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(10/21/2008) Homage To Catalonia by George Orwell. New York. 1982. Penguin Books. keywords: Literature England Spain History Paperback Penguin. 247 pages. Front cover photograph by Humphrey Sutton. 01400116996.

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

   HOMAGE TO CATALONIA is the account of George Orwell's experiences as a militiaman in the Spanish Civil War, Told with all the honesty and bitterness of a fighting man only a few months after the events, the book not unnaturally offended the Left. For the cynical duplicity of the Communists, backed by Russia, in that political chaos called Republican Spain was enough to shake all the beliefs of one who had seen it in person. In feeling - and almost in the outline of events - these embittered chapters of autobiography foreshadow Orwell's masterpiece of satire, ANIMAL FARM. Both demonstrate, on the one side, the same naive enthusiasm and the same reluctant disillusionment, and on the other the same spiteful brutality. It is with a sense of anger that one reads how an idealistic English volunteer, gravely wounded at the front, is at length forced into hiding and flight as Communists, Anarchists, and near-Trotskyites settle their differences in the streets of Barcelona.

Eric Arthur Blair, better known by the pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist. Noted as a novelist and critic as well as a political and cultural commentator, Orwell is among the most widely admired English-language essayists of the 20th century. He is best known for two novels critical of totalitarianism in general, and Stalinism in particular: Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Both were written and published towards the end of his life. Eric Arthur Blair was born on 25 June 1903 to British parents in Motihari, Bengal Presidency, British India. There, Blair's father, Richard Walmesley Blair, worked for the Opium Department of the Civil Service. His mother, Ida Mabel Blair, brought him to England at the age of one. He did not see his father again until 1907, when Richard visited England for three months before leaving again. Eric had an older sister named Marjorie, and a younger sister named Avril. He would later describe his family's background as 'lower-upper-middle class'. At the age of six, Blair was sent to a small Anglican parish school in Henley-on-Thames, which his sister had attended before him. He never wrote of his recollections of it, but he must have impressed the teachers very favourably, for two years later, he was recommended to the headmaster of one of the most successful preparatory schools in England at the time: St Cyprian's School, in Eastbourne, Sussex. Blair attended St Cyprian's by a private financial arrangement that allowed his parents to pay only half of the usual fees. At the school, he formed a lifelong friendship with Cyril Connolly, future editor of the magazine Horizon, in which many of his most famous essays were originally published. Many years later, Blair would recall his time at St Cyprian's with biting resentment in the essay 'Such, Such Were the Joys'. However, in his time at St. Cyprian's, the young Blair successfully earned scholarships to both Wellington and Eton. After one term at Wellington, Blair moved to Eton, where he was a King's Scholar from 1917 to 1921. Aldous Huxley was his French teacher for one term early in his time at Eton. Later in life he wrote that he had been 'relatively happy' at Eton, which allowed its students considerable independence, but also that he ceased doing serious work after arriving there. Reports of his academic performance at Eton vary; some assert that he was a poor student, while others claim the contrary. He was clearly disliked by some of his teachers, who resented what they perceived as disrespect for their authority. After Blair finished his studies at Eton, his family could not pay for university and his father felt that he had no prospect of winning a scholarship, so in 1922 he joined the Indian Imperial Police, serving at Katha and Moulmein in Burma. He came to hate imperialism, and when he returned to England on leave in 1927 he decided to resign and become a writer. He later used his Burmese experiences for the novel Burmese Days and in such essays as 'A Hanging' and 'Shooting an Elephant' Back in England he wrote to Ruth Pitter, a family acquaintance, and she and a friend found him a room in London, on the Portobello Road, where he started to write. It was from here that he sallied out one evening to Limehouse Causeway - following in the footsteps of Jack London - and spent his first night in a common lodging house, probably George Levy's 'kip'. For a while he 'went native' in his own country, dressing like other tramps and making no concessions, and recording