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All Art Is Propaganda: Critical Essays Hardcover – October 13, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Before he was a renowned novelist, George Orwell was a masterful essayist. Spanning the 1940s, this companion to Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays showcases Orwell in an often unexpected cavalcade of observations on diverse subjects—in the literary field alone as varied as T. S. Eliot, Charles Dickens, Henry Miller, Graham Greene and Kipling. But since this is Orwell, the book takes on a range of subjects with gusto: power and bully worship and the deleterious influence of Catholicism on literature. Orwell's withering observations on professional academic criticism (Politics and the English Language) are tempered by his sly Confessions of a Book Reviewer (constantly inventing reactions towards books about which one has no spontaneous feelings whatever) and Good Bad Books (the supreme example being Uncle Tom's Cabin). Not to be overlooked is a freewheeling take on the naughty postcards of Donald McGill. Overall, this collection highlights the work of a writer who always put his money where his mouth was, reiterating frequently the importance of clarity of expression in enabling independent thought. (Oct. 13)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

George Orwell (1903–50) is best remembered for his dark and prophetic political novels, Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949). In addition to four other novels, he also produced some of the best book-length nonfiction of the modernist era, including Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) and Homage to Catalonia (1939). Harcourt is now republishing in two volumes his collected essays, compiled by Packer (The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq). What is most astonishing about these essays are their continuing freshness and relevancy more than half a century after Orwell's death. All are worth reading for some combination of literary, historical, or cautionary merit. His criticism of art and politics (and sometimes both) remains spot-on, and the "unpleasant facts" he considers, including war, poverty, homelessness, lack of adequate medical care, and even schoolboy bullying, are unfortunately still familiar topics. Orwell's crisp and clear journalistic writing style remains highly accessible to 21st-century readers, with the occasional, now obscure reference illuminated by Packer's notes. Essential for academic libraries; highly recommended for public libraries.—Alison M. Lewis, formerly with Drexel Univ. Lib., Philadelphia
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (October 13, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780151013555
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151013555
  • ASIN: 0151013551
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #832,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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The title of this collection of Orwell's essays is taken from the initial entry discussing Charles Dickens and it is a well chosen title. The inability of artists to be completely apolitical is the theme that holds this anthology together as Orwell examines topics ranging from the art of Salvador Dali, to Swift's Gulliver's Travels to Graham Greene. The fact that Orwell left England to risk in life in the Spanish Civil War fighting for the republican forces only to memorialize his experiences in Homage to Catalonia, puts him in a unique position to examine the intersection of art and politics.

The acerbic wit and ranging intelligence of Orwell is on full display in this pages. In addition, his rabid fear and hate of totalitarianism that has made him a touchstone for intellectuals both left and right is also apparent in his lucid analysis of Gulliver's travels and the supposed "utopia" of the Houyhnhnms. Some of these essays are familiar, such as Politics and the English Language but others are more obscure, such as Benefits of the Clergy: Some Notes on Salavdor Dali which was censored for obscenity in 1946. My particular favorite is Confessions of a Book Reviewer, which lacks the strong political overtones of his other essays but gives a vivid image into the overlooked aspect of Orwell's life as a workaday journalist and book reviewer.

Despite not living to see the Cold War or the rise of religious fanaticism his thoughts and words still matter. For those who are unfamiliar with Orwell outside 1984 or Animal Farm, All Art is Propaganda provides a great starting point into the writings of one of the great political writers of the modern era.
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This collection of essays by George Orwell is part of a two-volume compilation. (The other volume is called Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays.) In a foreword to this volume, George Packer explains that the focus of All Art Is Propaganda is Orwell’s use of the essay genre as a means of holding something up for critical scrutiny. The theme of the volume, art as propaganda or as a tool for persuasion, recurs throughout these essays. We often think of propaganda in its perjorative sense; something used by the powerful to cajole the unthinking masses into actions that they would not normally undertake on their own. But for Orwell, "propaganda" is a neutral term. Any writing or other art that attempts to persuade, for good or ill, is propaganda.

Orwell’s essay on Charles Dickens introduces this theme: “But every writer, especially every novelist, has a ‘message,’ whether he admits it or not, and the minutest details of his work are influenced by it. All art is propaganda.” (p. 47) That the Dickens message is not always clear is illustrated by the fact that people of many conflicting political leanings have, as Orwell puts it, “stolen” Dickens. Both Marxists and Catholics have latched onto him as a spokesman. This essay seeks to understand the real Dickens.
Some other literary heavyweights get a thorough Orwell examination in ths volume: Henry Miller, Shakespeare, Kipling, T.S. Eliot, and Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy is known to have rejected Shakespeare as not even “an average author.” Orwell finds the root of Tolstoy’s displeasure with the Bard to be “the quarrel between the religious and the humanist attitudes toward life.” (p.
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This selection of essays provides excellent insight for anyone who appreciates the theories of George Orwell.
Readers will get a better understanding of class warfare, secrets of great communicators, totalitarianism, the effects of literature, and, of course, propaganda. I especially enjoyed his essay on "The Prevention of Literature", as it implies the ideas written into his masterpiece known as 1984.

I highly recommend this book to all writers and political thinkers.
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This title is a companion volume to one titled Facing Unpleasant Facts. That volume dealt with many of the famous narrative essays produced in Orwell's career, whereas this one has selections of what the editor calls `Critical Essays". Both are highly valuable as source material for those interested in Orwell. In fact, I believe that he was a far better essayist and first-person writer than he ever was a novelist.

The books that his legacy stands on for most readers are good, but in his essays we can see him explore the ideas that lead to the creation of both Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm: Centennial Edition. In fact, both the essays "Politics and the English Language" and "The Prevention of Literature" could be easily attached as appendices to those books (both essays are in the present volume).

The only practical issue with this book is that many of the essays are more of the literary criticism approach or movie reviews (even if he would hate that characterization). If you do not have a familiarity with the source material that he is reviewing, you might seem out of sorts. In essays on both the careers of Dickens and Tolstoy I felt a disconnect because it taxed my limited familiarity with those authors.

The interesting thing about Orwell's writing is that the prerequisite knowledge is not really necessary.
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