George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

78.

Julian Symons, Times Literary Supplement

10 June 1949, p. 380

Julian Symons (b. 1912), friend of Orwell, English critic and author of detective novels. Six days after Symons’ review had appeared Orwell wrote to him:

I think it was you who reviewed 1984 in the TLS. I must thank you for such a brilliant as well as generous review. I don’t think you could have brought out the sense of the book better in so short a space. You are of course right about the vulgarity of the ‘Room 101’ business. I was aware of this while writing it, but I didn’t know another way of getting somewhere near the effect I wanted. (IV, p. 502-3. )

It is possible to make a useful distinction between novelists who are interested primarily in the emotional relationships of their characters and novelists for whom characters are interesting chiefly as a means of conveying ideas about life and society. It has been fashionable for nearly half a century to shake a grave head over writers who approach reality by means of external analysis rather than internal symbolism; it has even been suggested that the name of novelist should be altogether denied to them. Yet it is a modern convention that the novel must be rather visceral than cerebral. The novel in which reality is approached through the hard colours of outward appearance (which is also, generally, the novel of ideas) has a respectable lineage, and distinctive and distinguished modern representatives. Among the most notable of them is Mr George Orwell; and a comparison of Nineteen Eighty-Four, his new story of a grim Utopia, with his first novel Burmese Days (published originally fifteen years ago and recently reissued) shows a curious and interesting journey of the mind. It is a queer route that Mr Orwell has taken from Burma to the Oceania of Nineteen Eighty-Four, by way of Catalonia and Wigan Pier.

Burmese Days tells the story of Flory, a slightly intellectual timber merchant, marooned among a group of typical Anglo-Indians in a small Burmese town. Bored by his surroundings and disgusted by his

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