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why the Right likes Orwell

Julian Barnes’ essay in the New York Review of Books gives a pretty good account of Orwell and, without turning into one of those Stalinist hatchet jobs you still see from time to time (they never forgave him for Homage to Catalonia), helps explain why he’s become so palatable to the Christopher Hitchenses of the world:

Orwell is profoundly English in even more ways than these. He is deeply untheoretical and wary of general conclusions that do not come from specific experiences. He is a moralist and a puritan, one who, for all his populism and working-class sympathies, is squeamish about dirt, disgusted by corporal and fecal odors. He is caricatural of Jews to the point of anti-Semitism, and routinely homophobic, using “the pansy left” and “nancy poets” as if they were accepted sociological terms. He dislikes foreign food, and thinks the French know nothing about cooking; while the sight of a gazelle in Morocco makes him dream of mint sauce. He lays down stern rules about how to make and drink tea, and in a rare sentimental flight imagines the perfect pub. [snip]

One of the effects of reading Orwell’s essays en masse is to realize how very dogmatic—in the nonideological sense—he is. This is another aspect of his Johnsonian Englishness. From the quotidian matter of how to make a cup of tea to the socioeconomic analysis of the restaurant (an entirely unnecessary luxury, to Orwell’s puritanical mind), he is a lawgiver, and his laws are often founded in disapproval. He is a great writer against. So his “Bookshop Memories”—a subject others might turn into a gentle color piece with a few amusing anecdotes—scorns lightness. The work, he declares, is drudgery, quite unrewarding, and makes you hate books; while the customers tend to be thieves, paranoiacs, dimwits, or, at best—when buying sets of Dickens in the improbable hope of reading them—mere self-deceivers. In “England Your England” he denounces the left-wing English intelligentsia for being “generally negative” and “querulous”: adjectives which, from this distance, seem to fit Orwell pretty aptly. Given that he died at the age of forty-six, it’s scary to imagine the crustiness that might have set in had he reached pensionable age.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Jeff Sparrow is the former editor of Overland. He is the co-author (with Jill Sparrow) of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within, the editor (with Antony Loewenstein) of Left Turn: Essays for the New Left and the author of Communism: a love story, Killing: Misadventures in violence, and Money Shot: A Journey into Censorship and Porn.  On Twitter, he's @Jeff_Sparrow.

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