The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.
Share this review on
George Orwell is one of the best, if not the best, represented authors on my bookshelf. I have often wondered why I readily part with my money (with which I am notoriously careful) to have a copy of his work. I do not like his style, it is too meticulous and precise, I sometimes do not agree with his views, his subject matter often bores me, yet I am still drawn to his books. I thought, at first, that I had been reading too much of The Independant, but the I thought about how Orwell the more I realised how much his ideas bear relevance today and how much I can relate to him.
It is not the words in his books that attract me, but the very ideas that flowed through the nerve that was Orwell's biro from his most fantastic mind. Orwell was first and foremost a writer, second a political commentator. When reading Orwell it is very important to keep this in mind. He even states himself, in his essay Why I Write, that political orientation comes fourth (and last) in reasons why a writer puts pen to paper, behind 'sheer egoism', 'aesthetic enthusiasm' and 'historical impulse'.
However, Orwell did not separate these characteristics; in one essay he was not just a writer in another he was not just a commentator: Orwell was a political writer, but a writer all the same. Perhaps the most interesting example of this was Orwell's 'As I Please' column in the Tribune. These are prolific (he wrote eighty), but each one is titled 'As I Please', whether the article itself deals with Ezra Pound (#9) or over-eating at Christmas (#65). these columns were written because Orwell liked to write, it gave him some kind of frisson, but at the same time politics, if not always, crept in.
Orwell is a master at keeping to his own principles. His description is superb. Orwell's words construct a picture so clear in your head that it is impossible not to feel as though one were a spectator to the scene, but this is not what really draws me to Orwell's books. I like to be transported from my dreary room to another place, but I do not read Orwell for that. I do not read Orwell for his literary skill, although this alone is to be admired. I read Orwell for two reasons. The first is to respect his modesty, fearlessness and curiosity. each of these qualities made Orwell the aloof, awkward, eccentric figure that he was. Were it not for his modesty he might have never written at all. The second reason for reading Orwell is to understand Orwell's politics. There is much in this contemporary world that Orwell would recognise as the subject of many of his essays and books. The idea of the 'nanny-state', for one, or the ever-increasing wealth gap are just two of many examples. Orwell was not a politician; he was never directly involved in politics (except for a short while when he was a member of the Independent Labour Party): Orwell was simply a cognet observer.
For me, and, I think, for many, the salient point of Orwell's politics is his humanity. He spent much time with the working classes and experienced their destitution himself. This was a subject that was very important to him and it even led him to publish his first book. Without Orwell's fundamental humanity he would have been a Communist. The concept of giving the people what they want by popular democratic participation was central to Orwell's writing. A dictatorship was out of the question. At the same time, Orwell was acutely away of the agenda of other political parties and became increasingly sceptical that such programmes would solve economic injustice that he so despised. For Orwell democratic socialism was the way forward and, today, this ideal seems ever more appetising. It is very true that a utopia is impracticable, but it is equally true that a government or political party can strive to reach such an ideal and in the process better its country and its people. Without Orwell the Democratic Socialist cause would not carry the weight it bears today, without Orwell, England, and my bookshelf would be a worse place.