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This review covers essays and journalism 1945 - 1949
on 22 August 2012
The very natural wish for revenge after the war is considered against the reality of how most people just felt relief that it was over. Orwell did not write about the reparations demanded from Germany and the effect of the partition of Berlin (or if he did it is not recorded here), which is something of a disappointment. He wrote about the "Atom Bomb" as it was called back then, and this essay is illuminating only on the notion of what are "good" weapons (those of the medieval age, that anyone could use) and "bad" weapons - tanks and the bomb which are expensive as well as conducive to control by cold war.
Orwell's writing about literature, when not in a political vein, is instructive. He loves the stories of Jack London and mourns their popularity, while admitting they are extremely variable in tone. The problem with these stories is their extreme cruelty - indeed London's Iron Heel predicts the rise of fascism. His greatest works have the theme of the cruelty of nature.
In his essay on The Prevention of Literature Orwell is most exercised by the distortion and suppression caused by Communists and `fellow-travellers'. "There can be no question," he says, "About the poisonous effect of the Russian mythos on English intellectual life. The kind of distortion he has in mind take in situations such as that which found "...very large numbers of Soviet Russians - mostly, no doubt, from non-political motives - had changed sides and were fighting for the Germans. Also a small but not negligible proportion of the Russian prisoners and Displaced Persons refused to go back to the USSR, and some of them were repatriated against their will. These facts, known to many journalists on the spot, went almost unmentioned in the British press, while at the same time Russophile publicists in England continued to justify the purges and deportations of 1936-38 by claiming that the USSR `had no quislings.' The fog of lies and misinformation that surrounds such subjects as the Ukraine famine, the Spanish Civil War, Russian policy in Poland and so forth, is not due entirely to conscious dishonesty, but any writer or journalist who is fully sympathetic to the USSR - sympathetic, that is, in the way the Russians would want him to be - does have to acquiesce in deliberate falsification on important issues."
Lighter pieces include Pleasure Spots which describes in scathing tones new ideas for holidays of the future. Interestingly these sound exactly like a Centre-Parks complex, even down to the continuous music in all covered areas. Oh please preserve us from musak!
One of Orwell's most famous journalistic pieces is called The Decline of the English Murder - and it is gruesome, though one does hear the satire not far beneath the surface. In one of his best pieces of work: Politics and the English Language, Orwell includes six rules for writing:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one would do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Strangely enough one of the best pieces of writing here is entitled: Some Thoughts on the Common Toad. On waking, Orwell notes, "the toad has a very spiritual look, like a strict Anglo-Catholic towards the end of Lent. His movements are languid but purposeful, his body is shrunken, and by contrast his eyes look abnormally large. This allows one to notice... that the toad has about the most beautiful eye of any living creature. It is like gold, or more exactly it is like the golden-coloured semi-precious stone which one sometimes sees in signet rings and which I think is called a chrysoberyl.
Later in this piece, which might be my favourite of all his writings, he asks: "Is it wicked to take a pleasure in Spring and other seasonal changes?... while we are all groaning, or at least, ought to be groaning, under the shackles of the capitalist system, to point out that life is frequently more worth living because of a blackbird's song, a yellow elm tree in October, or some other natural phenomenom which does not cost money..." He also remarks, "'Nature' in one of my articles is liable to bring me abusive letters." Mainly, it seems, because he has gone off the political track and is being "sentimental" about his surroundings.
There is much more to this collection, much of it important political writing, especially so with Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver's Travels, and Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool, as well as an excellent essay about Ghandi. Much of what Orwell has to say is very much involved with the politics of his own time, which are much more agonised than our own. This is because people, ordinary people, matter to Orwell. Political activity matters to him in a way it no longer does to us. I have no respect for the politicians of my day, but much respect for a man who tried always to tell the truth when all about him were liars, fools and fabricators.