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Criticism of Society in the English Novel between the Wars

Hena Maes-Jelinek

George Orwell

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  • 1 George ORWELL, “The Prevention of Literature,” in Inside the Whale and Other Essays, Penguin Books (...)

There is no such thing as genuinely non-political literature,
and least of all in an age like our own, when
fears, hatreds, and loyalties of a directly political kind
are nearer to the surface of everyone’s consciousness.1

  • 2 George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, London, 1959, p. 149.

1When Orwell came back from Burma, where he had been working as a police officer, the Western world was on the brink of the Great Slump of 1929. He was then going through a crisis provoked by the remorse he felt at having served British Imperialism. “For five years I had been part of an oppressive system, and it had left me with a bad conscience. … I was conscious of an immense guilt that I had got to expiate.”2 This sense of guilt is at the origin of Orwell’s persistent and often masochistic association with the unprivileged and the victims of injustice. England in the disturbed years of the Great Depression gave him plenty of opportunity to observe the effects of poverty and to question the system that could produce such evil. The account he gave of his school-days experiences shows how sensitive he was since childhood to the humiliations which poverty can inflict and to the destructive power of injustice on the human mind. The life he chose to lead in the Thirties is so intimately bound with the social and political history of the period that we cannot altogether ignore his personal experience. It gives his writing its highly idiosyncratic character and that passionate tone which, together with his well-known honesty, is so compelling an element of his art. Orwell was not alone among the writers of his generation in condemning the standards of middle-class life in England, but his rejection involved more than a denunciation of meaningless conventions and institutions, and his position was more dramatic because his despair at not finding an adequate substitute for them was greater. He committed himself to politics, but he saw that each cause carries its own traps and he came to the conclusion that nothing could improve the desperate condition of human beings in a diseased society. He always wrote, he said, “from a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice,” and he attempted “to make political writing into an art.” To Orwell all writing was ultimately political because he thought that in modern society no sphere of human existence is left untouched by politics.

2Orwell’s pre-war novels expose the sham and corruption of all organizations that wield power in some form or other. They present the predicament of the modern Englishman caught between his strong loyalties to traditional institutions and his disgust for what they have become. Orwell was first made to face this dilemma as a servant of British Imperialism in Burma. He became aware of the discrepancy between the democratic principles which the liberals upheld in England and their continuing support of colonialism. At the same time, he was building up a violent hatred of the colonial system, though he remained a sincere admirer of what the early empire builders had achieved. He dramatized this conflict in Burmese Days (1934). The theme of this novel is not directly relevant to English society as a whole but to a minority, the Anglo-Indians, and the kind of communities they set up in the Far East, but it throws light on Orwell’s approach to a social system in which he was ultimately involved and shows that from the start, his reactions to his environment were ambivalent.

  • 3 George Orwell, Burmese Days, London, 1949, pp. 39-40.

3The community portrayed in Burmese Days is one from which purpose, achievement or rewarding personal relationships are conspicuously absent. The Anglo-Indians try to recreate England in India and by doing so merely show up the worst prejudices of the English middle class. They do not try to understand the people on whom they impose their rule and the outward signs of their civilization, and they are inevitably corrupted by serving imperialism without grasping the nature of their task. A conflict arises in Kyauktada, where the scene of Burmese Days is set, when the central authorities send word that the Anglo-Indians are to admit a native member to their club. U Po Kyin, the dishonest city magistrate, is determined to be elected and intrigues ruthlessly for that purpose. He has a rival in Dr. Veraswami, the most respect-able Indian in town, who enjoys some prestige among his country-men because he is the friend of a white man, Flory. The latter sympathizes with the Burmese and makes some effort to understand them, but he is a coward; although he has promised his friend to propose his name, he signs a motion protesting against the admittance of Indians to the club. Flory is torn between his loyalty to his country and his knowledge of the evil nature of imperialism. He revolts inwardly against its hypocrisy; “the white man’s burden” is a lie which corrupts the English and is at the bottom of their beastliness towards the natives. “We Anglo-Indians could be almost bearable if we’d only admit that we’re thieves and go on thieving without any humbug … the British Empire is simply a device for giving trade monopolies to the English – or rather to gangs of Jews and Scotchmen.”3 Flory, it is obvious, has no sense of proportion. He falls in love with Elizabeth Lackersteen, a petty and shallow girl who has come to Kyauktada in search of a husband. He attempts to initiate her into Burmese life and culture, but she is uninterested and shocked. On two occasions she really feels admiration for him and is on the point of accepting him: the first time is after a successful hunting party when he appears to her as a heroic and adventurous “pukka sahib”; the second time is after his courageous behaviour during a riot provoked by Ellis. But U Po Kyin sends Flory’s former Burmese mistress to blackmail him publicly in church during the Sunday service. Elizabeth rejects him definitely and even refuses to quarrel, pretending that there never was anything between them. Flory commits suicide. Dr. Veraswami is ruined, while U Po Kyin is elected to the club and honoured by the Governor. A few months later Elizabeth marries Mr. McGregor and “fills with complete success the position for which nature had designed her from the first, that of a burra mensahib.” (p. 287)

4Though Elizabeth is the immediate cause of Flory’s death, the ultimate and more important reason is his spiritual destruction by imperialism as a result of his inability to come to terms with it. The force of Flory’s criticism is impaired by his desire to marry a woman who would soon embody all that is most hateful in Anglo-Indian society, but it also illustrates the hero’s as well as the author’s ambiguous attitude towards the Empire. Flory disapproves of British rule in Burma, but he could not simply leave it and have nothing more to do with imperialism because he is attached to the country. Yet in spite of this attachment, of his sympathy for the natives, and of his hatred of imperialism, he does not treat the Burmese as if they were his equals, not even Dr. Veraswami. It is not surprising that the latter should be fanatically pro-British. Flory was perfectly safe in criticizing the Empire in front of him, and he knew his criticism could in no way diminish his friend’s admiration for England. He talked to him as if to himself but he would clearly not have liked it if Veraswami had countenanced his opinion. Though Veraswami is the most worthy representative of his race in Kyauktada, he does not come out too well. The author is often ironical towards him and slightly contemptuous of his unflinching loyalty; he is dealt with sympathetically but as an inferior all the same.

5Flory’s spiritual confusion can be better illustrated by comparing Orwell’s approach to his subject with Forster’s in A Passage to India. It is noticeable, for instance, that on the whole, Orwell’s Burmese lack dignity and pride although Dr. Veraswami is not without self-respect. Forster’s Indians have a code of honour which, though it differs from the Europeans’, is just as strict and as important in their eyes. Aziz is proud, and his criticism of the English is often to the point. In A Passage to India the natives and the English have their shortcomings, but on both sides they are human beings with the same faculty of feeling; although at the end Aziz and Fielding are separated by political circumstances, they are not as human beings. Indians and English are dealt with in exactly the same way. Forster is aware that some features in the Indian character can never win the approval of the English and he brings out the incompatibilities between the two races, but he at least tries to see the Indian point of view. In a time of crisis Flory does not have to wonder where his loyalty lies. The same is true of Orwell, and that is why he can never approach the Burmese from the inside. In fact, he believes that an important weakness of British rule is that it cannot fathom the Oriental character and often honours the dishonest and wicked while ruining honest people. Finally, though both Orwell and Forster believe that the natives are inefficient, Forster suggests that the Indians will one day be able to govern themselves and illustrates this through Mr. Das’s efficient presiding of the trial. Orwell is not so optimistic, and he doesn’t think it desirable that British rule should come to an end. There lies the essence of his dilemma: the English system is notably superior to anything the Burmese might achieve but the English are nonetheless committing an injustice, and their position is morally wrong. Orwell’s concern was for the conscience of the English for he was already acutely conscious of the corruption inherent in power.

6Orwell believed that in spite of its benevolent nature, there was something evil about English Imperialism. The evil sprang partly from the unenviable position of the Anglo-Indians. There were, of course, men who really hated Orientals, people like Ellis who were sorry that Flory hadn’t ordered the police to shoot at the crowd during the riot, or who hoped that a serious rebellion would give the English an excuse for repression. But even Ellis’s behaviour is partly prompted by fear, for he is intelligent enough to realize that the white man is losing grip in the East. Added to this was the Philistinism of the Anglo-Indians which made their life uninteresting, devoid of values or incentives and confined to a mediocre conformity. Moreover, except for a minority who were really useful, there were many minor officials who knew that their job could be done just as well by natives, and this gave them a sense of futility.

7Orwell also shows that the living conditions in India do not make life easier for the English. “The life of the Anglo-Indian officials is not all jam. In comfortless camps, in sweltering offices, in gloomy dak bungalows smelling of dust and earth-oil, they earn perhaps the right to be a little disagreeable.” (p. 34) The natives are not cooperative; Orwell often refers to their provocative attitude and to their talent for unnerving the English, who are seldom presented as powerful authoritarians oppressing the Burmese. On the contrary, Orwell insists on the limited amount of real power they have and on how much they are at the mercy of the natives. This is strikingly expressed in Shooting an Elephant, that very good short story in which Orwell shows how the natives force the Englishman to live up to their notion of the “pukka sahib” and make him act against his conscience. The often-quoted passage in which Orwell explains why he has to kill a valuable animal, accounts for the feeling of frustration and powerlessness which the rulers were often made to experience:

  • 4 “Shooting an Elephant,” in Inside the Whale and Other Essays, p. 95.

And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the ‘natives’, and so in every crisis he has got to do what the ‘natives’ expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.4

8The moment of revelation, which brings home to Orwell that he is as much a victim of the system as an instrument of it, is rendered with admirable simplicity. The story shows more clearly than Burmese Days how sensitive he was to the sniggering of the natives and how mixed his feelings for them were. “All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the Empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible.” (p. 92) Orwell entertained a love-hate relationship with natives and Englishmen alike. But when all was said, the hard lives they led in the East and the special nature of the hell that was the Anglo-Indians’ lot when they retired to England made their position unenviable, whereas the natives needed foreign rulers.

  • 5 George ORWELL, “Charles Dickens,” in Critical Essays, London, 1960, p. 57.
  • 6 Ibid.

9Orwell’s view of imperialism is, on the whole, rather simple, for he merely considers it as a political and economic form of oppression intended to provide the oppressors with advantages. As some of his critics have remarked, he did not foresee that the English would abandon the Empire of their own free will and still continue to draw their dividends. He hated the power which made them oppressors, and because the Burmese were the underdogs, he had to criticize the English. This was his reaction to the end of his life: whether the oppressed were Indians, the unemployed, a political minority in Spain or in Russia, he always stood up for the weaker side. One could say of Orwell what he said of Dickens: “Always and everywhere he is, as a mattter of course, on the side of the underdog.”5 That is why his attitude was never orthodox because, like Dickens, he found that “to carry this to its logical conclusion one has to change sides when the underdog becomes an upperdog.”6 But for all his criticism of British rule in India it is certainly true, as Malcolm Muggeridge suggests, that there was much in the British Empire official that Orwell admired:

  • 7 Quoted by Tom Hopkinson, in George Orwell, Writers and their Work Series, London, 1953, p. 14.

The ordinarily-accepted view is that Orwell was deeply revolted by what was expected of him as a member of the Burma Police Force and that his subsequent political views were to some extent a consequence of the great revulsion of feeling thereby induced in him. Personally, I consider that this is an over-simplication. It is perfectly true that Orwell was revolted by the brutality necessarily involved in police duties in Burma, as he was revolted by all forms of brutality, and indeed, to a certain extent by authority as such; but it is also true that there was a Kiplingesque side to his character which made him romanticize the Raj and its mystique.7

10This is corroborated by Orwell himself in his essay on Kipling:

  • 8 “Rudyard Kipling,” in Critical Essays, p. 116.

It may be that all they did was evil but they changed the face of the earth, whereas they could have achieved nothing, could not have maintained themselves in power for a single week, if the normal Anglo-Indian outlook had been that of, say, E.M. Forster.8

  • 9 Richard Rees, George Orwell, Fugitive from the Camp of Victory, London, 1961, p. 29.
  • 10 The Road to Wigan Pier, pp. 148-50.

11Richard Rees writes that “Orwell’s Burmese experience stimulated both the conservative and the anarchic strains in his character.”9 He also notices that Orwell was both a rebel and a supporter of authority, that he was a rationalist and a debunker of spurious idealism and spirituality, but also a romantic and a lover of the past. Some of his other critics tend to emphasize one or the other feature of his character and show him either as a true conservative or as an uncompromising revolutionary. But, as Richard Rees suggests, the complexity of his character should never be lost sight of. It accounts for the unresolved tensions in Flory, the pathetic yet not wholly attractive hero of Burmese Days. It is significant, however, that given his resentment towards the natives and his horror of imperialism, the latter should have prevailed and determined Orwell’s career. “In the end I worked out an anarchistic theory that all government is evil…. I had reduced everything to the simple theory that the oppressed are always right and the oppressors always wrong: a mistaken theory but the natural result of being one of the oppressors yourself. I felt that I had got to escape not merely from Imperialism but from every form of man’s dominion over man.”10

12When Orwell came back to Europe, he lived in Paris, sometimes in very poor circumstances, then in London, where he taught school, worked as a private tutor and later as a part-time assistant in a bookshop. These jobs alternated with periods of tramping which Orwell felt it his duty to go through in order to know what complete destitution really meant:

  • 11 Ibid., p. 150.

I wanted to submerge myself. .. At the time failure seemed to me to be the only virtue. Every suspicion of self-advancement, even to ‘succeed’ in life to the extent of making a few hundreds a year, seemed to me spiritually ugly, a species of bullying.11

13Orwell’s experiences as a tramp are recorded in Down and Out in Paris and London (1933). It shows up poverty for exactly what it is: neither a noble condition nor a tragic one but merely a squalid plight which degrades man. Poverty forces people to resort to the most unlikely devices to subsist or to avoid humiliation; it often reduces them to an animal-like existence exclusively concerned with the attempt to survive. As we shall see, Orwell’s incursions among the tramps and later into the more conventional working classes led him to socialism. The important thing is that the oppressed in England provided an analogy with the oppressed in Burma: the living conditions which prevailed in some areas or sections of the population further stimulated his sense of responsibility and induced him to question the structure of society. His experience from the time he came back to England to the outbreak of the War provides the basic material for the novels he wrote between 1935 and 1939. In A Clergyman’s Daughter and Keep the Aspidistra Flying he attempts to show how people react when faced with complete destitution and tries to render the feeling of insecurity incurred through loss of faith and allegiance to a new god: money. He is not interested in the predicament of young middle-class intellectuals; the issues faced by his characters are those of the average man in modern society, though many of his characters cannot be said to represent the average person. But the quality of life they experience is that of the majority of people. Lack of faith, hopelessness and fear poison the atmosphere and prevent man from enjoying the simple, decent life to which he is entitled. Spiritual degradation is now man’s pitiable fate; Orwell illustrates it by pointing to the worst evils in modern Western society: the mercenary character of the new civilization, economic distress, and the threat of fascism and war.

