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Davison, a sober Virgil, leads us through the warrens of Orwell’s life and mind, never lapsing into a promiscuous note-leaving.He’s included an exhaustive chronology of Orwell’s abbreviated life, an introduction to every section, numerous letters by those closest to Orwell, and biographical sketches of all the individuals named.
“The most elementary respect for truthfulness is breaking down,” he wrote in a 1938 letter, about the duplicitous English reporting on the Spanish Civil War, in which he’d fought for six months, and during which he was shot through the esophagus.
“It gives one the feeling that our civilization is going down into a sort of mist of lies where it will be impossible ever to find out the truth about anything.”Like every robust thinker, Orwell had his contradictions, the most pronounced of which was the fact that he was both an intellectual who despised intellectualism and its attendant snobbery—“The direct, conscious attack on intellectual decency comes from the intellectuals themselves,” he wrote in his 1946 essay “The Prevention of Literature”—and a common man who had reservations about common men.
By popular definition, no one was less Orwellian than Eric Blair.
In his introduction to this volume, Davison writes, “Many of those who refer to Orwell seem not to have read much more than , if those.
The intellectuals who are at present pointing out that democracy and fascism are the same thing etc. However, perhaps when the pinch comes the common people will turn out to be more intelligent than the clever ones.—Orwell’s careful pessimism is everywhere in his correspondence, because if you were alive and even sporadically sentient at this time, you should have understood that the pinch was coming.
He’d seen that pinch firsthand in Spain, and some of the most remarkable missives in this volume read like dispatches from the bombed streets of Barcelona.It is clear that the thicker the fairy tales are piled, the more easily one can swallow them, but this seems so paradoxical that I have never been able to understand the reason for it.” In .The masses’ inability to think for themselves struck him as a crime against their own humanity.Most writers deserve the reputation posterity has bestowed upon them: You can’t for long conceal the toxic spots on your character—Philip Larkin is Exhibit A—nor can you conceal your dignity, your humanism, your regard for veracity and freedom.Of course George Orwell was not a saint—he could be unfaithful to his wife and suspicious of democracy, for starters—and it’s a good thing, too, because saints are always hard to take seriously.Ten years ago, in an essay called “Dragon Slayer,” Christopher Hitchens wrote this about his beau ideal of morality and intellectualism, George Orwell: “He owns the twentieth century, as a writer about fascism and communism and imperialism, in a way that no other writer in English can claim.” In 1968, Orwell’s friend and onetime schoolmate Anthony Powell wrote that “Orwell’s exposure of the ruthless, totalitarian nature of communism is his greatest political achievement.” Powell might have added “artistic achievement,” as well, since Orwell’s essays stand in the same deathless brigade as Montaigne’s.certainly augmented the exposure of which Powell writes, but no serious reader of Orwell doubts that he measured a rather inadequate novelist and that his real genius was for the political/literary essay and books of urgent reportage— have an ease of hand, a naturalness of form half absent from the novels.This is the real warning of : the danger comes not from our suppressors but from our ovine willingness to be suppressed.Every Orwell scholar owes a tremendous debt to Peter Davison, the editor not just of this new volume, but also a 20-volume “a Boswellian tribute.” This new edition of Orwell’s letters is imperative for anyone who wishes to earn a larger understanding of the twentieth century’s most potent essayist.in 1946, quite nicely wrote, “They represent at its best the new humanism of the common man,” and then Waugh couldn’t help but fault Orwell for his lack of religious feeling, which is rather like faulting penguins for their lack of flight.As an adoring Catholic, Waugh was no doubt miffed that Orwell never feared to mention how the papacy lay down each night with Europe’s puppeteers of power.