George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

30.

H. J. Laski, Left News

March 1937, pp. 275-6

Harold Laski (1893-1950), Professor of Political Science at the London School of Economics, intellectual spokesman of the Labour Party, co-founder of the Left Book Club. In ‘Politics and the English Language’ Orwell uses Laski to exemplify turgid language and the ‘mental vices from which we now suffer’ (IV, p. 128).

In a sense, I am not quite certain that this note of mine is not really superfluous. Most of what I think about Mr Orwell’s book has been admirably expressed by Gollancz in his Foreword; and the temptation is to let it go at that. But there are, perhaps, certain additional things it is worth while to emphasise, and Mr Orwell’s method of approach is a useful basis upon which to say them.

The first part of his book is, I think, admirable propaganda for our ideas. It takes an ugly section of British life, and it forces us to confront it for the ugly thing that it is. Every social observer knows that what Mr Orwell has here so graphically described is true of large parts of not only industrial Britain, but of rural Britain as well. It explains the dreadful picture of a life void of colour and beauty that Mr Beales and Mr Lambert gave us in their remarkable Memoirs of the Unemployed. It provides a useful background to the account Wal Hannington has recently given us in his very valuable Unemployed Struggles. The men and women who marched behind him with such fortitude and endurance came from just the kind of environment Mr Orwell has made living in all its inherent ugliness.

The value of this part of his work, as I see it, is the kind of value we get from Dickens’ Hard Times, or from the novels of Zola and Balzac. The danger for all of us is, in these matters, that we tend to make of living and suffering men and women a kind of composite picture, which easily becomes a concept fitting into the habitual mental picture of the world we carry about with us. As soon as that occurs, it ceases seriously to worry us in a way that compels action. It rests somewhere

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