George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

43.

George Mayberry, New Republic

23 June 1952, pp. 21-2

George Mayberry, American critic and editor.


They clung like burrs to the long expresses that lurch

Through the unjust lands, through the night, through the Alpine tunnel;

They floated over the oceans;

They walked the passes: they came to present their lives.

On that arid square, that fragment nipped off from hot

Africa, soldered so crudely to inventive Europe,

On that table land scored by rivers…

SPAIN, 1937—W. H. Auden

Some, like Auden, Stephen Spender, Christopher Caudwell, Ralph Bates, clung to the ‘long expresses’ to reach ‘that tableland. ’ Others came from all ends of the world, but it was mostly the English whose long affinity for Spain dates back to their superb translations of Cervantes, to George Borrow’s semi-comic attempt to retail the Bible in Spain, the already classic historical books of J. B. Trend, Gerald Brenan and Sir Samuel Hoare’s gentlemanly admission of error.

Among those who clung to that long express was a lean, spare Englishman, born in India, a civil servant in Burma and in the title of one of his most fascinating books, down and out in Paris and London. This was, of course, the late George Orwell, who had already taken the road to Wigan Pier—the dead-end of humanity.

Before discussing the political aspects of the book, it is necessary to say that for sheer narrative and descriptive power, Homage to Catalonia contains passages comparable to the best writing of our time. Its unrelenting descriptions of trench warfare with an almost unbearable emphasis on General Sherman’s trademark, and the tortured but uncomplaining account of Orwell’s escape from Spain after he became suspect by the Government for which he had fought so ably are remarkable. These passages achieve their effect not only from their

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