George Orwell Studies journal is being launched later this year as an annual, paperback, academic, peer-reviewed journal exploring the life and works of George Orwell. To be published by Abramis, of Bury St Edmunds, it will carry academic papers of around 6,000 words, interviews, and book/film/website reviews. In particular, it aims to promote international perspectives on Orwell. 200-word abstracts on proposed papers are invited by the joint editors, Professor Richard Lance Keeble, of the University of Lincoln (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Professor John Newsinger (email@example.com), of Bath Spa University. Brief book review suggestions should go to the reviews editor, Dr Luke Seaber, of University College London (firstname.lastname@example.org). Deadline for abstracts and book review suggestions: 1 May 2016. Deadline for final paper/review submissions: 1 July 2016.
The Orwell Society (www.orwellsociety.com) has gained charitable status in recognition of its aim to promote understanding of the life and works of George Orwell. Orwell’s novels, essays, and journalism continue to offer inspiration and insights to many people. This is clear from the increasing attention paid to his work throughout the world.
Teachers and journalists are uniquely placed to encourage the appreciation of Orwell. Does Orwell inspire you? Do you wish to share your inspiration? Will you, in September/October this year, be a final year undergraduate student preparing to be a journalist or a teacher (or postgraduate teacher programme equivalent), The Orwell Society is offering one final year bursary of £1,000 to each, to be awarded to the winners of the competitions.
The full terms and conditions for the competitions can be obtained by emailing email@example.com with Bursary – Teacher or Bursary – Journalist in the header.
Each competition requires you to write a 1,000 word essay and to produce another piece of work, which is relevant to your chosen profession. Writers of the three best entries in each category will be invited to London to be interviewed by a panel of experts. For journalism they will be Richard Blair, son of Orwell and Patron of the Orwell Society, Richard Lance Keeble, Professor of Journalism at the University of Lincoln and chair of The Orwell Society, and Dr Judith Townend, journalist and Director of the Information Law and Policy Centre at the University of London. For teaching, they will be Richard Blair, son of Orwell and Patron of the Orwell Society, Mike Neary, Professor of Sociology, and former Dean of Teaching and Learning at the University of Lincoln, and Selina Todd, Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford.
If you would like to make a commitment to helping The Orwell Society promote interest in the life and works of George Orwell, then enter this competition!
History has been made at Goldsmiths, University of London, with the first George Orwell Studies conference held, Tim Crook reports.
Leading academics gave presentations highlighting that Orwell wrote with a great sense of humour, and the role of highly educated and successful women in his life. Other papers looked at how he had developed as a writer when working at the BBC during World War Two, and his relationship with the politics and culture of the United States.
The conference was opened by the Warden of Goldsmiths, Pat Loughrey, who said that when he was at the BBC George Orwell had clearly been the inspiration for journalism style-books and editorial values.
George Orwell’s son Richard Blair attended this joint event in association with the Orwell Society. Quentin Kopp, the son of one of George Orwell’s best friends, joined Richard Blair in discussions about the life and times of the author of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four.
Goldsmiths and the Orwell Society hope to make the conference an annual event and it was also revealed that Abramis Academic Publishing would be publishing a new George Orwell Studies journal.
‘“There is Always Room for One More Custard Pie”: Orwell’s Humour.’ Professor Richard Keeble, chair of the Orwell Society and Professor of Journalism at the University of Lincoln. As the author of the dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell tends to be associated with gloom, failure and the horrors of living in a Big Brother society. Yet he had a remarkably bright and witty side.
This talk examined Orwell’s humour in a range of texts: including Homage to Catalonia (1938), his ‘As I Please’ columns in Tribune (1943-47), his essay on the sexy, seaside postcards of Donald McGill (1941) – and on the common toad (1946). It stressed the rewards of teaching Orwell to students of journalism, cultural studies – and the humanities in general.
‘Orwell’s Women.’ Professor Jean Seaton is Professor of Media History at the University of Westminster and the Official Historian of the BBC. She is the Director of the Orwell Prize and on the editorial board of Political Quarterly.