14A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935) describes the life of Dorothy Hare. She works very hard as her father’s housekeeper and manager of his parish; he takes refuge in the past and is despised by his parishioners for his superior attitude. He lives fairly comfortably in the world of imagination, leaving his daughter to fight with the village tradesmen because he doesn’t give her enough money. Dorothy’s puritanical and rather masochistic form of religion induces her to impose upon herself unnecessary hardships and self-punishments. One evening for no very clear reason except over-tiredness, she loses her memory and leaves her home. Ten days later she is found in London wearing old clothes which do not belong to her, and she has been robbed of her money. She joins a group of hop-pickers and walks for miles with them begging or stealing her food until she and Nobby, one of the hop-pickers, find work and live in a camp with gypsies and East-enders. When Nobby is arrested for theft, Dorothy recovers her memory under the shock. She writes to her father explaining the truth, but though he has no intention of abandoning her, she doesn’t get his answer quickly enough, and she goes back to London with a family of hop-pickers. After unsuccessful attempts to find a job she lives a few days as a tramp and is arrested. She is eventually rescued when she comes out of court, and she gets a teaching position in a appalling private school. She is dismissed when the headmistress finds a teacher who will bring pupils to her school, but this time an old friend of hers takes her back to the village and offers to marry her. She refuses him and goes back to a life of drudgery and petty respectability, but she has now lost her faith and must find some justification for her hard work in the gratification to be derived from a well-done task.

15The plot is rather improbable; the novel lacks unity and its meaning is not clearly developed or successfully embodied in the life of the characters. It is not sure, for instance, that Dorothy’s experience of extreme poverty and the very harsh conditions in which she lives as a tramp are responsible for her loss of faith. There is no relation between the different episodes of her adventure and no indication at all that it modifies her character or makes her more mature. Yet it is hardly likely that a middle-class girl could go through such experiences and be unaffected by them. They make it possible for Dorothy to enter a world of which people of her kind are usually unaware. It is probably this glimpse of a hopeless, miserable and dishonest world which induces her to go back to an existence that for all its mediocrity is at least secure and decent in the traditional simple way.

16The interest of Dorothy’s life in exile lies in the first-hand knowledge it provides of particular social groups. In all his writings on poverty Orwell makes it clear that the mere struggle to keep alive is a hard full-time job for the very poor. He shows what a privilege it is to have a job for those who have been out of work. Dorothy’s experience has taught her a commandment which everyone in modern society should keep in mind: “Thou shalt not lose thy job.” While she is hop-picking, the long laborious hours in the sun are a trial but she is also happy to work in the country, and for the first time becomes aware of the sense of solidarity which prevails among the poor. She feels it again in London when she joins a group of tramps who spend the night in Trafalgar Square. Orwell never romanticizes poverty but he often heightens its effects by showing the poor caught in nightmarish adventures. The atmosphere of the square at night and the sufferings of the tramps are rendered in a short extraordinary one-act dramatic piece. The outcasts seem to be involved in a sort of fantastic ordeal while, actually, their only concern is to keep warm and secure a cup of tea. The complaints of the sufferers nursing their private grievances and remembering better times are delivered against an infernal background created by the blasphemous mass conducted by an unfrocked priest. Orwell exploits the dream-like quality of the experience to show how far the consciousness of the destitute is affected by their situation. A recurrent theme in his work is that poverty degrades the individual: either lack of food and of a proper place to rest gradually drive him into a sort of unreal state in which the inner and outer worlds become vague and slightly out of focus, and this makes him unable to think clearly; or he is forced to accept unpleasant jobs and to work so hard that, as a result, he has no time for thinking, and his manners degenerate. Orwell did not believe that poverty can redeem the individual, and he criticized religion for suggesting that it does.

17Dorothy’s experience as a school-teacher brings out the insecurity and ugliness of life in modern society; it points to the difficulty for well-bred women with reduced means and no adequate preparation to make a living and retain the respectability of their class. The episode is also a documentary on English private schools. Mrs. Creevey, the headmistress of the fourth-rate school in which Dorothy teaches, declares with frank cynicism that her school is exclusively a money concern:

  • 12 George Orwell, A Clergyman’s Daughter, London, 1960, p. 255.

What you’ve got to get hold of once and for all is that there is only one thing that matters in a school, and that’s the fees. As for all this stuff about ‘developing the children’s minds,’ as you call it, it’s neither here nor there. It’s the fees I’m after, not developing the children’s minds. After all, it’s no more than common sense. It’s not to be supposed as anyone’d go to all the trouble of keeping and having the house turned upside down by a pack of brats, if it wasn’t that there’s a bit of money to be made out of it. The fees come first and everything else comes afterwards.12

18At first, Dorothy, who is horrified at the ignorance of the children, really tries to teach them seriously and to awaken their interest for what they are learning. Soon the parents start protesting because they are afraid she will give them “dangerous” knowledge, and Dorothy is forced to conform to the standards of the school. However, the parents are only criticized by the way because they contribute with stupid righteous zeal to the success of one of the worst swindles: paid education, which, so Orwell suggests, often maintains children in ignorance and deprives them of the chance of an adequate preparation for life. Orwell strongly objected to private schools, whose main concern, he said, was to make money; he was indignant that children should be the victims of this educational system. “The expensive private schools to which the rich send their children are not, on the surface, so bad as others, because they can afford a proper staff, and the Public School examination keeps them to the mark; but they have the same essential taint.” (p. 261) Orwell insisted on the mercenary character of private teaching at all levels. Even at Eton he personally resented the contempt, real or imaginary, of the paying students towards the scholars. Yet other writers of his generation who came from rich families tried for scholarships and felt it an honour to receive one.

  • 13 “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool,” in Inside the Whale and other Essays, p. 109.
  • 14 Ibid., p. 118.
  • 15 George Orwell, “Reflections on Gandhi,” in The Partisan Review Anthology, New York, 1961, p. 63.
  • 16 “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool,” p. 115.

19While she lives on an ill-paid job in a London suburb, Dorothy is in an utterly depressed state of mind. She suffers from “the corrupting ennui that lies in wait for every modern soul,” and she realizes what it means to have lost her faith, for she now discovers a deadly emptiness at the heart of things. She still goes to church because she perceives “that in all that happens in church, however absurd and cowardly its supposed purpose may be, there is something – it is hard to define, but something of decency, of spiritual comeliness – that is not easily found in the world outside. It seemed to her that even though you no longer believe, it is better to go to church than not; better to follow in the ancient ways, than to drift in rootless freedom.” (p. 270) Man has freed himself, and rightly so, from the ascendency of religion, but he has nothing to put in its place and he resents it, for “faith vanishes but the need for faith remains the same as before.” (p. 315) Through the unrewarding nature of Dorothy’s life before her exile and the inhumanity of her father Orwell shows that religion has served its purpose. He objects to it as to any conservative institution, but he also believes that religion, like political creeds, controls the mind and restricts the range of human thought. This is not always successfully expressed in the novel, for religion simply appears as an inadequate spiritual support. He makes this point clearer in Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool, in which he explains that Tolstoy’s main aim in his later years was “to narrow the range of human consciouness.”13 Religious people are like political leaders in their desire to coerce man: “They will, if they can, get inside his brain and dictate his thoughts to him in the minutest particulars.”14 Nothing in A Clergyman’s Daughter can compare with the tortures imposed on Winston Smith to teach him orthodoxy of thought in 1984, but Dorothy’s self-imposed punishments are a good example of the hold of religion on the mind of the believer. In discussing both Tolstoy and Gandhi, Orwell asserts that the asceticism inspired by religion is contrary to man’s nature and cripples him spiritually. “The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection…. Sainthood is a thing that human beings must avoid.”15 Orwell was convinced that all philosophies of non-attachment denote a desire to escape from the pain of living, which is always hard work. “Your verminous Christian saints are the biggest hedonists of all,” Mr. Warburton tells Dorothy, “They’re out for an eternity of bliss, whereas we poor sinners don’t hope for more than a few years of it.” (p. 308) Ultimately, it is the religious attitude which is self-interested and hedonistic, for “The aim is to get away from the painful struggle of earthly life and find eternal peace in some kind of heaven or Nirvana. The humanist attitude is that the struggle must continue and that death is the price of life.”16

20Still, when all is said against religion, the fact remains that life without faith and unredeemed by an ultimate purpose has “a quality of greyness, of desolation, that could never be described, but which you could feel like a physical pang at your heart. Life, if the grave really ends it, is monstrous and dreadful.” (p. 315) Dorothy refuses to deceive herself, to live as many people in her case do without bothering too much about what they really believe. She sees her predicament clearly and knows that she cannot escape its depressing consequences:

There was no possible substitute for faith; no pagan acceptance of life as sufficient to itself, no pantheistic cheer-up stuff, no pseudo-religion of progress’ with visions of glittering Utopias and ant-heaps of steel and concrete. It is all or nothing. Either life on earth is a preparation for something greater and more lasting, or it is meaningless, dark and dreadful, (p. 316)

  • 17 George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn, London, 1962, pp. 14-15.

21She comes to the conclusion that “if one gets on with the job that lies to hand, the ultimate purpose of the job fades into insignificance; that faith and no faith are very much the same provided that one is doing what is customary, useful and accept-able.” (p. 319) This is an inconclusive ending, and it is the less satisfactory as Dorothy’s loss of faith is not really accounted for. What the novel does convey is the desperate condition of modern man, the fact that the individual is condemned to live in a world which has destroyed the decency inspired by Christianity, for which there is no substitute. The paradox in Orwell’s view of religion is that while criticizing it as an institution, he regrets the disappearance of the attitude to life it had generated and deplores the absence of an absolute which gives meaning to life. As to Dorothy, she still sees the world as a Christian cosmos, even though it seems devoid of sense to her, and she thinks that “the Christian way of life is still the way that must come naturally to her.” (p. 308) Orwell continued to approve of the Christian attitude to life, and in his war-time essays he praised the English for “having retained a tinge of Christian feeling, while almost forgetting the name of Christ.”17

22Orwell is said to have steadily refused to allow A Clergyman’s Daughter to be reprinted because he considered it as a bad novel. His judgment was fairly sound, though the novel is not without interest, if only for the light it throws on some aspects of English life. Orwell was primarily interested in describing the quality of English life; he shows it degenerating because traditions have lost their moral significance and religion has run dry as a source of spiritual strength. There remains only the bleak prospect of a life without love or joy.

  • 18 George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Penguin Books, 1963, p. 49.

23In Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936) Orwell describes the experience of a young would-be poet who, like himself, decides to live on the fringe of society. Though he makes the decision himself and gives up two well-paid jobs to avoid being involved in the money-world, he is utterly unable to face the consequences of his decision and sinks into a stupid, negative revolt. Gordon Comstock’s first impulse to revolt against money does not arise from a mature understanding of its destructive power but from a humiliating personal experience: he was acutely conscious at school that the other boys despised him for his poverty. As time went on, he realized that money-worship had been elevated into a religion: “Perhaps it is the only real religion – the only really felt religion – that is left to us. Money is what God used to be. Good and evil have no meaning any longer except failure and success.”18 Unlike those who take revenge on fate by trying to make good, he expresses his contempt for money by trying to ignore it altogether. But from the moment he renounces money, he becomes pathologically obsessed with the conviction that his failures in all fields are due to his poverty. He no longer earns enough to have the minimum of comfort he needs to be able to write. He cannot meet people on equal terms because he feels humiliated by his poverty, and he finds that this mars his personal relations. Gradually, he sinks into a sub-world where nothing matters any more:

Under ground, under ground! Down in the safe soft womb of earth, where there is no getting of jobs or losing of jobs, no relatives or friends to plague you, no hope, fear, ambitions, honour, duty – no duns of any kind. That was where he wished to be.
… He liked to think that beneath the world of money there is a great sluttish underworld where failure and success have no meaning; a sort of kingdom of ghosts where all are equal. That was where he wished to be, down in the ghost-kingdom, below ambition. It comforted him somehow to think of the smoke-dim slums of South London sprawling on and on, a huge graceless wilderness where you could lose yourself for ever. (p. 217)

24Gordon is eventually rescued by Rosemary, who gives herself to him. When she is pregnant and talks of having an abortion, he suddenly realizes that he wants the child to live. He and Rosemary get married, and he returns to his old job in an advertising agency, a job for which he is apparently more gifted than for poetry.

  • 19 George ORWELL, Down and Out in Paris and London, Penguin Books, 1963, p. 147.
  • 20 Ibid., p. 15.

25Orwell’s case against money is rather lame because it is made out by Gordon, who is too trivial, cynical and selfish to understand the meaning of his experience. As soon as he starts living on a small salary, he achieves the exact opposite of his aim. He wishes to withdraw from the world of money and to ignore it as much as possible, yet he lacks the physical and still more the spiritual strength to live without money. Some people are indifferent to money or to the comfort it provides; others can face poverty with a sense of humour or accept an uncomfortable situation as Orwell himself is seen doing in Down and Out in Paris and London. But Gordon imagines, obviously wrongly considering the generosity of his friends, that the poor man is barred from personal relationships, from social intercourse, from mere physical well-being and, as an artist, from the power to create. Orwell’s point is that “poverty kills thought and that the strain of loneliness and squalor stupefies the individual. He writes in Down and Out: “It seems to me that when you take a man’s money away he is fit for nothing from that moment.”19 Gordon discovers “the peculiar lowness of poverty, the shifts that it puts you to, the complicated meanness, the crust-wiping.”20 Instead of being fulfilled by an ascetic existence devoted to poetry, he is reduced to petty worrying because he is still attached to what money can buy. That is why he can hardly be considered as a helpless victim of the money-world. He is not fit to illustrate Orwell’s contention that poverty creates a frustrated state of mind which distorts man’s attitude to life and affects his intellectual or spiritual development:

It is in the brain and the soul that lack of money damages you. Mental deadness, spiritual squalor – they seem to descend upon you inescapably, when your income drops below a certain point. Faith, hope, money – only a saint could have the first two without having the third, (p. 63)

26This rash generalization shows how far Orwell himself is involved in the situation he describes. Gordon’s hatred of the money-world is also his, and his character is inconsistent because he satirizes his revolt while condoning his motives.

27The futility of Gordon’s rebellion is the more striking as it doesn’t make him discover some essential truth to oppose to the cult of money, which is not surprising considering his limited view of poverty as evil:

He never felt any pity for the genuine poor. It is the black-coated poor, the middle-middle class, who need pitying. (p. 77)

28Gordon confuses ends and means because he assumes that modem society makes an end of money, while he himself gives it an excessive importance by trying to do without it altogether. He is exactly like the middle-class people he criticizes, who spend a good deal of their income on keeping up appearances and who “having no money still live mentally in the money world.” (p. 49) He still has many of their prejudices and is unaccountably ashamed of his poverty. He feels alienated, yet he is surrounded by people who constantly belie his assertion that the poor man must necessarily break down because society repudiates him. He distorts relation-ships by his vicious determination to prove society wrong. Actually, he is only concerned about himself: “I don’t give a – for the state of the modern world. If the whole of England was starving except myself and the people I care about, I wouldn’t give a damn.” (p. 97)

29While Gordon hesitates to go back to his former job and thinks about his life as a down-and-out, he is forced to recognize that

It had been a dreadful life – lonely, squalid, futile. He had lived thirty years and achieved nothing but misery. But that was what he had chosen. It was what he wanted even now. He wanted to sink down, down into the muck where money does not rule. But this baby-business had upset everything. It was a pretty banal predicament, after all. Private vice, public virtues – the dilemma is as old as the world. (p. 247)

30Gordon’s return to the world is thus rather lightly accounted for. But the most surprising fact is that when he gets married, he doesn’t settle down to a lifetime of mediocrity. His return to the world of money is actually a return to life, and he is quite willing to join the middle-class men who used to “make him squirm.”

