George Orwell's Flawed Genius

By Evans, Lloyd | The Evening Standard (London, England), May 6, 2003 | Go to article overview

George Orwell's Flawed Genius


Evans, Lloyd, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: LLOYD EVANS

A superb new biography exposes an icon's deep inadequacies GEORGE ORWELL by Gordon Bowker (Little, Brown, pound sterling20) LLOYD EVANS

ORWELL is rare among great writers in that it's never been chic to dismiss him. "Oh, I haven't got round to Orwell yet," is an unimaginable boast, although you might hear the same said of Dickens or Jane Austen or even Tolstoy.

Orwell's reputation is so secure and his imagined world so deeply embedded in ours that it seems fruitless to examine his creative personality further.

Surely we know everything about him already. Gordon Bowker's invaluable new biography sweeps that thesis aside.

Here is George Orwell, the flawed, vulnerable, irrational and inadequate human being.

One imagines him as a man of great common sense but at Eton the young Orwell (or Eric Blair) was fascinated by the occult. He used sympathetic magic to avenge himself on an older boy, Philip Yorke, with whom he had a feud.

He constructed a lookalike doll and ripped off its limbs. A few weeks later, Yorke broke his leg. The following year he died of leukaemia. For the rest of his life Orwell was plagued by guilt.

As he grew older, the contradictions in his nature multiplied and deepened.

He went tramping in his twenties but his appearance didn't fool everyone. A female friend recalls: "He didn't look in the least like a poor man. God knows he was poor but the formidable look didn't go with the rags."

His memories of life among the destitute became the classic Down and Out in Paris and London. He had endless trouble getting it published.

The book was rejected by TS Eliot, who felt that it lacked narrative unity.

In fairness to Eliot the manuscript at that stage was called Confessions of a Dishwasher.

Orwell loved the outdoor life.

He had a biologist's knowledge of the natural world. …

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