Q. D. Leavis, Scrutiny
September 1940, pp. 173-6
Queenie Leavis, wife of critic F. R. Leavis, author of Fiction and the Reading Public (1932).
Mr Orwell unlike Mr Muir belongs by birth and education to ‘the right Left people, ’ the nucleus of the literary world who christian-name each other and are in honour bound to advance each other’s literary career; he figures indeed in Connolly’s autobiography as a schoolfellow. This is probably why he has received indulgent treatment in the literary press. He differs from them in having grown up. He sees them accordingly from outside, having emancipated himself, at any rate in part, by the force of a remarkable character. His varied writings bear an unvarying stamp: they are responsible, adult and decent—compare The Road to Wigan Pier with Spender’s Forward from Liberalism, which is a comparison between the testament of an honest man and a helping of flapdoodle.
Mr Orwell has not hitherto appeared as a literary critic, except incidentally, but as a novelist, a social thinker and a critic-participator in the Spanish War. Now he has published three literary essays which, promisingly, are all quite different. One is an examination of Dickens, another an analysis on not altogether original lines of boys’ school stories, and the third a piece of contemporary criticism. From his other books we could deduce that he was potentially a good critic. For instance, he takes his own political line—starting from an inside knowledge of the working-class, painfully acquired, he can see through the Marxist theory, and being innately decent (he displays and approves of bourgeois morality) he is disgusted with the callous theorising inhumanity of the pro-Marxists. His explanation (see pp. 168 to 172 of Inside the Whale) of the conversion to Russian Communism of the young writers of the ’thirties is something that needed doing and could hardly have been done better. And he drives home his point with a piece of literary criticism, an analysis of a stanza of Auden’s Spain.