George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

73.

Edmund Wilson, New Yorker

25 May 1946, pp. 82-4

I have heard it said in England of George Orwell that he was ‘a combination of Leftism and Blimpism. ’ This is perfectly true, and, with his talent as essayist, journalist, and novelist, it has made him a unique figure among the radical intellectuals of the turbid thirties and forties. It has also made him sometimes slightly ridiculous, but his not fearing to appear ridiculous is one of the good things about him. He does not belong to the literary world of liberal and radical opinion which has mastered all the right sets of answers and slips easily into all the right attitudes. His thought is often inconsistent; his confident predictions often turn out untrue; a student of international socialism, he is at the same time irreducibly British and even not free from a certain pro-vincialism; and one frequently finds him quite unintelligent about matters that are better understood by less interesting and able critics. But, with all this, he has the good English qualities that, in the literary field at any rate, are beginning to seem old-fashioned: readiness to think for himself, courage to speak his mind, the tendency to deal with concrete realities rather than theoretical positions, and a prose style that is both downright and disciplined. If it is true that he has never succeeded in satisfactorily formulating a position, it is true, also, that his impulses (though they sometimes conflict), in pointing to what he does and he does not want, what he does and does not like, make, in their own way, a fairly reliable guide, for they suggest an ideal of the man of good will (to use an overworked and wistful phrase) still alive in a benumbed and corrupted world.

George Orwell’s new book of essays—Dickens, Dali & Others—contains some curious examples of his Blimpism and insularity. ‘What, ’ he was asking in 1941, ‘has kept England on its feet during the past year? In part, no doubt, some vague idea about a better future, but chiefly the atavistic emotion of patriotism, the ingrained feeling of the English-speaking peoples that they are superior to foreigners. For the last twenty years the main object of English left-wing intellectuals has been to break this feeling down, and if they had succeeded, we might

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