There is a disconnect between the women who were close to Orwell and part of his milieu and the rather inadequate and stereotypical female characters in the novels. He knew a rather advanced group of women who were professional, independent, and educated. Eileen, his first wife, was a trained psychologist, and worked in the Ministry of Food. Her sister in law was a doctor. Lydia Jackson, a friend of Eileen and Orwell, was a pioneering child psychologist and writer of both memoires and novels.
These women were exceptional even in the 1930s and 40s. Yet they were also marginal (or marginalised). Eileen, in particular, existed until recently as others saw her – and with just a few letters in her own words a different, wittier, more forceful character emerges. What does their experience reveal about women and class in fiction then? Orwell himself, labouring to become a better writer, often wrote uncomfortably about women. Why? Or was he just a chap of his time?
‘Orwell and America.’ Professor John Newsinger is Professor of Modern History in the School of Humanities and Cultural Industries at Bath Spa University.
Did Orwell ignore the United States? Was he so focused on England, Europe, Burma and the Soviet Union that he turned his back altogether on the country that in his lifetime was to become the most important in the world? The answer is no. Orwell wrote his most important wartime journalism for the US magazine Partisan Review. He wrote about American literature, most notably about Jack London. He was very concerned about the US influence on Britain, both political and cultural.
Towards the end of his life, he made clear that he regarded the Labour government’s subservience to the United States as an obstacle to progress towards socialism and at the same time proclaimed that in the event of a war between the Soviet Union and the United States, he would support the United States. How did he come to these conclusions?
‘Only donkeys survive tyranny and dictatorship.’ Professor Tim Crook is Head of Radio and Media Law and Ethics at Goldsmiths.
Is Benjamin the donkey in Animal Farm the autobiographical voice of Orwell in his famous satirical animal allegory on failure of revolution, and the development of the totalitarian world? Benjamin could be regarded as the most intelligent of the animals. He was certainly an equal of the pigs. He is all-knowing and cynical.
While it can be argued that his selfishness means the development of pig power goes unchecked, it cannot be said he did not play a brave and energetic part in the Battle of the Cowshed to expel Jones from his farm. Nor can it be said he did not rouse himself to direct action to try and save his friend Boxer from the Knacker’s Yard.
But while the witty all-knowing cynicism of Benjamin could represent Orwell’s personal bitter-sweet experience of the abuse of political power, Orwell cannot be dismissed as an apolitical bystander who intervened and protested too late. Professor Crook evaluates the significance of Benjamin’s characterisation.
Indeed, Benjamin says in the novel no one has ever seen a dead donkey; and yes, donkeys do live a long time. Is it important to understand why? The potential in Benjamin’s characterisation could unlock a powerful dimension of narrative point of view and ethical ambiguity in any future dramatization of the novel.
First published at http://londonmultimedianews.com/2016/01/07/first-george-orwell-studies-conference-at-goldsmiths/
Richard Lance Keeble, chair of the Orwell Society, gave the keynote speech at a conference jointly organised by the society and Goldsmiths College, University of London, on 7 January. He examined Orwell’s current place in higher education and then concentrated on his much neglected humour and fascination with wit
Orwell the cultural icon
Let’s first consider Orwell’s place in society as nothing less than a cultural icon. Is it not extraordinary that hardly a day goes by without the global media referring to Orwell – while the word Orwellian is equally prominent. It is used as a pejorative adjective to evoke totalitarian terror, the falsification of history by state organised lying; the use of euphemistic language to camouflage morally outrageous ideas and actions. Or it is used as a complimentary adjective to mean ‘displaying outspoken intellectual honesty, like Orwell’. Does any other writer occupy such a place: I doubt it. In the debate over Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA global surveillance Orwell’s Big Brother society of Nineteen Eighty-Four was a constant reference point.
