George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

15.

Michael Sayers, Adelphi

August 1935, pp. 316-17

This is a composite review of A Clergyman’s Daughter and Burmese Days.

George Orwell is a popular novelist sensitive to values that most other novelists are popular for ignoring. One feels he has ideas about the art of the novel, and that his future work is going to be unusually interesting. At present Mr Orwell appears to be most concerned with presenting his material in the clearest and honestest way. Being a man of considerable and diverse experience this problem naturally comes to him before any æsthetic considerations; yet, in his first book, A Clergyman’s Daughter, he was already experimenting with new forms when Naturalism seemed inadequate. In the widely praised Trafalgar Square Episode in that book the down-and-outs are characterised by a technical device from the drama (but in this case probably derived from Ulysses), which has the effect of enlarging them to immense dimensions, and they seem, not so much a congeries of misfortunate men and women, as a mere undifferentiated mass of human sufferings. The various pathetic, degenerate, irrelevant and comic personal peculiarities of these down-and-outs are remarkably well portrayed, but at the same time Mr Orwell contrives to communicate an understanding of some impersonal misery, some universal communion of wretchedness, in which the individual with his egotisms is tragically immersed:

Charles draws himself up, clears his throat, and in an enormous voice roars out a song entitled ‘Rollicking Bill the Sailor. ’ A laugh that is partly a shudder bursts from the people on the bench. They sing the song through again, with increasing volume of noise, stamping and clapping in time. Those sitting down, packed elbow to elbow, sway grotesquely from side to side, working their feet as though stamping on the pedals of a harmonium….

Once more the people pile themselves on the bench. But the temperature is now not many degrees above freezing point, and the wind is blowing more

-62-

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