his experiences of low life in his first published essay, 'The Spike', and the latter half of Down and Out in Paris and London In the spring of 1928, he moved to Paris, where his Aunt Nellie lived and died, hoping to make a living as a freelance writer. In the autumn of 1929, his lack of success reduced Blair to taking menial jobs as a dishwasher for a few weeks, principally in a fashionable hotel on the rue de Rivoli, which he later described in his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London, although there is no indication that he had the book in mind at the time. Ill and penniless, he moved back to England in 1929, using his parents' house in Southwold, Suffolk, as a base. Writing what became Burmese Days, he made frequent forays into tramping as part of what had by now become a book project on the life of the poorest people in society. Meanwhile, he became a regular contributor to John Middleton Murry's New Adelphi magazine. Blair completed Down and Out in 1932, and it was published early the next year while he was working briefly as a schoolteacher at a private school called Frays College near Hayes, Middlesex. He took the job as an escape from dire poverty and it was during this period that he managed to obtain a literary agent called Leonard Moore. Blair also adopted the pen name George Orwell just before Down and Out was published. In a November 15 letter to Leonard Moore, his agent, he left the choice of a pseudonym to Moore and to Victor Gollancz, the publisher. Four days later, Blair wrote Moore and suggested P. S. Burton, a name he used 'when tramping,' adding three other possibilities: Kenneth Miles, George Orwell, and H. Lewis Allways. Orwell drew on his work as a teacher and on his life in Southwold for the novel A Clergyman's Daughter, which he wrote at his parents' house in 1934 after ill-health - and the urgings of his parents - forced him to give up teaching. From late 1934 to early 1936 he worked part-time as an assistant in a second-hand bookshop, Booklover's Corner, in Hampstead. Having led a lonely and very solitary existence, he wanted to enjoy the company of other young writers, and Hampstead was a place for intellectuals, as well as having many houses with cheap bedsitters. He worked his experiences into the novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying In early 1936, Orwell was commissioned by Victor Gollancz of the Left Book Club to write an account of poverty among the working class in the depressed areas of northern England, which appeared in 1937 as The Road to Wigan Pier. He was taken into many houses, simply saying that he wanted to see how people lived. He made systematic notes on housing conditions and wages and spent several days in the local public library consulting reports on public health and conditions in the mines. He did his homework as a social investigator. The first half of the book is a social documentary of his investigative touring in Lancashire and Yorkshire, beginning with an evocative description of work in the coal mines. The second half of the book, a long essay in which Orwell recounts his personal upbringing and development of political conscience, includes a very strong denunciation of what he saw as irresponsible elements of the left. Gollancz feared that the second half would offend Left Book Club readers, and inserted a mollifying preface to the book while Orwell was in Spain. Soon after completing his research for the book, Orwell married Eileen O'Shaughnessy. In December 1936, Orwell travelled to Spain primarily to fight, not to write, for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War against Francisco Franco's Fascist uprising. In a conversation with Philip Mairet, the editor of the New English Weekly, Orwell said: 'This fascism. somebody's got to stop it. ' To Orwell, liberty and democracy went together and, among other things, guaranteed the freedom of the artist; the present capitalist civilization was corrupt, but fascism would be morally calamitous. John McNair is also quoted as saying in a conversation with Orwell: 'He then said that this was quite secondary and his main reason for coming was to fight against Fascism. ' He went alone, and his wife joined him later. He joined the Independent Labour Party contingent, a group of some twenty-five Britons who joined the militia of the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification, a revolutionary Spanish communist political party with which the ILP was allied. The POUM, along with the radical wing of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT, believed that Franco could be defeated only if the working class in the Republic overthrew capitalism - a position fundamentally at odds with that of the Spanish Communist Party and its allies, which argued for a coalition with bourgeois