George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

CRITICAL ESSAYS (US title: DICKENS, DALI AND OTHERS)

1946


68.

Stuart Hampshire, Spectator

8 March 1946, pp. 250, 252

Stuart Hampshire (b. 1914), English critic and philosopher, Warden of Wadham College, Oxford.

Mr Orwell is a moralist-critic and not an aesthete; he is interested in attitudes to Life rather than in Beauty. His own writing is forthright and vigorous, but never noticeably fine or elaborated; and in the prose literature which he criticises he distinguishes diseases of the mind and political attitudes rather than differences of style. The strength and brilliance of his criticism come from his confidence in his own sanity; he never fails to dig out and expose the perversions and affectations of others, applying a test of enlightened good sense. This robust self-confidence might make a blunt and philistine critic; in fact, it does not, because Mr Orwell’s writing always seems to reflect new and entirely independent thinking. His writing follows his thought, which is untrammelled by fashion or prejudice. He seems to live by himself intellectually and to come out to spray poison on ‘the smelly little orthodoxies’ which he finds growing like weeds around him.

The most brilliant and typical of the ten essays in this book is that on Rudyard Kipling, the longest and most satisfying on Charles Dickens. Mr Orwell exults in savage over-statements of the unpopular view; and he is never happier in his writing than when he is affronting the genteel illusions of what he calls ‘the pansy-left’. He is carried away by his pleasure in belabouring the soft lump of civilised prejudice which he finds before him, and is betrayed into rough epigrams, some of

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