A Selection of George Orwell's Essays

Toby Frost

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I'm impressed by the free association of Jaffa. I've eaten a lot of Jaffa cakes and never made this connection. I might once or twice have thought of Jafar, the villain from Disney's Aladdin, but I suspect my mind works differently to the author's.

The only review I've read of it was in a newspaper that is getting more tediously politicised by the week, and it criticised the book for rambling in a review best described as "rambling". But if it's all like those excerpts, I'm not overkeen.

In fairness, I did recently read a short article by her which seemed entirely reasonable. It was politics, so I won't link to it, but it concerned a crime so outrageous that any decent person would condemn it (which she did, unsurprisingly).
 
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Extollager

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In contrast, I'm reading George Orwell: A Life in Letters, and enjoying it. I'm in the section in which Orwell and his wife are writing from Marrakesh, where they'd gone for the sake of Orwell's lungs. Eileen's letters are lively and help me get a better sense of this woman who shared Orwell's life for years. Recommended to all Orwell fans.
 

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One gets the feeling that Eileen was a likeable, intelligent and tolerant person. It would be interesting to know how much she kept him on the rails.

A small thought: there's a certain kind of journalism that requires the author to be continually inserted in the text: "On the day that X invaded Y, I was playing pool in a bar in Z, and my friends said to me..." I can see that this was fresh and interesting when it appeared, but it's pretty tired now, especially when the author has nothing to add beyond the thoughts that most people like that would have. Orwell puts his opinions into his writing to a great extent, but tends to keep away from autobiographical asides, which I think is for the best.
 

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---there's a certain kind of journalism that requires the author to be continually inserted in the text: "On the day that X invaded Y, I was playing pool in a bar in Z, and my friends said to me..."---

Yes -- I associate this with The New York Review of Books, but for all I know the magazine has gotten away from that style by now, as, when the library stopped subscribing to the paper edition, I stopped reading it.
 

Extollager

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Orwell in the news. This isn't about his essays, but the present thread may be the most recently-active Orwell thread, so here we go:


Interesting also about Charlotte Bronte and Dickens, et al. I'm posting this for information and personal reflection purposes, since I've noticed that these are authors of great interest to some people here at Chrons, etc.; I'm not posting this with the intention of starting a discussion that would run afoul of Chrons policy regarding politics, etc. The only observation I'll make is that to label books with "trigger warnings" isn't censorship -- whatever other aspects of it may be dismaying, and which I won't spell out; and that the "trigger warning" business might actually relate more closely to thoughts expressed in Orwell's some of essays than in his novels.
 
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Toby Frost

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It occurred to me this morning that one of the things I like most about Orwell that his love of the countryside isn't tainted by the sort of political stuff one often sees in English rural writing. In fact, he's pretty apolitical about nature: it's just him staring at a toad. You don't get the "My family has managed (ie got rich from) this land since we stole it in 1066" stuff. Nor he is very enamored of machinery, urbanisation and "progress" for the sake of it. I think he would have got on well with the Diggers and rebel groups like that.

Which makes me wonder what Orwell would have made of Sam and Frodo, and The Lord of the Rings in general. I think he'd be disgusted by the Cockney orcs, and unimpressed by Frodo and his gardener, but Mordor and Isengard would have struck strong chords. He seems to have disliked "silliness" in fantasy stories, and I reckon that the hard edge of LOTR would have appealed. I don't know what he would have made of the linguistic elements - not a lot either way, I suspect - and a lot of it would have seemed vaguely pointless, but it would be interesting to know for certain.
 
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Toby Frost

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Here's an interesting discussion about Orwell on the very good podcast The Rest is History.


(For what it's worth I disagree about James Burnham, who Orwell found both persuasive and yet repellent, and the EU comments at the end - there's a direct quote that refuses what's said in the podcast - but these are small things.)
 
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Extollager

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It occurred to me this morning that one of the things I like most about Orwell that his love of the countryside isn't tainted by the sort of political stuff one often sees in English rural writing. In fact, he's pretty apolitical about nature: it's just him staring at a toad. You don't get the "My family has managed (ie got rich from) this land since we stole it in 1066" stuff. Nor he is very enamored of machinery, urbanisation and "progress" for the sake of it. I think he would have got on well with the Diggers and rebel groups like that.

Which makes me wonder what Orwell would have made of Sam and Frodo, and The Lord of the Rings in general. I think he'd be disgusted by the Cockney orcs, and unimpressed by Frodo and his gardener, but Mordor and Isengard would have struck strong chords. He seems to have disliked "silliness" in fantasy stories, and I reckon that the hard edge of LOTR would have appealed. I don't know what he would have made of the linguistic elements - not a lot either way, I suspect - and a lot of it would have seemed vaguely pointless, but it would be interesting to know for certain.
One might have expected him to like Lewis’s That Hideous Strength less than he did, so he may have been more receptive to fantasy than some readers might have expected. Is there enough evidence in his writings for us to be able to synthesize a statement about Orwell’s “probable” take on fantasy if he had read more of it than he apparently did read?
 

Toby Frost

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Good question! Obviously Orwell was interested in SF: he wrote 1984, and read Wells and Zamyatin's We, I think.

There does seem to be an interest in fantasy, if I remember rightly, but in a vague way: he seems to have liked Edward Lear's nonsense poems and I think he mentions Alice in Wonderland somewhere. I think he said somewhere that Peter Pan was silly. One slightly surprising gap is any mention of Arthurian myth. Steinbeck was very interested in King Arthur, but I don't remember Orwell saying anything about Arthur, Robin Hood or any other folklore like that. Animal Farm is subtitled "A fairy story" but it seems more like pure satire to me.

By the way, I took a few days' holiday in Glastonbury this month, and wondered what Orwell would have made of the counterculture there, had he lived long enough to see it. I suspect he would have been very ambivalent: he seems to have disliked "gurus" and anything supernatural (apart from a vague fondness for old churches) but he also had great fondness for the natural world and the landscape.
 

Extollager

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One of the enjoyable things about Orwell is that he slips through the conventional political-social nets we often dangle.

Who would have thought, having followed Orwell's literary career for its first 20 years, say, that he would write one of the all-time masterpieces of science fiction?

For that matter, having focused on Down and Out in Paris and London and Homage to Catalonia, who would have thought he would write an essay like "The Moon Under Water"?
 

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Yes, he seems to have been driven by strong feelings rather than a clear political (etc) position, which usually were roughly aligned but sometimes almost contradicted each other. Writing a column called "As I please" probably was the ideal job for a man like that! I think you can trace the beginnings of some of his later works in the earlier ones, the way that some of the ideas for 1984 are mentioned in the political essays, but there's no clear idea that he would suddenly switch to SF in order to express them.

I bought a copy of Orwell's Roses, and I think it's going to be annoying and interesting in equal measure.

It occurs to me that one of the standard insults used by both communists and dubious landowners to justify their actions is to accuse the other side of "sentimentality". It strikes me that Orwell was in some ways a sentimental man (as well as a pretty tough one), and that he regarded sentimentality - the attachment to useless knowledge, liking (rather than exploiting) animals and the countryside - as very important. Winston's attachment to the coral paperweight is sentimental, as are the proles, and keeping that sentimentality has kept them human.
 
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