Part travelogue, part biography, this book (Pub Date 6 Apr 2023) flits seemlessly through timelines and cultures in a profound, insightful manner, almost Dalrymplesque in its style in places, albeit minus the architectural sensibilities; it is a rainbow patchwork held together convincingly by the towering, restless mind that is George Orwell.
And I very much appreciate the hard work that has gone into producing this book, clearly a work of patience driven by fascination.
Like many, I was already familiar with Orwell’s two most famous works from school. I was not well acquainted with his biography, nor that of his native restlessness and originality, as diverse as his many dwelling places during his life.
What emerges from these pages is an enjoyable exploration, a voyage, if you will, around this literary giant. To many Orwell remains an enigma, following the opposite course of a lot of people during their lives. For example, I began with strong leftward leanings which have morphed slowly to the centre in later life; the course of Orwell’s life was somewhat opposite to that, as the author explains well, perhaps understandable considering his upper middle class origins during the latter years of the Indian Raj.
Orwell’s experiences in Spain during 1936-7, do indeed seem seminal too, correcting his own left leaning path, to the point that by the end of his life he seemed to be once again embracing a patriotism which, to be fair, he never abandoned at all. Maybe this is why he is often acclaimed and disliked by both right and left.
The author’s descriptive passages relating to India, Eton, Spain, London and Wigan in particular, are to me most enjoyable and profound, stating that England’s long term problem with itself is still as much about social hierarchy as it is poverty. And that pigeon racing in Lancashire is still popular today, hanging like those slowly decaying symbols of a once powerful cotton industry.
What does come across well is Orwell’s refutation of pigeon holes. I think he understood the futility of hanging tags around people; why shouldn’t socialists be patriotic? And why shouldn’t conservatives embrace redistribution of wealth? England? Whose England? indeed.
As Malcolm Muggeridge was to point out at Orwell’s death, to many he was an enigma, both an arch conservative in relation to England and its customs and traditions, as well as someone willing to embrace a revolution in thought, even if he was to see the error in the latter, particularly during the emergence of the Cold War.
I would point out one other error though from the text – Henry VI of England was not the first Yorkist king of England; that particular honour falls to Edward IV, brother of the future Richard III.
That said, this was a most enjoyable and enlightening read and one which I would wholeheartedly recommend to any open minded and curious person wishing to know more about one of the most important authors of the 20th century.
Copyright Francis 2022