John Cogley, Commonweal
3 February 1950, pp. 466-7
John Cogley (b. 1916), American editor and author of Religion in a Secular Age (1968).
This novel was written about ten years ago but is being published in the United States for the first time. The author’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm were so successful it was apparently decided the reading public is now ready for all the Orwell it can get.
Nineteen Eighty-Four was a frightful and frightening look ahead. Coming Up for Air in the main is a mellow backward glance. Orwell writes, with a kind of desperate nostalgia, of the easy-going days before the first World War. The first war, he thinks, marked the passing of more than an era. It was the end of a civilization, and of a comparatively beneficent way of life. Ever since, our world has been going through a transitional stage. The violent events of recent history have been little more than a prolonged and bloody birth. A monster like Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell reminds us, is not brought into the world easily.
George Orwell, a hard man, is frankly sentimental about the world he knew as a boy. ‘Christ! What’s the use of saying that one oughtn’t to be sentimental about “before the war”? I am sentimental about it. So are you if you remember it. It’s quite true that if you look back on any special period of time you tend to remember its pleasant bits. That’s true even of the war. But it is also true that people then had something that we haven’t got now. ’
What they had was a basic security. Even though physically life was harsher and the cushions of the dedicated Welfare State were unknown, people were more basically secure than now. They had a sense of continuity. ‘All of them knew they’d got to die, and I suppose a few of them knew they were going to go bankrupt, but what they didn’t know was that the order of things could change. Whatever might happen to themselves, things would go on as they’d known them. ’