Before he was a renowned novelist, George Orwell was a masterful essayist. Spanning the 1940s, this companion to Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays showcases Orwell in an often unexpected cavalcade of observations on diverse subjects-in the literary field alone as varied as T. S. Eliot, Charles Dickens, Henry Miller, Graham Greene and Kipling. But since this is Orwell, the book takes on a range of subjects with gusto: power and bully worship and the deleterious influence of Catholicism on literature. Orwell's withering observations on professional academic criticism ("Politics and the English Language") are tempered by his sly "Confessions of a Book Reviewer" ("constantly inventing reactions towards books about which one has no spontaneous feelings whatever") and "Good Bad Books" (the "supreme example" being Uncle Tom's Cabin). Not to be overlooked is a freewheeling take on the naughty postcards of Donald McGill. Overall, this collection highlights the work of a writer who always put his money where his mouth was, reiterating frequently the importance of clarity of expression in enabling independent thought. (Oct. 13)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
All Art Is Propaganda: Critical Essaysby George Orwell, Keith Gessen
As a critic, George Orwell cast a wide net. Equally at home discussing Charles Dickens and Charlie Chaplin, he moved back and forth across the porous borders between essay and journalism, high art and low. A frequent commentator on literature, language, film, and drama throughout his career, Orwell turned increasingly to the critical essay in the 1940s, when his… See more details below
As a critic, George Orwell cast a wide net. Equally at home discussing Charles Dickens and Charlie Chaplin, he moved back and forth across the porous borders between essay and journalism, high art and low. A frequent commentator on literature, language, film, and drama throughout his career, Orwell turned increasingly to the critical essay in the 1940s, when his most important experiences were behind him and some of his most incisive writing lay ahead.
All Art Is Propaganda follows Orwell as he demonstrates in piece after piece how intent analysis of a work or body of work gives rise to trenchant aesthetic and philosophical commentary. With masterpieces such as "Politics and the English Language" and "Rudyard Kipling" and gems such as "Good Bad Books," here is an unrivaled education in, as George Packer puts it, "how to be interesting, line after line."
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Inside the Whale, March 11, 1940
Inside the Whale and Other Essays was published in London by Victor Gollancz Ltd on March 11, 1940. It contained three essays: "Charles Dickens," "Boys’ Weeklies," and "Inside the Whale."
Dickens is one of those writers who are well worth stealing. Even the burial of his body in Westminster Abbey was a species of theft, if you come to think of it.
When Chesterton wrote his introductions to the Everyman Edition of Dickens’s works, it seemed quite natural to him to credit Dickens with his own highly individual brand of medievalism, and more recently a Marxist writer, Mr. T. A. Jackson,1 has made spirited efforts to turn Dickens into a bloodthirsty revolutionary. The Marxist claims him as "almost" a Marxist, the Catholic claims him as "almost" a Catholic, and both claim him as a champion of the proletariat (or "the poor," as Chesterton would have put it). On the other hand, Nadezhda Krupskaya, in her little book on Lenin, relates that towards the end of his life Lenin went to see a dramatised version of The Cricket on the Hearth, and found Dickens’s "middle-class sentimentality" so intolerable that he walked out in the middle of a scene.
Taking "middle-class" to mean what Krupskaya might be expected to mean by it, this was probably a truer judgment than those of Chesterton and Jackson. But it is worth noticing that the dislike of Dickens implied in this remark is something unusual. Plenty of people have found him unreadable, but very few seem to have felt any hostility towards the general spirit of his work. Some years ago Mr. Bechhofer Roberts published a full-length attack on Dickens in the form of a novel (This Side Idolatry), but it was a merely personal attack, concerned for the most part with Dickens’s treatment of his wife. It dealt with incidents which not one in a thousand of Dickens’s readers would ever hear about, and which no more invalidate his work than the second-best bed invalidates Hamlet. All that the book really demonstrated was that a writer’s literary personality has little or nothing to do with his private character. It is quite possible that in private life Dickens was just the kind of insensitive egoist that Mr. Bechhofer Roberts makes him appear. But in his published work there is implied a personality quite different from this, a personality which has won him far more friends than enemies. It might well have been otherwise, for even if Dickens was a bourgeois, he was certainly a subversive writer, a radical, one might truthfully say a rebel. Everyone who has read widely in his work has felt this. Gissing, for instance, the best of the writers on Dickens, was anything but a radical himself, and he disapproved of this strain in Dickens and wished it were not there, but it never occurred to him to deny it. In Oliver Twist, Hard Times, Bleak House, Little Dorrit, Dickens attacked English institutions with a ferocity that has never since been approached. Yet he managed to do it without making himself hated, and, more than this, the very people he attacked have swallowed him so completely that he has become a national institution himself. In its attitude towards Dickens the English public has always been a little like the elephant which feels a blow with a walking-stick as a delightful tickling. Before I was ten years old I was having Dickens ladled down my throat by schoolmasters in whom even at that age I could see a strong resemblance to Mr. Creakle, and one knows without needing to be told that lawyers delight in Serjeant Buzfuz and that Little Dorrit is a favourite in the Home Office. Dickens seems to have succeeded in attacking everybody and antagonizing nobody. Naturally this makes one wonder whether after all there was something unreal in his attack upon society. Where exactly does he stand, socially, morally and politically? As usual, one can define his position more easily if one starts by deciding what he was not.
In the first place he was not, as Messrs. Chesterton and Jackson seem to imply, a "proletarian" writer. To begin with, he does not write about the proletariat, in which he merely resembles the overwhelming majority of novelists, past and present. If you look for the working classes in fiction, and especially English fiction, all you find is a hole. This statement needs qualifying, perhaps. For reasons that are easy enough to see, the agricultural labourer (in England a proletarian) gets a fairly good showing in fiction, and a great deal has been written about criminals, derelicts and, more recently, the working-class intelligentsia. But the ordinary town proletariat, the people who make the wheels go round, have always been ignored by novelists. When they do find their way between the covers of a book, it is nearly always as objects of pity or as comic relief. The central action of Dickens’s stories almost invariably takes place in middle-class surroundings. If one examines his novels in detail one finds that his real subject-matter is the London commercial bourgeoisie and their hangers-on—lawyers, clerks, tradesmen, innkeepers, small craftsmen and servants. He has no portrait of an agricultural worker, and only one (Stephen Blackpool in Hard Times) of an industrial worker. The Plornishes in Little Dorrit are probably his best picture of a working-class family—the Peggottys, for instance, hardly belong to the working class—but on the whole he is not successful with this type of character. If you ask any ordinary reader which of Dickens’s proletarian characters he can remember, the three he is almost certain to mention are Bill Sikes, Sam Weller and Mrs. Gamp. A burglar, a valet and a drunken midwife—not exactly a representative cross-section of the English working class.
Copyright © George Orwell
Compilation copyright © 2008 by The Estate of the late Sonia Brownell Orwell
Foreword copyright © 2008 by George Packer
Introduction copyright © 2008 by Keith Gessen
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Meet the Author
GEORGE ORWELL (1903–1950) was born in India and served with the Imperial Police in Burma before joining the Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War. Orwell was the author of six novels as well as numerous essays and nonfiction works.
GEORGE PACKER is a staff writer for The New Yorker and author of The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq and other works. He lives in Brooklyn.
Keith Gessen was born in Russia and educated at Harvard. He is a founding editor of n+1 and has written about literature and culture for Dissent, The Nation, The New Yorker, and the New York Review of Books. He is the author of the novel All the Sad Young Literary Men.
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