It mightn’t be a bad thing, if you could manage it, to feel yourself one of them, one of the ruck of men. Our civilization is founded on greed and fear, but in the lives of common men the greed and fear are mysteriously transmuted into something nobler. The lower-middle-class people in there, behind their lace curtains, with their children and their scraps of furniture and their aspidistras – they lived by the money code, sure enough, and yet they contrived to keep their decency. The money code as they interpreted it was not merely cynical and hoggish. They had their standards, their inviolable points of honour. They ‘kept themselves respectable’ – kept the aspidistra flying. Besides, they were alive. They were bound up in the bundle of life. They begot children, which is what the saints and the soul-savers never by any chance do. (p. 255)

31When he was in revolt against money, the aspidistra was for Gordon the symbol of a materialistic society. At the end of the novel he sees it as “the tree of life.”

32Keep the Aspidistra Flying is primarily an indictment of money and its effects on modern civilization. As a new tyrannical god, money has replaced all religious values and condemns man to an infernal life in a dreary and soulless metropolis. Orwell quotes verse 13 of the first epistle to the Corinthians and replaces all through the word “charity” by “money”: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not money, I am become as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal….” Gordon has a ghastly vision of the Western world held in bondage by the destructive god:

… he saw a thousand million slaves toiling and grovelling about the throne of money. The earth is ploughed, ships sail, miners sweat in dripping tunnels underground, clerks hurry for the eight-fifteen with the fear of the boss eating at their vitals. And even in bed with their wives they tremble and obey. Obey whom? The money-priesthood, the pink-faced masters of the world. (p. 160)

33Orwell makes advertisement the symbol of the money-ruled society. Gordon sees desolation and prophecies of doom behind the seemingly optimistic manifestations of life on the advertising posters:

Behind that slick self-satisfaction, that tittering fat-bellied triviality, there is nothing but a frightful emptiness, a secret despair. The great death-wish of the modern world. Suicide pacts. Heads stuck in gas-ovens in lonely maisonettes. … And the reverberations of future wars…. Yes, war is coming soon. You can’t doubt it when you see the Bovex ads. The electric drills in our streets presage the rattle of the machine guns. (p. 21 and p. 246)

34However, Keep the Aspidistra Flying does not really convey the menace of war and destruction as Coming Up for Air does, again because Gordon’s feeling of threat is aroused by an incomprehensible sense of personal frustration: “Gordon’s income was two pounds a week. Therefore the hatred of modern life, the desire to see our money-civilization blown to hell by bombs, was a thing he genuinely felt.” (p. 91) So much perversity makes Orwell’s satire ineffective, the more so as the development of his theme through Gordon’s attitude is confused. It is difficult to say to what extent the latter’s unpleasantness is intentional since his criticism of the money-world is obviously Orwell’s. The fact that Gordon revolts with hysterical, self-pitying bitterness against a situation which he has deliberately chosen deprives it of the moral significance inherent in the acceptance of pain and suffering. But his final surrender to middle-class respectability is hardly less baffling. Modern society, Orwell concludes, is so organized that by ignoring money one is simply rejected from the stream of life. One of the secondary themes of the novel is that the god of money even prevents life from going on

And lays the sleek, estranging shield
Between the lover and his bride. (p. 162)

35Orwell protests against birth-control and asserts that really vital people multiply almost like animals whether they have money or not. Gordon’s family, in which nothing ever happened, is drawn back into life by Gordon’s new conviction that the only thing to do is to live decently and make the best of it, as well as by the coming birth of a new life in their midst. The novel ends with a scene reminiscent of Lawrence, one of the very few instances in Orwell’s work which suggests that life itself is stronger than any social evil and can save man from a doomed civilization.

36Decency is a word often used by Orwell to describe a quality of life based on traditions and morals which have their root in Christianity. He believed that its disappearance contributed to the modern man’s feeling of insecurity because it implied that anything might happen in this world of violence and brutality. To recapture a sense of traditional decency in English life is the main preoccupation of George Bowling, the hero of Coming Up for Air (1939). He is a fat, jovial insurance salesman, who leads a life of petty middle-class conformity in a London suburb and feels the tyranny of his nagging wife, his children and his job closing in upon him. At the beginning of the novel he describes his environment and the people of his class with ironical perspicacity:

  • 21 George Orwell, Coming Up for Air, London, 1959, pp. 13-14.

You know how these streets fester all over the inner-outer suburbs? Always the same. Long, long rows of little semi-detached houses – the numbers in Ellesmere Road run to 212 and ours is 191 – as much alike as council houses and generally uglier. The stucco front, the creosoted gate, the privet hedge, the green front door. The Laurels, the Myrtles, the Hawthorns, Mon Abri, Mon Repos, Belle Vue. At perhaps one house in fifty some anti-social type who’ll probably end in the workhouse has painted his front door blue instead of green. … After all, what is a road like Ellesmere Road? Just a prison with the cells all in a row. A line of semi-detached torture chambers where the poor little five-to-ten-pound-a-weekers quake and shiver, every one of them with the boss twisting his tail and the wife riding him like the nightmare and the kids sucking his blood like leeches. … In every one of those little stucco boxes there’s some poor bastard who’s never free except when he’s fast asleep.21

37Bowling explains that the middle-class people who live in these houses are at the mercy of the Building Companies as much as at the mercy of their employers. Fear is the main reason for their docility. Indeed, fear constantly haunts everyone’s consciousness. “We swim in it. It’s our element. Everyone that isn’t scared stiff of losing his job is scared stiff of war, or Fascism or Communism, or something.” (p. 19) This feeling developed after the First World War, which turned soldiers into nihilists with no moral support and afterwards brought them home to be changed from “gentlemen holding His Majesty’s commission” into “miserable out-of-works whom nobody wanted.” After his discharge from the army George Bowling discovered the realities of modern life. “And what are the realities of modern life? Well, the chief one is an everlasting, frantic struggle to sell things. With most people it takes the form of selling themselves – that’s to say, getting a job and keeping it.” (p. 130) Bowling was caught by the post-war spirit of competition, the overpowering anxiety to succeed at all costs and the merciless selfishness of the struggle: “Get on or get out. There’s plenty of room at the top. You can’t keep a good man down. … I’m neither a go-getter nor a down-and-out, and I’m by nature incapable of being either. But it was the spirit of the time. Get on! Make good! If you see a man down, jump on his guts before he gets up again.” (p. 134) It was only when he had secured a fairly good job and married a girl from the impoverished Anglo-Indian middle class that he realized what he was in for.

38Hatred is one of the worst consequences of the fear which prevails in modern life. Listening to a lecture on fascism at the Left Book Club, Bowling is struck by the fact that the lecturer is inspired by hatred only:

It was a voice that sounded as if it could go on for a fortnight without stopping. It’s a ghastly thing, really, to have a sort of human barrel-organ shooting propaganda at you by the hour. The same thing over and over again. Hate, hate. Let’s all get together and have a good hate. p. 151)

39When people are afraid they resort to violence in the frantic hope of forestalling their own destruction:

Let’s grab a spanner and get together, and perhaps if we smash in enough faces they won’t smash ours. Gang up, choose your Leader. Hitler’s black and Stalin’s white. But it might just be the other way about because in the little chap’s mind both Hitler and Stalin are the same. Both mean spanners and smashed faces. (p. 152)

40Orwell was anything but a pacifist, and since his Spanish experience he constantly advocated fighting against fascism. He is not pleading for peace but attacking the inhuman attitude of men who have lost all notion of traditional decency and are insane with hatred. Such men, Orwell contends, are to be found on the Left as well as on the Right: their fanatical attitude dehumanizes human relations. In an essay entitled Raffles and Miss Blandish Orwell shows that violence in modern life is a token of moral degradation. He describes the attitude of Raffles, the hero of Hornung’s detective stories: though a gangster, the latter accepted the values of society and never questioned its moral principles. In James Hadley Chase’s No Orchids for Miss Blandish there is little difference between the methods of the police and those of the gangsters; the author’s attitude to crime is equivocal, and if the reader sides with the police, it is because they are better organized and more powerful. Orwell attacks the indifference to morals which makes people accept violence, cruelty and perversion as normal and will eventually lead to the acceptance of an existence controlled by power and hatred. As George Bowling remarks, it is the after-war that matters because the brutal fanaticism responsible for the War will have transformed the world into a hate-world, a slogan world:

The coloured shirts, the barbed wire, the rubber truncheons. The secret cells where the electric light burns night and day, and the detectives watching you while you sleep. And the processions and the posters with enormous faces, and the crowds of a million people all cheering for the Leader till they deafen themselves into thinking that they really worship him, and all the time, underneath, they hate him so that they want to puke. It’s all going to happen. Or isn’t it? Some days I know it’s impossible, other days, I know it’s inevitable. (p. 152)

41Like Lawrence at the time of the First World War, Orwell had a prophetic vision of the kind of life that would result from the destruction of moral values and decency.

42As George Bowling walks along the Strand observing the insane, fixed expression that people have, he is reminded of his childhood at Lower Binfield, Oxfordshire. He realizes that the civilization in which he grew up has disappeared: “It will never come again the feeling inside you, the feeling of not being in a hurry and not being frightened.” (p. 106) Bowling expresses his nostalgia for the simple peaceful way of life that prevailed in English villages before the First World War. It was a stable life, in which people felt secure, never realizing that the old world was coming to an end or could ever change. “They didn’t feel the ground they stood on shifting under their feet.” (p. 110) He suddenly wants to see his village again and to recapture the feeling of peacefulness that one felt in the English countryside. He takes a few days’ holiday, and without telling his wife, who couldn’t possibly understand him, he goes back to Lower Binfield. On the way he has the impression that he is pursued by all the people who deprive the common man of his freedom and bully him into a soulless and joyless existence made of unnecessary and valueless loyalties:

… all the soul-savers and Nosey Parkers, the people whom you’ve never seen but who rule your destiny all the same, the Home Secretary, Scotland Yard, the Temperance League, the Bank of England, Lord Beaverbrook, Hitler and Stalin on a tandem bicycle, the bench of Bishops, Mussolini, the Pope. (pp. 109-10)

43All of them are after him shouting “There’s a chap who thinks he’s going to escape! There’s a chap who says he won’t be streamlined! He’s going back to Lower Binfield! After him! Stop him!” (p. 177) But escape into the past is impossible anyway. When he comes to Lower Binfield, he finds that his village is transformed beyond recognition; it is now a fair-sized town surrounded with industrial concerns. There is even a bomb factory nearby and a big military aerodrome. His native house has been turned into an “arty” tea-shop, Binfield Hall is a lunatic asylum, and the pond where he used to watch a big carp has been drained and is a refuse dump for the “nature lovers” who have built smart villas behind it. No one recognizes him or even seems to recall his name. He then sees that you can’t come up for air anywhere in England because there isn’t any air. “The dustbin that we’re in reaches up to the stratosphere.” (p. 220) While he is in Lower Binfield, a bomb falls accidentally from an English aeroplane manoeuvring above the town. A house is destroyed and several people are killed or wounded. This makes him realize for good how chimerical his desire to rediscover the old way of life was. His excursion has taught him with certainty that

It’s all going to happen. All the things you’ve got at the back of your mind, the things you’re terrified of, the things that you tell yourself are just a nightmare or only happen in foreign countries. The bombs, the foodqueues…. There’s no escape. Fight against it if you like, or look the other way and pretend not to notice, or grab your spanner and rush out to do a bit of face-smashing along with the others. But there’s no way out. (p. 228)

44He goes back to his trivial worries in Ellesmere Road utterly convinced that there is nothing to expect from the future except more hatred, violence and destruction.

45With Coming Up for Air Orwell reaches a further stage in the dramatization of a way of life which makes modern man head for catastrophe. In Keep the Aspidistra Flying Gordon Comstock settled down to middle-class respectability with a newly acquired conviction that this was the only way if he wanted to live decently in modern society. This is precisely the kind of life from which George Bowling feels the need to escape after fifteen years of marriage. Their way of life is the only possible one in an industrial and capitalistic society. Happiness may depend on successful personal relationships, but even Gordon and Rosemary would have found that their every-day life could not remain untinged with fear. Indeed, in all his novels Orwell shows that genuine personal relations cannot flourish in the oppressing atmosphere of modern life. Man has come to a deadlock, and retreat is impossible. By revisiting Lower Binfield, George Bowling commits the same mistake as his friend Porteous, but he understands that those who cling to the stable civilization which made life secure and peaceful, cling to something that is dead and are therefore dead themselves. Porteous, a public-school master solely interested in the past, remains unconcerned about public events: “Hitler? This German person? My dear fellow! I don’t think of him.” This makes Bowling reflect that “nearly all the decent people, the people who don’t want to go round smashing faces in with spanners, are like that. They’re decent, but their minds have stopped. … And all the decent people are paralysed. Dead men and live gorillas. Don’t seem to be anything between.” (p. 163)

  • 22 “Charles Dickens,” in Critical Essays, p. 59.
  • 23 “Looking Back on the Spanish War,” in Collected Essays, London, 1961, p. 206.
  • 24 “Charles Dickens,” p. 56.

46Yet, we may ask, if the old attitude to life is dead and better dead since it would lead England to defeat, why is Orwell so nostalgic and sentimental about the past? Some critics stress the fact that he glorifies a way of life which is essentially conservative and whose preservation would have meant the continuation of hard working conditions, little or no education for the poor and more generally a very unsatisfactory existence for the unprivileged. But this is rather beside the point because Orwell does not glorify or sentimentalize the hardships of the poor. He doesn’t regret pre-war working conditions but a quality of life which is essential to man’s spiritual peace: above all stability, which until the twentieth century was ensured by tradition. Neither materialism nor the hysterical fear which turn men into brutes will save them from the horrors of totalitarianism. Orwell wants decency to prevail as the best guarantee against the temptation to yield to fear and hate. It is the “native decency of the common man,”22 who, according to Orwell, merely wants to live the “decent, fully human life which is now technically achievable.”23 Orwell’s message may be compared to that of Dickens, which he describes as “Behave decently.”24 But it is gainsaid by his belief that decency can never counteract the effects of political fanaticism or war-mongering. With the majority of people decency is smothered by the petty cares of a harassed existence. In Coming up for Air Orwell succeeds better than in his previous novels in blending the experience of his main character with the development of his theme. He renders the atmosphere of fear and hatred which developed in pre-war days and coexisted with incredulity and indifference. At the same time, he shows how unreal and irrelevant these feelings and attitudes could become for the ordinary man facing the dismal realities of his everyday life.

47Orwell’s class-consciousness lies at the core of everything he wrote between Down and Out in Paris and London and 1984. He saw mankind as hopelessly divided into categories which imprisoned people into fixed rules and attitudes and made real communication impossible. The gap between the ruler and the ruled cannot be bridged more easily in Burmese Days than in 1984. In English society the passage from one class to another puts such a strain on the individual that it often entails a psychological breakdown. The characters in Orwell’s novels who explore a social underworld are in no way enriched by their experience. On the contrary, they are made keenly aware of their limitations as human beings. The restraint imposed upon life by group imperatives is a central theme in Orwell’s novels and essays; he felt that the English middle class in particular was subject to their overpowering pressure. This class is the real hero of Orwell’s pre-war novels. It is their problems and preoccupations that he dramatizes, and he obviously thought that, more than any social group, they were the victims of industrialism and progress. They were either unable to adapt themselves to new conditions or forced by financial and industrial tyrants into a life-time of depressing suburban conformity.

