Orwell (Life & Times) Paperback – 3 Apr 2003
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About the Author
Professor Scott Lucas has written and edited nine books, including Divided We Stand: Britain, the US and the Suez Crisis; Freedom's War: The US Crusade Against the Soviet Union, 1945-56; George Orwell: Life and Times; and The Betrayal of Dissent: Beyond Orwell, Hitchens, and the New American Century, and published more than 30 major articles. Professor Lucas is the Editor of the Journal of American Studies. He is a member of the Advisory Board of the Centre for American Studies and Research at American University Beirut and has previously been Visiting Professor at the Clinton Institute for American Studies at University College Dublin and Adjunct Professor of the Institute for North American and European Studies at the University of Tehran.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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But for some reason they chose an obscure academic who writes about subjects no one cares about (the Suez crisis etc.) One needs only to skip to the last paragraph "Suddenly the Crystal Spirit is not so clear" to know this will be an annoying miopic egotistical read. With almost every career move or word Orwell published being dissected rather than appreciated this has to be one of the worst least sympathetic purported biogaphies ever printed. One can only assume he thought by dissing Orwell he might make a literary impact himself. Judging by the minimal reviews either side of the Atlantic it's safe to say Birmingham University made a huge mistake allowing an anti-Orwellian to lecture on their premises.
The normal task of going through the same paces as 20 other Orwell biographers was obviously not enough for Mr. Lucas. Instead he decided this was his opportunity to point out the flaws in almost every Orwellian thought process, essay or novel. For instance in the James Joyce biography the writer spends 9 pages outlining the entire plot of "Ulysses". Lucas spends precisely 2 on "1984" and then moves on to what interests him - recounting and backing-up all the contemporary criticism of "1984". Why would readers want to know how many mediocrities failed to understand the true significance of a book which is NOW accepted as a timeless classic?
The same goes for Orwell's most famous essay "Charles Dickens". An incredible writing marathon, with Orwell sitting for hours at an old fashioned typewriter - not to display his encyclopedic knowledge of every Dickens novel - but to seamlessly link a whole raft of illuminating (and humourous) explanations as to why Dickens was both our greatest popular author - and a hugely influential humanitarian. But Mr. Lucas knows better. He contends this essay 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 all Orwell readers. A minor foreign academic (from his ivory tower) belittling one of the greatest minds England's ever produced sums up why Orwell spent his whole working life campaigning against pretentious commentators who never fought in the trenches.
With so many great books written by people who personally knew Orwell it's obvious this small paperback stitched together by someone who knows nothing about Orwell's England has no value. The biggest irritation being this biographer is incapable of analysing how a journeymen writer (who never strayed far from England) could have so accurately predicted how and why certain "tendencies" would escalate to become ominous threats to the entire future of Western Civilization. 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 did we learn (for the first time) the economy of almost every Western country has been brought to its knees by CORRUPT BUREAUCRATS.
Machines are so efficient year by year millions of human jobs are disappearing.
As in Oceania promoting unsubstantiated FEAR keeps the proles' expectations permanently low. Expensive security measures and distant wars must be paid for with their taxes.
Politicians are controlled by an anonymous faceless Inner Party. No legislation emancipates the proles. The only perceptable change is the rich (inner party) continue to get richer.
Proles remain servile (non-revolutionary) if fed media garbage. I.e. computer generated music, porn, reality TV.
Despite TV being in its infancy Orwell realized such devices would control us - not the other way round. Children are first brainwashed by TV. Subsequently their lives are dependant on de-humanizing computer-driven machines.
I believe the 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. Like so many others Lucas does not recognize "1984" was never intended to be a conventional novel. The storyline was only a pretext for him to describe an imagined future society - and to insert the "Emmanuel Goldstein" section where he explains how it became this way. With just one outlet for his sense of humor - the inverted logic of Newspeak and doublethink.
It came as no surprise Mr. Lucas's background prevented him connecting the obvious dots. Especially this one. Orwell told his publisher "I first thought of it in 1943". How long did Orwell work at the BBC? From 1941-1943. Does one need to be born in England to grasp "1984" could never have been written were it not for Orwell's brief exposure to British bureaucracy at the BBC? That Orwell was not describing communist or totalitarian rulers. He simply extrapolated the power structure he observed in London during WW2. His pre-programmed "imagination" then projected what our entire planet might become if senior bureaucrats could obtain absolute self-perpetuating power.
Eric Blair may have made many miscalculations. But in my opinion any 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. George Orwell is one of the greatest 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. Orwell fans can gain a full understanding of every aspect of the great man in "The World of George Orwell" published in 1971. Easily the best read as most of the 18 essays are contemporaneous.
A contribution to the Life & Times series, Orwell, by Professor Scott Lucas, is not so much another project of sentimental praise or hagiography of a writer, but a successful attempt at objectivity, revealing a novelist, essayist and critic of popular culture who, at the end of his life, collaborated with "Big Brother" (British Intelligence) naming names of communists that he believed posed a threat to British (western) democracy. This list of 36 men and women remains a secret, and the British authorities continue to hold on to the list in the name of national security. This is a major contradiction of the man, considering he was the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Lucas does not involve himself in petty character assassination, demolishing this twentieth century icon for some sort of personal, political or academic gain. In fact, Professor Lucas reinforces Orwell's "decency", a man of courageous sensibilities; however, his "Englishness" as the author points out, remained a staple throughout his writing career.
For the most part, this short critical biography touches upon Orwell's major writings, analysing each in a fair and interesting manner. Most twentieth century critics believe Orwell to be an essayist, a political critic, more so than a novelist. I believe Lucas agrees with this assessment, though, when one re-reads, `Down and Out in Paris and London', `Homage to Catalonia', `Animal Farm' or `Nineteen Eighty-Four', would have to admit that his talent as a novelist, although not genius, is excellent.
This is a highly polished work, extremely well written and insightful in terms of the author's goal of objectivity. As an admitted hero-worshiper, it was a learning experience to read a piece on Orwell that attempted to approach the subject from many perspectives, some good, some not so, without bias in any form.
That said, my only criticism is that the book should be longer, unpacking a few arguments that required further elaboration, however, it is obvious that the author was under space constraints from his editors. Then again, without question, this is a minor quibble.
Although there seems to be many works on George Orwell, and many excellent biographies, (`Orwell: A Wintry Conscious of a Generation' is noteworthy) this one is surprisingly good: entertaining and educational.
He writes as if John Rodden's books hadn't already developed a lot of these points more thoroughly and fairly.
Still, for someone who knows a bit about Orwell, this is a challenging book. The major criticism is that Orwell never found a satisfactory answer to the central question of his life--namely, how could some form of socialism be realized given the contradictions of human nature? According to Lucas, Orwell's unsatisfactory answer is that in spite of political inequality, human "decency" is a reality and a desire to be just is universally felt even if it can't be realized.
I don't think Lucas is a very good judge of literature. He's an "ideas" man, and with Orwell that will only carry you so far, witness the inadequacy of Crick's "authorized" biography.
Still, all speculations about Orwell are of interest to me, and Lucas' are worth reading, even if they aren't revelatory.