George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

certainly says enough to give some of us, myself included, bad consciences. He does though show a way of intellectual honesty combined with decent public spiritedness which can be followed, if we are prepared to pay the price of not escaping into easy material conditions and tricky positions. Immediately after reading this book I read the most recent number of a leading literary review and felt extraordinarily depressed.


98.

Unsigned notice, Times Literary Supplement

4 December 1953, p. 771

The second posthumous collection of George Orwell’s critical essays contains seven articles written for ‘little magazines’ during or after the war, together with extracts from The Road to Wigan Pier, Inside the Whale and The Lion and the Unicorn. The selection thus made has the merit of tracing several threads in Orwell’s writing, although it is a pity that such a characteristically perverse and brilliant book as The Road to Wigan Pier is apparently to remain out of print.

The various talents revealed here are perhaps not thus blended together in any single one of Orwell’s books. First, and most obvious, is his wonderful capacity for descriptive writing, shown particularly in the extracts from The Road to Wigan Pier; this was grounded in his almost poetic sensitivity to ugly landscapes:

The canal path was a mixture of cinders and frozen mud, criss-crossed by the imprints of innumerable clogs, and all round, as far as the slag-heaps in the distance, stretched the ‘flashes’—pools of stagnant water that has seeped into the hollows caused by the subsidence of ancient pits. It was horribly cold. The ‘flashes’ were covered with ice the colour of raw umber, the bargemen were muffled to the eyes in sacks, the lock gates wore beards of ice. It seemed a world from which vegetation had been banished; nothing existed except smoke, shale, ice, mud, ashes and foul water.

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