The brave, wistful letters Orwell wrote to personal friends and professional colleagues in his last year show him trying to imagine a future even as he put his affairs in order. On 11 May 1949, he closed one to fellow novelist Anthony Powell: "It looks as if I may have to spend the rest of my life, if not actually in bed, at any rate at the bath-chair level. I could stand that for say 5 years if only I could work. At present I can do nothing, not even a book review. Please give everyone my love."
The essays in this collection include such keepers as "Such, Such Were the Joys," a long, harrowing memoir of Orwell's days at a British prep school; "Politics and the English Language," which examines the symbiosis of what it is possible to say in words and what it is possible to think; "How the Poor Die," a chilling piece of social reporting; and "Good Bad Books," in which he opines, "The fact that one can be amused or excited or even moved by a book that one's intellect simply refuses to take seriously is a reminder that art is not the same thing as cerebration."
Bringing together the public utterances and the private correspondence of a writer at the top of his game and the end of his life, this volume is worth reading for the individual pieces, some of Orwell's finest, as well as for the portrait it yields of a highly intelligent and principled man doing his best to play the hand fate dealt him with integrity and grace. --Joyce Thompson