Bernard Crick about George Orwell. – ‘What kind of biography have I tried to write, and about what kind of man? The ‘. Buy George Orwell: A Life 2nd Revised edition by Bernard Crick (ISBN: ) from Amazon’s Book Store. Everyday low prices and free delivery on. This is the biography of the English novelist and essayist George Orwell. Orwell is the author of Down and out in Paris, Homage to Catalonia, The Lion and the.
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Publication of a life of such a famous near contemporary has inevitably stimulated the offering of new evidence which I can now add in this revised edition. And many helpful reviews and letters have led me to correct or clarify points of fact and to remedy infelicities of style. So additional thanks are particularly due to, among many who wrote to me: Thornton and Iris Walkland.
It is arguable whether any of it is important enough by itself to justify a new edition, but if the book is reprinted, as demand is still strong, then there is a strong cumulative case to enrich and get right essential detail.
Almost all of the material that came to me directly, I passed on to the Orwell Archive and so it was available to Michael Shelden when working on his recent Orwell: Some interesting new material remained in my hands, however, largely because it was in the form of interview notes. I would have given all this to Michael Shelden had he approached me as one scholar to another, indeed approached me at all, as he should surely have done if the object is to write true history and not aggressive commercial rivalry.
I must now thank the following for new material or corrections: Wilson and George Woodcock. Jill Furlong, of the Orwell Archive at University College, London, was as helpful and knowledgeable as her predecessor, indeed as anyone can possibly be. What kind of biography have I tried to write, and about what kind of man?
The questions are not wholly separable. I saw and still orwe,l Orwell as someone who fully succeeded, despite his tragically early death, in the task he set himself in mid-career. He succeeded in such a way that he moved, even in his lifetime, from being a minor English writer to being a world figure, a name to set argument going wherever books are read.
He did not claim to be a political philosopher, nor simply a political polemicist: But if his best work was not always directly political in the subject matter, it always exhibited political consciousness.
In that sense, he is the finest political writer in English since Swift, satirist, stylist, moralist and stirrer, who influenced him so much. The actual life of such a writer is, llfe, only half the story. His greatest influence has been posthumous and has been for liberty and tolerance, but not as passive things to be enjoyed, rather as republican virtues to llfe exercised: And plain speaking always meant to him clear writing: He saw his literary and his political values as perfectly complementary to each other, he could not conceive of them being in contradiction — even if plain style sometimes limited the kind of literature he could enjoy as well as the development of his own more theoretical ideas.
His own style became a vrick edge which, with much crcik and error, by fits and starts, he slowly forged into a weapon of legendary strength.
He made common words sharp, made them come to life again until under his spell one thinks twice before one uses any polysyllables, criick less neologisms. Obscure, pretentious or trendy language was to Orwell always a sign of indecision or of deceit, as much when used by private men as by party hacks. He became a Socialist somewhat later than people think and benrard fiercely, whether in reviewing a book by Professor Hayek or in the story of Animal Farmthat equality necessarily negates liberty.
On the contrary, he stood in that lineage of English socialists who, through Morris, Blatchford, Crixk, Cole, Laski and Bevan, have argued that only in a more egalitarian and fraternal society can liberties flourish and abound for the common people. Yet his influence has been to reprove backsliding socialists, to sustain democratic Socialists he always capitalized it thus and to win back Communist fellow-travellers rather than to bfrnard non-socialists.
Some either ignore his socialism or espouse a legend that by and in Nineteen Eighty-Four he had abandoned it — what one may call the Time-Life and Encounter view of Orwell. Part of his anger against gernard Communists was not only that they had become despots who squandered georbe life and despised liberty, bernadd that they were also discrediting democratic Socialism. There is really no mystery about the general character of his politics.
From onwards he was first a follower of the independent Labour Party and then a Tribune socialist; that is, he took his stand among those who were to the Left or on the left of the Labour Party: What was remarkable in Orwell was not his political position, which was common enough, but that he demanded publicly that his own side should live up to their principles, both in their lives and in their policies, should respect the liberty of others and tell the truth.
Socialism could not come by seizure of power or by Act of Parliament, but only by convincing people in fair and open debate and by example. Truth to tell, he made rather a name as a journalist by his skill in georte the fur of his own cat backwards.
At rimes he was like those loyal and vociferous football supporters who are at their best when hurling complaint, sarcasm and abuse at their own long-suffering side. Sometimes, of course, it is deserved; and it may always be said to keep them on their toes.
But he chose to and he was, whether they like it or not or would prefer quieter spectators. At most rimes there was a touch of the true Jacobin about him rather than the John Stuart Millite.
George Orwell: A Life – Bernard Crick – Google Books
Certainly to call Orwell a supreme political georeg, both for what he said and how he said it, is to point only to his major talent and influence.
There were other good things as well. He began as a novelist and was planning a new novel when he died. Keep the Aspidistra Flying won some good critical notices and is still very readable, but it seemed an interesting and promising book, rather than integrated and fully successful.
Burmese Days was written far more directly from experience and had a clear political purpose, anri-imperialist crikc not necessarily socialist, as is commonly supposed — beernard was a late developer, both politically and artistically.
He developed as an essayist. Much critical opinion now locates his genius in his essays. There is much to be said for this view, especially if Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pierand Homage to Catalonia can be otwell as long essays, since they are all as unusual a mixture of description and speculation as one of them is of fact and fiction.