His contribution to the broader culture is vast. Orwell himself gave to the English language a whole host of new words, phrases and striking aphorisms. He was the first person to use the phrase ‘Cold War’. Other phrases and words he invented which have slipped effortlessly into everyday English include ‘Big Brother’, ‘newspeak’ (and variants such as ‘nukespeak’ and ‘massacrespeak’); ‘doublethink’ (and variants such as ‘groupthink’); even ‘Room 101’ (the name of a television series of dubious quality) – all from Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Moreover, many of his aphorisms are regularly referred to in the media. For instance, there’s ‘During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act’ and ‘Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper.’ Others include: ‘Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defence against a homicidal maniac.’ ‘Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear,’ and ‘In our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics.” All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly and hatred.’ And there’s ‘The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.’
Orwell and higher education: English Studies
Orwell acquired international fame for his great novels Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and not surprisingly the study of these and his other novels and essays is embedded in English programmes in schools, colleges and universities across the globe. The recent publication of a volume containing all of Orwell’s poetry by Orwell Society founder member Dione Venables should also help focus academic attention on that previously ignored aspect of his overall vast output.
Moreover, Orwell virtually invented the discipline of Cultural Studies with his commentaries on so many of the manifestations of popular culture which fascinated him – crime novels, boys’ weeklies, women’s magazines, cups of tea, Woolworth’s roses, common lodging houses, the common toad and handwriting. Such subjects have tended to be considered too trivial and unworthy of attention by the intellectual and cultural elite.
In one of his most celebrated essays – published in Cyril Connolly’s Horizon in September 1941 – he examined the seaside postcards of Donald McGill and, as he wrote, ‘their endless succession of fat women in tight bathing-dresses and their crude drawings and unbearable colours’.
Orwell also occupies a place in intelligence studies, highlighted in James Smith’s recently published British Writers and MI5 Surveillance 1930-1960. Files of Special Branch and MI5 released a few years ago reveal that Orwell was followed closely by British intelligence throughout his career – from the time he began writing for radical journals in Paris at the end of the 1920s. But Orwell’s links with the secret state in the end became somewhat ambivalent (as I have examined in a number of essays) – particularly after he befriended David Astor who was very involved in SOE, the military arm of intelligence during the Second World War. It is likely that Orwell travelled to the continent in 1945 on some kind of intelligence mission for Astor under the cover of writing for the Observer – and his decision on his deathbed to hand over a list of crypto-communists to the Information Research Department (a newly set up propaganda operation of the secret state) has been the subject of a heated controversy ever since.
Orwell may be best known as a novelist. But for me, ever since I first joined a newspaper in my home city Nottingham in 1970 Orwell the committed, progressive journalist has been an inspiration.
Moreover, as an academic since 1984 I have used Orwell’s writings in a wide range of programmes. At the University of Lincoln I set up (with the backing of John Pilger) the only undergraduate BA in investigative journalism – and not surprisingly Orwell’s investigations into poverty in Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier are seminal texts which all students without any exception love to devour.
In my teaching of media ethics too Orwell’s decisions to live amongst the beggars, prostitutes, and hop-pickers, to actually go down a mine to experience first-hand the miner’s experience have usefully raised all kinds of issues for students – about authenticity, commitment, and the supposed ‘truthfulness’ of eye-witness reporting. His essential commitment to alternative non-corporate newspapers and journals also raises important ethical and political issues for students (bombarded as they are by the corporate media) to consider.
At Lincoln I also set up the MA programme in War, Journalism and Human Rights and here again Orwell’s writing on his experiences fighting on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War and his 19 frontline despatches for the Observer and Manchester Evening News at the end of the Second World War are crucial texts.
Also at Lincoln my teaching of literary journalism (exploring the political economy of the text and the ways in which journalism exploits the techniques mostly associated with high literature) has very often used Orwell’s writings as models. The genres covered by Orwell are so fascinating: film and book reviews, political polemic, columns, essays, war reporting, letters, diaries, memoir. His aim, he said, was ‘to make political writing into an art’. And in that he succeeded.
