George Orwell

George Orwell

George Orwell

George Orwell


This collection of essays addresses a number of facets of George Orwell, examining both Orwell the man of letters and Orwell the political man. The less-recognized--and equally important--facets of George Orwell's works and impact on English culture presented in this collection will prove informative to Orwell specialists and to scholars of 20th-century English literature.


I think it important that the life and works of George Orwell come to hold a secure, proper niche in the noble body of literature which has been generated in the English tongue over many centuries. Mention of his name in the far future should evoke in educated men that same breed of respect which the names Fielding, Goldsmith, and Sterne evoke in us. These names suggest the rank to which I trust Orwell will be assigned by scholars of other ages.

To my mind Orwell's niche is at risk because of the current overemphasis of some facets of the man at the expense of certain others, these latter being of a more enduring quality. My fear is that Orwell the Patron Saint of Poverty and Bard of Apocalypse will, in the long run, tire people of the future and consequently subvert them into neglecting Orwell the ligand -- the connection between the higher and lower grades of literature -- and of Orwell the preserver of the twentieth-century milieu.

I have long been struck by the fact that Orwell is a much more significant figure than his mere literary accomplishments -- which are modest -- suggest. Furthermore he is honored here and elsewhere this year because of a novel which is not his best. The greatest virtue of Nineteen Eighty-Four -- this taut, well-brewed, and commanding horror story -- is that it directs us or should direct us to his other offerings. Then the other novels (Burmese Days, Coming up for Air, etc.), the superb literary criticism (Kipling, Dickens, etc.) the book reviews, the documentaries (Down and Out in London and Paris, The Road to Wigan Pier, Homage to Catalonia) will bring forth to us the English milieu of the first half of this century with at least the accuracy with which Pepys presented the milieu of the Restoration -- without, I judge, the particular intent of diarist himself.

Burmese Days, fine novel that it is, cannot touch Coming up for Air, Orwell's best ever, of which one seldom hears mention today or, for that matter, heard mention of forty years back. Yet in it we meet England about to face Hitler -- the Vlad Dracula of modern Europe. We also meet George Bowling, the incarnate spirit of the decent Englishmen who shortly afterward made "a pact of death" (These apt words are, alas, those of A. J. P. Taylor and not my own) with Winston Churchill.

These works also contrive to send us up to Swift, over to Defoe and Chesterton, and down to Jack London and George Gissing. George Orwell's works are, in short, marvelous points of departure. His BBC broadcast of 1941 or thereabouts in which he analyzed Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "Felix Randal" is of a quality such as to inspire the interested young to take up the study of prosody.

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