George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

74.

John Middleton Murry, Adelphi

July 1946, pp. 165-8

John Middleton Murry (1889-1957), husband of Katherine Mansfield, friend of D. H. Lawrence, founder of Adelphi (1931), author of books on Keats (1925), Blake (1933) and Swift (1954). This is a composite review on Orwell and Connolly.

From Mr Cyril Connolly’s autobiography published in 1938 I learned that George Orwell and he were contemporaries in College at Eton. The blurb of Mr Orwell’s Critical Essays tells me that he was born in 1903; the preface to The Condemned Playground that Connolly’s essay on Sterne, his impressive début as a critic, was written in 1927, when he was 23. So he appears to be a year junior to Orwell. Orwell left Eton in 1921 to go into the Burma Police; Connolly in 1922 to go to Oxford. All these dates may not be exact. It does not greatly matter. Their purpose here is merely to suggest that it is profitable to compare the two.

They are probably the two most gifted critics of their generation: by my historical scale a well-marked generation—the first that escaped any direct scathing by the war of 1914-18. That scuppered me, though I took no direct part in it, but worked in the security of the War Office: and, rightly or wrongly, I have always felt that there was a gulf between those who experienced the last war and those who didn’t. That experience gave my thinking the bias of a religious quest, turned me from a fairly promising literary critic into ‘primarily a moralist. ’ T. S. Eliot once described me thus to myself. I was surprised, and rather chagrined at the moment; but on rumination found the label apt—and therefore helpful. That was in the days of the brief revival of The Athenæum (1919-1921) over which I presided—really as a fish out of water. I well remember the shock of astonishment when, a year or two later, I read Mr Raymond Mortimer’s death sentence upon me. Writing in the New Statesman he said that many had regarded me as the coming leader of the intelligentsia; ‘but waking no such matter. ’ I

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