parties to defeat the Nationalists. In the months after July 1936 there was a profound social revolution in Catalonia, Aragon and other areas where the CNT was particularly strong. Orwell sympathetically describes the egalitarian spirit of revolutionary Barcelona when he arrived in Homage to Catalonia. According to his own account, Orwell joined the POUM rather than the Communist-run International Brigades by chance - but his experiences, in particular his and his wife's narrow escape from the Communist purges in Barcelona in June 1937, greatly increased his sympathy for POUM and made him a life-long anti-Stalinist and a firm believer in what he termed Democratic Socialism, that is to say, in socialism combined with free debate and free elections. During his military service, Orwell was shot through the neck and nearly killed. At first it was feared that his voice would be permanently reduced to nothing more than a painful whisper. This wasn't so, although the injury did affect his voice, giving it what was described as, 'a strange, compelling quietness. ' He wrote in Homage to Catalonia that people frequently told him he was lucky to survive, but that he personally thought 'it would be even luckier not to be hit at all. ' The Orwells then spent six months in Morocco in order to recover from his wound, and during this period, he wrote his last pre-World War II novel, Coming Up For Air. As the most English of all his novels, the alarms of war mingle with idyllic images of a Thames-side Edwardian childhood enjoyed by its protagonist, George Bowling. Much of the novel is pessimistic; industrialism and capitalism have killed the best of old England. There were also massive new external threats and George Bowling puts the totalitarian hypothesis of Borkenau, Orwell, Silone and Koestler in homely terms: 'Old Hitler's something different. So's Joe Stalin. They aren't like these chaps in the old days who crucified people and chopped their heads off and so forth, just for the fun of it. They're something quite new - something that's never been heard of before. ' After the ordeals of Spain and writing the book about it, most of Orwell's formative experiences were over. His finest writing, his best essays and his great fame lay ahead. In 1940, Orwell closed up his house in Wallington and he and Eileen moved into 18 Dorset Chambers, Chagford Street, in the genteel neighbourhood of Marylebone, very close to Regent's Park in central London. He supported himself by writing freelance reviews, mainly for the New English Weekly but also for Time and Tide and the New Statesman. He joined the Home Guard soon after the war began In 1941 Orwell took a job at the BBC Eastern Service, supervising broadcasts to India aimed at stimulating Indian interest in the war effort, at a time when the Japanese army was at India's doorstep. He was well aware that he was engaged in propaganda, and wrote that he felt like 'an orange that's been trodden on by a very dirty boot'. The wartime Ministry of Information, which was based at Senate House, University of London, was the inspiration for the Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Nonetheless, Orwell devoted a good deal of effort to his BBC work, which gave him an opportunity to work closely with people like T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, Mulk Raj Anand and William Empson. Orwell's decision to resign from the BBC followed a report confirming his fears about the broadcasts: very few Indians were listening. He wanted to become a war correspondent and also seems to have been impatient to begin work on Animal Farm. Despite the good salary, he resigned in September 1943 and in November became the literary editor of Tribune, the left-wing weekly then edited by Aneurin Bevan and Jon Kimche Orwell was on the staff until early 1945, contributing a regular column titled 'As I Please. ' Anthony Powell and Malcolm Muggeridge had returned from overseas to finish the war in London. All three took to lunching regularly, usually at the Bodega just off the Strand or the Bourgogne in Soho, sometimes joined by Julian Symons, and David Astor, editor/owner of The Observer. In 1944, Orwell finished his anti-Stalinist allegory Animal Farm, which was first published in Britain on 17 August 1945 and in the U. S. A on the 26 August 1946 with great critical and popular success. Frank Morley, an editor Harcourt Brace, had come to Britain as soon as he could at the end of the War to see what readers were currently interested in. He asked to serve a week or so in Bowes and Bowes, a Cambridge bookshop. On his first day there customers kept asking for a book that had sold out - the second impression of Animal Farm. He left the counter, read the single copy left in the postal order department, went to London and bought the American rights. The