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George Orwell: As I Please, 1943-1945 v. 3: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters (Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters George Orwell) Paperback – 26 Apr 2007
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"* "It is an astonishing tribute to Orwell's gifts as a natural, unaffected writer that, although the historical events he is unfolding are all too bitterly familiar, the reader turns the page as though he did not know what was going to happen. Here, then, is a social, literary, and political history... which, while being intensely personal never forgets its allegiance to objective truth." -THE ECONOMIST"
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Similarly, in 1941 and 1942 the Luftwaffe via German radio were regaling its home audience with stories of devastating air raids on London. London was all too aware that these raids did not take place, but what use would that knowledge be, if the Germans won the war? So it is, with innumerable other events of the past ten or twenty years. Is the Protocols of the Elders of Zion a genuine document? Did Trotsky plot with the Nazis? How many German aeroplanes were shot down in the Battle of Britain? In no case would you have got one authoritative answer in 1942. We only know the truth if we trust those who write history, and it is invariably the case that history is written by the winners. Orwell did not live to see the inception of the information age, though today we have to hack through clouds of impenetrable rubbish to get the truth, with help (cf. Private Eye magazine) we can get to the truth.
After some writing on demotic speech and Salvadore Dali, Orwell turns to comparing the thriller of 1920 with that of 1939. (Raffles with No Orchids for Miss Blandish - neither of which I've read). The plot of No Orchids described here sounds positively terrifying as well as particularly violent towards Miss B and the other women featured. Raffles dies fighting the Boers, Miss B is kidnapped by gangsters before being subjected to rape and beatings - nothing new for our own generation of thriller readers, but decidedly different to Raffles. Orwell's point is that the growth of `realism' has been "the great feature of the intellectual history of our own age. Why this should be so is a complicated question. The interconnection between sadism, masochism, success worship, power worship, nationalism and totalitarianism is a huge subject whose edges have barely been scratched, and even to mention it is considered somewhat presumptuous."
Orwell then writes a long and complex essay about Arthur Koestler, and his published work which centres around the Moscow show trials. Orwell says: "His main theme is the decadence of revolutions owing to the corrupting effects of power, but the special nature of the Stalin dictatorship has driven him back into a position not far removed from pessimistic Conservatism." The account given in this essay of Koestler's experiences in Spain is harrowing in the extreme.
Further essays cover Tobias Smollett (the Scottish realist writer), a review of The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith, English humour, some minor works of Thackeray, Antisemitism in Britain which was, no doubt, relevant at the time, but has lost some of its bite. His penultimate piece in this collection is about P G Wodehouse who was caught up in Germany as war broke out. He was placed under house arrest but then very foolishly agreed to do some broadcasts "of a non-political nature." Though these were quite anodyne and could hardly be called offensive to Britain, they did cause great offence - they allowed him to be funny about the discomforts of internment but to remark that `the internees at the Trost camp all fervently believe that Britain will eventually win.'" Nevertheless, he was castigated and after the war went off to America with his tail between his legs, but by then, of course, the anachronism was compounded. Some further notes on Nationalism with Orwell exhorting the world to make allowances for the heinous effect of nationalistic bias. This would involve, above all, a moral effort but proved predictably difficult to promote.
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This book is part of a four volume series which includes letters, essays, book reviews and journals. They were edited by Orwell's last wife Sonia(reputed to be a gold digger by some)and include a good chronological appendix. Prefaced sections would have made the collection more readable to those not familiar with the historical context of the writings.
Orwell's letters show the compassion he often did not express in his writings. They always show concern and restraint in his professional and personal dealings. One letter in particular to his first publisher with whom he had serious legal problems shows no hint of resentment only kindness. Is is possible that we can know more about a man's personal life from his daily habits and expressions than from any professed ideology?
The collection of essays in this volume show us the forgotten legacy of Orwell as a descriptive writer that should have surpassed his mediocre novels. The Orwell of Depression era England seems more relevant today than the Cold War era Orwell of "1984" and "Animal Farm". The essays provide rich background material for those who wish to analyze Orwell's books. Source material for "Homage to Catalonia" can be found in the essay "Spilling the Spanish Beans". An essay on common lodging houses tells us about the squalor of working class life in the coal districts...source material for "The Road to Wigan Pier". An essay about hanging tells us about the brutality of colonialism, later written about in Orwell's novel about Burma.
Some essays on societal issues show a disturbing lack of insight that I have noticed in some of Orwell's writings. "My Country Right or Left" written in August 1940, talks about a future revolutionary England that seemingly would not ever come into being. Orwell tells us it was an everyday reality to feel patriotism towards Chamberlain and also for the future red society that is to emerge. Shortly later, Orwell tells us about the red militias " billeted at the Ritz" and London gutters filled with blood. Orwell in the same paragraph tells us that... Only revolution can save England...but now that the revolution has started, and it may proceed quite quickly if only we can keep Hitler out.
Was Orwell's "revolution" the election of Winston Churchill? In another essay, not in this book, Orwell talks about an emerging technocracy that would replace the peerage class system with a post war technical elite springing from the old working class...young Bomber Command pilots who will form a new elite and vote in the welfare state. This second revolution is not the first type nor is it in line with orthodox Communist thought. Is it even logical to posit two things as being true at once?
Orwell described himself as a democratic socialist "as far as I understand what that means," yet did his rejection of dialectical materialism include a rejection of intellectual depth? The reader will find the books reviews interesting as source material for future reading as well as an interesting time capsule into long forgotten controversy and popular culture.
