George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

INSIDE THE WHALE

1940


55.

Arthur Calder-Marshall, Time and Tide

9 March 1940, pp. 257-8

A reviewer spends his allotted space, saying in so many, so many too many, words ‘Read or do not read this book’. When he has finished, there is room for his signature and that’s all. In this case, please assume that I have said already, ‘Must read. Three essays, Dickens, Boys’ Weeklies, Henry Miller. Brilliant writer. Superb’.

Most important is the Dickens essay. My only criticism is that when Orwell talks about ‘Dickens’s horror of revolutionary hysteria’, he means his hysteria about revolution, a hysteria finding outlet in sentimentality even more often than in the fear of mob-violence in Tale of Two Cities and Barnaby Rudge.

Inside the Whale, name essay, deals with Henry Miller, Paris novelist, unpublished in England, and incidentally describes the literary movements of the last thirty years. It is the most trivial of the three essays; but I shall criticize it in what detail space allows, because it is going to prove a centre for literary controversy.

The Spanish Civil War brought many bourgeois writers into contact with politics. Bad Liberals turned bad Socialists overnight. For a brief season, socialist realism appeared to be a literary goal. Then Hitler, Franco and Mussolini won, and there was darkness over Bloomsbury. Why?

Orwell analyses the type writer as public school, university, Bloomsbury, continental tourist and condemns him as soft. He does not know solitude, poverty or the grind of manual labour. He has developed the substitutes for the religion he has lost, his god Stalin, devil Hitler, his paradise Moscow, hell Berlin. His castle in Spain is the Alcazar.1 So far, so true of most.

1 The fortress in Toledo and site of the famous victory of the Fascists, who withstood a Loyalist siege and were finally rescued.

-175-

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