George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

93.

T. R. Fyvel, Tribune

3 November 1950, p. 16

Of how many contemporary English writers can it be said—and I am here not referring to deliberate eccentricity—that each page or paragraph bears the unmistakable imprint of their style? Since George Orwell rigorously avoided mannerism, it is the more remarkable that one can say this about almost anything he wrote. It is especially remarkable in these days, because even cursory reading of the current English literary output suggests strongly that most of the writers have read far too much, whether of each other’s writings or of Times Lit. Supp. leaders. The result is a type of literary criticism or of social reportage which might be by anybody or appear anywhere, interchangeably in the Sunday Times or the New Statesman, in Time and Tide or (at least on occasions) in Tribune.

George Orwell was one of the few who stood out from this literary intermingling. Especially since his death there have been many tributes to his ‘honesty’; but this generalised judgment needs breaking down. What distinguished Orwell was first that his political beliefs were genuine. To speak candidly: this quality has become rare enough on the literary Left. There seem to be two chief reasons for its diminution. Since Labour achieved power in 1945, the barren outlook of what Alex Comfort1 in the last issue of Tribune called ‘Bevinocracy’ has undoubtedly created a growing gap between the Labour movement and those writers who called themselves Left-wing. Equally, however, the test of realities has shown up a good deal of Left-wing literary views as bogus, or as no more than skin-deep and willingly sloughed, together with earlier delusions about Communism. If Orwell, however, had the imaginative courage not to let himself be repelled by the aggressive philistinism of some of the chief Labour leaders, this was no accident. His stand derived from the fact that his own Left-wing views were both genuine and deep-rooted, the result of a long and hard struggle to identify himself with the genuine English Radical tradition that stretches from Tom Paine to the welfare state of today.

1 Alex Comfort (b. 1920), English poet, novelist and sociologist.

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