Humour: Orwell’s bright side
But today I want to focus on a much neglected area – Orwell’s humour. Humour and journalism happens to be in general largely unchartered territory. Indeed, it’s only after I retired two years ago that it occurred to me to look at humour in journalism. And the two books I have recently edited appear to be the very first books to tackle the subject. In Orwell’s case, he has tended to be associated with seriousness, if not the gloom of the dystopian vision of Nineteen Eighty Four. His novels – such as Burmese Days (1934), A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935) and Coming up for Air (1939) – certainly tend to end rather gloomily. Significantly, of his schooldays at St Cyprian’s, Eastbourne, which he revisited later in life in the ironically titled essay ‘Such, such were the joys’, he wrote: ‘Failure, failure, failure – failure before me, failure ahead of me – this is the deepest conviction I carried away.’
But there were brighter aspects of his personality which should not be overlooked. One of his biographers Jeffery Myers reports that at Eton:
One of his star turns was to go around inquiring about the religions of new boys and naming a series of extinct creeds. ‘Are you Sceptic, Epicurean, Cynic, Neoplatonist, Confucian or Zoroastrian?’ he would ask a bewildered youngster. ‘I’m a Christian.’ ‘Oh,’ said Eric, ‘we haven’t had that before.’
Orwell’s diaries are also full of witty observations, humorous anecdotes and high spirits. While down-and-out with the hop-pickers in Kent in September 1931, he records with clear delight the ‘uproarious scenes’ on Saturdays ‘for the people who had money used to get well drunk and it needed the police to get them out of the pub. I have no doubt the residents thought us a nasty vulgar lot, but I could not help feeling that it was rather good for a dull village to have this invasion of cockneys once a year’.
And, in his ‘Introduction’ to George Orwell: A Life in Letters, Peter Davison recalls how David Astor, Orwell’s great friend and editor of the Observer, told him how he would telephone Orwell when he felt depressed and ask to meet him in a local pub. Simply because he knew Orwell would make him laugh and cheer him up.
Moreover, Orwell had a profound fascination with wit as a subject to explore – and the humorous elements in his writings provide endless pleasure.
Humour in Homage
Homage to Catalonia (1938) is celebrated as a vivid, deeply personal account of his time on the frontlines in the Spanish civil war. Throughout the reportage is infused with a droll, self-deprecating wit: military cynicism mixed with military know-how. Of his time on the frontline fighting for the Trotskyite POUM militia against Franco’s forces, he wrote: ‘It is curious, but I dreaded the cold much more than I dreaded the enemy.’ On the Russian gun, he wrote: ‘Its great shells whistled over so slowly that you felt certain you could run beside them and keep up with them.’ Of the fat Russian agent, he says: ‘I watched him with some interest for it was the first time that I had seen a person whose profession was telling lies – unless one counts journalists.’
He describes a cathedral as ‘one of the most hideous buildings in the world’. He continues: ‘I think the anarchists showed bad faith in not blowing it up when they had the chance.’
Amidst all the horror of trench warfare (when it flares up), Orwell also manages to inject some humour into his narrative. For instance, Orwell is involved in a rare attack on the Fascist lines and sees ‘a shadowy figure in the half-light’. He continues:
I gripped my rifle by the mall of the butt and lunged at the man’s back. He was just out of my reach. Another lunge: still out of reach. And for a little distance we proceeded like this, he rushing up to the trench and I after him on the ground above, prodding at his shoulder-blades and never quite getting there – a comic memory for me to look back upon, though I suppose it seemed less comic to him.
Humour of being hit by a bullet
And notice the droll, down-beat, anti-heroic description of being shot through the neck on 20 May 1937:
The whole experience of being hit by a bullet is very interesting and I think it is worth describing in detail. … Roughly speaking it was the sensation of being at the centre of an explosion. … Not being in pain I felt a vague satisfaction. This ought to please my wife, I thought, she had always wanted me wounded which would save me from being killed when the great battle came.
