Remembering George Orwell
1903, June 25. - 1950,
TO THE HEART OF MATTERS
Down and out in Paris and London
(213 pp.)- George Orwell - Harcourt, Brace ($2.75).
(287 pp.) - George OrweIl - Harcourt, Brace ($3).
Coming Up for Air
(278 pp.) - George Orwell - Harcourt, Brace ($3).
February, 6. 1950
India-born Eric Blair, who died last fortnight (TIME, Jan. 30), was a frail,
intense Englishman with an Eton education, a fine nose for humbug and a genius
for exposing it. He was only 46 when he died, but in his lifetime he had
seen too much of the super-humbug of totalitarianism to be complacent about
it. No writer had done more to shatter the complacency of others. As George
Orwell, the name he long intended to legalize, he had written a dozen books,
fiction and non-fiction. Only six have been published in the U.S., but all
of them, whatever their shortcomings, are distinguished by a forthrightness
of mind and a limber, cutting style that are singularly OrweIlian, unmistakably
To U.S. readers, Orwell is known chiefly through last year's Nineteen
. He was mortally ill with tuberculosis when he wrote it.
But Orwell's mind had never been more lucid. Nineteen Eighty-Four
is the grimmest, the most logically imagined and credible preview of the
totalitarian state in print.* It is not so much a satire as a portent. The
18th Century's great Dean Swift, whom Orwell admired and to whom he has been
compared, is at best a distant literary cousin. Gulliver's Travels discursively,
and sometimes vjndictively, pilloried comparatively commonplace human failings.
Orwell projected with terrible urgency the final shape of a modem, and unique,
* Orwell's 1984 was obviously influenced and perhaps inspired
by a book called We, a nearly forgotten totalitarian fantasy by Russian
Writer Eugene Zamiatin. We was written in 1923. translated into English
by Manhattan Psychiatrist Gregory Zilboorg and published in the U.S. in 1924.
Orwell read it in a French translation in 1946 and wrote an enthusiastic
review of it in London's weekly Tribune, of which be was then literary
editor. Orwell's is the better book in every way, but his debt to We is
quickly apparent. In the Russian's novel the characters live in glass houses
where state agents can watch them; in 1984 they are spied on by "telescreen."
Zamiatin's dictator, the Benefactor, is a counterpart of Orwell's Big Brother.
In both, a love affair leads to the hero's undoing. In both, he rebels against
the state, is trapped, punished and spiritually crushed.
Zamiatin died in Paris in 1937.
was Orwell's most serious attack on the modem
superstate, but he had made others. In 1946 had come Animal Farm
a merciless satire on the Soviet regime that was as enlightening as it was
hilarious, as persuasive as it was just. Even now, with reams of confessions
by disillusioned revolutionists in the record, Animal Farm
Feb. 4, 1946) remains the best manual on the doublecross of Stalinism.
Orwell's success with Nineteen Eighty-Four,
a Book-of-the-Month Club
choice and a bestseller, persuaded his publishers to try some of his earlier
books on his new U.S. public. Two days before his death they published simultaneously
Down and Out in Paris and London, Burmese Days
and Coming Up for
. The first two, first published in the U.S. in 1933 and 1934, had
met the fate of most depression-born books by unknown writers.
Coming Up for Air
, published in Britain in 1939, is making its first
U.S. bow. AII three are good Orwell and good reading, wholly different from
wholly different from each other.
Jungles & Flophouses
Down and Out
is the largely autobiographical account of Orwell's own
depression battle with starvation. He had gone home to India after Eton (where
he "learned very little"), and had served five years with the Imperial Police
in Burma. The climate, the itch to write and a distaste for British colonial
policy sent him back to Europe. Publishers turned him down, his money ran
out and soon he became a plongeur
( dish-washer) in a Paris hotel.
Down and Out
has the engaging quality of utter candor. Most depression
stories make dull reading today, but Orwell's has a mint freshness because
his poverty, his sorry work mates, even the brain-deadening duties of his
distasteful job were of vast interest to him. When the scene shifts to England,
he is just as intently curious about flophouses, tramp argot and the personal
histories of his down-and-out paIs. There is the concern for the underdog
and the compassion without sentimentality that soon became Orwell trademarks.
, in some ways Orwell's best novel, is a colorful, cleverly
plotted story of a few Englishmen loaded down with the white man's burden
in a small Burmese settlement. Orwell obviously hated British rule there
enough to be tempted into caricature, but his justness never allowed it.
He knew his Englishmen and he knew his natives; at times he seems closer
to their basic deadlock than E. M. Forster in his great A Passage to India
End of a Natural
A radical but never a Communist, Orwell fought for the Loyalists in the Spanish
Civil-War, was badly wounded, disliked what he saw of the Soviet machine
in action. By 1939, when Coming Up for Air
appeared, he was deep in
his personal war with everything political and technological that threatened
individual freedom. In Coming Up,
Hero George Bowling is Britain's
average little man, trying desperately to recapture his boyhood England that
no longer exists. Orwell loved his hero but worried about his moral caliber.
In 1939 he was afraid that George Bowling would be a pushover for the superstate
boys. He wasn't, but ten years later Orwell was still afraid that Bowling's
kids could be the trained robots of 1984.
There are no replacements for a George Orwell, just as there are no replacements
for a Bernard Shaw or a Mark Twain. Without being a great novelist, he engaged
his readers more directly than his literary betters. In his literary criticism
and political essays he pricked, provoked and badgered lazy minds, delighted
those who enjoyed watching an original intelligence at work. He wrote English
with rare vigor, eschewed frills and clichés, wasted no time in getting
to the heart of what mattered. He was an individualist of a rare kind: he
wanted other people to be individualists too. He will be missed, if only
because he kept begging modern man not to become an ultra-modern slave.
USA first paperback edition. 1952. First ed. 1934
First published by Victor Gollancz.
1952 edition published by Popular Library, Ney York.
February, 6, 1950
Published weekly by Time Inc. Chicago, USA.
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