Well I missed it, but yesterday was apparently George Orwell Day.
Not that the great man doesn’t deserve celebrating, but I suspect that this idea has more to do with the launch of the nice new Penguin Classics editions of some of his most famous works (cynical? Moi?). More interesting though, were the comments in The Guardian book section after the article that I linked to above.
Here, I’ll repeat it for anyone interested enough to want to read it.
Skim the main article but give the comments a good read (if you can stomach the first half dozen or so). It’s always problematic to appreciate an author or an artist for their work while ignoring their personal life or their behaviour. Orwell is no different, as some of the recent revelations of his activities reveal. But the sheer depth of enmity on display amongst the would-be literati there is baffling. Not only is it baffling, but it’s mostly vapid posturing and thinly disguised pedantry and nastiness. It’s not literary criticism but character assassination.
This lasts for another six or seven posts before the ‘contributors’ start to turn on each other and correct each other’s grammar. It seems that Orwell upsets as many people now as he did when he was writing, but once again we see that online commentary is far from the best format for a proper debate on the man.
It’s my own fault for reading so far down the page. I generally make a point of ignoring the bile that these articles elicit. It puts me in mind of a Charlie Brooker column from a few years ago. In the main he was talking about TV new programmes and their fondness for seeking opinions from the general public, but the observation is just as relevant:
“Most opinions, however, don’t really need to be written down at all. They can be replaced by a sound effect – the audible equivalent of an internet frowny-face. Imagine a sort of world-weary harrumph accompanied by the faintest glimmer of a self-satisfied sneer. That’s 90% of all human opinion on everything, right there. Internet debates would be far more efficient if everyone just sat at their keyboards hitting the “harrumph” key over and over again. A herd of people mooing their heads off. . .”
It’s not that Orwell was a faultless human being – he wasn’t. It’s just that once you’re an adult you start to realise that most of your heroes have feet of clay. Does this detract from the work that they produce that transcends their human weakness?