royalties from Animal Farm were to provide Orwell with a comfortable income for the first time in his adult life. While Animal Farm was at the printer, and with the end of the War in sight, Orwell felt his old desire growing to be somehow in the thick of the action. David Astor asked him to act as a war correspondent for the Observer to cover the liberation of France and the early occupation of Germany, so Orwell left Tribune to do so. He was a close friend of Astor, and his ideas had a strong influence on Astor's editorial policies. Astor, who died in 2001, is buried in the grave next to Orwell. Orwell and his wife adopted a baby boy, Richard Horatio Blair, born in May 1944. Orwell was taken ill again in Cologne in spring 1945. While he was sick there, his wife died during an operation in Newcastle to remove a tumour. She had not told him about this operation due to concerns about the cost and the fact that she thought she would make a speedy recovery. For the next four years Orwell mixed journalistic work - mainly for Tribune, the Observer and the Manchester Evening News, though he also contributed to many small-circulation political and literary magazines - with writing his best-known work, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was published in 1949. Originally, Orwell was undecided between titling the book The Last Man in Europe and Nineteen Eighty-Four but his publisher, Fredric Warburg, helped him choose. The title was not the year Orwell had initially intended. He first set his story in 1980, but, as the time taken to write the book dragged on, that was changed to 1982 and, later, to 1984. He wrote much of the novel while living at Barnhill, a remote farmhouse on the island of Jura, which lies in the Gulf stream off the west coast of Scotland. It was an abandoned farmhouse with outbuildings near to the northern end of the island, lying at the end of a five-mile heavily rutted track from Ardlussa, where the laird or landowner, Margaret Fletcher, lived and where the paved road, the only road on the island, came to an end. In 1948, he co-edited a collection entitled British Pamphleteers with Reginald Reynolds. In 1949, Orwell was approached by a friend, Celia Kirwan, who had just started working for a Foreign Office unit, the Information Research Department, which the Labour government had set up to publish anti-communist propaganda. He gave her a list of 37 writers and artists he considered to be unsuitable as IRD authors because of their pro-communist leanings. The list, not published until 2003, consists mainly of journalists but also includes the actors Michael Redgrave and Charlie Chaplin. Orwell's motives for handing over the list are unclear, but the most likely explanation is the simplest: that he was helping a friend in a cause - anti-Stalinism - that they both supported. There is no indication that Orwell abandoned the democratic socialism that he consistently promoted in his later writings - or that he believed the writers he named should be suppressed. Orwell's list was also accurate: the people on it had all made pro-Soviet or pro-communist public pronouncements. In fact, one of the people on the list, Peter Smollett, the head of the Soviet section in the Ministry of Information, was later proven to be a Soviet agent, recruited by Kim Philby, and 'almost certainly the person on whose advice the publisher Jonathan Cape turned down Animal Farm as an unhealthily anti-Soviet text', although Orwell was unaware of this. In October 1949, shortly before his death, he married Sonia Brownell. Orwell died in London at the age of 46 from tuberculosis. He was in and out of hospitals for the last three years of his life. Having requested burial in accordance with the Anglican rite, he was interred in All Saints' Churchyard, Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire with the simple epitaph: 'Here lies Eric Arthur Blair, born June 25, 1903, died January 21, 1950'; no mention is made on the gravestone of his more famous pen-name. He had wanted to be buried in the graveyard of the closest church to wherever he happened to die, but the graveyards in central London had no space. Fearing that he might have to be cremated, against his wishes, his widow appealed to his friends to see if any of them knew of a church with space in its graveyard. Orwell's friend David Astor lived in Sutton Courtenay and negotiated with the vicar for Orwell to be buried there, although he had no connection with the village. Orwell's son, Richard Blair, was raised by an aunt after his father's death. He maintains a low public profile, though he has occasionally given interviews about the few memories he has of his father. Blair worked for many years as an agricultural agent for the British government.

 

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