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Modern Classics Penguin Essays of George Orwell Paperback – Jul 4 2000
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Anyone who wants to understand the twentieth century will still have to read Orwell -- Timothy Garton Ash, New York Review of Books --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
About the Author
Eric Arthur Blair (1903-1950), better known by his pen-name, George Orwell, was born in India, where his father worked for the Civil Service. An author and journalist, Orwell was one of the most prominent and influential figures in twentieth-century literature. His unique political allegory Animal Farm was published in 1945, and it was this novel, together with the dystopia of Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), which brought him world-wide fame. His novels and non-fiction include Burmese Days, Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia.
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Top Customer Reviews
Orwell shows an eye for detail worthy of a poet in essays based on his foreign service experience, like "Shooting an Elephant," and his piece on watching the hanging of a man during the British occupation of India. Some of his experiences with the Spanish Civil War and Second World War are related here, as well as pieces as light as "Books vs Cigarettes" where he considers how much he spends on both. In short, as enjoyable to read as they are meaningful, and model essays.
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While I don't think Orwell was ever right about economics (although there was plenty of injustice to be aggrieved about), over the years his views on the relative balance of individual liberty against economic equality or any other collective good became sharper and more highly developed, whether demonstrated in a serious work such as 'The Prevention of Literature' or gently implied in a more whimsical 'A Good Word for the Vicar of Bray'. His sophisticated interpretation of the problems of liberty, war and economic injustice, together with his independence of thought can be seen in his willingness to criticize his notional political ally HG Wells and defend the work and thought of apparent imperialist and reactionary Rudyard Kipling.
In summary, George Orwell's `Essays' is an excellent collection of powerful, informative, occasionally whimsical and thought provoking essays which in many cases remain provocative and relevant today. What's more, had it not been for this collection of essays I may never have been discovered Arthur Koestler or Henry Miller for myself, which I have to remain grateful for.
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.