WHAT ORWELL IS FOR ME
To Orwell Today,
re: What compels so much work into "Orwell Today"?
Thanks Jackie for publishing my e mail and answering it so comprehensively.
I suppose, like me, a lot of your readers have read everything that Orwell wrote, perhaps several times. Whenever I see him looking out in his slightly startled way from the cover of reprints of his books or a latest biography, I have a slight emotional pang of recognition – a bit like seeing a relative across the street. He is a man I feel I really know and a friend to call on.
I feel that his critics sometimes try to set him too high before setting about his demolition. Orwell was not a great novelist nor a great poet in my opinion. I am sure he knew that himself. He was also a man of his time; we are all trapped within our mores and upbringings. I think he was truly remarkable to overcome his privileged right wing view of life no doubt given to him by his time at Eton and in Burma. How many of Bush's or Blair's generation would not have relished shooting animals, exploiting indigenous people?
Perhaps I am slightly unusual in not rating Animal Farm and 1984 among my favourites. Zamyatin, Huxley, Fritz Lang gave him a flying start in developing 1984, and although Animal Farm is a brilliant cameo it is well set in the English tradition of political satire.
What Orwell was for me is:
1. The best political journalist
2. A great reviewer of a wide range of literature
3. A debunker of folly and falseness (God how we could do with him today)
4. A shrewd observer of the sort of details in the world that one imagines would be seen only
by oneself. (The description of how the native steps round a puddle before he is executed
is a most compelling argument against capital punishment.)
5. A great student and writer of the English language (although if he is looking down
as I write this, I am sure he won't mind my pointing out that Orwell frequently
misuses the word "less" for "fewer".)
Re-reading his collected essays and journalism, as I am at the moment, I am struck how similar our times are (particularly when compared to the late 30s). Socialists do not know who to vote for, there is so much secrecy, suppression and slanting of the news, and there remain global uncertainties.
Perhaps we should just struggle on as he did. Fight the dragons we can, shout "foul!" when we see it, and recharge our souls by pottering in the garden and enjoying the simple things like locally produced food and good tea.
Don Lodge, York Portraits
Thanks for painting that excellent portrait of Orwell in words, something you could also do excellently in oils.
I agree with you that Orwell's greatest writing can be found in his legacy of essays, journalism and book reviews - and I love reading and re-reading from sections of his 4-Volume Collected Works - but the vast majority of people know him only for "Animal Farm" and "1984".
Those were, in fact, two books he wrote for the distinct purpose of educating the masses, the people he cared the most about - the people who "make the wheels go round" as he so-described them. And in that he totally succeeded, because people love those books (well, they love "Animal Farm" and read "1984" out of necessity).
Orwell would no doubt agree with your remedy for recharging our souls after doing battle with the dragons - ie "a nice cup of tea" and eating of nature's harvest - not the genetically modified, factory grown vegetables and animals of our day - what Orwell described as "food with strange, evil tastes".
All the best,
PS - I understand what you mean when you say that Orwell is like a friend you can call on. That's how I felt when I was walking the several miles to visit his house on Barnhill - it was as though I were going to visit a friend who I very much wanted to see. See JOURNEY TO ORWELL'S JURA
PPS - Above is one of my favourite photos of him. It was taken in his flat at 27B CANONBURY SQUARE in 1946 (after he was famous for "Animal Farm") by his friend Vernon Richards, and published in 1998 in the book GEORGE ORWELL AT HOME (and among the Anarchists), by Freedom Press
ORWELL'S OTHER BOOKS and ST GEORGE ORWELL DRAGON SLAYER
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