George Orwell is the writer whom I most admire.
He is not the writer with the greatest insight into things, he is not the most brilliant literary stylist, and he is not the writer who gives me the greatest pleasure.
He is the writer I would have most liked to resemble—in his honesty, in his fearlessness, in his clear writing (which is partly a product of his honesty and fearlessness) and in his affirmation of common life and ordinary people.
He is remembered for Animal Farm and 1984, but his essays and journalism are just as interesting.
He was a radical, but not the kind of radical who, like George Bernard Shaw, wanted to re-engineer human life into something unrecognizable, while leaving existing concentrations of wealth and power undisturbed.
Here is a passage from The Road to Wigan Pier, which is about the lives of unemployed coal miners in the north of England in the 1930s. He wrote about what he saw from the window of his train as he returned to his home in the south.
As we moved slowly through the outskirts of the town we passed row after row of little grey slum houses running at right angles to the embankment.
At the back of one of the houses a young woman was kneeling on the stones, poking a stick up the leaden waste pipe which ran from the sink inside and which I suppose was blocked.
I had time to see everything about her – her sacking apron, her clumsy clogs, her arms reddened by the cold.
She looked up as the train passed, and I was almost near enough to catch her eye.
She had a round pale face, the usual exhausted face of the slum girl who is 25 and looks 40, thanks to miscarriages and drudgery; and it wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate, hopeless expression I have ever seen.
It struck me then that we are mistaken when we say that “It isn’t the same for them as it would be for us”, and that people bred in the slums can imagine nothing but the slums.
For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal.
She knew well enough what was happening to her – understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold, on the slimy stones of a slum backyard, poking a stick up a foul drainpipe.
I got to thinking about Orwell the other day after I came across two book reviews on-line—one a biography and the other a collection of his writings.
Tags: George Orwell