INTRODUCTION by Julian Symons
George Orwell's life as a writer falls distinctly into two parts, and it happens that he himself dated the change precisely. On 20 August 1939, the night before Stalin's Soviet Union signed a pact of friendship with Hitler's Germany, Orwell dreamed that the war expected by all adults of his generation had begun, and realized that 'I was patriotic at heart, would not sabotage or act against my own side, would support the war, would fight in it if possible.' His dream anticipated the reality of war by no more than a couple of weeks, and although Orwell's health made it impossible for him to enter the armed forces, he supported the aims of the war and was opposed to a negotiated peace.
The decision was a contradiction of much he had said and written up to that time. Only a couple of months earlier he had expressed the view that the British and French so-called democracies were 'in essence nothing but mechanisms for exploiting cheap labour', and had said the only hope of saving Britain from either foreign or home-grown Fascist rule was the emergence of a mass party whose first pledges would be 'to refuse war and to right imperial injustice'. In a letter that must have alarmed the art critic and peaceful anarchist Herbert Read who received it, he suggested that those who were both anti-war and anti-Fascist should buy and secrete printing presses in what he called 'some discreet place' so that they would be ready for the issue ofrevolutionary pamphlets when the time came.
So Orwell was inconsistent: but then his life up to that night in August 1939 had been a pattern of changes in attitude marking changed beliefs. He was born in Bengal in 1903 as Eric Arthur Blair, the only male child (he had an older and younger sister) of a civil servant in the Opium Department of the Indian government. Like many children of what he later called the 'lower-upper-middle class' he was sent as a boarder to a preparatory school, named St Cyprian's, where by an autobiographical account written not long before his death he was very unhappy. The scholarship that took him to Eton did not change his belief that the prime necessities for success in life were 'money, athleticism, tailor-made clothes and a charming smile', and that he possessed none of these attributes, being weak, ugly, unpopular and cowardly. That was not the view of Eton contemporaries like Cyril Connolly, who saw Orwell not as an outcast but a rebel. Yet the teenage rebel retained respect for the standards engendered by St Cyprian's and Eton, and a feeling that may be called sentimental or patriotic for the British Empire. He served five years in Burma with the Imperial Police, and did so by choice and not compulsion, although he said later that 'I hated the imperialism I was serving with a bitterness that I cannot make clear.'
There is no doubt that he ended by hating it, and he was not a man who did things by halves. After turning away from the Imperialist ideal he tried without much success to involve himself with the poorest and most wretched groups in society. 'At that time failure seemed to me the only virtue', and in pursuit of failure he spent some weeks with hop-pickers, lived briefly with tramps, and tried to get himself put in prison as a drunk. He lived for eighteen months in Paris, writing without much commercial success, and the record of that time, Down and Out in Paris and London was his first published book. He was not proud of or very pleased with the result, and decided to use a pseudonym rather than his given name. He suggested four possibilities to the publisher Victor Gollancz, saying 'I rather favour George Orwell.' Gollancz favoured it too, and early in 1933 the name George Orwell came into existence via a book jacket. Thereafter, while early friends continued to call him Eric, later ones like me knew him only as George.
Orwell's career after Down and Out and in the years before the war shows the uncertainties, confusions, fresh starts and false starts almost inescapable for anybody who became seriously involved in Left-wing politics during that very political decade. In that time he published four novels which had reasonable sales and reviews but no outstanding success, and The Road to Wigan Pier. The first part of this commissioned book, which dealt with the hard life of miners, was much approved by the Left intelligentsia, but the second caused shock waves of disapproval for its attack on what Orwell called 'the dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers' who were magnetically drawn to Socialism and the magical word progress 'like bluebottles to a dead cat'.
The Spanish Civil War took him to Spain to fight for the Republic, and his experience there was the basis of his finest work during the decade. Homage to Catalonia appeared in 1938 in an edition of only 1 ,500 copies, 600 of them still unsold when he died in 1950. The story of his life during the thirties might be called 'the education of a Socialist', from the first blundering attempts to understand the poor by living with or like them, through a high-minded period of linking himself with a political party (in Orwell's case the splinter group the Independent Labour Party), into the full understanding of the noble idealism and bitter internecine hatreds within groups that called themselves Socialist, as they were demonstrated to him during his months in Spain. In 1947 he said:
Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism as I understand it ... Looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably when I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.
It is no wonder that at the time he regarded the Spanish experience as a turning point in his attitude towards society, yet there was one more lesson still to learn. He emerged from Spain an apparent revolutionary, as we have seen in the call for a mass anti-war party and preparation for guerrilla warfare. Yet such a thesis went against the deepest impulses of his nature, the love of his country, its people, customs and landscape, that was the emotional basis of his personality. An understanding of this prompted the final realization of what Eric Blair/George Orwell truly believed: that it was necessary for the war to be fought, with Socialism the end to be achieved when it had been won. By the side of that went the obligation to expose the deceits and villainous practices of Communist parties, as he had seen them in Spain and imagined them in the Soviet Union. He did not stray from those purposes in the last decade of his life.