48Orwell accounts for the complexity of the English class system by showing that it is not entirely explicable in terms of money. The middle-class people with military and professional traditions have always considered themselves superior to the commercial class. Before the First World War they were still “gentlemen” like the richer upper-middle-class people, and after the War when their incomes were greatly reduced, they attempted to retain their gentility at all costs. They were much worse off than the rising middle class, who earned at least fairly decent wages in new commercial or industrial concerns, and in some cases they were even worse off than many working-class families who didn’t worry about keeping up appearances. In his pre-war novels he emphasizes the strain put on the young who are raised in the belief that they must keep up their standards but are too poor to live on equal terms with the people of the class to which they cling. It takes Gordon Comstock thirty years to become reconciled with life and clear up the confusion aroused by his education. George Bowling’s wife also comes from one of those decayed middle-class families:

  • 25 Coming Up [or Air, p. 139.

The essential fact about them is that all their vitality has been drained away by lack of money. In families like that, which live on tiny pensions and annuities there’s more sense of poverty, more crust-wiping and looking twice at sixpence, than you’d find in any farm-labourer’s family, let alone a family like mine. Hilda’s often told me that almost the first thing she can remember is a ghastly feeling that there was never enough money for anything. Of course, in that kind of family, the lack of money is always at its worst when the kids are at the school-age. Consequently, they grow up, especially the girls, with a fixed idea not only that one always is hard-up but that it’s one’s duty to be miserable about it.25

  • 26 The Road to Wigan Pier, p. 170.

49These people are usually unaware of the hard social realities which they or their children will some day have to face. Orwell’s work reflects his mixed feelings towards the impoverished section of the middle class. He satirizes them for their outdated outlook on life, but it is obvious from the works he wrote about 1935 that he was still influenced by their complex attitude towards money and class and that he was struggling to free himself from it. Although he hated their way of life and their submissiveness, he understood their predicament and the kind of morbid state of mind it could breed. Their confusion and their bitterness were due to the obsoleteness of a social structure which left them uncertain about their own position. The middle classes, he said, have developed an “attitude of sniggering superiority punctuated by bursts of vicious hatred” towards the working classes because in terms of income they almost belong with them but are afraid of being included in their ranks. “More and more of them find themselves in a sort of deadly net of frustration in which it is harder and harder to persuade yourself that you are happy, active or useful.”26

50Orwell came into contact with the real working class – not the social outcasts he describes in Down and Out in Paris and Lon-don – when he was commissioned by the editors of the Left Book Club to write a book on the unemployed. The outcome of his stay among northern coal-miners was The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), which did not answer the editors’ aim, for Orwell was not asked to state his views on the irreconcilability of classes, nor to question industrialism as such and still less to criticize English socialism. But his digressions from his original subject make this work the most eloquent testimony of the middle-class writer’s dilemma in the Thirties.

  • 27 Lawrence, whom Orwell takes as an example, made the same remark.

51Orwell does not idealize the working classes; his view of them, as of any other group, is ambivalent. He praises the traditions of the workers, the fact, for instance, that in a working-class home the father is always the master and not the woman or the baby as in a middle-class home. He describes the “warm, decent, deeply human atmosphere” of working-class life when the father is not out of work. Orwell found that atmosphere more congenial than that of a middle-class family. His approach to his subject is, as usual, quite unorthodox. He writes, for instance, that “to the working-class, the notion of staying at school till you are nearly grown up seems merely contemptible and unmanly,” (p. 117) and he mentions the workman’s contempt for the public-school boy. Orwell approves of the working-class attitude towards education because, as he says, they see through it and reject it. This may be surprising considering that education normally contributes to awareness, to a better under-standing of life and ultimately to better living conditions. Orwell probably meant to stress the realistic attitude of the working class towards a kind of education which didn’t prepare them for the work they would have to do. The “manly” attitude of the working classes is a sign of their vitality. When some of them struggle out of their class into the middle class, they often find “a sort of hollowness, a deadness, a lack of any warm human feeling.”27 Very often antagonism arises between proletarians and bourgeois when they are brought together. Like Wyndham Lewis, Orwell questions the sincerity of middle-class people who say they want equality but do not seriously intend to abolish class-distinctions and are not prepared to change their own habits.

  • 28 The Road to Wigan Pier, p. 138.

Why should a man who thinks all virtue resides in the proletariat still take such pains to drink his soup silently? It can only be because in his heart he feels that proletarian manners are disgusting. So you see he is still responding to the training of his childhood, when he was taught to hate, fear and despise the working class.28

52This kind of argument is irrelevant. Indeed, why should a middle-class man pick up bad manners because he wants to abolish class distinctions? Yet it is on the ground of such arguments that Orwell concludes that class prejudice can hardly be abolished. The lower classes smell is the inherent disease which makes prejudice against them ineradicable. His arguments imply that so long as people of different classes have such prejudices about each other, they had better remain separate. Orwell himself lived among workers who were extremely kind to him but always treated him as an outsider. In Spain he lived for a while in a classless society and wrote enthusiastically about it and became convinced that it is possible for human beings of different classes to associate without prejudice. But this was only possible in exceptional circumstances, for Orwell was a bourgeois and declared that he would always remain one; you can sympathize with the oppressed, live among them but not be of them. He drew attention to the problem aroused by the English class-system and called for a more realistic attitude towards it: economic status should be the main criterion, and the poorer middle class should get rid of their bias against the working class and be made to see that their real interest lies with them.

  • 29 The Lion and the Unicorn, p. 31.
  • 30 See Chesterton’s introduction to Great Expectations.

53It is easy to understand why in 1984 Orwell writes that “if there is hope, it lies with the proles.” Since the middle Thirties he believed that they alone had enough vitality and common sense to infuse the country with new vigour and save it from catastrophe. As he showed in his pre-war novels, modern man was caught between inescapable evils. Something had to be done to prevent his being crushed by his way of life and to save England from fascism and destruction. He thought England could only be saved by the common man; nothing could be hoped from the upper classes, who had lost their former ability but refused to admit it and took refuge in stupidity. “They could keep society in its existing shape only by being unable to grasp that any improvement was possible.”29 The “Common man” was for Orwell the ordinary type from the poorer middle class or the working class. He ceased to bother about subtle class distinctions, referring only to the rich and the poor and noting that the working-class way of life was becoming increasingly similar to that of the middle class. Ordinary men, he said, tend to unite when they face the same dangers: enslavement in a heartless society, destruction by war, totalitarianism. Here again we can compare Orwell’s belief in the common man with Dickens’s and remember Chesterton’s praise of Dickens for having so well conveyed the vitality of the common people in Trabb’s boy: it is the vitality of “real humanity,” of “those who have nothing but life.”30 Orwell trusted the common sense of the ordinary man, who cared less about political orthodoxy than about the practical results of political action. He wrote later that ordinary people had saved the British morale at the beginning of the War, because they had retained their integrity; they felt that they were fighting for democracy and knew that the War had to be won by their own efforts. However, Orwell’s references to the “common man” do not express his conviction that social barriers have disappeared. He does note in The Lion and the Unicorn the appearance in England of an intermediate social class, made of people who are most at home in the modern world, “technicians, higher-paid skilled workers, airmen and their mechanics,” etc. but they are merely a symptom of the evolution of society, not a proof that class-distinctions have been abolished.

54The Road to Wigan Pier starts with a description of the vile living conditions created by industrialism as Orwell experienced them in an appalling lodging-house in the mining area. “It was not only the dirt, the smells and the vile food, but the feeling of stagnant meaningless decay, of having got down into some subterranean place where people go creeping round and round, just like black-beetles, in an endless muddle of slovened jobs and mean grievances.” (p. 19) People like the Brookers, he writes, are one of the characteristic by-products of the modern world; they cannot be disregarded if one accepts the civilization that produced them. Orwell describes the nature of work in the mine and explains how the miners live on their small wages. He deals with the housing problem and conveys, perhaps unintentionally but with extraordinary vividness, the sense that escape from these rows of similar small comfortless black houses must be next to impossible. He discusses the budget of the unemployed and draws attention to the injustices of the Means Test. He stresses the deadening and debilitating effect of unemployment on everyone concerned, the human degradation it entails among the more miserable of the unemployed, and the devastating effects of unemployment on the morale of the workers. Contrary to what many people think, they do resent not being able to work, and are humiliated by it. One of the visible results of unemployment is physical degeneracy, which is increasingly widespread in England. This, Orwell argues, is not due to unemployment alone, which makes underfed, harassed, miserable people long for cheap luxuries, which somehow palliate their misery, rather than spend what they have on wholesome food. The degeneracy was already a noticeable feature before the First World War and is due ultimately to unhealthy ways of living generated by industrialism. Even in matters of food mechanization provides substitutes for the genuine products; they tempt people because of their shiny, standardized look but they corrupt taste. In Coming Up for Air George Bowling bites into a Frankfurt sausage and discovers that it is filled with fish: “It gave me the feeling that I’d bitten into the modern world and discovered what is was really made of. That’s the way we’re going nowadays. Everything slick and streamlined, everything made out of something else.” (p. 27) Orwell insists that mechanization has entailed a deterioration in the quality of English life which is discernible everywhere. It should be pointed out, however, that his analysis of the consequences of mechanization on modern man cannot compare with Lawrence’s. Orwell states facts and alludes to the causes which are responsible for them, but he does not really explore the process by which mechanization destroys man, and he does not show its effects on his characters.

55In the second part of The Road to Wigan Pier Orwell retraces, as it were, the road which took him from Mandalay to Wigan. We are reminded that his commitment to socialism was both intensely personal and representative of the dominant mood of the Thirties. Orwell’s conclusion to his inquiry in the distressed areas is that “we are living in a world in which nobody is free, in which hardly anybody is secure, in which it is almost impossible to be honest and to remain alive.” (p. 170) The only remedy is socialism:

And all the while everyone who uses his brains knows that socialism, as a world system and wholeheartedly applied, is a way out…. Indeed, socialism is such elementary common sense that I am sometimes amazed that it has not established itself already. (p. 171)

  • 31 1 In “The Nature of the Labour Party,” in Towards Socialism, ed. by P. Anderson and R. Blackburn, (...)

56Yet socialism instead of establishing itself is everywhere in retreat before fascism. The responsibility, says Orwell, lies mainly with the socialists themselves. One of his grievances is that many socialists are insincere. Another source of complaint is that so many people in the socialist party are cranks and keep off from the party more serious-minded people, who hesitate to associate with them. Orwell speaks of “all that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking towards the smell of ‘Progress’ like blue-bottles to a dead cat.” (p. 182) Many sensitive people who “have a feeling for tradition or the rudiments of an aesthetic sense” (p. 217) recoil from the idea of “Progress” eventually leading to some kind of godless Utopian world. Another type of socialist whom Orwell abhors is the social reformer like Shaw or Mrs. Webb. The main motive of these socialists is a “hypertrophied sense of order.” They want to make the world tidy by a set of reforms which “‘we’, the clever ones, are going to impose on ‘them’, the Lower Orders.” (p. 179)31

57Orwell’s objection to socialism is that it is bound up with the idea of mechanical progress, not merely as a necessary development but as an end in itself. Socialism, Orwell writes, is essentially an urban creed which grew up more or less concurrently with industrialism. Most socialists accept industrialism too readily; they want to develop it further, and present its achievements as their primary aim. But mechanical efficiency entails softness and degeneracy and frustrates the human need for effort and creation. The process “has itself become a machine, a huge glittering vehicle whirling us we are not certain where, but probably towards the padded Wells-world and the brain in the bottle.” (p. 205) It is not surprising then if the association “socialism-progress-machinery-Russia-tractor-hygiene-machinery-progress” should make some people hostile towards socialism. Orwell’s advice is not very helpful but it could hardly be so: “The machine has got to be accepted, but it is probably better to accept it rather as one accepts a drug – that is, grudgingly and suspiciously.” (p. 202) It is significant that in the middle of the political fervour which prevailed at the time in socialist circles, Orwell should have foreseen and drawn attention to a danger inherent in one of the major aims of contemporary socialism, namely the well-being of the masses through a highly mechanized way of life. Huxley had seen the danger before him, but Huxley was not a socialist. Orwell saw that the mechanization advocated by the socialists required collectivism and centralized control and that man could be made to live under a form of socialism in which he would be well fed but a slave. He does not yet emphasize the corrupting nature of centralized power but he does foresee the perils of excessive mechanization.

58At the end of his book Orwell makes a sensible proposition by suggesting that the aims of socialism should be redefined and the stress put on the ideal of justice and liberty. Socialism should be humanized and the people of the Left should momentarily drop their differences and concentrate on one essential purpose: the overthrow of tyranny. If they persist in their “bourgeois-baiting,” they will only frighten the sinking middle class, who cling to their gentility under the impression that it keeps them afloat. And it is these people who have contributed to the success of fascism in Germany. Orwell insists, somewhat naively, that if the real aim of socialism is made clear, every decent person will want to work for its establishment.

  • 32 Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, London, 1961.
  • 33 George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, London, 1959, p. 70.

59The Spanish Civil War was a disappointing experience for many intellectuals who had committed themselves to socialism in the Thirties. It provoked their withdrawal from Left-wing parties and their return to “liberalism.” Orwell also was disappointed but he turned against what he believed to be the main cause of his disappointment, the communist party, and his faith in the socialist ideal was strengthened. Orwell had gone to Spain as a reporter, but once there, he found that he could not be a mere spectator. Since he had letters of introduction from the Independent Labour Party, he joined the P.O.U.M., a Marxist organization with Trotskyist affinities. The P.O.U.M. line was that the war and the Revolution were inseparable. This became a much controverted opinion particularly after the defeat of the Republicans. It is perhaps idle to reflect that if the Revolution had not been crushed out by the government under the influence of the communists, the Republicans might have won the war. It is well known, that Franco won because he was backed by Germans and by Italian troups, whereas the Republicans were abandoned even by the Russians. But, as Hugh Thomas remarks in his history of the Spanish Civil War,32 the Spanish workers had lost their chief reason for fighting once the Revolution was abolished and they lost the privileges they had acquired. The communist position was that they must do away with revolutionary chaos for the sake of efficiency. It was better to win the war first and make the Revolution afterwards. At first, Orwell, though fighting with the P.O.U.M., preferred the communist view because they were more efficient. After the liquidation of the P.O.U.M. and of many of his friends he questioned the good faith of the communist leaders in Spain and accused them of having betrayed the Revolution: “The thing for which the communists were working was not to postpone the Spanish Revolution till a more suitable time, but to make sure that it never happened.”33

60It is obvious from Homage to Catalonia (1938) that Orwell’s participation in the Spanish War was a turning point in the development of his political outlook and strengthened its paradoxical character. He had enlisted to fight for “common decency.” In Barcelona at the beginning of the war he lived in a classless community which he had thought was impossible to establish.

