Reading this volume shattered a bit the illusion that I had built up
in my mind of Orwell as a solitary writer. Also I was surprised to hear
him being wary of world war II, and getting some predictions wrong
too. The letters read like telephone calls, or rather it's like listening to one half, one end of a telephone call.
Some of the personal stuff involves women. After his wife's death
Orwell tried to court some women but they didn't pay any attention to
him until his last two novels, Animal Farm and 1984 became big hits. There's a lot about Orwell's adopted son, Richard, whom Orwell seemed very fond of, which I
didn't really care much for. A lot of attention is given to animal
farming on the Island of Jura and whatnot which I didn't care for much
either. What I was more interested in was to get a glimpse behind the publishing of some of his novels and books.
Orwell doesn't say very much about the contents of 1984 because
he didn't want to speak about it until he finished it. Unfortunately
there wasn't much time left for him to live after he wrote it. He didn't
seem to expect to die while he could still write his letters anyway.
One new thing which I did learn that was that Orwell was aware and
interested in Lysenkoism and so that it was an inspiration for 1984. There's some fun stuff
about Animal Farm tho, like the Americans refusing to publish it
stories about animals were not popular in the US. There's a lot of
little interesting factoids about novels but I don't think there is much
in the way of analysis. Orwell was surprised at Homage to Catalonia not doing well because there was much interest in the Spanish civil war.
Apart from the novels and books there's some fun stuff like Orwell's
list of possible quislings and
communist collaborators which he gave to the British government. Some of
them turned out to be soviet spies, or so the footnotes say. He does
occasionally make the insightful but obvious comments that he is known
for, like when he says that for whatever reason in his era all the
important cultural figures came out of nations with higher populations. I
don't think that that is the case any longer. Unfortunately there
aren't that many of these observations here.
I didn't care much about to whom Orwell was writing these letters
most of the time though the volume graciously provides some details
about the recipients in the footnotes. I
guess as a writer it was interesting to read Orwell's letters to his
publishers/editors like Orwell's struggles to publish books politically
inconvenient for the left. Anyhow this book served as a kind of
biggest take away of which was that Orwell didn't lead a particularly
interesting life, he just had interesting things to say but a lot of the
stuff he did was boring. Maybe that's why people ask "What would Orwell
Say?" rather than "What would Orwell do?" Or do people ask themselves
these things anymore? I feel like Orwell is slipping out of the public's
consciousness because he doesn't exactly pander to the left or the
right which is what people desire. I don't think Orwell's views were
ever popular with the
To be honest I am not sure why I am interested in Orwell enough to
have read most of his non-fiction at this point. I always found
Christopher Hitchens' answer in Why Orwell's Matters to be very
unsatisfactory. According to Hitchens' the answer lay in the fact that
Orwell got the three big questions of the 20th century right: Communism,
Fascism, and Imperialism, but is that really that special? If you
made a compilation of letters by say Bertrand Russel would it be
substantially different on these issues? And yet I am still very fond of
George Orwell and have remained so throughout my schizoid shifts across
the political-autism-larp spectrum.
The biggest issue was that I was not invested in many of the
supposedly important people that Orwell talked to and about. For example
I have heard the name Arthur Koestler but it doesn't really mean
anything to me and there are several letters to and from the Koestlers.
Having said that I have made a mental note of checking out at least one
of George Gissing's novels given that Orwell seemed to be so fond of
him. I think that to fully get the context you would have to get
immersed in the literary environment that Orwell was in.
The Rating: 6