George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

political work. The first two of these pieces—‘Shooting an Elephant’ and ‘A Hanging’—are examples of his formidable evocative power and also acute studies of the experience of guilt combined with authority. An essay on Tolstoy’s hatred of Shakespeare, and another on Gulliver’s Travels, are as good literary criticism as his great essays on Kipling and Dickens, essays which have had a decisive influence and rescued many from ‘Pansy-Left’ narrowness; but I think it is a pity that the two essays, ‘Politics and the English Language’ and ‘The Prevention of Literature, ’ have been included. They contain much admirable sense, but they contain, too, some over-stated views, and some prophecies as doubtful as those of James Burnham which he so rightly mocks in the last of the longer pieces.

All the same, I will make one prophecy myself. George Orwell will be read for a long time to come, but for a reason which might not have much pleased him—namely, that he is such splendid entertainment. His themes are usually distressing, but somehow his valiant treatment of them sends our spirits up. On the few occasions when I met him we talked of melancholy subjects—and he made my day.


95.

Edmund Wilson, New Yorker

13 January 1951, p. 76

Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays, a posthumous collection of papers by George Orwell, contains miscellaneous pieces relating to various phases of this unconventional writer’s life. The first two, ‘Shooting an Elephant’ and ‘A Hanging, ’ deal, like his novel Burmese Days, with Orwell’s experience as an officer in the Indian Imperial Police. The first of these tells the story of his reluctantly and probably unwisely killing a runaway work elephant, because he knew that the natives expected it of him and that it was necessary in order to keep up the prestige of the British occupation. It is curious to compare this story with the hunting exploits celebrated by Hemingway. Orwell is interested not in the danger or in the victory over the brute, which he

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