animal Farm and the Newspeak Appendix to Nineteen Eighty-four.41
Orwell's legacy is likely to be that of the importance of the political writer. One American scholar might have claimed at a 1984 symposium that “Orwell was a ‘journalist’ and ‘didactic writer’ who ‘failed to live up to top literary standards,’” but another noted that conferences about him attracted more international participants than those on any other literary figure or issue.42
Part of the fascination with Orwell is that his position has never been firmly fixed. In 1940 Frank Richards, the author of articles for boys' magazines, portrayed Orwell as a dogmatic left-wing theorist even as Q. D. Leavis was proclaiming, “He isn't the usual parlour-Bolshevik seeing literature through political glasses.”43 Only months later, The Times Literary Supplement was ready to relocate Orwell, noting that he “seems to despair of the possibility of a virile right-wing ideology, yet his own thought tends that way and it may be that with more courage Mr. Orwell's provocative essay might have laid the foundation to a new conservatism.”44
Because of these shifting perspectives, Orwell will always have something to offer many readers. For those claiming freedom not only through political rights but also through the free market, his comments on individual liberty, as well as his sustained attacks on other Socialists, can be adopted. For those who claim a position on the left, Orwell can be exalted as an independent thinker who resisted the orthodoxy of both fascism and Communism and criticized the excesses of capitalism. And, of course, those who seek a vision of a positive Englishness can always draw from Orwell's idyllic portrayal of the English people and environment. Rees's comment of 1961 still stands, inadvertently, as a backhanded compliment: “It is curious—or perhaps not so curious—that Orwell himself has become for some people the object of a nationalistic cult. He might well have included this personal cult in his list of nationalisms.”45
WRITERS AND PHILOSOPHERS ON ORWELL
SEAN O'CASEY, 1935:
Orwell had as much chance of reaching the stature of Joyce as a tit has of reaching that of an eagle.46
HENRY MILLER TO ORWELL, 1936, ON DOWN AND OUT IN PARIS AND LONDON:
I don't think your argument holds water, but I like it enormously. I don't for one minute believe that we will ever get rid of the slave class, or rid of injustice. For example, I would criticise your attitude throughout the book, if I were to be harsh and just, and say that what you endured was largely the result of your own inadequacy, your false “respectability” or your bloody English education.47
I was crazy about his book Down and Out in Paris and London; I think it's a classic. For me it's still his best book. Though he was a wonderful chap in his way, Orwell, in the end I thought him stupid. He was, like so many English people, an idealist, and, it seemed to me, a foolish idealist.48
EDITH SITWELL, 1937, ON THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER:
He seems to be doing for the modern world what Engels did for the world of 1840-50. But with this difference, that Orwell is a born writer, whereas Engels, fiery and splendid spirit though he was, simply wasn't a writer. One had to reconstruct the world from his pages for oneself.49
V. S. PRITCHETT, 1941, REVIEWING THE LION AND THE UNICORN:
Mr. George Orwell has many of the traits of the best English pamphleteers: courage, an individual mind, vehement opinions, an instinct for stirring up trouble, the arts of appealing to that imaginary creature the sensible man and of combining original observations with sweeping generalization, of seeing enemies everywhere and despising all of them. And like the two outstanding figures of our tradition of pamphleteering, Cobbett and Defoe, both of whom had his subversive, non-conforming brand of patriotism, he writes a lucid conversational style which wakes one up suddenly like cold water dashed in the face.50
JOHN BETJEMAN, 1946:
I have always thought you were one of the best living writers of prose.51
EDMUND WILSON, 1946:
[Orwell] has the good English qualities that, in the literary field at any rate, are beginning to seem old-fashioned: readiness to think for himself, courage to speak his mind, the tendency to deal with concrete realities rather than theoretical positions, and a prose style that is both downright and disciplined. If it is true that he has never succeeded in satisfactorily formulating a position, it is true, also, that his impulses (though they sometimes conflict), in pointing to what he does and does not want, what he does and does not like, make, in their own way, a fairly reliable guide, for they suggest an ideal of the man of good will (to use an overworked and wistful phrase) still in a benumbed and corrupted world.52
EVELYN WAUGH, 1946:
Mr. Orwell seems … unaware of the existence of his Christian neighbours. … He assumes that all his readers took Mr. H. G. Wells as their guide in youth, and he repeatedly imputes to them prejudices and temptations of which we are innocent. It is this ignorance of Catholic life far more than his ignorance of the classic Catholic writers which renders Mr. Orwell's criticism partial whenever he approaches the root of his matter.53
BERTRAND RUSSELL, 1950:
Orwell would have been genial if he had lived at a less painful time. … He preserved an impeccable love of truth, and allowed himself to learn even the most painful lessons. But he lost hope. This prevented him from being a prophet for our time. … I find in men like Orwell the half, but only the half, of what the world needs; the other half is still to seek.54
E. M. FORSTER, 1950:
No one can embrace Orwell's works who hopes for ease. Just as one is nestling against them, they prickle. They encourage no slovenly trust in a future where all will come right, dear comrades, though we shall not be there to see. They do not even provide a mystic vision. … What he does provide, what does commend him to some temperaments, is his belief in little immediate things and in kindness, good-temper and accuracy. He also believes in “the people,” who, with their beefy arms akimbo and their cabbage-stalk soup, may survive when higher growths are cut down. He does not explain how “the people” are to make good, and perhaps he is here confusing belief with compassion.55
PHILIP TOYNBEE, 1959:
The fact remains that though he was human to his would-be calloused finger-tips, Orwell was a much better man than most of us. We are reminded of this when we re-read his books, just as we are also reminded of the fact that he was a man of damaging and often irritating limitations.56
CANADIAN POET PAUL POTTS, 1960:
What made Orwell so permanently attractive as a person, and so readable as a writer, was that he was so ordinary really, normal if not average. … He was Britishly balanced and Saxonly sane.57
IRVING HOWE, 1969:
As a “saint” Orwell would not trouble us, for by now we have learned how to put up with saints: we canonize them and are rid of them. Orwell, however, stirs us by his all too human, his truculent example. He stood in basic opposition to the modes and assumptions that have since come to dominate our cultural life.58
KINGSLEY AMIS, 1970:
I often feel that I will never pick up a book by Orwell again until I have read a frank discussion of the dishonesty and hysteria that mar some of his best work.59
CYRIL CONNOLLY, 1973:
Orwell was a political animal. He reduced everything to politics; he was also unalterably of the Left. His line may have been unpopular or unfashionable, but he followed it unhesitatingly; in fact it was an obsession. He could not blow his nose without moralizing on conditions in the handkerchief industry.60
A. J. AYER, 1977:
His moral integrity made him hard upon himself and sometimes harsh in his judgement of other people, but he was no enemy of pleasure. He appreciated good food and drink, enjoyed gossip, and when not oppressed by ill health was very good company. He was another of those whose liking for me made me think better of myself.61
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, 1993, ON WHY ORWELL IS HIS “FAVORITE RADICAL JOURNALIST”:
He really would follow logic and honesty to their full conclusion. He would not be deflected by the fact that this might offend someone he knew or some cause with which he was associated or, more important, wouldn't even discompose himself. In other words, he thought, okay, if I don't like this conclusion, I'm still sticking with it if it's been arrived at honorably. …
That was a little harder to do than it sounds. And then I think he was a very witty and brilliant stylist, I think his writings on other authors like Dickens, for example, his reflections on eternal subjects like capital punishment or family life, ordinary things, arguments that never go away, [are] always worth rereading.62
Alan Brown, “Examining Orwell: Political and Literary Values in Education,” in Orwell: Views from the Left, edited by Christopher Norris (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1984), p. 40.
Stephen Spender, “Homage to Catalonia,” World Review, 16 (June 1950): 51.
Tom Hopkinson, quoted in Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1982), p. 490.
Julian Symons, Orwell obituary, in Orwell Remembered, edited by Audrey Coppard and Crick (London: Ariel, 1984), p. 275.
V. S. Pritchett, “George Orwell,” New Statesman and Nation, 39 (28 January 1950): 96.
Lionel Trilling, “George Orwell and the Politics of Truth,” in The Opposing Self (London: Secker & Warburg, 1955), pp. 151-152.
John Atkins, George Orwell (London: Calder & Boyars, 1954), p. 1.
Richard Rees, George Orwell: Fugitive from the Camp of Victory (London: Secker & Warburg, 1961), pp. 12, 45.
A. L. Morton, quoted in Crispin Aubrey, “The Making of 1984,” in Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1984: Autonomy, Control, and Communication, edited by Aubrey and Paul Chilton (London: Comedia, 1983), p. 11.
George Mayberry, review of Homage to Catalonia, New Republic (23 June 1952): 22; Herbert Matthews, review of Homage to Catalonia, Nation (27 December 1952): 597.
John Wain, “The Last of George Orwell,” Twentieth Century, 155 (January 1954): 71.
Irving Howe, “Orwell: History as Nightmare,” in his Politics and the Novel (London: Stevens, 1961), p. 236.
Spender, interview, 7 May 1963, reprinted in Orwell Remembered, p. 262; Anthony Powell, “George Orwell: A Memoir” (1967), reprinted in Orwell Remembered, p. 247.
Christopher Hollis, A Study of George Orwell: The Man and His Works(London: Hollis & Carter, 1956), p. 208.
George Woodcock, The Crystal Spirit (London: Cape, 1967), p. 7.
Ibid., pp. 50-51.
Isaac Deutscher, “‘1984’—The Mysticism of Cruelty,” in his Russia and Transition, and Other Essays (London: Hamilton, 1957), pp. 230-231.
Conor Cruise O'Brien, “Honest Men,” Listener, 80 (12 December 1968): 797-798.
