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When the NSA spying scandal broke in June, Amazon sales of Orwell’s vaulted more than 6000 percent.The connection of Big Brother with the NSA might have been hysterical and spurious, but it was also testament to our sentimental, kneejerk affection for Orwell, to the fact that he remains the default scribe whenever our paranoia is fondled by the ominous machinations of realpolitik.
It is clear that the thicker the fairy tales are piled, the more easily one can swallow them, but this seems so paradoxical that I have never been able to understand the reason for it.” In .
The masses’ inability to think for themselves struck him as a crime against their own humanity.
“The most elementary respect for truthfulness is breaking down,” he wrote in a 1938 letter, about the duplicitous English reporting on the Spanish Civil War, in which he’d fought for six months, and during which he was shot through the esophagus.
“It gives one the feeling that our civilization is going down into a sort of mist of lies where it will be impossible ever to find out the truth about anything.”Like every robust thinker, Orwell had his contradictions, the most pronounced of which was the fact that he was both an intellectual who despised intellectualism and its attendant snobbery—“The direct, conscious attack on intellectual decency comes from the intellectuals themselves,” he wrote in his 1946 essay “The Prevention of Literature”—and a common man who had reservations about common men.
By popular definition, no one was less Orwellian than Eric Blair.
In his introduction to this volume, Davison writes, “Many of those who refer to Orwell seem not to have read much more than , if those.The utter clarity and goodness of his intellect seem something of a miracle when one considers how many of his fellow writers botched the most pressing moral and political tests of their time.He could smell bullshit and blood a continent away: When a passel of leftist intellectuals was hailing the Soviet Union as humankind’s only hope, Orwell was persistent in pointing out that Stalin was a monocratic lunatic., isn’t altogether de-sanctifying, it is certainly humanizing, a reminder that Orwell the Saint and Seer was also a lowly man named Eric Blair, a man whose fingernails were dirt-crammed from gardening, whose bank account was perennially bereft, and whose health was forever threatened by the tuberculosis that would eventually claim him.Also on display here is Orwell’s hard-won discernment, an aphoristic wisdom that comes couched in his of-the-soil directness of style—a “belly to earth attitude,” as he calls it in a 1936 letter to Henry Miller.Paul Fussell once wrote that Orwell had an “almost neurotic sensitivity to physical reality”—he was loyal to physical reality because physical reality, and his wisdom reflects as much: “Wars tend to break out in the autumn,” Orwell wrote, “perhaps because continental governments don’t care to mobilise until they have got the harvest in”; “one really learns nothing from a foreign country unless one works in it”; “what sickens me about left-wing people, especially the intellectuals, is their utter ignorance of the way things actually happen” (Lionel Trilling made an identical observation); “pacifists usually belong to the middle classes and have grown up in somewhat exceptional circumstances.” In that same 1936 correspondence to Henry Miller, Orwell pauses halfway in to say, “I have got to go and milk the goat now but I will continue this letter when I come back.”It’s unfortunate that “Orwellian” has come to mean the totalitarian tactics of a demagogy, based mainly on two pretty bad novels, when there’s so much more to Orwell the thinker and the man.Davison, a sober Virgil, leads us through the warrens of Orwell’s life and mind, never lapsing into a promiscuous note-leaving.He’s included an exhaustive chronology of Orwell’s abbreviated life, an introduction to every section, numerous letters by those closest to Orwell, and biographical sketches of all the individuals named.The intellectuals who are at present pointing out that democracy and fascism are the same thing etc. However, perhaps when the pinch comes the common people will turn out to be more intelligent than the clever ones.—Orwell’s careful pessimism is everywhere in his correspondence, because if you were alive and even sporadically sentient at this time, you should have understood that the pinch was coming.He’d seen that pinch firsthand in Spain, and some of the most remarkable missives in this volume read like dispatches from the bombed streets of Barcelona.This is the real warning of : the danger comes not from our suppressors but from our ovine willingness to be suppressed.Every Orwell scholar owes a tremendous debt to Peter Davison, the editor not just of this new volume, but also a 20-volume “a Boswellian tribute.” This new edition of Orwell’s letters is imperative for anyone who wishes to earn a larger understanding of the twentieth century’s most potent essayist.