The thing that attracts ordinary men to socialism and makes them willing to risk their skins for it, the ‘mystique’ of socialism, is the idea of equality; to the vast majority of people socialism means a classless society, or it means nothing at all. .. . And, after all, instead of disillusioning me it deeply attracted me. The effect was to make my desire to see socialism established much more actual than it had been before. (p. 112)

61When he came back from the front to Barcelona, he found that the atmosphere had deteriorated. Class-distinctions were reasserting themselves, and the civilian population was losing interest in the war. This did not shake his enthusiasm for the socialist ideal; the workers had been frustrated of their Revolution, but its aims seemed the more desirable. Orwell’s conclusion to his Spanish experience shows that he was more concerned with the human beings involved in the fight than with the triumph of any party policy:

When you have had a glimpse of such a disaster as this – and however it ends the Spanish war will turn out to have been an appalling disaster, quite apart from the slaughter and physical suffering – the result is not necessarily disillusionment and cynicism. Curiously enough the whole experience has left me with not less but more belief in the decency of human beings. (p. 247)

62This is really the first time that Orwell expresses his belief in man and his admiration for him instead of viewing him merely as a social type. Possibly, his concern and his affection for the “common man” dates from that period. It is also at that time that Orwell acquired political views which he defended energetically until his death. One of them is that whoever associates with people whose fundamental interest it is that a socialist society should not be established, actually contributes to the success of fascism. This is what communists did in Spain by allying with the liberals, who were opposed to any change in the structure of society. As time wore on, Orwell was increasingly convinced that communists and fascists were playing the same political game. He never changed his mind about Russian communism, and he considered the subsequent alliance of England with Russia as an alliance between enemies. The similarity between fascism and communism was another discovery he made in Spain; it sprang from a conviction that power necessarily corrupts, particularly when it is concentrated in a few hands. Of the corrupting effect of power, Orwell only had a glimpse in Spain, where the Russian purges of 1936-37 had some repercussions, but it made him aware of some of its possible consequences. One of them was that even a socialist revolution might subject the ordinary man to a form of slavery which could be worse than that of a liberal state. He also saw that truth was deliberately distorted for political purposes and for the first time alludes to the rewriting of history. But his belief that the spirit of man cannot be destroyed was not shaken until the Second World War.

  • 34 From a poem composed in honour of an Italian militiaman Orwell had known in Spain. Published at th (...)

But the thing I saw in your face
No power can disinherit
No bomb that ever burst
Shatters the crystal spirit.34

  • 35 The Lion and the Unicom, p. 56.
  • 36 Ibid., pp. 58-59.

63The spirit which animates Homage to Catalonia was preserved intact and found an outlet at the beginning of the Second World War in Orwell’s intense patriotism. It was urgent to save England from fascism as it had been urgent to save Spain a few years before; as in Spain, the only remedy was the Revolution. The basic idea of The Lion and the Unicorn or Socialism and the English Genius (1941) is derived from Orwell’s association with the P.O.U.M., namely that the War and the Revolution are inseparable. In the first essay, “England your England,” Orwell describes the “English Genius.” English civilization is as individual as that of Spain. Its most marked characteristics are its gentleness, the privateness of English life and a belief in the liberty of the individual. The English have a great respect for constitutionalism and legality, and their judges are incorruptible. True, they are hypocritical about their Empire, and England is the most class-ridden country under the sun, a land of snobbery and privilege, but the whole nation is united in moments of supreme crisis. This essay is not only an ardent expression of Orwell’s patriotism, it is an enthusiastic praise of the patriotism of the English, with the notable exception of the “Europeanized Intelligentsia.” In the second part of his essay and in the second essay entitled “Shopkeepers at War” Orwell discusses the decay of the ruling class: because they are fighting for their own privileges and therefore for the preservation of inequality, the ruling class cannot possibly reconcile their interests with those of the majority of Englishmen. They have always regarded Hitler and still regard him as their protector against bolshevism: though “they will not deliberately sell out … at every decisive moment they are likely to falter, pull their punches, do the wrong thing.”35 Therefore, Orwell says, it is time to make the Revolution, and the English workers will certainly be able to stand as much as the Spanish. “What is wanted is a conscious open revolt by ordinary people against inefficiency, class privilege and the rule of the old.”36 The third essay, “The English Revolution,” is a call to Revolution, for it is impossible to defeat Hitler while remaining economically and socially in the nineteenth century. Orwell presents a programme of reforms which aims at “turning the war into a revolutionary war” and England into a socialist democracy. Orwell recognized later that he had been wrong since the War was won without making the Revolution. But this does not impair the quality of his essay: its underlying theme is his attachment to England and the English way of life; its most impressive quality is the humaneness of his socialism and his understanding that it must be adapted to the particular character of the English, who, as he writes in his essay on Dickens, always “respond emotionally to the idea of human brotherhood.”

64Orwell’s attitude to war may seem at times contradictory: it appears from Coming Up for Air and Homage to Catatonia that he had a deep horror of it; yet he encouraged people to fight. He thought that war is wrong but sometimes necessary and that it is nonsense to pretend that one side is as good as another because they both use violence; there is something like fighting for a good cause. He had a strong dislike for pacifists and never missed an opportunity to criticize them. To the pacifist argument that if you don’t use violence, you will shame your aggressor out of it, Orwell answered:

  • 37 “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool,” in Inside the Whale and Other Essays. p. 114.

If you throw away your weapons, some less scrupulous person will pick them up. If you turn the other cheek, you will get a harder blow on it than you got on the first one. This does not always happen, but it is to be expected and you ought not to complain if it does happen.37

65Orwell was also convinced that many pacifists really wanted power, although on the surface they seemed to renounce it. He explains this in “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool,” and in “Politics vs Literature,” a study on Swift, in which he says that pacifist or anarchist visions of society show totalitarian tendencies. Tolstoy would not use violence, but he would enter people’s brains if he could and dictate their thoughts. The Houyhnhnms are not governed by law but by the dictates of “Reason”; they are not compelled to do anything, merely “exhorted” or “advised.”

  • 38 “Politics vs Literature,” in Inside the Whale and Other Essays, p. 132.

But public opinion, because of the tremendous urge to conformity in gregarious animals, is less tolerant than any system of law. … When human beings are governed by ‘love’ or ‘reason’, the individual is under continuous pressure to make him behave or think in exactly the same way as everyone else.38

  • 39 “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool,” p. 118.
  • 40 “Reflections on Gandhi,” in The Partisan Review Anthology, p. 64.

66The pacifists would not use violence, but they bully you into thinking as they do by even more compelling methods. “The distinction that really matters is not between violence and non-violence, but between having and not having the appetite for power.”39 Some extreme pacifists, Orwell says, start by renouncing power completely and end by warmly championing Hitler and antisemitism. He was convinced that by being a pacifist in time of war, one automatically helped the enemy and that it was easy to cry for peace when other people were defending your life. In his essay on Gandhi Orwell writes that Western pacifists never answer awkward questions honestly. For instance, they always evade the question: “What about the Jews? Are you prepared to see them exterminated? If not, how do you propose to save them without resorting to war?”40 Gandhi answered the question though in a staggering way: the Jews ought to commit collective suicide. To the pacifists who quoted Gandhi as an example of successful non-violent resistance, Orwell answered that Gandhi dealt with a fairly liberal government who gave him a chance to get a hearing. If he had lived under a totalitarian regime, he would have disappeared in the middle of the night, and no one would have heard of him again.

  • 41 The Lion and the Unicorn, p. 38.

67Though he was himself a Left-wing intellectual committed to politics under the pressure of events, Orwell was extremely critical of the English Left-wing intelligentsia. Like Wyndham Lewis, he accused them of insincerity. He felt in a position to criticize other intellectuals because his own ideas were drawn from personal experience and not from a theoretical humanitarianism. He condemned their internationalism, their irresponsibility and the discrepancy between their ideas and their actions. By embracing communism, “the patriotism of the deracinated,” they were transferring their allegiance from their own country to a foreign political party; they were thus undermining the capacity of their country to resist a foreign enemy. “England is perhaps the only country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own national-ism.”41 Their attitude during the Thirties was purely negative, and if England was able to keep on its feet in 1940, it was thanks to the atavistic patriotism of the English people in general, their ingrained feeling that they are superior to foreigners.

  • 42 “Wells, Hitler and the World State,” in Critical Essays, p. 94.

For the last twenty years the main object of the English Left-wing intellectuals has been to break this feeling down and if they had succeeded, we might be watching the S.S. men patrolling the London Streets at this moment. … The energy that actually shapes the world springs from emotions – racial pride, leader worship, religious belief, love of war – which liberal intellectuals mechanically write off as anachronism, and which they have usually so completely destroyed in themselves as to have lost all power of action.42

68This indictment of English intellectuals is clearly exaggerated, though there is some truth in Orwell’s assertion that the liberal socialists tend to ignore the powerful emotions which often dictate mass behaviour. Orwell even writes that power-worship and cruelty were among the motives which attracted the English intelligentsia to the U.S.S.R. This is a one-sided view which Orwell might have been at pains to substantiate.

69Orwell is on surer ground when he discusses the irresponsibility of the intellectuals and points to the gap between their opinions and their way of life. He says that they belong to the Left-wing middle class who are keen on ideology but remain attached to their bourgeois way of life:

  • 43 “Rudyard Kipling,” in Critical Essays, pp. 115-16.

All Left-wing parties in the highly industrialized countries are at bottom a sham, because they make it their business to fight against something which they do not really wish to destroy. They have internationalist aims, and at the same time they struggle to keep up a standard of life with which those aims are incompatible. We all live by robbing Asiatic coolies, and those of us who are ‘enlightened’ all maintain that those coolies ought to be set free but our standard of living, and hence our ‘enlightenment’ demands that the robbery shall continue.43

  • 44 Auden changed it later to “the fact of murder.”
  • 45 “Inside the Whale,” in Inside the Whale and Other Essays, p. 37.
  • 46 Ibid., p. 36.
  • 47 “The Prevention of Literature,” in Inside the Whale and Other Essays, p. 172.

70Another example of the shallowness of their views is the ease with which they changed their minds within a few years’ time. Many of them were pacifists up to 1935, then advocated war against Germany from 1935 to 1939, and then promptly cooled off when the war actually started. But the Left-wing intellectuals are at their most irresponsible when it comes to political orthodoxy. Orwell expresses admiration for Auden’s poem “Spain,” but to talk of “necessary murder”44 is only possible for a person to whom murder is a mere word. “To me,” Orwell writes, “murder is something to be avoided. So it is to any ordinary person. The Hitlers and Stalins find murder necessary, but they don’t advertise their callousness, and they don’t speak of it as murder…. Mr. Auden’s brand of amoralism is only possible if you are the kind of person who is always somewhere else when the trigger is pulled.”45 Orwell explains that most Left-wing intellectuals accept totalitarianism because they have no experience of anything but liberalism. The pattern of their life is usually the same: public school, university, a few trips abroad, then London. “To people of that kind such things as purges, secret police, summary executions, imprisonment without trial .. . are too remote to be terrify-ing.”46 What many of them do not grasp is that by their indifference to oppression and persecution they corrupt their own intellectual decency. It is sinister, Orwell writes, to realize that “the conscious enemies of liberty are those to whom liberty ought to mean most.”47

71In spite of Orwell’s severity towards Left-wing intellectuals, it would be wrong to suppose that he was not aware of the pressures to which they were subject once they adhered to a party. He understood their urge to commit themselves and the fact that, when they did so, they had to conform to the party line; yet he thought that, as intellectuals, they ought to have fully weighed the implications of their commitment. His own writing on political commitment shows how conscious he was that the intellectual was caught between irreconcilable claims on his conscience:

  • 48 “Inside the Whale,” in Inside the Whale and Other Essays, p. 39.

On the whole the literary history of the thirties seems to justify the opinion that a writer does well to keep out of politics. For any writer who accepts or partially accepts the discipline of a political party is sooner or later faced with the alternative: toe the line, or shut up.48

  • 49 “Notes on Nationalism,” in Collected Essays, p. 286.
  • 50 “Writers and Leviathan,” in Collected Essays, p. 433.

72“Toeing the line” is the more difficult as totalitarian doctrines are not only unchallengeable but also unstable. In his essay on nationalism Orwell writes that “in the modern world no one describable as an intellectual can keep out of politics in the sense of not caring about them.”49 He deals with the problem more thoroughly in “Writers and Leviathan,” in which he explains how intellectuals should keep the spirit of liberalism alive. They cannot prevent the invasion of literature by politics because to preserve a purely aesthetic attitude towards life is impossible in a world full of injustice and misery. Unfortunately, political responsibility usually forces the writer to yield to orthodoxy, which is not compatible with artistic integrity. Orwell suggests that the writers should distinguish between their political and their literary loyalties and recognize “that a willingness to do certain distasteful things does not carry with it any obligation to swallow the beliefs that usually go with them. When a writer engages in politics he should do so as a citizen, as a human being, but not as a writer. … Whatever else he does in service of his party, he should never write for it.”50

  • 51 See p. 335, note 1.
  • 52 “Looking Back on the Spanish War,” in Collected Essays, p. 206.
  • 53 Ignazio Silone, in The God that Failed, p. 104.
  • 54 Richard Wright, in The God that Failed, p. 160.
  • 55 André GIDE, quoted by Dr. Enid Starkie, in The God that Failed, p. 176.
  • 56 Stephen Spender, in The God that Failed, p. 238.
  • 57 Ibid., p. 245.

73Orwell’s main concern was to preserve man’s intellectual integrity, for he thought it was threatened by the ease with which many allowed political parties to benumb their consciousness. Though he may have lacked discrimination in his attacks against intellectuals, he was probably right in his analysis of their political conversion. Disappointed young men found in communism a relief to their depressing purposelessness. Orwell writes that it is a mistake to believe that young people are attracted by laziness; on the contrary, they are usually prepared to sacrifice themselves for a cause and to commit themselves to the ideology that requires most of them. The contributors to The God that Failed51 confirm his belief that many intellectuals turned to communism as to a religious faith to which they surrendered their whole personality. “The major problem in our time,” Orwell writes, “is the decay of the belief in personal immortality.”52 Silone substantiates this statement when he describes his own spiritual distress at giving up the faith of his ancestors: “Who can describe the dismay of once and for all renouncing one’s faith in the individual immortality of the soul?”53 To many, communism was a substitute for religion. Koestler talks of his love for the party, Wright of the sense of solidarity he enjoyed: “With the exception of the Church and its myths and legends, there is no agency so capable of making men feel the earth and the people upon it as the Communist Party.”54 Gide writes in his Journal: “My conversion is like a faith. My whole being is bent towards one single goal, all my thoughts even involuntary – lead me back to it.”55 Of Chalmers’s (Edward Upward’s) conversion Spender says: “It is obvious that there were elements of mysticism in his faith.”56 When Spender was in Republican Spain, he found that “there was a devoutness, a sense of hope which made [him] think of the crowds described in the New Testament.”57 The success of communism among intellectuals in the Thirties was due to the fact that it momentarily filled a spiritual void. What Gide calls “the submersion of individual responsibility in organized authority” sometimes led to disappointment, but there remained the craving for the sense of security afforded by the fact of belonging to a united body of men. After their disillusionment some found a refuge in religion, a few were driven to fascism, but the majority gave their life a new purpose when the Second World War broke out. Their recantation of communism proved that Orwell had on the whole been right when he accused them of committing themselves irresponsibly. Orwell himself had always been an opponent of Russian Communism. Even while he advocated a Socialist Revolution, he opposed those of its corollaries that threatened the human values which can only exist in a liberal society. Already before the Second World War he was drawing attention to the dangers of Right- or Left-wing totalitarianism. The Russo-German Pact obviously bore out for him his conviction that fascists and communists had much in common. The German attack upon Russia did not make him change his mind. He wrote Animal Farm when enthusiasm for Russia was at its height. It was precisely this enthusiasm that made him feel people were as blind to the evils of totalitarianism as they had been in 1936.

74Orwell’s last two novels have much in common, though they dramatize two different stages in the history of dictatorship and treat them in completely different ways. They both take to its ultimate conclusion Orwell’s belief that humanity is ineradicably divided into the powerful and the weak, who are also the clever and the unaware. Orwell’s sympathy always goes to the latter, but his presentation of the ordinary men for whose sake the Revolution is supposedly achieved is equally disparaging in the two books. The animals or “proles” are treated kindly, yet they are so stupid that they cannot possibly avoid being exploited. Orwell suggests in fact that the state of subjection in which they are kept is the human condition. His vision is so pessimistic as to imply that mankind never makes any real progress.

