George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

Introduction

CONTROVERSY, REVIEWS AND REPUTATION

Before he published his first book at the age of thirty, Orwell’s experience ranged from Eton to service in the colonial police, and from short periods as a tramp, dishwasher, hop-picker, tutor and teacher to book reviewer and pseudo-Georgian poet. And during the next twelve years he worked as a book dealer, farmer, shopkeeper, film critic, broadcaster, editor, columnist and war correspondent to supplement his meager income as an author. Orwell deliberately sought out experience to provide material for his writing, and everything he produced is related to the events of his life. His acute eye for detail and passionate desire to inform others of the human and political reality he had discovered made him pre-eminent as a reporter, essayist and satirist rather than as a novelist.

Because his books were critical of society and of governments, of received opinion on the Right and on the Left, they often inspired controversy and were difficult to publish. Down and Out in Paris and London was rejected by Cape and Faber. The English edition of Burmese Days was refused by Cape and Heinemann, and then delayed for a year when the India Office objected to its anti-imperialism. The Road to Wigan Pier carried a Foreword by Victor Gollancz, addressed to the members of the Left Book Club, which attacked Orwell’s attacks on Socialism. And Gollancz rejected Homage to Catalonia for political reasons before a word of it was written, though he insisted on retaining his rights to Orwell’s future books and did not relinquish his contract until 1944. Animal Farm was again refused by Gollancz, Cape, Faber and twenty American publishers because of its criticism of Stalinist Russia. 1984 got an icy reception in Left-wing circles and was violently attacked in the Communist press. Though Harper published Orwell’s first three works, none of his books appeared in America between 1936 and 1946; and Keep the Aspidistra Flying, The Road to Wigan Pier, Homage to Catalonia, Coming Up For Air and ‘Such, Such Were the Joys’ did not appear in that country until Harcourt Brace, who became Orwell’s publisher in 1946, brought them out after his death.

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