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So, the reader of this essay was set up by Orwell perfectly: blast away at the stinking rotting, drunken social scene in Paris, frequented in large part by Americans pretending to have talent, and mention that Miller thought this was cool to write about. Then bring in the terrible, frightening and bloody realities happening elsewhere in Europe, and you have shown what a rascal Miller was.
But wait, Orwell admits that novelists don't always have to write about "contemporary history" and yet he adds, and this is classic Orwell in his political suit of clothes, that a novelist that "simply disregards the major public events of the moment is generally either a footler or a plain idiot." Wow! Miller is a plain idiot for writing that trashy novel that was a best seller? You have to love Orwell's candor and plainspoken narrative. There can be no doubt where he stands.
Wells, Hitler and the World State (1941)
Orwell tales on H.G. Wells in this essay, and it begins with quotes from Wells that suggest Hitler is about done and that most of the Nazi troops are "…dead or disheartened or worn out." Of course nothing could be further from the truth in 1941, and Orwell has Wells' for lunch on this one. There isn't room on this final page of the essay to cite all the clever and not-so-clever ways the Orwell blasts Wells, but he lists Wells as one of the "left wing intellectuals" that have been minimizing the danger of Hitler. "The people who say that Hitler is Antichrist, or alternatively, the Holy Ghost, are nearer an understanding of the truth than the intellectuals who for ten dreadful years have kept it up that [Hitler] is merely a figure out of comic opera, not with taking seriously." What this reflects, Orwell asserts, is the "sheltered conditions of English life," and indeed, Wells is one of those sheltered Brits: "The thunder of guns, the jingle of spurs, the catch in the throat when the old flag goes by, leave him manifestly cold," Orwell charges, again combining political perspectives with writers that don't get it.
Looking Back on the Spanish War
If there are those who wish to know some of the ugliest aspects of war -- beyond Hitler's death camps and the gruesome sight of an 18-year-boy boy lying face down dead in the mud -- the right place to come is to an Orwellian essay called "Looking Back on the Spanish War (1942). Orwell was in this war. "Bullets hurt, corpses stink, men under fire are often so frightened that they wet their trousers." Latrines are miserable when they are "blocked" from overuse. And as to who starts wars, "…soldiers anywhere near the front line" are "usually too hungry, or frightened, or cold, or, above all, too tired to bother about the political origins of the war," he writes. And no matter that the cause you are fighting for -- and might die for -- is just, "a louse is a louse and a bomb is a bomb," Orwell continues. Once again, an essay by Orwell hits the nail on the head: war is ugly, but so are those who have there heads in the sand when a fanatically blood-thirst bigot like Hitler is obviously about to murder millions of people.
There were those who truly disliked Orwell
In Harold Bloom's book (George Orwell) the author asserts that Orwell "…angers and exasperates readers on the left, who find him extremely perverse, false, and dangerous…" Bloom references critic Dwight Macdonald: "a penchant for the painful, the demeaning and the repulsive runs through Orwell's work" (Bloom, 2007, 118). Bloom references critic Timothy Garton Ash: "The bare biographical facts are curious enough: a talented scholar at Eton perversely goes off to become an imperial policeman in Burma, a dishwasher in Paris, and a tramp in London; runs a village shop, fights in the Spanish Civil War, abandons left-wind literary London for a farm on a remote Scottish island and dies of tuberculosis at the moment of literary triumph, aged forty-six" (Bloom, 118).
Actually, Ash misses the point. Perhaps he just doesn't agree with Orwell's position and editorial slant in the literature; but whatever his distaste is, to an open-minded reader, the various jobs and positions that Orwell took during his life make for a fascinating story about an author who was determined not to do what every other author did. And he definitely walked to his own drumbeat, and left a legacy of great writing for those who followed him.
Bloom, Harold. George Orwell. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2007.
Orwell, George. "Criticism of Tropic of Cancer." Inside the Whale. The Collected Essays,
Journalism and Letters of George Orwell: An Age Like This, 1920-1940. Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, 1968. 493-502.
Orwell, George. "Looking Back on the Spanish War (1942). Project Gutenberg Australia.
Retrieved December 15, 2011, from http://gutenbert.net.au/ebooks03/0300011h.html.
Orwell, George. "Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver's Travels." Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays.
Orwell, George. "Wells, Hitler and the World State" (1941). Project Gutenberg Australia.
Retrieved December 15, 2011, from http://gutenbert.net.au/ebooks03/0300011h.html.
Orwell, George. "Who Are the War Criminals?" The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell: My Country Right or left 1940-1943. Ed. Sonia…[continue]
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