One review on a book written by the Duchess of Atholl "Searchlight on Spain" reminds us of the odd radicalism of the English ruling class during the Depression. The Duchess was pro-Soviet. Interestingly, the Mitford family produced the pro-Nazi Unity, who died during the Depression, and the pro-Red Jessica who haunted Cold War society. The reviews on Henry Miller selections seem to show an aversion to surreal and abstract subject matter. Orwell's essay on Dali, in another book, dismisses Dali as a crank and seems to avoid any detailed discussion of surrealism-a popular subject in the 1930's. A book review on Sartre in another collection avoids a discussion of Existentialism. Orwell claimed simply that he did not understand Sartre. Was Orwell revealing a tendency towards mental sloth?
A journal Orwell kept of his Road to Wigan Pier experiences should be read before reading the book as an interesting travel journal on hop picking during the Depression. The hop picking journal appears in "The Clergyman's Daughter". This collection reveals much about a man who influenced the century he lived in, and a time that had a profound impact on ours. A for content, B for organization therefore four stars. What makes this book unique?
This book is unique largely for the large number of Op-Ed pages titled "As I Please" which appeared in the Tribune after Orwell's tenure at the BBC. The pages were divided by section usually consisting of two to three sections organized by theme. The sections were deleted in part or in whole by the editor, Sonia Orwell who could have organized the selections better. Only the partially deleted sections are noted, however. It is sad that things that we Orwell addicts may have wanted to read are not included here. What is missing?
Sorry, I wrote two versions of this review and could not decide which to post!
This is the third book in a great series. Sounds trite doesn't it? Op-Ed pages, essays, book reviews, letters...they are all here as in the other books of this series, but this book is unique.
This book is unique largely for the large number of Op-Ed pages titled "As I Please" which appeared in the Tribune after Orwell's tenure at the BBC. The pages were divided by section usually consisting of two to three sections organized by theme. The sections were deleted in part or in whole by the editor Sonia Orwell who could have organized the selections better. Only the partially deleted sections are noted, however. It is sad that things that we Orwell addicts may have wanted to read are not included here.
Orwell's Op-Ed is filled with his usual wit and humor. These writings are the stuff of morning tea drinking and the commute reading of people living through the daily Nazi V2 attacks on England. The column provides a rich time capsule of chatty political commentary and personal views. The Duchess of Atholl...the Red Duchess...has by this time become an anti-communist Freedom League activist! A V weapon nearly destroyed his house but destroyed the garage instead...Orwell cooly tells us "it is still rocking" while he continued to write his column.
Pop culture is big in this book. English cooking, making tea, humour verses vulgarity. These are essay classics and deserve to be remembered. Orwell's essay "The English People" is good history, but seems aloof from the mainstream in that it overemphasizes class divisions (as other essays do as well.)
An essay on demotic speech typlifies Orwell's strong contributions on language and ideology. I remember that one of his earliest characters,Gordon Comstock, became a advertising copywriter after failing to serve the cause of art. Comstock's hatred of BOVRIL ads became dogged servitude to the advertising industry when he repented from his life of literary asceticism. Did not Winston in 1984 profess love for Big Brother in the end...in Newspeak after the state crushed him? Orwell loved language and this essay is no exception. Well worth reading.
The book review on the poetry of W.H. Davies has sparked my interest in his morbid works. Many lost writers can be rediscovered in Orwell's book reviews...see "Oysters and Brown Stout."
I read many of these selections while drinking my morning tea, but I never took Orwell's advice...I used a tea bag, not fresh tea leaves in a clay pot!
This is volume 3 of 4, and the first that I give 5 stars. It is less uneven, less self-contradictory, probably more honest than the previous 2. GO had grown up, I assume. The bulk of the book are his leaders under the name that the collection carries: As I please. He comments on events of the time, and does it with lasting interest.
I don't want to repeat my friend Jim Egolf's summary of the book, nor his assessment of its historical value. All true.
But Jim left out an important subject that Orwell also included, and that I want to bring to your attention. The fact is that GO was an impossible romantic about England. He honestly thought that there was merit in English cooking! One essay is called: In Defence of English Cooking.
He lists a few items that we are supposed to accept as proof of his odd point of view. Believe it or not, one of the items which supposedly prove the high standard of English cooking are English apples. I rest my case.
'It is not a law of nature that every restaurant in England is either foreign or bad.' Written 1945. My regular visits in recent years, all in basically friendly intention, make me conclude: if anything changed, then for the worse, because now even many of the foreign restaurants are bad.
Dui bu qi.
His column's musings range from commentary on political pamphlets to the effects of the war on clothing and food. Orwell, ever the socialist, sees everything through the prism of class structure and to those who only know of his writings co-opted by the right such as "Animal Farm" and "1984" his definite left wing stance may come as a bit of a shock. He was by no means a dogmatic ideologue. The left gets the benefit of his often scathing criticisms as well as the right. Always willing to call things as he saw them, Orwell made enemies on both sides of the political spectrum.
Included in volume III as well are several letters to friends and acquaintances that are political and literary in nature rather than personal. Especially noteworthy is the first essay in the volume "The English People", a rather famous piece on culture, language and class.
I highly recommend this volume as well as the preceding volume II "My Country Left or Right". Orwell's essays are wonderful windows into the mind of one of the most important individuals of the twentieth century.