Friday, 18 May 2007

Review - Why I Write by George Orwell

Why I write is a collection of four essays of various sizes published in 2004 by Penguin as part of their Great Ideas collection. Of the four essays, A hanging is the shortest, which describes an execution during Orwell's time in Burma. Why I Write is another short essay dealing with the motivations of writers and journalists when they put pen to paper, intermingled with a brief depiction of Orwell's life. Politics and the English Language is not much longer, but in it Orwell discusses the quality of writing in 1940's political material. This is a piece which I think is still highly relevant today, particularly the points Orwell makes of the overuse of metaphors, lack of clarity of writing and using more words to ake a point than is necessary. The Lion and the Unicorn is by far the longest, larger than the previous three combined. Writing this during the Blitz, Orwell comments on the situation in Britain at that time. Despite, in my opinion, his misconception of situation leading him to support patriotism and wanting a form of utopian socialism (a misconception more than likely due to his middle class background), Orwell makes several good points. The first is a condemnation of the Stalinists (which of course Orwell makes in other writings) for their crying out for pacifism and their pro-Hitler behaviour. Secondly the ineptness of the British ruling class in their foreign policy, which shows how much of a brake on development they were (and still are). Thirdly the need for a complete break with capitalism, which was missed by the very Labour Party Orwell canvassed for in 1945 along with the Social Democratic and Stalinist parties of Europe who saved capitalism from revolutionary overthrow. There are better accounts of the political situation during the second world war, but Orwell demonstrates the three above poiints excellently. This book isn't a must for socialists but it is a worthwhile read.


Renegade Eye said...

I read "Homage To Catalonia". It was well written and heartfelt. I'm sure those essays are great.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

I think Homage to Catalonia probably has to be my favourite Orwell book, most of the other non-novels he takes the position of a middle class observer on the labour movement, but in Homage to Catalonia he is there in the thick of the action and the book benefits much from it. As for the essays like most of Orwells work they raise very interesting questions, but I don't think that they're a must-read like Homage to Catalonia.