75The story of Animal Farm (1945) is too well known to be told in detail. Inspired by an old boar, the animals of Manor Farm revolt against their farmer and establish an Animals’ Republic. They rename it Animal Farm and work for the setting up of a free and equalitarian community. This proves more difficult than the overthrowing of their tyrant. The pigs, who are cleverer than the other animals, assume the direction of the farm and gradually form a new governing aristocracy as powerful and tyrannical as that of the human beings. The failure of the Revolution is confirmed when the revolutionary motto “All animals are equal” becomes “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others” and the animals can no longer distinguish between pigs and human beings. The allegory clearly retraces the history of the Russian Revolution up to the Second World War: the early difficulties encountered by the Republic, its isolation from the rest of the world until it became evident that it was definitely established, the struggle for power between Stalin and Trotsky, the trials in the late Thirties, the Russo-German pact, the subsequent attack of Russia by Germany, and finally Russia’s association with the Allies and the identification of its interests with theirs. These events presented in the simple allegorical terms of a beast fable form the background to the struggle of the animals to attain equality, freedom and economic security until it becomes clear that they have merely exchanged one tyrant for another. The story is told with admirable simplicity and conciseness.

76The satire in Animal Farm does not bear on the Russian Revolution only; its meaning extend to all revolutions and authoritarian forms of government. If the animals, who are animated by the most generous motives towards each other, do not succeed in maintaining equality, surely there must be some corrupting element in the exercise of power which destroys the fruits of the Revolution. It is evident from the start that the pigs intend to take advantage of the privileged position which their abilities give them over the other animals. Orwell seems to have been inspired by James Burnham, to whose work he devoted an essay:

  • 58 “Second Thoughts on James Burnham,” in Collected Essays, p. 353.

Society is of its nature oligarchical, and the power of the oligarchy always rests upon force and fraud…. All historical changes finally boil down to the replacement of one ruling class by another.58

77And further:

  • 59 Ibid., p. 372.

The masses, it seems, have vague aspirations towards liberty and human brotherhood, which are easily played upon by power-hungry individuals and minorities. So that history consists of a series of swindles in which the masses are first lured into revolt by the promise of Utopia, and then, when they have done their job, enslaved over again by new masters.59

78Orwell also illustrates Burnham’s conviction that the great mass of people will always be apolitical; that is why a self-seeking, hypocritical minority can take advantage of the brainless mob, whose destiny it is to be always led or driven. This is what is so disheartening about Animal Farm: Orwell takes it for granted that the masses are stupid; at no moment in the story is there any sign of hope that they will ever achieve a higher degree of consciousness. The fact that some of them at least learn how to read does not make them cleverer or more capable of doing anything but the specific task for which they were apparently born. The easiness with which they agree to all the decisions of the pigs without always fully realizing their implications suggests that they hardly need to be made less conscious since they are not conscious to begin with. Boxer, who personifies the common man’s faith in the Revolution and his willingness to sacrifice his own life to its success, is the blindest and most stupid of all, although he is also the most pathetic. After the slaughter of the animals who have confessed their guilt to Napoleon, Clover realizes that they have been betrayed, but she is unable to express her thoughts and that of her comrades, and the animals accept their fate because they don’t know any better:

  • 60 George Orwell, Animal Farm, Penguin Books, 1963, pp. 75-76.

As Clover looked down the hillside her eyes filled with tears. If she could have spoken her thoughts, it would have been to say that this was not what they had aimed at when they had set themselves years ago to work for the overthrow of the human race. These scenes of terror and slaughter were not what they had looked forward to on that night when old Major first stirred them to rebellion. If she herself had had any picture of the future, it had been of a society of animals set free from hunger and the whip, all equal, each working to his capacity, the strong protecting the weak. … Instead – she did not know why – they had come to a time when no one dared speak his mind, when fierce, growling dogs roamed everywhere, and when you had to watch your comrades torn to pieces after confessing to shocking crimes. There was no thought of rebellion or disobedience in her mind. She knew that, even as things were, they were far better off than they had been in the days of Jones, and that therefore all else was needful to prevent the return of the human beings. Whatever happened, she would remain faithful, work hard, carry out the orders that were given to her, and accept the leadership of Napoleon. But still, it was not for this that she and all the other animals had hoped and toiled. It was not for this that they had built the windmill and faced the bullets of Jones’s guns. Such were her thoughts, though she lacked the words to express them.60

79Orwell expresses the shattering of the socialist dream with moving simplicity. His vision of a socialism exclusively centered on liberty and equality was always Utopian. By exposing the inevitable deterioration of the revolutionary process, Orwell seems to be shedding his last hope for a better world.

80The theme of Animal Farm is that power corrupts whoever holds it. The neighbours of Animal Farm are certainly not presented in a more favourable light than the aristocracy of pigs. Orwell satirizes the Western powers who first attempted to undermine the Revolution and spread innumerable lies about it, then made an alliance with Russia when their own countries were no longer threatened with the revolutionary spirit. Pilkington’s cynical remark “If you have your lower animals to contend with, we have our lower classes” (p. 118) shows that the author makes little difference between one kind of ruler and another. Pilkington’s admiration for the discipline and orderliness which prevail in the Animals’ Republic points clearly to the aims of all rulers whether capitalist or communist: the exploitation of submissive masses by a privileged minority. It is mainly in their means that rulers differ. Orwell shows how much easier it is to impose hardships on the masses for the sake of an ideal. When Squealer tells the animals that bravery is not enough, that “Loyalty and obedience are more important. Discipline, comrades, iron discipline! That is the watchword for today,” (p. 50) they are somewhat reluctant but they finally obey. They do not protest when their comrades are slain and they are made to watch “a pile of corpses lying before Napoleon’s feet while the air [is] heavy with the smell of blood.” (p. 47) They are also reconciled to the idea that one generation must be sacrificed for the sake of the next. All this is possible only because the masses suffer of their own accord for the attainment of their Utopia. As time goes on, they no longer have any standards of comparison. They lead hard and hungry lives, and they are easily kept in check by a showy and carefully fostered patriotism:

They found it comforting to be reminded that, after all, they were truly their own masters and that the work they did was for their own benefit. So that, what with the songs, the processions, Squealer’s list of figures, the thunder of the gun, the crowing of the cockerel, and the fluttering of the flag, they were able to forget that their bellies were empty at least part of the time. (p. 98)

81All this shows the force of what Orwell calls “the mystique of socialism,” the ideal of equality, for the sake of which people are prepared to accept anything.

82Is Orwell’s message then that all revolutions inevitably fail? Does Benjamin, the old donkey who sees through the pigs’ game, express the author’s opinion when he says that “hunger, hardship, disappointment are the unalterable law of life?” (p. 111) Orwell certainly expresses the disappointment of the common man, who expected so much from the Revolution, came so near to the goal, then saw his expectations once more thwarted. Yet the masses accept their fate less grudgingly than before the Revolution. They are still in bondage, but they are now under the illusion that they possess something, that they are co-owners of all that is achieved on their territory. They are in some measure prevented from revolting against their new rulers by the fact that the latter come, after all, from their own ranks. Although Orwell caricatures Soviet Russia and what he considers as the cynical hypocrisy of its leaders, Animal Farm is also a satire on the means used by clever men intoxicated with the exercise of power, who resort to evil means to ensure its continuance. The worst of these means is what Koestler calls “the dialectics of the unconscious,” the subtle and clever process by which reality and truth are altered. In Animal Farm Squealer is a master at deceiving credulous animals by a subtle blend of persuasion and threat which reduces them to silence because they are confused and don’t know exactly where they stand. Even the past is modified and either given a new meaning or denied altogether. The commandments which rule their lives can be amended from one day to another without the animals being consulted, so that very soon the democratic spirit is destroyed. The instability of their beliefs further increases the confusion of the animals and induces them to accept blindly what they are told, which is the only way for them to remain orthodox and, so they think, not to endanger the success of their cause. It is also the only way in which they can make sure of their own safety, as they are sometimes made to realize with uneasy and uncomprehending amazement. At the end of the story the farm is renamed Manor Farm, and we are reminded of Stalin’s endeavour to revive the myth of Old Russia:

  • 61 Louis FISCHER, in The Cod that Failed, p. 216.

If Trotsky was a fascist and Ivan the Terrible a soviet hero, all standards of judgment vanished and nobody knew what to believe. To-night, the angels of this morning might be declared devils. The resulting mental confusion conduced to hypocrisy and automatic unthinking acceptance of the unpredictable revelations from the heights of the Kremlin. Therein lay at least a minimum of security.61

  • 62 Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon, London, 1961, p. 242.

83Through the attitude of the lower animals Orwell shows that everyone is responsible for the establishment of tyranny: whatever the reasons for which people accept the alteration of truth and the decay of the standards of their community, they are themselves contaminated by attitudes which their acquiescence helps to maintain. When they confess to crimes which they have not committed, they are only consistent with their own acceptance of anything that may serve the Revolution. As Koestler writes in Darkness at Noon, “The accused confessed because they had been rotted by the Revolution which they served.”62 Indeed, this is how Rubashov explains his own intention to confess:

  • 63 Ibid.

They were too deeply entangled in their own past, caught in the web that had spun themselves, according to the laws of their own twisted ethics and twisted logic; they were all guilty, although not of those deeds of which they accused themselves.63

  • 64 “How much rubbish this war will sweep away, if only we can hang on throughout the summer. War is s (...)

84The belief that anyone is guilty who takes part in a revolution and tries by all means to ensure its success implies that any revolution contains its own bad seeds and raises again the question of ends and means. Orwell was willing to use bad means to some extent (war, for instance) to reach a good end (such as the defeat of fascism). Obviously, he simply considered war as one of the traditional means used by man to defend or recover legitimate rights, though he doesn’t seem to have fully realized the extent of its destructiveness.64 Still, according to him, war did not violate the nature of man, whereas the means by which the existence of totalitarian states is ensured corrupts the very essence of man, his spirit and his individuality.

851984 (1949) is Orwell’s final desperate warning against the danger of allowing the state to control the thoughts and the inner life of the individual. Like Animal Farm, the book is too well known to be described in detail, but the principles that underlie the dictatorship Orwell has imagined need some explanation. They are expounded in The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, supposedly written by Emmanuel Goldstein. The latter, formerly a hero of the Revolution, has left the state and opposes it from the outside by inspiring a brotherhood of opponents of the regime within the country. His pamphlet, which is said to be an excellent imitation of Trotsky’s way of writing, makes clear the slogans which the party hammers into the consciousness of its members:


86War is Peace is the state’s fundamental slogan because it is only by maintaining a continuous state of war that the men in power succeed in perpetuating their authority and in keeping the peace within the country. The world is divided into three super-states, which are constantly at war and whose inhabitants are never allowed to communicate. The same system prevails in the three states with slight differences and under different names. The three world powers need not even be at war because they are entirely self-sufficient. In so far as there is any cause for conflict, it is that some disputed territories are reserves of cheap labour and that each state wants to acquire a ring of bases to strengthen its position. By a sort of tacit agreement they don’t use the atomic bomb, which they all possess, because this would entail the destruction of their organized society and of their own power. As a matter of fact, the real purpose of this state of war, which should never lead to any decisive victory since this would put a stop to it, lies in its psychological effect on Party members. It stimulates the fear, the hatred, the adulation of leaders and the mood of orgiastic triumph that are necessary to foster the credulous and ignorant fanaticism which is the strongest support of the oligarchy. War thus provides an emotional basis for a hierarchical society, but it also provides an economic one, for it uses up the produces of industrialism which would otherwise contribute to raise the general standard of living. If the great mass of people who are stupefied by poverty were richer and enjoyed too much leisure and security, they would learn to think for themselves and would eventually overthrow the hierarchical society, whose stability thus depends on the poverty and ignorance of its inhabitants. War is thus made to play the part performed by comfort and hedonism in Brave New World.

  • 65 George ORWELL, 1984, Penguin Books, 1956, p. 169.

87Ignorance is strength applies equally to the mass of “proles” and to the members of the Outer Party. From the proletarians there is little to fear; they can be granted freedom because most of them cannot think anyway. In Oceania proles and animals are free. But among Party members and the new aristocracy made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists and professional politicians the smallest inclination to independent thinking must be crushed at once. The best means of ensuring orthodoxy is of course education; the future aristocracy are trained from childhood in the practice of crimestop, blackwhite and double-think. “Crimestop is the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought.”65 It means in fact “protective stupidity.” Blackwhite is “a loyal willingness to say that black is white when party discipline demands this. But it also means the ability to believe that black is white and more to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.” (p. 170)

88Doublethink is a vast system of mental cheating by which power is maintained through endless contradictions:

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. … Doublethink lies at the very heart of Ingsoc, since the essential act of the Party is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. (p. 171)

89Even the names of the Ministries are examples of doublethink. The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. Doublethink makes it possible for the Party to control the thoughts of its members. The tragedy of modern civilization is that politicians are able to exploit the means invented by scientists to control and even destroy the spirit of man.

90Goldstein’s pamphlet describes Orwell’s vision of a class-ridden humanity and reasserts his belief that no real advancement ever takes place among the lower classes:

Throughout recorded time, and probably since the end of the Neolithic Age, there have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle and the Low. They have been subdivided in many ways, they have borne countless different names, and their relative numbers, as well as their attitude towards one another, have varied from age to age; but the essential structure of society has never altered. Even after enormous upheavals and seemingly irrevocable changes, the same pattern has always reasserted itself, just as a gyroscope will always return to equilibrium, however far it is pushed one way or the other…. Of the three groups, only the Low are never even temporarily successful in achieving their aims. It would be an exaggeration to say that throughout history there has been no progress of a material kind.… But … from the point of view of the Low, no historic change has ever meant much more than a change in the name of their masters. (p. 162-3)

91From the beginning of the twentieth century the true aims of socialism, liberty and equality, have been more and more openly abandoned. The new political movements – Ingsoc in Oceania, Neo-Bolshevism in Eurasia, Death-worship in Eastasia – have “the conscious aim of perpetuating unfreedom and inequality.” (p. 163) In Oceania the proles are left alone, unless they are gifted or intelligent and liable to show signs of discontent. In this case they are simply exterminated by the thought police. But the majority of the proles are not even aware that they are oppressed: “Left to themselves they will continue from generation to generation and from century to century, breeding and dying, not only without any impulse to rebel, but without the power of grasping that the world could be other than it is.” (p. 168)

92Yet in the first part of the book Winston Smith repeatedly asserts that “if there is hope it lies in the proles,” because they have remained human and have preserved an essential feature of an older civilization: personal relationships. They live naturally, they enjoy life for its own sake, and they have normal sexual relations, whereas these are forbidden to Party members, in whom the Party tries to kill the sex instinct or to distort it. It is this natural element in man which, so Winston hopes, will in the end be strong enough to overthrow the tyranny of the Party. At the same time, he has doubts about the capacity of the proles to revolt: “Until they have become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.” (p. 160) Orwell’s treatment of the proles in 1984 is frequently criticized because the hope he puts in them is not substantiated and is even contradicted by his scepticism about their capacity to revolt. Indeed, as in Animal Farm, the degree of consciousness he is willing to grant them is very low. It is also unlikely that any dictatorial government would simply ignore eighty per cent of a country’s population. These inconsistencies in Orwell’s vision of society are due on the one hand to his ambivalent attitude towards the proles, whom he sees as human but hopelessly ineffectual, while on the other hand, he considers the powerful as indomitable tyrants.

