In these by times highly emotional essays written in the 1930s and 1940s George Orwell gives us with in depth analyses his personal viewpoint on the literary, political and socio-economic scene.
In literature, he sees the novel as `a Protestant form of art, a product of the free mind, of the autonomous individual.' Orwell's aim was to `push the world in a certain direction: a battle against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism.'
In his criticism he searches for the essential (hidden) message of the author.
Dickens's rather naïve creed is: `If man would behave decently, the world would be decent.' His ideal is `a hundred thousand pounds, a quaint old house, a sweetly womanly wife, a horde of children and no work.'
Henry Miller's books are `a passive acceptance of decay and evil.'
H.G. Wells dreams of a utopian World State.
R. Kipling is a jingo imperialist, but he didn't understand that `an empire is primarily a money-making concern'.
W.B. Yeats is in essence a defender of feudalism, `a great hater of democracy and of human equality, of the modern world, science, technology and the concept of progress.'
A. Koestler's main theme is `the decadence of revolutions owing to corrupting effects of power.'
P.G. Wodehouse's real sin is to present the English upper classes as much nicer than they are.
In `Gulliver's Travels', J. Swift delivers a frontal attack on totalitarianism and shows that he is a disbeliever in the possibility of happiness.
Orwell's view on world matters is rightly `no Law, only Power'.
Nationalism is inseparable from the desire for power.
The concentration of the media in the hands of a few rich men puts the freedom of the press and intellectual liberty under attack. The `very concept of objective truth' is lost.
The Spanish war showed him the essential horror of army life.
He is extremely severe for the British establishment: `The British ruling class thought that Fascism was on their side.' For them, `it is better to inherit, than to work.' `In an England ruled by stupidity, to be `clever' was to be suspect.'
But his solution is also naïve: `common ownership of the means of production. The State, representing the whole nation, owns everything, and everyone is a State employee.' In other words, he pleads for a massive bureaucracy.
But he contradicts himself when he complains that `everything in our age conspires to turn the writer into a minor official!'
These essays contain also vivid memories of his public school life (`irrational terror') and of his Indian life ('Shooting an elephant'). He comments on sports (`war without shooting), detective stories (J.H. Chase), poetry (`the most hated art form'), mildly pornographic comic postcards (`a harmless rebellion against virtue') and ends with a superb portrait of Ghandi.
These remarkable essays, written by a fearless superb free mind, a fighter for justice and a true `révolté' (A. Camus), are a must read.