This book of Orwell’s essays, journalism and letters mysteriously arrived at the house yesterday, in a brown paper package addressed in my sister’s handwriting, but postmarked from England. Who sent it? Where did it come from? I don’t know. Orwell is such a great comfort. Here are some passages from the collection that my sister either underlined or circled that I also enjoy:
From “Why I Write”:
From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books.
I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons, and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued. I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everday life.
The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money
When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself.
Every book is a failure.
All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very botom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demn whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention.
From “Letter to Brenda Salkeld: (137-140)
He idolises the Japanese, who always sem to me such a boring people.. It is amazing how some people can have the most interesting experiences & then have absolutely nothing to say about them.
I don’t know how it is, I can write decent passages but I can’t put them together.
I nearly died of cold the other day while bathing, because I had walked out to the Easton Broad not intending to bathe, & then the water looked so nice that I took off my clothes & went in, & then about 50 people came up & rooted themseles to the spot. I wouldn’t have minded that, but among them was a coastguard who could have had me up for bathing naked, so I had to swim up & down for the best part of an hour, pretending to like it.
I managed to get my copy of “Ulysses” through safely this time. I rather wish I had never read it. It gives me an inferiority complex. When I read a book like that and then come back to my own work, I feel like an eunuch who has taken a course in voice production an can pass himself off fairly well as a bass or baritone, but if you listen closely you can hear the good old squeak just the same as ever.
This age makes me so sick that sometimes I am almost impelled to stop at a corner and start calling down curses from Heaven like Jeremiah or Ezra or somebody–“Woe upon thee, O Israel, for thy adulteries with the Egyptians” etc etc.
From “Letter to Brenda Salkeld”: (148) I am living a busy life at present. My time-table is as follows: 7am get up, dress etc., cook & eat breakfast. 8.45 go down & open the shop, & I am usually there till about 9.45. Then come come, do out my room, light the fire ec. 10.30am-1pm I do some writing. 1pm get lunch & eat it. 2pm-6.30pm I am at the shop. Then I come home, get my supper, do the washing up & after that sometimes do about an hour’s work.
From “Review of Tropic of Cancer“: (154) Modern man is rather like a bisected wasp which goes on sucking jam and pretends that the loss of its abdomen does not matter.
From “Leter to Henry Miller”: (226) The fact to which we have got to cling, as to a life-belt, is that it is posible to be a normal decent person and yet to be fully alive.
From “Letter to Geoffrey Gorer”: (380-381) It may be just as possible to produce a breed of men who do not wish for liberty as to produce a breed of hornless cows.
From “Inside the Whale”: (494) A novelist who simply disreguards the major public events of the moment is generally either a footler or a plain idiot.
[…] read him [Henry Miller] for five pages, ten pages, and you feel the peculiar relief that comes not so much from understanding as from being understood. “He knows all about me,” you feel; “he wrote this specially for me.” It is as though you could hear a voice speaking to you, a friendly American voice, with no humbug in it, no moral purpose, merely an implicit assumption that we are all alike. For the moment you have got away from the lies and simplifications, the stylised, marionette-like quality of ordinary fiction, even quite good fiction, and are dealing with the recognisable experiences of human beings.