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A Collection of Essays Paperback – October 21, 1970
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Imagine any of today's writers of "creative nonfiction" dispatching a rogue elephant before an audience of several thousand. Now, imagine the essay that would result. Can we say "narcissism"? As part of the Imperial Police in Burma, George Orwell actually found himself aiming the gun, and his record--first published in 1936--comprises eight of the highest voltage pages of English prose you'll ever read. In "Shooting an Elephant," Orwell illumines the shoddy recesses of his own character, illustrates the morally corrupting nature of imperialism, and indicts you, the reader, in the creature's death, a process so vividly reported it's likely to show up in your nightmares ever after. "The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing.... Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth much more than any damn Coringhee coolie."
This essay alone would be worth the cover price, and the dozen other pieces collected here prove that, given the right thinker/writer, today's journalism actually can become tomorrow's literature. "The Art of Donald McGill," ostensibly an appreciation of the jokey, vaguely obscene illustrated postcards beloved of the working classes, uses the lens of popular culture to examine the battle lines and rules of engagement in the war of the sexes, circa 1941. "Politics and the English Language" is a prose working-out of Orwell's perceptions about the slippery relationship of word and thought that becomes a key premise of 1984. "Looking Back on the Spanish War" is as clear-eyed a veteran's memoir of the nature of war as you're likely to find, and Orwell's long ruminations on the wildly popular "good bad" writers Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling showcase his singular virtues--searing honesty and independent thinking. From English boarding schools to Gandhi's character to an early appreciation of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, these pieces give an idiosyncratic tour of the first half of the passing century in the company of an articulate and engaged guide. Don't let the idea that Orwell is an "important" writer put you off reading him. He's really too good, and too human, to miss. --Joyce Thompson
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Politically, I may not agree with Orwell but I always agree, there is something not right with the world and his honesty and unflinching look at the flaws of the world and in his own life make him worth reading. He is one of my favorite authors and his essays and memoirs became my favorite works of his, more so than his watershed novels "1984" and "Animal Farm." If you love his novels, these essays are a good way to get to know the man and his mind.
The real Orwell, revealed in this collection of essays, was a keen observer of life in Depression era England and documented the details he witnessed into a skillfully crafted time capsule of cultural observations and insights.
Such, Such Were the Joys...an essay on the banality of evil that was the english public school system. The image of a floating turd in the pool comes to mind as does the strange groupthink inspired by the adult losers tasked with molding young minds...Pavlov at his worst! Edwardian education at its most bestial! The school experience had to have influenced some aspects of 1984.
Shooting an Elephant..."the grim task of policing an empire" as Orwell once put it. Orwell forced to play the fake role of a colonial sahib, for no apparent reason, while shooting an elephant in front of a hostile mob.
Politics and the English Language...New Speak defined. The linguistics of totalitarianism. The use of language as a form of manipulation.
Why I Write...self evident...his motivation for writing. One point stands out was that Orwell saw himself as an historical journalist and invoked posterity as his motivation for writing.
England your England...culture and class with the possibilty of Socialism...Chamberlain as a "stupid old man lead by his dim lights." Later Orwell was to invoke Churchill and traditional patriotism as a positive force.
Looking back on the Spanish War...a must for any student of the Spanish Civil War and a useful review of "Homage to Catalonia"...a work of genius. Whatever Orwell's limitations were as a novelist, he was possibly the greatest essayist of this century (according to some.)
Inside the Whale...a weak point with Orwell. Henry Miller often wrote, as did Sarte, on an abstract plane. Orwell here seemed out of his element when discussing writings that were theorectical. He professed to understand nothing about Sarte and avoided ideological discussions about Socialism. Likewise,Orwell discussed the need for a planned economy when observing poverty,but never discussed any functional details. Another Miller book, "Black Spring" Orwell criticized with sarcasm because of its surrealist interpretation of Paris. Did this belie a shallowness in the thought life of Orwell?
Marrakech...a TB respite trip for Orwell. Dry weather and barbaric burial habits of 1939 Morrocco. Glad he got out...it became Vichy in 1940.
Boy's Weeklies...cultural time capsule...pulp fiction criticism. The Art of Donald Mc Gill...pop postcard art analysed.
The essays are second to none, but as is usual in these collections, they often overlap with each other leaving me to wonder if I have forgotten to read something; they are never thematically organized and have no historical footnotes leaving me to wonder about the historical context of the writing.
A for content D for editing, therefore three stars.