he meant was that of the ‘man on the spot, ’ the District Commissioner or the local planter; of the great English professional and administrative tradition he remained sublimely oblivious—the liberal tradition of the best Civil Servants, lawyers or dons.
The truth is that by leaving Eton not for Oxford or Cambridge, but for ‘experience of the world, ’ he lost more than he gained. He lost touch with those in all classes whose lives were in fixed patterns, the rangés1 of the world. In the present volume the essay ‘Looking Back on the Spanish War’ wonderfully illustrates his deep understanding of the lost, the wandering and the submerged, but there is hardly a single really well-observed ‘conventional’ character in all his work. To see Orwell’s contribution to English letters in the shadow of these defects is surely only to appreciate more fully the peculiar intensity of his vision and the extraordinary brilliance of the craft with which he expressed it.
Henry Popkin, Kenyon Review
Winter 1954, pp. 139-44
One more posthumous volume of George Orwell’s essays is a new reminder that Orwell was always, equally, a social historian and an autobiographer. The social history is usually on the surface. It starts with the 19th Century, a time of poverty, hard work, and faith in the future. This faith began to be realized early in the 20th Century, but World War I put an end to progress. The precise moment of change may be different in different essays; it may be the Boer War or World War I —1910, 1914, or 1918. The ‘I’ of Coming Up for Air has trouble dis-tinguishing: ‘Before the war, and especially before the Boer War, it was summer all the year round. ’ In America, the high water mark seems to have been reached just before the Civil War, but the point is always that things were better ‘before the war. ’ Following the 1920’s, ‘a period