Miriam Gross, ed., The World of George Orwell(London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1971), pp. 38, 125, 158.
Raymond Williams, Orwell (London: Fontana, 1971), p. 23.
Ibid., p. 26.
Crick, George Orwell, pp. 17-18.
Ibid., pp. 18-20.
Ibid., p. 39.
Norman Podhoretz, “If Orwell Were Alive Today, He'd Be a Neo-Conservative,” Harper's, 266 (January 1983): 30.
Patrick Reilly, The Literature of Guilt: From Gulliver to Golding (Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 1988), p. 99.
Aubrey, “The Making of 1984,”in Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1984, p. 13.
Christopher Norris, introduction to Inside the Myth—Orwell: Views from the Left, edited by Norris (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1984), p. 7.
Beatrix Campbell, “Orwell—Paterfamilias or Big Brother?” in Inside the Myth, p. 131.
Deirdre Beddoe, “Hindrances and Help-Meets: Women in the Writings of George Orwell,” in Inside the Myth, p. 141.
John Rodden, “Orwell and the London Left Intelligentsia,” in George Orwell, edited by Graham Holderness, Bryan Loughrey, and Nahem Yousaf (Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 1998), pp. 177-178.
John Rossi, “Orwell and Patriotism,” Contemporary Review, 261 (August 1992): 95-98.
Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 170.
Michael Walzer, The Company of Critics: Social Criticism and Political Commitment in the Twentieth Century (London: Halban, 1989), p. 135.
Michael Shelden, Orwell: The Authorised Biography (London: Minerva, 1992), p. 484.
Peter Davison, George Orwell: A Literary Life (Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 1996), pp. 143-145.
Alan Sandison, The Last Man in Europe: An Essay on George Orwell (London: Macmillan, 1974).
Jenni Calder, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four (Milton Keynes, U.K.: Open University Press, 1987), p. 5.
Ibid., p. 17.
Lynette Hunter, “Stories and Voices in Orwell's Early Narratives,” in Inside the Myth, pp. 163-182.
Roger Fowler, The Language of George Orwell (Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 1995), p. vii.
See Robert Mulvihill, Reflections on America, 1984: An Orwell Symposium (Athens: University of Georgia, 1986), pp. 1-4.
Frank Richards, “Frank Richards Replies to George Orwell,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (London: Secker & Warburg, 1968), volume 1, pp. 485-493; Q. D. Leavis, “The Literary Life Respectable: Mr. George Orwell,” Scrutiny, 9 (September 1940): 174.
“The British Miracle,” Times Literary Supplement, 8 March 1941, p. 110.
See Rees, George Orwell, pp. 87-108.
Sean O'Casey, quoted in Crick, George Orwell, p. 258.
Henry Miller, quoted in Crick, George Orwell, p. 307.
Miller, quoted in Jeffrey Meyers, introduction to George Orwell: The Critical Heritage (London & Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975).
Edith Sitwell, quoted in Peter Stansky and William Abrahams, Orwell: The Transformation (London: Constable, 1979), p. 150.
Pritchett, New Statesman and Nation (1 March 1941): 216.
John Betjeman to George Orwell, 18 April 1946, quoted in Crick, George Orwell, p. 493.
Edmund Wilson, review of Dickens, Dali and Others, New Yorker, 22 (25 May 1946).
Evelyn Waugh, review of Critical Essays, Tablet (6 April 1946): 176.
Bertrand Russell, “George Orwell,” World Review, 16 (June 1950): 5-7.
E. M. Forster, review of Shooting an Elephant, Listener (2 November 1950): 471.
Philip Toynbee, “Orwell's Passion,” Encounter, 13 (August 1959): 81.
Paul Potts, “Don Quixote on a Bicycle,” in Orwell Remembered, p. 258.
Irving Howe, “George Orwell: ‘As the Bones Know,’” Harper's, 238 (January 1969): 101-102.
Kingsley Amis, quoted in D. A. N. Jones, “Arguments against Orwell,” in The World of George Orwell, p. 163.
Cyril Connolly, The Evening Colonnade(London: David Bruce & Watson, 1973).
A. J. Ayer, Part of My Life (London: Collins, 1977), p. 287.
Christopher Hitchens, interview by Brian Lamb, Booknotes, C-SPAN, 17 October 1993. See also the chapter on Orwell in Hitchens, Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere (London: Verso, 2000).
Additional coverage of Orwell's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 3; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 5; British Writers, Vol. 7; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 68; Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, 1945-1960; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 132, 104; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 15, 98, 195, 255; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors 3.0; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors and Novelists; Exploring Novels; Literature and Its Times, Vols. 4, 5; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th-Century Writers, Eds. 1, 2; Novels for Students, Vols. 3, 7; Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2; St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, Ed. 4; St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers; Science Fiction Writers, Ed. 2; Short Stories for Students, Vol. 4; Something about the Author, Vol. 29; Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 2, 6, 15, 31, 51; World Literature and Its Times, Vol. 4; and World Literature Criticism.
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