James Stern, New Republic
20 February 1950, pp. 18-20
James Stern (b. 1904), Irish author of The Heartless Land (1932) and The Hidden Damage (1947), translator of Kafka and Hofmannsthal.
‘Of course, you realize…that whoever wins this war, we shall emerge a second-rate nation. ’ … ‘You know, there’s only one remedy for all diseases—I mean Death. ’
These remarks were addressed, not during World War II by one adult to another, but in 1915 to Cyril Connolly by his twelve-year-old friend George Orwell, who died last month of tuberculosis.
Orwell’s passing has deprived the world of a man whom critics still unborn may well describe as the most important English writer to have lived his whole life during the first half of the twentieth century. Today, without fear of contradiction, we can say that England never produced a novelist more honest, more courageous, more concerned with the common man—and with common sense. Whether in fiction, autobiography, satire, pamphlets or criticism, Orwell never looked back with regret; he wrote constantly of the most urgent contemporary problems, always with the warning voice of the prophet. To literature, to the young and confused, his loss is incalculable.
In a penetrating analysis of T. S. Eliot’s A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (Horizon, February, 1942), Orwell observed that ‘Much in [Kipling’s] development is traceable to his having been born in India and having left school early. With a slightly different background he might have been a good novelist…. ’ Had Orwell himself in mind? Though this is doubtful—for less vain, less subjective a writer never lived—it’s a fact that Orwell was born in India and that at the age when Kipling was sub-editing the Lahore Civil and Military Gazette, Orwell was still at Eton, being beaten by his contemporaries for turning up late for prayers. Thirteen years later (five of them spent in the Indian Imperial Police), Orwell produced his one strictly orthodox as well as his best novel—a far more balanced picture of Anglo-Indian life than anything