‘As I Please’
I personally cannot read the eighty wonderful ‘As I Please’ columns Orwell contributed to Tribune, the leftist journal, between 1943 and 1947 without constantly smiling at his wit and high spirits. His tone was constantly shifting – from ironic self-effacement to de-mystification and debunking. In his 7 January 1944 column, he mocked the ruling classes in this way:
Looking through the photographs in the New Years Honours List I am struck (as usual) by the quite exceptional ugliness and vulgarity of the faces displayed there. It seems to be almost the rule that the kind of person who earns the right to call himself Lord Percy de Falcontowers should look at best like an overfed publican and at worst a tax-collector with a duodenal ulcer … What I like best is the careful grading by which honours are always dished out in direct proportion to the amount of mischief done – baronies for Big Business, baronetcies for fashionable surgeons, knighthoods for tame professors.
Trousers and the war effort
On 4 February 1944, in typical idiosyncratic style, he chose to link a comment on turn-up trouser ends (of all things) to the war effort in this highly original witty way:
Announcing that the Board of Trade is about to remove the ban on turn-up trouser ends, a tailor’s advertisement hails this as ‘a first instalment of the freedom for which we are fighting’. If we are really fighting for turned up trouser ends I should be inclined to be pro-Axis. Turn-ups have no function except to collect dust and no virtue except that when you clean them out you occasionally find a sixpence there … I would like to see clothes rationing continue until the moths have devoured the last dinner jacket and even the undertakers have shed their top hats.
Dickens and the subversive role of humour
Orwell’s fascination with humour was also reflected in his book reviewing and essays on writers such as Rudyard Kipling, Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain and P. G. Wodehouse. In his celebrated essay on Dickens (1940), which combines a detailed study of an essentially literary subject with a critique of contemporary political attitudes, he stresses the ‘subversive’ role of humour, suggesting that Dickens’s constant wish to preach a sermon was ‘the final secret of his inventiveness’:
For you can only create if you can care. Types like Squeers and Micawber could not have been produced by a hack writer looking for something to be funny about. A joke worth laughing at always has an idea behind it, and usually a subversive idea. Dickens is able to go on being funny because he is in revolt against authority, and authority is always there to be laughed at. There is always room for one more custard pie.
‘Funny not vulgar’
Orwell is able to display his polymathic knowledge of (and highly opinionated views on) English humorous writing in his 1,884-word essay ‘Funny not vulgar’ (first published in the Leader, on 28 July 1945). He covers writers as diverse as Thackeray, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Hood, Edward Lear and Dickens. Returning to his ‘humour as subversion’ theme, he comments:
A thing is funny when – in some way that is not actually offensive or frightening – it upsets the established order. Every joke is a tiny revolution. If you had to define humour, you might define it as dignity sitting on a tin-tack. Whatever destroys dignity, and brings down the mighty from their seats, preferably with a bump, is funny. And the bigger the fall, the bigger the joke.
Today, he suggests, humorists are ‘too genteel, too kind hearted and too consciously lowbrow’. He writes: ‘P. G. Wodehouse’s novels or A. P. Herbert’s verses seem always to be aimed at prosperous stockbrokers whiling away an odd half hour in the lounge of some suburban golf course.’
Wit and the common toad
One of my favourite pieces of Orwellian journalism, which never fails to amuse me, is his essay ‘Some thoughts on the common toad’ of 1946. As Meyers comments, he combined ‘close observation and unusual facts with tenderness for a repulsive creature’.
He starts the column with a gentle, witty dig at Anglo-Catholics, saying that ‘after his long fast, the toad has a spiritual look, like a strict Anglo-Catholic towards the end of Lent’. He continues:
I mention the spawning of the toads because it is one of the phenomena of spring which most deeply appeals to me, and because the toad, unlike the skylark and the primrose, has never had much of a boost from the poets.
