George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

that ‘all art is propaganda’ while giving it a quite different and better content of his own. Such fragments of a Marxian chrysalis still cumber the wings of his thought and still, I think, a little impede its flight.

Orwell is one of the contemporary writers best worth having: he lives to learn, he knows something about the society he lives in, he has courage and, as this book shows, a progressive faculty for criticism. The value of such writers is comparable to that of certain brain-cells to the body; society needs them to keep its consciousness. Also to keep an intelligence free—in his own words—from ‘all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls. ’1


57.

Unsigned notice, Times Literary Supplement

20 April 1940, p. 192

Mr Orwell’s latest volume consists of three essays, one on Dickens, another on popular boys’ weeklies in this country and the third, ostensibly an appreciation of a Paris-American novelist named Henry Miller, a survey of the English literary consciousness since the beginning of the century. The unity of these three essays is not a matter of style alone, though the honesty of thought and the strength of plain statement which run through all of them help to give the book a pattern. Within this pattern, however, Mr Orwell seems to be specially concerned with tracing his own emancipation from various intellectual prepossessions about literature and the present purpose of literature.

On Dickens he starts in alarming fashion. Here, he says, is a nineteenth-century radical, who nevertheless takes up only a ‘negative, rather unhelpful political attitude. ’ There is no condemnation of the ‘system’ in Dickens, no conception of ‘historic necessity. ’ Dickens believes in kindness, in common decency; he stands for ‘a change of spirit rather than of structure. ’ All this Mr Orwell sets down in tones

1 This is the conclusion of Orwell’s essay on Dickens,

-180-

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