Because George Orwell is now so famous, with all the books consistently appearing in new editions, and the adjective Orwellian stamped on the mind of every politician and leaderwriter for use once a week, it is well to be reminded of the way in which he was regarded during most of his life. Had he died in 1939 (something quite possible, for his health was never good) he would be remembered now as a maverick with some lively but highly eccentric opinions that need not be considered seriously. And if his life had been cut off before his last decade that would not have been an unreasonable view, for the achievements up to then had been minor. The account of life as a plongeur in Down and Out, the description of going down a mine in Wigan Pier and much of Homage To Catalonia have the extraordinary directness of his finest writing, but there are elements in the first two books that leave a sense of the writer being selective, not telling us all the facts of the case.
We know now that this was so, that he could have escaped from the squalor of the down and out life earlier than he did, and that some details of his Wigan experiences were not exactly reported. A passage in The Road to Wigan Pier describes how, from the train that took him away from the town, he saw a girl kneeling on the stones in the backyard of a little slum house. She was pushing a stick up a blocked waste pipe, and her face wore 'the most desolate, hopeless expression I have ever seen'. The image is a powerful one, the actual incident described in Orwell's diary much less so. In fact he saw the girl walking up a squalid alley, she was not clearing a blocked pipe and he was not in a train. Perhaps this only matters if we are looking for the literal accuracy expected of (but rarely found in) newspaper reporting. There can be no doubt that in these books, and to a lesser extent in Homage To Catalonia, Orwell is presenting reality heightened for emotional effect. Something similar can be said of much writing based on things seen, and later set down for literary effect.
The fiction of the thirties reveals his limitations as a novelist, in particular an inability to imagine characters outside his own direct experience. Burmese Days is primarily interesting in the light of the author's reactions to the country, and Keep The Aspidistra Flying as an echo of Orwell's own hard times, with the other characters not much more than shadows. This book may have been influenced by Gissing, whose portraits of Victorian lower-class London Orwell greatly admired, as A Clergyman's Daughter was influenced - and damaged - by his reading of Ulysses. The novels as a whole produce their undoubtedly powerful effect through the intensity with which the writer communicates his feelings about Imperial Burma and depression Britain, but in terms of character and incident they are not successful books. When Coming Up For Air was reprinted in 1947 he sent me a copy. I suggested that a good many of the opinions and thoughts and feelings attributed to George Bowling were really those of George Orwell, and he replied:
Of course you are perfectly right about my own character constantly intruding on that of the narrator. I am not a real novelist anyway ... One difficulty I have never solved is that one has masses of experience which one passionately wants to write about, e g. the part about fishing in that-book, and no way of using them up except by disguising them as a novel.
I am not a real novelist anyway: it was through acceptance of this fact that Orwell came to realize the nature of his genius, and to fulfil it in the two great moral fables, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Fue en 1903 cuando Eric Arthur Blair, el escritor británico más conocido por su seudónimo George Orwell, nació en Motihari, India. Estudió en el Eton College de Inglaterra gracias a una beca, y prestó sus servicios en la Policía Imperial. Estuvo destinado en Birmania, de 1922 a 1927, fecha en que regresó a Inglaterra. Enfermo y luchando por abrirse camino como escritor, vivió durante varios años en la pobreza, primero en París y más tarde en Londres. Como resultado de esta experiencia escribió un primer libro 'Sin blanca en París y Londres' (1933), donde relata las sórdidas condiciones de vida de las gentes sin hogar. 'Días en Birmania' (1934), un feroz ataque contra el imperialismo, es también, en gran medida, una obra autobiográfica. Su siguiente novela, 'La hija del Reverendo' (1935), cuenta la historia de una solterona infeliz que encuentra de manera efímera su liberación viviendo entre los campesinos. En 1936 Orwell luchó en el ejército republicano durante la Guerra Civil española (1936-1939). El autor describe su experiencia bélica en 'Homenaje a Catalunya' (1938), uno de los relatos más conmovedores escritos sobre esta guerra y en el que se hace responsable al Partido Comunista Español (PCE) y a la Unión Soviética de la destrucción del anarquismo español que supuso el triunfo de la Falange. 'El camino a Wigan Pier' (1937), escrita en esta misma época, es una crónica desgarradora sobre la vida de los mineros sin trabajo en el norte de Inglaterra. Su condena de la sociedad totalitaria queda brillantemente plasmada en una ingeniosa fábula de carácter alegórico, 'Rebelión en la granja' (1945), basada en la traición de Stalin a la Revolución Rusa, así como en la novela satírica '1984' (1949). Esta última ofrece una descripción aterradora de la vida bajo la vigilancia constante del "Gran Hermano". Cabe citar entre otros escritos, la novela 'Que vuele la aspidistra' (1936) y 'Disparando al elefante y otros ensayos' (1950), ambas consideradas modelos de prosa descriptiva, y 'Así fueron las alegrías' (1953), un recuerdo de sus difíciles años de estudiante. En 1968 se publicaron en cuatro volúmenes sus Ensayos Completos: Periodismo y Cartas. Orwell murió de tuberculosis en enero de 1950, dejando tras de sí un profundo escepticismo por las marañas políticas
Les informations fournies dans la section « A propos du livre » peuvent faire référence à une autre édition de ce titre.
Description du livre New American Library, 1981. Paperback. État : New. N° de réf. du libraire DADAX0451521234