on 10 June 2010
I bought this Haus paperback certain the publishers of this great "Life & Times" series would select a prestigious English man-of-letters to sympathetically describe Orwell's career and sum up all the benefits he's bestowed upon our present world. But instead they chose an academic outsider who Google tells me makes his living by NOT being an admirer of George Orwell. One has only to skip to the last paragraph and read "Suddenly the Crystal Spirit is not so clear" to know this will be an myopic egocentric read where on almost every page this biographer suggests he's "smarter" than Orwell (who apparently the whole world mistakenly reveres).
Obviously any academic who's relied on grants and stipends to keep him away from real work can never comprehend Orwell's comittment to earn his living as a writer - despite having no expections of any major improvement to his poverty stricken circumstances. But at the very least one expects an accurate description of Orwell's career culled from other boigraphers' books. Again, after quickly flicking through these pages it becomes clear Mr. Lucas considers this duty is beneath him. Instead he thinks readers will be more interested in his noting every contradiction or flaw to be found in Orwell's enormous literary output. He finds all Orwell's early novels are polemics and full of diatribes. He keeps saying Orwell's worst fault (as a socialist) is he offers no solutions to cure the problems he identifies. One wonders if Mr Lucas has all the answers up his sleeves?
But in his critique of the very long justly famous essay "Charles Dickens" Mr. Lucas shows his true colours. He contends this was not written by Orwell about Dickens but "Orwell was recasting of himself through the elevation of Dickens". I.e. he was only writing self-promoting propaganda. The irony here must be apparent to any Orwell reader. A minor foreign academic belittling one of the greatest minds England's ever produced sums up exactly why Orwell spent his whole life campaigning against pretentious commentators (who never fought in the trenches).
With many other great books written by people who personally knew Orwell it's obvious this small paperback put together by someone who knows nothing about Orwell's England has no value. Particularly as this writer is more interested in inserting his irrelevant opinions rather than analyzing how a journeymen writer (who never strayed far from England) could have so accurately predicted how and why the western world could spiral out of control. Here are just a few of Orwell's predictions coming true - 60 years after his death.
"Government Debt" is a euphemism for "Bureaucrats becoming so powerful their budgets cannot be controlled". Yet only in 2010 has it been publicly admitted the economy of almost every Western country has been brought to its knees by CORRUPT BUREAUCRATS.
Machines become so efficient millions of human jobs disappear (except in China).
As in Oceania unsubstantiated FEAR is the instrument used to keep proles' expectations permanently low. Expensive security precautions and distant wars must be paid for with their taxes.
Politicians are handcuffed by an anonymous faceless Inner Party. Nothing substantial is ever done to emancipate the proles. The only perceptible change is the rich (inner party) continue to get richer.
Proles will be servile (non-revolutionary) if fed media rubbish. I.e. computer written music, porn, reality TV.
High-tech devices control us - not the other way round. Children are first brainwashed by TV - and subsequently by de-humanizing computer-driven gadgets.
I believe the only reason Orwell virtually committed suicide writing "1984" was he had to set down on paper all his insights about how 2 tyrants could have extinguished millions of lives before and during WW2. And that they succeeded because they alone knew how to fully exploit the frailties of human nature. "1984" was never intended to be a conventional novel. The storyline was a pretext for him to insert the "Emmanuel Goldstein" section. With the bonus of explaining the cynical inverted logic of Newspeak and doublethink.
From his ivory tower Mr. Lucas is content to debate the standard political implications of "1984". But anyone who's worked in a large British bureaucracy can relate to Winston Smith's "Ministry of Truth". They know he was not describing a communist or totalitarian regime but a typical London bureaucracy. If he wrote to his publisher he first thought of "1984" in 1943 and his tenure at the BBC was from 1941 to 1943 it's obvious the only possible source for the sleasy claustrophobic atmosphere pervading "1984" came from inside the corridors of the BBC.
But only a one-in-a-million mind could have projected what our planet might become if unimpeachable bureaucrats obtained absolute self-perpetuating power". Yet nowhere in this trivial book is there any attempt to explain why the word "Orwellian" resonates ever more powerfully as the explanation for most of the ills afflicting modern society. And with this warning only one man - Orwell - still inspires everyone (who cares) to fight the enemy.
Eric Blair may have made many miscalculations. But a biographer who inserts petty nasty stuff about "secret lists" is not fit to kiss the hem of Orwell's corduroys. The train left the station a long long time ago. Orwell is one of the most influential Englishmen who ever lived. Remind me again - who is Scott Lucas?
I never like to write a negative review without ending on a positive note. To gain a true picture of Orwell every aspect of the great man can be found in "The World of George Orwell" published in 1971. Easily the best read - as most of the 18 essays are contemporaneous.