R. R. (Richard Rees), Adelphi
June 1936, p. 190
Sir Richard Rees (1900-70), close friend of Orwell and model for Ravelston in Keep the Aspidistra Flying; co-editor of Adelphi 1930-6, author of books on Orwell (1961), D. H. Lawrence (1958) and Simone Weil (1966).
This is Mr Orwell’s third novel and, even more than his two previous ones, it makes clear that he is a good hater. Almost everything in the modern world, from Catholicism to contraceptives, he violently assaults. But beneath a rather loose violence of style there is a consistent seriousness and a real vigour which make him a more promising novelist than many whose observation is subtler and sharper.
He is a fundamentally honest writer, and perhaps that is why one tends in reading him always to compare him, rather unfairly, with the best in whatever kind he is attempting. In Burmese Days his theme inevitably suggested comparisons, unfortunate for him, with E. M. Forster and Somerset Maugham; and in his new book, which describes the horrors of London’s literary under-world and the struggle of a young writer to avoid selling his talent to Big Business, he challenges comparison with Aldous Huxley. But one has only to compare the conversations in Keep the Aspidistra Flying with those in Mr Huxley’s novels to see what a lot Mr Orwell has still to learn. Nevertheless, his books have a sufficiently interesting personal flavour to make one hope that he will learn. He is old-fashioned in some ways, and proud of it (one might hazard that Dickens and Samuel Butler, rather than Joyce and Lawrence, are his masters; though he has not neglected the two latter) and he has obviously a passion for writing which is quite different from the nauseous literary obsession which afflicts so many reputedly serious modern writers.