So here is the ever maverick Orwell delighting in speaking out for one of the forgottens of the animal kingdom. From this unlikely source his prose then flows on to a critique of capitalism, no less – and a celebration of life and the pleasure principle! He writes:
Is it wicked to take a pleasure in spring and other seasonal changes? To put it more precisely, is it politically reprehensible, while we are groaning, or at any rate ought to be groaning, under the shackles of the capitalist system, to point out that life is frequently more worth living because of a blackbird’s song, a yellow elm tree in October, or some natural phenomenon which does not cost money and does not have what editors of left-wing newspapers call a class angle.
Failure, as Terry Eagleton says, was Orwell’s forte. But then, as I have argued today, so too was fun.
In conclusion, it’s intriguing to consider that Orwell never went to a university. And perhaps as a result never wrote a footnote in his life. Yet in effect his whole life can be considered an educational project. He had an enormous appetite and curiosity about life – a deep desire to understand himself and the times he was living in. And through his wonderfully original and often witty writings he was seeking to encourage us all to join him on his journey.
• Richard Lance Keeble, Professor of Journalism at the University of Lincoln, has contributed a chapter, ‘There is always room for one more custard pie’: Orwell’s humour’ to Pleasures of the Prose, he co-edited with David Swick and which has just been published by Abramis, of Bury St Edmunds.
Firas Al-Jubouri, of the American University of Sharjah, has been invited to guest edit a special issue of English Studies (Routledge) devoted to George Orwell and related dystopian themes. Potential contributors should send abstracts (200 words) to Dr Al-Jubouri at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This may be of interest, Orwell in Camden published in the Camden History Review.
Richard Lance Keeble celebrates Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia as a wonderful example of literary journalism, focusing on just the opening pages
One of the most striking aspects of Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938), his eye-witness account of fighting alongside the Republican militia in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1937), is the range of literary genres and tones incorporated into the text. For instance, there are profiles (of individuals, cities, groups), sections of very direct, personal, emotional writing (conveying an earnestness to convey authentic/real experience); elements of background description, generalising comment and concrete experience; and personal commentary together with eye-witness reportage informed by a social political awareness. In addition, there is a journalistic emphasis on the extraordinary and the contradictory; confessional writing; a practical, down-to-earth awareness/sensibility; press content analysis/critique; political analysis (however reluctant); wit, irony, humour; there’s the droll debunking of the heroism of war and the claims of history – and political analysis/commentary. All of that packed into little more than a couple of hundred pages.
In my teaching of literary journalism I often take as an example worthy of constant analysis and debate the first few pages of Homage where Orwell describes so vividly meeting an Italian militiaman. He begins in traditional journalistic style: spelling out concisely and emphatically the ‘where,’ (In the Lenin Barracks in Barcelona’) the ‘when,’ (‘the day before I joined the militia’) the ‘who,’ (‘I’) and the ‘what,’ (‘saw an Italian militiaman standing in front of the officers’ table’). As Lynette Hunter comments in George Orwell: The Search for a Voice (1984): ‘It is an abrupt start to the book. There is no introductory prelude for the “I” who writes. The reader is thrust into a situation which he is supposed, in some way, to recognize: the detail is so concrete it assumes our familiarity with it.’
Orwell then describes/profiles the militiaman. There is extraordinary intensity in his gaze, perhaps with an element of homo-erotic excitement in it, as he dwells on the violence of the man: he stresses he was ‘a tough-looking youth of twenty-five or six, with reddish-yellow hair and powerful shoulders. His peaked leather cap was pulled fiercely over one eye. … Something in his face deeply moved me’. He says there were ‘both candour and ferocity in it’. But then a somewhat patronising, contemptuous tone emerges (perhaps from his educated, Old Etonian, ‘lower upper middle class’ background) as he mocks his ‘pathetic reverence that illiterate people have for their supposed superiors’. Interestingly, this homoeroticism also appears in the poem ‘The Italian Soldier Shook my Hand’ Orwell composed in 1939 about the experience: ‘To meet within the sound of guns/But oh! What peace I knew then/In gazing on his battered face/Purer than any woman’s’ (see George Orwell: The Complete Poetry, edited by Dione Venables, Finlay Publishers, 2015).