93In the first part of the book Winston Smith describes his life as a member of the Outer Party in London, the major city of Airstrip One, as England has been renamed. He is a potential rebel, although his motives and his aims are extremely vague. He is merely conscious of an undefined hankering for a more human world and of a desire to escape, even momentarily, the tyrannical watching of the telescreen and the thought-police. That is why he likes to wander in the proletarian quarters. He meets there a Mr. Charrington who keeps a junk-shop and sells him a diary and a coral paperweight, which to Winston symbolize an earlier, more human civilization. Charrington offers to rent him a room in which there is no telescreen and where he could occasionally take refuge from the pressure of his ordinary activities. Winston works in the Ministry of Truth; his main job is to keep the past up-to-date, i.e., to rewrite it to make it suit the Party orthodoxy of the day. The mutability of the past is, with Newspeak and doublethink, one of the sacred principles of Ingsoc. History is no longer a science, it can be modified or reinterpreted according to the needs of the Party. By emphasizing its mutability, the Party undermines the trust of man in his own judgment and makes him doubt his ability to think. “The frightening thing,” Winston reflected, “was that it might all be true. If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened – that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?” (p. 31) Similarly, Newspeak affects the consciousness of men by reducing their range of thought to make sure that Party members remain orthodox. Symes, who works on the Newspeak dictionary, comments enthusiastically on his work:

We’re cutting the language down to the bones. … It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. … The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect. … Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness. (p. 46)

94This is illustrated by a man whom Winston watches and hears talking in a restaurant. Winston doesn’t understand all he says, but it is obvious that it is perfectly orthodox and that the man talks like an automaton:

Winston had a curious feeling that this was not a real human being but some kind of dummy. It was not the man’s brain that was speaking, it was his larynx. … It was a noise uttered in unconsciousness, like the quacking of a duck. (p. 47)

  • 66 “Politics and the English Language,” in Inside the Whale and Other Essays, p. 150.
  • 67 Ibid., p. 153.

95In an essay entitled “Politics and the English Language” (1946) Orwell explains in what way language can corrupt thought. He asserts that “Modern language at its worst consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.”66 Orwell was mainly attacking political language, whose vagueness, he said, gives a false picture of reality. For instance, “when defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out in the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.”67 If peasants are robbed of their farms and sent along the roads, this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers, etc. Such euphemisms are bred by insincerity, which, according to Orwell, is the great enemy of clear language. Orwell’s own prose is simple and clear; it indicates his determination to convey an unequivocal picture of reality and bears the mark of his strong individualism. He was extremely concerned with language because he thought that its decay was connected with the prevailing political chaos since it was used as an instrument for concealing or preventing thought. “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” (1984, p. 157) In his pamphlet on Newspeak, published as an appendix to 1984, Orwell shows how language is made to influence the world-view, the mental habits, and ultimately the life of Party members. Newspeak is based on a reduction of vocabulary; it is hoped that this will diminish the range of thought and make heretical thinking impossible. The language is divided into three vocabularies, one for everyday life, one for political purposes, and a third one consisting of scientific and technical terms. The special function of these vocabularies is to destroy meanings, to cancel out words and, by doing so, to do away with the concepts they stand for. The system was already used in Oldspeak though not on such a high scale. A good example is the word Comintern, which suggests a “tightly knit organization and a well defined body of doctrine,” (p. 248) whereas Communist International “calls up a picture of universal human brotherhood.” (p. 248) One can thus alter the meaning of an expression by abbreviating it, and this is done so systematically in Newspeak that the possibility of expressing unorthodox opinions is destroyed.

96Winston Smith is himself fairly typical of the new order. His participation in the two minutes hate without being able to resist intoxication, although the object of his hatred is by turns Goldstein or Big Brother himself, and his sadistic desire to make Julia suffer before he knows that she wants him, show to what extent he allows his consciousness to be drowned by the sub-human frenzy aroused by the collective expression of hatred. However, he becomes aware that so long as he retains his consciousness, he will stay human, that this is the essential part of himself that he must preserve. At the same time, he realizes that his unorthodoxy will entail his annihilation, though he is far from suspecting what form it will take. He cannot refrain from rebelling, not because he is driven by generous motives but simply because his humanity, hence his power to think, has not yet been completely destroyed by the system. The immediate cause of his sin against the Party is another feature of his humanity: the sexual impulse. He has an illicit affair with Julia and is supposedly initiated into the brotherhood by O’Brien, a member of the Inner Party, who professes to belong to the underground movement. Winston’s and Julia’s willingness to do anything to help the brotherhood, including committing murder, cheating, forging, blackmailing, corrupting the minds of children, distributing habit-forming drugs, encouraging prostitution etc. shows how far they have already been corrupted by the Party, which has taught them that all means are justified to reach a desirable end. Still, they are apparently not prepared to renounce or betray each other, which again might be interpreted as a sign of Orwell’s faith in humanity, even if, ultimately, Winston and Julia are destroyed and do betray each other. Indeed, there is nothing heroic about Orwell’s characters: Winston Smith is an average man who has no ideal, no personal values to incite him to rebellion. Julia is unaware of the corrupting effect of Party methods; with a cynicism apparently bred from a natural instinct for self-preservation, she never questions its teachings nor its oppressiveness so long as it doesn’t directly interfere with her own life. She has learned to deceive the authorities and does it with impunity while she has casual affairs with Party members. It is only when she really falls in love that she becomes a prey worth the Party’s attention.

97If people like Winston and Julia, who have been conditioned by the Party and are not particularly intelligent or courageous, have a nostalgia for a human world and are almost unavoidably led to infringe the instructions of the Party, then there must be some natural element in them which refuses to be subdued by an inhuman tyranny and compels them to rebel. Winston is convinced that not only love but the animal instinct, “the simple, undifferentiated desire” will in the end tear the Party to pieces, for he thinks that “they can’t get inside you. If you can [eel that staying human is worthwhile, even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them. … They could lay bare in the utmost detail everything that you had done or said or thought; but the inner heart, whose workings were mysterious even to yourself, remained impregnable.” (p. 136) The horrible discovery that he is to make is precisely that they can get inside you and destroy your innermost being and that this is the way in which you are being annihilated.

98Winston and Julia are arrested by Mr. Charrington, who turns out to be a member of the thought police. The third part of the book describes the process by which Winston is finally destroyed spiritually. It makes clear what until then Winston had vainly attempted to grasp. He had written in his diary I understand How, I do not understand WHY: why when war is not even necessary, when for the first time in history it has become technically possible to feed everyone on earth and equality could at last become a reality, why this horrible oppression should be imposed on humanity. The tortures and humiliations to which Winston is subjected by O’Brien, the Party inquisitor, are intended to destroy his power of arguing and reasoning, to make him distrust his own mind and to make him surrender his individuality completely and of his own “free will.” At last he understands WHY, which is simply that power is an end in itself, coveted for its own sake. “One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a Revolution; one makes the Revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.” (p. 212) How can a man best assert his power over another? By making him suffer; until a man suffers you can never be sure that he is not obeying his own will. “Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.” (p. 214) “If you want a picture of the future,” O’Brien says, “imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.” (p. 215) Under the pressure of torture Winston admits that two and two make five, but he doesn’t surrender his individuality to the Party until he is threatened with having his face devoured by rats, of which he has a hysterical and uncontrollable fear. Then he betrays Julia by crying that this should be done to her. After this he is completely broken down; he has no self-respect or dignity left. When he is let out of the Ministry of Love, his conversion is complete. Looking at Big Brother on the telescreen, he realizes that he loves him, and he surrenders his whole being to him willingly. “The long-hoped-for bullet was entering his brain.” (p. 239) He is spiritually dead.

  • 68 Arthur Koesteler, op. cit., p. 101.

991984 owes much to Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. Orwell obviously drew from it his conception of the means by which the Party machinery modifies the human consciousness and forces man to rely on the Party authority instead of his own thought to achieve certainty. Doublethink, for instance, is simply a rationalization of the requirements of the Party as formulated by Rubashov. The latter’s increasing self-doubts make him capitulate not out of cowardice but out of logic. Unlike his fellow-prisoner, who has a rigid code of honour and is prepared to die for it, Rubashov has no clearly defined moral values and must work out his rule of conduct for himself. He realizes that he will be defeated because he believes in the infallibility of the Party and no longer trusts his own motives of action: “I no longer believe in my infallibility. That is why I am lost.”68 Orwell sharply criticizes man’s surrender to an authority that deems itself infallible and is prepared to impose complete submission by any means whatever. To submit is to give up all the values acquired through centuries of culture, which the twentieth-century Revolution was precisely intended to exalt for the benefit of all. In Darkness at Noon subjection is at least justified by the revolutionary necessity. Not so in 1984, in which sheer craving for power is the only motive. Though it seems unlikely that a dictatorship could be maintained without even a pretence of ideology, this is an interesting explanation. It accounts for much that seems uncanny in modern politics, particularly for the infliction of pain without the least prospect of gaining anything by it, a fact which in the Second World War revealed a terrifying strain of barbarism in men proud of their civilization. Winston’s rebellion against the soulless tyranny of the Party is obviously useless. O’Brien’s cruelty has no other aim than the gratification of a vicious instinct.

100Orwell has staged a conflict which proves of standing importance in modern every-day life: it is provoked by the pressure to conform imposed by most political parties on their members and by the condemnation of independent thinking not only by Party authorities but by the majority of people. Orwell merely carried the phenomenon to the extreme forms it might take and sometimes does take. It often leads to the destruction of democracy by the democrats themselves when their instrument – party politics – becomes more important than their aims. Even English socialism, Orwell suggests, could lead to totalitarianism. Submission to a party indicates a shift in ethical values which is liable to entail the complete disappearance of morals. Goodness becomes synonymous with orthodoxy and, as Orwell remarks in his essay on Swift, the pressure of the group on the individual is so strong as to make sanity equivalent to conformity. “‘You would not make the act of submission which is the price of sanity,’” (p. 200) O’Brien tells Winston. Again, the tendency to regard unorthodox individuals as somehow unbalanced and therefore unsound is very noticeable in countries which champion democracy and where the word “different” has often come to mean “social outcast.” In 1984 the alienation which results from individualism is punished as a crime. Human nature is automatized, instincts are canalized and exploited for political purposes, politics invade the existence of man and annihilate him. An artificial order is imposed on life not, as in Brave New World, in order to regulate it but to destroy it: “vaporization,” as death is euphemistically called, is the decisive factor in the formation of an élite of right-thinkers and conformists. Since the external reality is subject to interpretation, since it exists only in the mind, control over the mind entails control over history, over the past, the present and even the future. Younger generations never learn to think for themselves; they cannot trust their own judgment nor understand in what way their inner being is destroyed by the Party. Of course, heresy has always been persecuted. What is new is that scientists have found the means to detect it even before it is expressed. Science, or such branches of it as are still explored in 1984, contributes to the destruction of man rather than to the improvement of his condition.

101Orwell’s picture of the desolation, the lack of warmth, the inhuman relations among men in an overorganized state is over-powering. Man is completely isolated and cannot even derive hope from sharing his misery with other human beings. There is no room for friendship or love; only the sexual impulse remains an irrepressible manifestation of human nature. Orwell has chosen to show the horror of tyranny as it might be experienced in modern society, but he dissociates it from the artfulness with which it is often combined, which is consistent with his theory of power for its own sake. In his negative Utopia the Party is no longer a group of fallible human beings but a god-like and all-powerful abstraction which arrogates to itself the power of life and death. Yet it seems to me that in the last part of 1984, particularly when he shows Winston threatened with rats, Orwell fails in the same way as Wyndham Lewis in the third part of The Human Age: there are limits to the horrors which one can imagine, and although recent history has shown that these limits can be extended very far, to transcend them in fiction often defeats the intention of the author. He provokes the desired shock but also such repulsion for the whole scene that the reader cannot even pity the victim. By a curious but not unfrequent reaction, the witnesses of a terrible and undeserved punishment are often as angry against the victim as against the torturer, particularly if it deprives the victim of his dignity. Furthermore, Orwell doesn’t seem to have realized that O’Brien’s relentless logic sometimes drives him to the border of insanity and that this might be a source of corruption more dangerous than rebellion to the preservation of the Party’s authority. He has imagined a purely static society, considering that an oligarchy powerful enough could stay in power for ever. One might object that history rarely comes to a stop. On the other hand, when a dictatorship is maintained for more than thirty years, release must seem highly improbable. For Winston Smith there is no alternative to Ingsoc; though he hopes in the proles, he cannot contemplate the possibility of their revolting in his lifetime.

  • 69 Richard Gerber, “The English Island Myth, Remarks on the Englishness of Utopian Fiction,” The Crit (...)
  • 70 William Empson, Milton’s God, London, 1961, p. 235.

102In Milton’s God William Empson discusses an article in which the author asserts that “Orwell [has] filled his political satire with unconscious or half-conscious meanings of a different kind,” namely man’s “complete, unconditional surrender to the transcendental, paradoxical nature of God.”69 Empson corroborates this hypothesis and declares that the allegory applies to both communism and Christianity. “George Orwell very positively thought it the ultimate shame for a man to yield his conscience to an authority which craves to torture him and can only be restrained by a renunciation of thought, whether the authority is Stalin or God the father.”70 He disagrees with Gerber, however, when the latter says that Orwell was partially unconscious that his satire could apply to religion as well. There is much to be said for Empson’s position, for in his essays Orwell often compares the hold of communism on the spirit of man to that of the Catholic Church, and the political authority which demands orthodoxy to the Inquisition. He repeatedly argues that communism has filled the place left empty by religion and demands of its members the same unrestricted submission. Whatever the kind of totalitarian or religious authority the Party stands for, it evidently assumes a power which is usually attributed to God only, and the relation-ship between this authority and the people under its sway is of the same nature as that between God and man. Party members believe in Big Brother, but they have never seen him, and doubts are often raised as to his existence. Many of them are willing to live ascetically for the sake of the Party and to accept the sexual continence imposed by it. Punishment for unorthodoxy means hell or purgatory, and here again the similarity between religion and politics is striking. The Party member is eager to be purged of unorthodoxy or thought-crime, and he is grateful to the Party for “helping” him to love and to submit unreservedly even at the cost of pain. Orwell denounces this deliberate obedience of man to an all-powerful authority which robs him of his self-respect and lowers him as a human being. Instead of seeking self-fulfilment in a society with equal opportunities for all, twentieth-century men allow themselves to be humbled again by a power which is as exacting as the religious tyranny which many of them have overthrown. The sight of man refusing to be self-sufficient as if he were lost without an almighty Master was for Orwell a discouraging one. He felt that the pressure of a politicized society on the individual was as strong as that exercised by religion on a medieval community. In fact, 1984 dramatizes the failure of modern man to become free, the recurring destruction of Prometheus’ dream.

  • 71 “My novel 1984 … is … intended as a show-up of the perversion to which a centralized economy is li (...)
  • 72 Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Introduction, p. 9.

