George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

the reader on a picaresque journey which yields an intimate acquaintance with the slavery of a dishwasher in Paris and the subhuman existence of a tramp in and around London. The book is a very graphic piece of reportage and wryly amusing in spite of the grimness of the material.

In Coming Up for Air, written just before the war, Orwell turns portraitist of the lower middle class. The ‘I’ is ‘a fat middle-aged bloke with false teeth and a red face’; with a nagging wife and a dreary home in one of the hundreds of indistinguishable streets that fester all over the cheap suburbs of London. Exhilarated by a new denture, he decides to take a secret holiday from his family and spend the seventeen pounds he has won at the races on a visit to the little village where he was born. This starts him reminiscing about his childhood, and the novel shapes into a lively personal history which sets in counterpoint the quality of life in England before the First World War and on the eve of the Second. The rich, amusing self-characterization of the narrator—vulgar, clear-sighted, and sympathetic—is a masterly achievement.

The general remarks made earlier about Orwell’s writing can be taken as applying with full force to this very able novel. All three books mentioned have strengthened my admiration for Orwell’s gifts and my warm liking for his literary personality.


54.

Isaac Rosenfeld, Partisan Review

May 1950, pp. 514-18

In an article on Arthur Koestler, written in 1944, George Orwell complained that no Englishman had as yet published a worth-while novel on the theme of totalitarian politics—nothing to equal Darkness At Noon—‘Because there is almost no English writer to whom it has happened to see totalitarianism from the inside. ’ Five years later, with the publication of 1984, he had become the one exception. He had not in the interval gained any more intimate an acquaintance with the

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