George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

That is the crucial matter for Orwell: to hang on, somehow, to morality—to the moral law. He maintains it vigorously against the two major influences working today to undermine it: the belief that all things are lawful in pursuit of a political ideal, and the belief that æsthetic excellence compensates for moral obliquity. These two beliefs have corrupted the British intelligentsia. They are conspicuous in its chief organ, the New Statesman.


75.

Newton Arvin, Partisan Review

September 1946, pp. 500-4

Newton Arvin (b. 1900), former Professor of English at Smith College, author of books on Hawthorne (1929), Whitman (1938) and Melville (1950).

George Orwell is a good, swingeing critic in a familiar British tradition, the tradition of John Dennis1 and Dr Johnson, of William Gifford,2 of Macaulay and G. K. Chesterton. It is the tradition of ‘commonsensical’ criticism, of the critical broadsword and even the battle-axe of downrightness and plain dealing and no nonsense, of ‘all theory is for it and all experience against it. ’ We have had very few, if any, such critics in this country, for Poe, in spite of his neurotic harshness, was essentially of a different kidney, and I suppose no one would maintain that Mr Bernard De Voto really qualifies. George Orwell himself is hardly a Johnson or a Macaulay, but he has a generous supply of the intellectual robustness (which must, one feels, have a physical basis), the freedom from mere abstractness, the impatience with

1 John Dennis (1657-1734) was the author of The Grounds of Criticism in Poetry (1704) and The Genius and Writings of Shakespeare (1712).

2 William Gifford (1756-1826) was notorious for his ferocious attacks on Keats and Hazlitt in the Quarterly Review.

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