His best essays ccrick by no means all political, ggeorge those on politics crjck literature, language and censorship have become classics of English prose, anthologized and translated throughout the world, even where they geodge not supposed to be read. A small history could be written of samizdat and illegal translations of such essays and of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four read behind the Iron Curtain as angry satire rather than a pessimistic prophecy. But in the same essays he also pointed to traditional decencies which he believed are more secure among the common people than among the power — and prestige-hungry intellectuals.
And there are many short essays that appear simply to entertain, but also lead us by humour and irony to reflect upon, or simply to gain compassion and understanding for, tolerable human failings, oddities and imperfections.
While angry at injustice and intolerance, he never seemed to ask too much of ordinary people: His politics were Left-wing, but many of his prejudices were conservative. And he wrote about many positive values that have nothing directly to do with politics, love of nature above all: He was capable of literary criticism of the highest order. Far more effectively, he praised the art of Henry Miller whose cynicism and deliberate apoliticism he cordially detested.
He made simple but bold distinctions between the artistic excellence of figures as diverse cric T. Eliot and Rudyard Kipling and the inhumanity and bleak pessimism of their politics. It took rare courage and discernment to defend giving a prize to Ezra Pound while condemning him utterly as a person: Most critics still skirt around the berjard issue; Orwell waded in with both feet flying, and he was right, horrible old Ezra could sing.
He defended with an essay, money and personal activity the gentle British anarchists when in the police picked on them and the National Council for Civil Liberties ignored them.
Not merely was he, in his long and formal set-pieces, a great essayist; he was also a brilliant journalist. He was not outstanding as a reporter when the Observer sent him to report events and conditions in France and Germany at the end of the war, and to cover London in the General Election of But he excelled in the short, characterful and speculative essay. He was a master of column journalism, knocking off quickly straight onto the typewriter three or four topics to a printed page, some serious and provocative, some quirky, comic or perverse.
The model has not always been a fortunate one; it takes an Orwell to do it successfully, someone with a great store of reading and experience, amused and relaxed, working smoothly and fluently but at considerably less than full power, showing no signs of strain to achieve the effect or to fill the space. He made his column a continuing education for his readers, and I have met some old political activists who remember him for that alone and who never read his books.
Specific themes recurred throughout his journalism and essays: His patriotism is important. For he saw our heritage and the land itself as belonging to the common people, not to the gentry and the upper middle classes. It was their land because, as in the rhetoric of Wilkes, in the beliefs of the Chartists and in the philosophy of John Locke, they had mixed their labour with the land. He held this view before the War, even in his anti-militarist, quasi-pacifist mood: But part of his anger was reserved for those intellectuals who had yielded the native field without a fight, departing for a shallow cosmopolitanism or, worse, staying at home to mock.
He was intellectually but never socially intolerant of pacifists on this score.
He rejected their policies but defended their principles and liked their company. It is typical that he makes this distinction, which is of extraordinary importance, briefly and almost in passing, neither elaborating it theoretically nor exploring its implications.
Certainly there was a gender patriotism in Orwell which preceded his socialism and stemmed from his love of English literature, customs and countryside. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth and to take pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. His socialism embraces both memory and nature.
He is a specifically English writer and a specifically English character, both in his seeming amateurism — sometimes truly amateurish — and in his eccentricities. He lived and dressed as simply as he came to write, and in some ways as oddly. But he was never insular. He was steeped in French and also in Russian literature through translation, though hardly at all in German.
He knew more about European and colonial politics in the s and s than most of his literary contemporaries, or politicians for that matter. He followed contemporary American writing closely but knew little about American history and politics — had he known more he might have avoided misunderstandings when Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four were published in America. His other best works came to be reprinted and translated well and widely. He had things to say which are still of universal significance, more so than those of some far more systematic philosophical and academic thinkers.
And something of his characteristic style, discursiveness and colloquial ease, the buttonholing directness, the zeal to write for a broad, rather than a purely intellectual public, must come across even in translation, for his style has influenced a generation of young writers in Germany, Japan and Italy, for instance, who do not all read him in the original. He is also, perhaps in the very security of his Englishness it is Englishness, not Britishness, incidentallya writer of historical stature on English national character.
His Lion and the Unicorn and his later reworking of some of the same themes in The English People are among the few serious studies of the English national character, quite different from the celebratory banalities of Sir Arthur Bryant, Sir Winston Churchill, or even Dr A. He did not merely write about the manners of the English, but attempted to assess the matter of Britain in the light of our history; who we were and what we should do as a people.
He offered a moral and sociological stocktaking, both patriotic and radical, worrying about what was happening to England, the degradation and selfishness of its inhabitants and the despoliation of its landscape; but always having hope in the common sense of the common people and pleasure in their pastimes.
English intellectuals have kept well away from such speculation, offering little more than smug asides and rude jibes.
Now, amid new uncertainties, not just psychological but directly political, such as doubts about the laws of citizenship and the unity of the United Kingdom, we are finding the need for such assessments.
Those writing such books will have to start where Orwell left off. Cyril Connolly, for instance, often urged Orwell to get away from his political journalism and back to the writing of real novels.
George Orwell: A Life
In France, Germany and in the United States it had long been orwel customary for intellectuals to be viewed as public figures and to make their views known on public questions, sometimes pompously and pretentiously, on occasion ignorantly, but it was both accepted and expected that they should do so. Auden in those terms. The polemicist exaggerated and, as regards people, sometimes hit out crushingly at the wrong enemy.