103The theme of 1984 is basically the same as that of Orwell’s previous novels. It is a vehement protest against the quality of life created by the modern tendency to overorganize and to politicize all aspects of life. This tendency leads to a set of conditions in which man loses his identity, his association with the past, and in the end is completely annihilated. Orwell rebels against the alteration of objective truth and the corruption of language as a means of confusing man and of impairing his consciousness. He protests against industrialism and the dreary life it has engendered. Winston’s and Julia’s escape to the country are a brief but unavailing attempt to recover their humanity. Man is doomed to being mechanized; he is destroyed by the very instrument which he had thought would free him. In Brave New World Huxley warned that the price paid for progress might be too high; Orwell asserts that progress will defeat its own ends. His picture of the future is grim, and few people are prepared to believe that human nature could be so altered and its fundamental instincts suppressed. Orwell himself was not so desperate as to declare that his Utopia would come true,71 but he was careful to point to the ultimate developments of existing trends. Contrary to what some critics have said, he did not lack imaginative power in creating the repulsive society of 1984, he deliberately showed how ugly and inhuman the world could become. It was Huxley’s belief that “a book about the future can interest us only if its prophecies look as though they might conceivably come true;72 there is no reason to believe that Orwell’s Utopia will not stand the test as well as Brave New World. The two books are often compared, and we are more inclined to believe in the future as described by Huxley because his satire is often comic in spite of its cruelty and because the “Brave New World” seems nearer to our Western society. On the other hand, we are afraid even to consider that Orwell’s Utopia might materialize. As a matter of fact, the message is fairly similar in the two books, for both criticize a society made stable through the dehumanization of man and the lowering of his consciousness. The main differences lie in the means used by dictators to reach their ends, but the two trends illustrated by the novels can be observed in the modern world. Comfort and hedonism have always competed with asceticism for the soul of man. Eroticism can be a source of degeneration, and in Brave New World it is encouraged in order to destroy the traditional values of love and marriage. But it is equally true that when these values are abandoned, it is often in favour of strict abstinence imposed from outside for the purpose of using to other ends the unreleased tension in men. It could be further demonstrated that the two Utopias were inspired by real aspects of modern life. What is important, however, is that each in its own way calls attention to the dangers run by humanity and implicitly appeals to our attachment to individual values.

104Lawrence’s advice, “Never trust the artist, trust the tale,” holds as true for Orwell’s work as for other writers’. Still, it should be recalled that Orwell’s criticism of society is unequivocally the product of his personal experience because this explains to a certain extent why he is a great writer without being a great novelist. With the exception of Animal Farm, he seems to have been less concerned with the conventions of a particular literary genre than with the quality of his writing in general, and he made little distinction between imaginative and non-imaginative literature. Long passages in his novels read almost like essays, whereas some parts of his other books, Down and Oui in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia, convey as well as any work of fiction the artist’s vision of reality. Orwell’s work is strongly autobiographical, but he had some difficulty in transmuting his personal experience into fiction and in reconciling it with the satirist’s purpose in order to create a plausible character. Most critics point to the weakness of his characterization, and it is true that he is not sufficiently interested in what his characters are nor in their development to make the texture of their life a vehicle for his meaning. Rather, the significance of his novels arises from their comments on life. Yet his characters are not merely the mouthpieces of his ideas but appear as test-cases meant to exemplify the debasing nature of modern life. Indeed, they are seldom master of their own existence. They are at a loss in modern society but do not rebel against it of their own initiative; rebellion is forced upon them by circumstances. Most of them are tormented people who are not up to the trial imposed on them.

105The commonplaceness of Orwell’s characters is partly due to his vision of society as an aggregate of average men ruthlessly exploited by all those who have some kind of power. He was not so much interested in the individual’s life as in what prevented that life from being private and the individual from being himself. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he never advocated a “change of heart” because he thought that the heart of the common man was sound enough. Evil was primarily social and political and showed itself by directly or indirectly restricting individual life and thought within narrow limits. It could only be checked by personal integrity, though the fight was always uneven. Orwell’s characters are inevitably defeated; in fact, his novels tell the story of their defeat. The pattern of his works is usually the same: contact with the social or political reality entails indignation and sometimes rebellion, but in the end the individual always resigns himself to his fate and tries to make the best of it. Concentrating on the individual’s environment and on what frustrates him rather than on the individual himself, Orwell describes the condition of man and the quality of his life in modern society: the absence of faith, the avidity for money or power, the ugliness of the industrial world, the fear, hatred and violence it generates, and finally the organized destruction of individualism. Through his successive indictments of imperialism, liberalism and orthodox socialism it is humanity that he brings to trial, and he concludes, as a disappointed idealist, that it never comes up to his expectations. Probably, he could never have been satisfied with any social system, because he criticized the hypocrisy and the compromises inherent in all forms of social and political life.

106Notwithstanding the universality of some aspects of Orwell’s criticism it is often confined to English society as such rather than aimed at Western civilization. His extreme class-consciousness and his analysis of the English class-system made him point to the obsoleteness and inadequacy of social structures which, in his eyes, weakened England as a nation. He showed that economic frustration and bitterness led a large portion of the English middle class to a negative attitude. He also described dirt, physical degeneracy and the demoralization of men as the inevitable effects of industrialism and capitalism combined. In this respect his description of the Brookers’ household in The Road to Wigan Pier is as evocative as Lawrence’s description of Tevershall in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Associated as it was with a materialistic approach to life, industrialism produced a spirit of competitiveness which dehumanized men and destroyed the gentle and decent insular way of life of the English. Though strongly opposed to religion as a conservative force or as an incentive to orthodoxy, Orwell regretted the disappearance of an attitude to life inspired by Christianity. His nostalgia for a typically English civilization can be compared to Waugh’s. They were both chauvinistic and proud of the insular individualism of the English. But they upheld two different traditions: Waugh was attached to the Catholic aristocracy, whereas Orwell stood up for the ordinary Englishman, whom he considered as a victim of an increasingly inhuman and diseased society.

107Orwell’s career started with a protest against the old order and ended with a protest against the new. His criticism of society is full of paradoxes because he was never faithful to a particular outlook or ideology but expressed with integrity what he considered to be the truth about an attitude or a situation. He was a rebel but also a supporter of authority, an individualist who had retained the strong sense of responsibility traditional among the people of his class. He hated imperialism but greatly admired the men who had built the Empire and had contributed to the greatness of England. He was a harsh critic of conservatism, yet a romantic lover of the past. Orwell would have liked the best of two worlds. He knew that progress was inevitable but, as he wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier, he accepted it grudgingly and suspiciously. He strongly objected to the socialists’ demand for mechanization, to their wish to transform society into a well-organized, technically efficient, but inhuman concern. Progress as an end in itself too often obscured the real aims of socialism: equality and justice. Orwell’s socialism seems to have been an attitude to life rather than a well-defined ideology. He was little concerned with details or particular claims for improvements, for he thought that the quality of life in general would necessarily improve if men were honest with themselves and with others in their pursuit of the socialist ideal. Orwell’s socialism was very near to the Christian ideal of human brotherhood. However, as he showed in Animal Farm, this ideal was incompatible with the exercise of power and was usually abandoned by revolutionary leaders. Orwell wanted the Revolution but condemned the uncompromising methods by which it is generally achieved. He trusted the common sense and the feeling of solidarity of the common man to apply the principles of socialism, but he thought that if the Revolution demanded of men the sacrifice of their integrity, then it defeated its own purpose.

  • 73 Coming Up for Air, p. 161.

108The decline of individualism is a major theme in the English novel between the Wars. Orwell described several aspects of it such as the standardization of ways of life generated by progress and materialism. But he was less concerned with the uniformity of life as such than with the uniformity of thought it implied. Naturally, he thought that a materialistic civilization and its powerful agent, publicity, were largely responsible for the repulsive sameness that prevailed in modern society. However, given the growing impact of politics on private life, he thought that the greatest threat to individualism lay in political orthodoxy and in the deterioration of language as a means of creating confusion and thereby justifying power. Political orthodoxy was a prelude to totalitarianism and to the annihilation of the individual; it destroyed independent thought and entailed a reduction of consciousness if one accepted its contradictions blindly. Modern man tended to lose his individuality in favour of some cause, whether totalitarian, nationalistic, or religious. True, men with some kind of authority have tried in all times to hold sway over the human mind, but it is much easier to do so in the twentieth century owing to new and more efficient means of persuasion. Moreover, man’s loneliness and insecurity make him seek refuge in an authoritarian organization which deems itself infallible. He is all the more inclined to relinquish his conscience to a higher power as the traditional notions of good and evil have lost their meaning and he must find his own way in all circumstances. It is easier to accept the decisions of a party without too much questioning. Thus a new kind of morality takes shape which consists in endorsing anything that is orthodox. The only way of preserving one’s integrity is to be able to decide for oneself what is acceptable and what is not. Clarity of language is therefore essential as a means of avoiding confusion. Orwell not only believed in the interdependence of language and thought but also of language and conscience. Language, he said, reflects a frame of mind, the morals of a people, their willingness to achieve clearly defined aims or, on the contrary, their readiness to be deceived by words. Orwell showed that language can be made a powerful instrument of corruption and thus ultimately influence the nature of society. Men who use ready-made sentences or a party phraseology eventually become incapable of individual thinking or of discriminating between lies and truth. Even murder can be condoned if language is manipulated to that purpose. A totalitarian régime “with loudspeakers telling you what to think”73 was for Orwell the ineluctable climax of all social restraints.

109It is difficult to say whether Orwell would have been a great novelist if he had focused his interest on personal relationships as he intended to shortly before his death. His fictional achievement is often limited by his urge to convey his message at all costs; he was not sufficiently detached to give free play to his inventive-ness or he may have been disinclined to do so, and the moralist in him often thwarted the artist. He has created no memorable character in which his vision of life is fully developed. Yet he is nonetheless a great writer because of the consummate harmony between the kind of prose he wrote and what he wished to express. He was a non-conformist both in what he said and the way he said it. He spoke out the truth to enlighten the public, but he also sought to impress the reader with a sense of urgency derived from his vision of society. Indeed, it is through the sense of immediacy that emerges from his novels, through the identification of his own personality and experience with his work, rather than through his characters’ lives that Orwell renders the alarming reality of the modern world. His work exemplifies the contra-dictions of contemporary man, the frustrating tension in his life, his tragic need for an absolute and his impossibility to surrender to an ideal which would demand the sacrifice of his individuality. Orwell compelled his contemporaries to face some truths about their own age; he warned them against the evil forces which they had irresponsibly awakened and of which they were losing control. Among the problems he tackled some have been solved, some seem less urgent, but his work as a whole remains as topical as ever because of the spirit which animates it.


1 George ORWELL, “The Prevention of Literature,” in Inside the Whale and Other Essays, Penguin Books, 1962, pp. 166-7.

2 George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, London, 1959, p. 149.

3 George Orwell, Burmese Days, London, 1949, pp. 39-40.

4 “Shooting an Elephant,” in Inside the Whale and Other Essays, p. 95.

5 George ORWELL, “Charles Dickens,” in Critical Essays, London, 1960, p. 57.

6 Ibid.

7 Quoted by Tom Hopkinson, in George Orwell, Writers and their Work Series, London, 1953, p. 14.

8 “Rudyard Kipling,” in Critical Essays, p. 116.

9 Richard Rees, George Orwell, Fugitive from the Camp of Victory, London, 1961, p. 29.

10 The Road to Wigan Pier, pp. 148-50.

11 Ibid., p. 150.

12 George Orwell, A Clergyman’s Daughter, London, 1960, p. 255.

13 “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool,” in Inside the Whale and other Essays, p. 109.

14 Ibid., p. 118.

15 George Orwell, “Reflections on Gandhi,” in The Partisan Review Anthology, New York, 1961, p. 63.

16 “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool,” p. 115.

17 George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn, London, 1962, pp. 14-15.

18 George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Penguin Books, 1963, p. 49.

19 George ORWELL, Down and Out in Paris and London, Penguin Books, 1963, p. 147.

20 Ibid., p. 15.

21 George Orwell, Coming Up for Air, London, 1959, pp. 13-14.

22 “Charles Dickens,” in Critical Essays, p. 59.

23 “Looking Back on the Spanish War,” in Collected Essays, London, 1961, p. 206.

24 “Charles Dickens,” p. 56.

25 Coming Up [or Air, p. 139.

26 The Road to Wigan Pier, p. 170.

27 Lawrence, whom Orwell takes as an example, made the same remark.

28 The Road to Wigan Pier, p. 138.

29 The Lion and the Unicorn, p. 31.

30 See Chesterton’s introduction to Great Expectations.

31 1 In “The Nature of the Labour Party,” in Towards Socialism, ed. by P. Anderson and R. Blackburn, London, 1965, Thomas Nairn explains that the Labour Party has so far failed to carry out a truly socialist programme because the workers have never been able to seriously influence the leadership of the party, which by tradition is intellectual and Fabian.

32 Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, London, 1961.

33 George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, London, 1959, p. 70.

34 From a poem composed in honour of an Italian militiaman Orwell had known in Spain. Published at the end of his essay “Looking Back on the Spanish War,” in Collected Essays, p. 208.

35 The Lion and the Unicom, p. 56.

36 Ibid., pp. 58-59.

37 “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool,” in Inside the Whale and Other Essays. p. 114.

38 “Politics vs Literature,” in Inside the Whale and Other Essays, p. 132.

39 “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool,” p. 118.

40 “Reflections on Gandhi,” in The Partisan Review Anthology, p. 64.

41 The Lion and the Unicorn, p. 38.

42 “Wells, Hitler and the World State,” in Critical Essays, p. 94.

43 “Rudyard Kipling,” in Critical Essays, pp. 115-16.

44 Auden changed it later to “the fact of murder.”

45 “Inside the Whale,” in Inside the Whale and Other Essays, p. 37.

46 Ibid., p. 36.

47 “The Prevention of Literature,” in Inside the Whale and Other Essays, p. 172.

48 “Inside the Whale,” in Inside the Whale and Other Essays, p. 39.

49 “Notes on Nationalism,” in Collected Essays, p. 286.

50 “Writers and Leviathan,” in Collected Essays, p. 433.

51 See p. 335, note 1.

52 “Looking Back on the Spanish War,” in Collected Essays, p. 206.

53 Ignazio Silone, in The God that Failed, p. 104.

54 Richard Wright, in The God that Failed, p. 160.

55 André GIDE, quoted by Dr. Enid Starkie, in The God that Failed, p. 176.

56 Stephen Spender, in The God that Failed, p. 238.

57 Ibid., p. 245.

58 “Second Thoughts on James Burnham,” in Collected Essays, p. 353.

59 Ibid., p. 372.

60 George Orwell, Animal Farm, Penguin Books, 1963, pp. 75-76.

61 Louis FISCHER, in The Cod that Failed, p. 216.

62 Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon, London, 1961, p. 242.

63 Ibid.

64 “How much rubbish this war will sweep away, if only we can hang on throughout the summer. War is simply a reversal of civilized life; its motto is ‘Evil be thou my good’, and so much of the good of modern life is actually evil that it is questionable whether on balance war does harm.” From Orwell’s Diary, quoted by Wyndham Lewis in The Writer and the Absolute, p. 181.

65 George ORWELL, 1984, Penguin Books, 1956, p. 169.

66 “Politics and the English Language,” in Inside the Whale and Other Essays, p. 150.

67 Ibid., p. 153.

68 Arthur Koesteler, op. cit., p. 101.

69 Richard Gerber, “The English Island Myth, Remarks on the Englishness of Utopian Fiction,” The Critical Quarterly, I, 1 (Spring 1959), 41.

70 William Empson, Milton’s God, London, 1961, p. 235.

71 “My novel 1984 … is … intended as a show-up of the perversion to which a centralized economy is liable … I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily will arrive, but I believe … that something resembling it could arrive.” Quoted by Irving HOWE in Politics and the Novel, New York, 1957, p. 240.

72 Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Introduction, p. 9.

73 Coming Up for Air, p. 161.

© Presses universitaires de Liège, 1970

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