‘’He is a great essayist because of the experience he creates for readers – a provocation of the intellect, an education of the intelligence, which includes but exceeds the position he advocated. Orwell aims in his essays to make readers more self-conscious, more aware of how we think and feel.’’
So writes William E. Cain in his compelling, yet resoundingly lucid essay on George Orwell, Orwell’s essays as a literary writer. In itself, this invites readers to perhaps re-examine and re-evaluate George Orwell as a whole. For only by deconstructing what we already know of him, are we in a position to home in on the varying aspects of his creative and political acumen (which no doubt, many consider to border on genius) - by inadvertently thinking and feeling differently ourselves.
As Cain goes on to mention, Orwell, like James Joyce, was indeed ‘’a demanding writer.’’ As such, required ‘’close attention.’’ But close attention, in and of it self, is surely a juxtaposition of motive. Where one reader might approach say Animal Farm from an academic trajectory, another might just as easily be mesmerized by its resounding political endurance. Both instances require the same amount of close attention, but it is the motive behind said attention, that ultimately makes us think and indeed, feel, differently. Likewise, the various stages throughout George Orwell’s career; whether as a Dickensian writer of social observation (The Road to Wigan Pier) or fictional realist (Coming up for Air) or that of a political writer of astounding depth and originality (Nineteen Eight-Four). Each step of the way, no doubt found Orwell himself, thinking and feeling differently.
These differences account for this rather imperative book’s colour, clarity and consistency. From John Rossi and John Rodden’s opening essay A Political Writer (on which the corruption of revolution they write: ‘’Animal Farm perfectly correlates with the events in the Soviet Union in the years after the revolution, but does so through the guise of a beast fable. The allegory was both ingenious and ingenuous: a child and a sophisticated adult could understand Animal Farm at different levels’’) to the aforementioned essay by Michael E. Cain; The Cambridge Companion to George Orwell is a scholarly and invaluable contribution to the countless writings on George Orwell.
I admittedly found Gordon Bowker’s Orwell and the biographers a tad tiresome - if not superfluous - but this was more than made up for by John Newsinger’s quasi-inflammatory Orwell, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, and Margery Sabin’s excellent The truths of experience: ‘’The more ‘normal’ the life, the more difficult did Orwell find any real intimacy to become, as he observes in relation to the coal miners: ‘For some months I lived entirely in coal-miners’ houses. A ate my meals with the family, I washed at the kitchen sink, I shared bedrooms with the miners, drank beer with them, played darts with them… But though I was among them… I was not one of them, and they knew it even better than I did.’’’
Including a Chronology, these sixteen essays convey the many differing, literary aspects of the author, who many consider to be the greatest political writer (in English at least) of the twentieth century. Not only do the essays focus on the fiction as well as the documentary writings, they also shed light upon the writer’s prose, as well as such contentious issues as patriotism, pacifism, anti-Communism and assorted misconceptions - about the man, the writer, and his literary legacy.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul Weller has already read this book from cover to cover, and is now writing another song of Orwellian design.