Orwell is clearly not hiding his feelings at the opening of Homage. The mockery continues: ‘Obviously he could not make head or tail of the map; obviously he regarded map-reading as a stupendous intellectual feat.’ Yet, paradoxically, the man’s ignorance adds to his allure which is matched by Orwell’s own confessed ignorance. He writes: ‘I hardly know why, but I have seldom seen anyone – any man, I mean – to whom I have taken such an immediate liking.’ As Hunter comments: ‘The lack of knowledge, combined with ignorance, paradoxically creates for the reader an elusiveness similar to the response to the Italian soldier and points to the past narrator’s inability to define the situation.’
Having gazed at a distance at the man, Orwell propels his dramatic narrative towards closer, more intimate contact: first, they engage in awkward, clipped dialogue as the Italian raises his head. Then, from gazing and dialogue the intimacy quickly moves on to the level of touching, and there is a certain ‘violence’ in the contact which Orwell clearly finds attractive: ‘As we went out he stepped across the room and gripped my hand very hard.’ And he adds: ‘Queer, the affection you can feel for a stranger!’ This generalisation serves two purposes: from the isolated incident Orwell is able to draw out an observation about the human predicament and at the same time avoid the personal voice: perhaps Orwell felt for a moment a certain embarrassment/shame about the intensity of his feelings for the stranger. Significantly, he quickly returns to the personal voice stressing the ‘utter intimacy’ of the contact: ‘It was as though his spirit and mine had momentarily succeeded in bridging the gulf of language and tradition and meeting in utter intimacy. I hoped he liked me as well as I liked him.’ The battle front had, then, became the traditional site for male bonding.
Looking back on the incident, Orwell reflects, with a certain sadness: ‘But I also knew that to retain my first impression of him I must not see him again; and needless to say I never did see him again.’ And from the personal he shifts to the impersonal, generalised ‘one’ voice – as if to distance himself from a certain pain: ‘One was always making contacts of that kind in Spain.’ As Hunter says: ‘The movement from optimistic fervour to criticism alerts the reader to a duality of naïve commitment yet clear detachment in the narrative. The duality is primarily one of chronological difference. There are two narrative voices: the earlier, immediately experiencing voice of the past, and the older, more reflective voice of the present.’
Orwell moves on to profile, in effect, the city of Barcelona, including personal impressions and vivid observations – while the emotional intensity of the writing captures both his own exhilaration and the extraordinary nature of the events witnessed. He quickly moves from the ‘I’ voice to that of the passionately engaged eye-witness: ‘It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. … Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared.’
Orwell, the narrator of the past here, is deeply inspired politically by what he sees. Looking back, he is able through the benefit of hindsight to acknowledge his ignorance: ‘There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.’ And he admits to his innocence and naïveté: ‘Also I believed that things were as they appeared, that this was really a workers’ state and that the entire bourgeoisie had either fled, been killed, or voluntarily come over to the worker’s side.’ The voice of the more reflective, present narrator adds: ‘I did not realize that great numbers of well-to-do bourgeois were simply lying low and disguising themselves as proletarians for the time being.’ This tension between detachment and involvement (and between past and present narrators) is a constant feature of the reportage.
Yet, Jeffery Meyers, in his 2000 biography, Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation, is critical of Orwell suggesting that his ‘intoxication’ with the radical politics he witnessed in Barcelona meant that he failed to acknowledge adequately the atrocities that accompanied the raising of the red and black flags: ‘Despite the shocking desecration of the churches, the persecution and murder of priests and nuns, Orwell was intoxicated by the atmosphere of Barcelona.’
• Richard Lance Keeble is chair of the Orwell Society and Professor of |Journalism at the University of Lincoln. His latest edited collection of essays, George Orwell Now! has just been published by Peter Lang, of New York. His own chapter compares Orwell’s journalistic writing styles in Homage (as explored in this article) and in his despatches from the European Continent in World War Two in 1945.
