Remembering George Orwell
1903, June 25. - 1950, January 21.


Down and out in Paris and London
(213 pp.)- George Orwell - Harcourt, Brace ($2.75).
Burmese  Days
(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 original.
To U.S. readers, Orwell is known chiefly through last year's Nineteen Eighty-Four. 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, political drift.

* 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.

Vast Doublecross.
Nineteen Eighty-Four 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 (TIME, 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 Air. 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 Farm and 1984, 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.
Burmese Days, 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.

Burmese Days
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.

back  to the Orwell home page