Note from Quentin Kopp:
One of the Orwell Society’s members in Spain, has brought this beautiful film by Sonia Boue to my attention. It is the product of some a project she was engaged in at the Abbey opposite the Church in Sutton Courtenay. I think it is beautiful and I would like to bring it to the attention of Members and anyone interested in Orwell.
Len Crome Memorial Conference
Women and the Spanish Civil War
Saturday, 12th March 2016
Location: The Manchester Conference Centre & Pendulum Hotel, Sackville Street, Manchester M1 3BB
(There will be time for questions after each session)
11.00 Welcome: Richard Baxell, Chair IBMT
11.15 Professor Paul Preston: Women in the Spanish Civil War
Pasionaria of Steel – The Life of Dolores Ibárruri
12.15 Professor Helen Graham: Wars of development –
Margaret Michaelis’ images of 1930s Barcelona
2.00 Lynn Collins: Regional Secretary of North West TUC
2.30 Dr Sylvia Martin: Aileen Palmer and the British Medical Unit –
’our secretary, our interpreter, our dogsbody’
3.15 Dr Linda Palfreeman: Fernanda Jacobsen – Samaritan or Spy?
5.00 Closing remarks: Jim Jump, Secretary IBMT
Contacts, Costs and payment details
£15 buffet and entrance
(payment in advance by Feb 28th)
£10 entrance only
(payment on the day)
Payment to IBMT by cheque/PayPal/bank transfer to:
Aysgaard, Beardwood Brow, Blackburn, Lancs, BB2 7AT
Tel: 01254 51302 Email:email@example.com
(please note no receipts will be sent out)
For further information on the conference:
Dolores Long: 0161 2262013 firstname.lastname@example.org
Charles Jepson: 01254 51302 email@example.com
Hilary Jones: 01625 527540 firstname.lastname@example.org
The Orwell Society will have a stand in the Exhibition on the day, which will include our Patron, Orwell’s son, Richard Blair and Quentin and Liz Kopp. Liz Kopp’s father was with the Czech International Brigade. Please join us for the day. It is always a very interesting day. This will be the 4th Year the Orwell Society have been to the Len Crome Lecture.
To celebrate George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Orwell Society is organising a competition for students (both BA and MA) at British universities. Dystopian narratives of 3,000 words should be sent to Professor Richard Lance Keeble, chair of the Orwell Society, via email@example.com, by 15 January 2016. A fee of £5 will be charged for each entry.
The judging panel comprises Richard Blair, the son of George Orwell and Patron of the Orwell Society, Dr Julie Wheelwright, programme director of the Creative Writing (narrative non-fiction/creative writing and publishing) MA at City University London, Dr Luke Seaber, tutor in Modern European Culture at University College London, and Professor Keeble. The prize of £500 will be announced on 15 February and comes with a trophy which is a bust of Orwell. They will be handed over by Richard Blair at the Society’s AGM later in the year.
The judges will be looking for the narrative which best follows in the tradition set by Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four and which Orwell is most likely to have admired. The winning entry will be published in the Society’s Journal and (along with the two runners-up) on the Society’s website, www.orwellsociety.com.
Entries can be submitted by paying £5 by one of the following means, referencing the prize:
• Via Paypal: The PayPal account is firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Sterling bank transfer: Make a sterling payment to the Society’s bank account (account name: ‘The Orwell Society’; sort code 601035; account number 13166417).
• UK sterling cheque: Please send your cheque, payable to The Orwell Society, to The Orwell Society, Marie Cottage, Bickenhill Lane, Catherine-de-Barnes, Solihull B92 0DE.
All submissions should be in a Word file (not PDF) and begin with a cover page providing title of story, name of author, name of university, name of programme studying on, and full contact details (address, telephone etc). The story should be presented in 12 pt Times Roman double spaced – with each page numbered and it should end with a word count.