by Peter Marks
Twentieth Century Literature, Winter 1995
George Orwell has attained something akin to the status of a cultural icon, ironic given the myth of him as an iconoclast. While Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four account for much of this acclaim, Orwell's essays also contribute significantly, and the writer enjoys an honored place in the pantheon of essayists. Seen by some, though not all, as a clear-eyed teller of unpleasant truths, Orwell could also write endearing, perceptive, and unselfconscious pieces about postcards, tea-making, and toads. His essays are used frequently as mortar to support blocks of biographical or psychological speculation, the result of a supposed difficulty in separating the writer and his writings. The very title of Orwell's essay Why I Write seems to cry out for such treatment, and the cry has often been answered. In this foregrounding the writer, however, the periodical context in which and for which Orwell wrote his essays often has been ignored. Yet where Orwell wrote is scarcely less important than why he wrote.
An indication of the periodical's importance comes from Orwell himself. "The mentality of the English left-wing intelligentsia can be studied in half a dozen weekly and monthly papers," he claims in his 1941 essay The Lion and the Unicorn (74).(1) Given that a year earlier his Boys' Weeklies had mapped out the terrain for a survey of boys' magazines, the comment signals an abiding interest in the periodical press. In the later essay, however, Orwell comes not to praise the weeklies and monthlies but to bury them - or, at least, to rough them up a little. He declares, "The immediately striking thing about all these papers is their generally negative, querulous attitude, their complete lack at all times of any constructive suggestion" (74). Orwell names no names (thus damning all), but a paragraph later suggests some suspects, lashing the New Statesman and Nation and the News Chronicle for colluding in the "intellectual sabotage from the Left" of English morale. The accusation carries serious implications, Orwell charging that as a result of this sabotage "Fascist nations judged that [the English people! were 'decadent' and that it was safe to plunge into war" (75). Inflammatory stuff, certainly, but there remains an intriguing and telling twist. In the same month in which Orwell was writing "The Lion and the Unicorn," his short, appreciative study of the Victorian novelist Charles Reade appeared. What surprises is not the subject of this essay but the site of publication: the allegedly negative, querulous, unconstructive New Statesman and Nation.
Clearly, Orwell was not frightened to bite the hand that fed him (admittedly, the New Statesman and Nation provided only occasional sustenance) but more productive insights can be drawn. First, Orwell acknowledges the centrality of periodicals and papers to the thinking of the English left-wing intelligentsia in the 1930s and 1940s. Young readers of Magnet and Gem were not the only group affected by the periodical press. Second, and more important, he uses those same organs to broadcast his own ideas. The significance of the periodical to the development and transmission of his opinions, however, has largely gone unrecognized. This despite the fact that Orwell's association with periodicals can be traced back to the very beginnings of his writing career. Indeed, periodicals provided that start. For nearly two years before the publication in 1933 of his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London, his writing (reviews, articles, and essays) appeared only in journals and weeklies.
Reviewing the second number of the periodical New Writing in 1936, Robert Waller notes that Orwell, who had contributed Shooting an Elephant, "is an Adelphi discovery" (188). Since Waller was writing in The Adelphi, this claim to a promising young author lacks a certain impartiality. Nevertheless, the boast contains a sizable element of truth, Orwell's (then Eric A. Blair's) sketch The Spike having been published in The Adelphi in 1931. Four months later the journal published a more subtle and ultimately more durable piece, A Hanging. But The Adelphi did not provide the only outlet for Orwell: he reviewed for A. R. Orage's New English Weekly and provided articles for the as yet unvilified New Statesman and Nation. Publication in these journals no doubt provided a psychological boost to the apprentice writer, as well as allowing him contact with colleagues of relatively sophisticated and progressive literary and political opinions.(2) Additionally, Orwell was able (indeed required) to hone his writing skills before a perceptive, articulate, and occasionally prickly audience. An early review in the New English Weekly, for example, drew a critical letter to which Orwell replied.(3) A precedent was set.
After the publication of Down and Out in Paris and London Orwell's main energies were directed toward the writing of books, four novels and two documentaries appearing by the end of the decade. He never abandoned the essay as a medium of expression, however, or the periodical as a platform from which to broadcast his views. Indeed, he extended that platform considerably, producing essays and reviews for a diverse cluster of journals and papers. New Writing, Controversy, the Fortnightly Review, New Leader, The Highway, Time and Tide, and Left Forum carried his work, and he continued his associations with The Adelphi and the New English Weekly. Several of these journals are now largely forgotten, indicating a sometimes neglected aspect of Orwell's early work. For much of the thirties he was relatively unknown; that he published in small and sometimes obscure journals and papers signals this status. The name George Orwell now leaps from the contents pages of the likes of Left Forum, but it was not ever so. At that time he needed periodicals more than they needed him.
Circumstance not design decreed that after 1939 Orwell produced only two works of fiction, though admittedly the two pieces, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, stand comparison with the century's most influential political literature. Apart from these fictions, however, Orwell's literary production in the last decade of his life consisted of reviews, articles, and essays, which appeared in an ever-increasing assortment of periodicals and papers. A short list could comprise Horizon, Partisan Review, Left News, Contemporary Jewish Record, Politics and Letters, Tribune, The Listener, and Gangrel. Orwell even became involved in the running of one such journal, Polemic, in which he shared a seat on the editorial board with A. J. Ayer and others (Willison 175). Relationships with individual journals varied in terms of time or contribution, but taken together Orwell's links with periodicals over his entire writing career are of considerable importance to a full understanding of his thinking and writing.
The failure of critics to account for the periodical in analyses of Orwell can be in part blamed on his posthumous celebrity. As the myth of Orwell grew or was cultivated in the fifties and sixties, his supposedly keen analytical eye and unflinching ability to speak the unpalatable truth suggested him as the scourge of Cold War duplicity. Increasingly he was seen (though not by all) as a commentator singularly gifted with perspicacity and candor. For the "truth" on the Spanish Civil War, imperialism in the East, the hypocrisy of writers and intellectuals, the threat of totalitarianism, Orwell became a much-quoted source. Ironically, the periodical source in which these views first appeared, the fact that these analyses often were published for small, well-defined audiences, or the idea that Orwell might tailor his arguments to persuade or upset those specific groups, were not considered important. Raising Orwell to the status of cultural icon allowed that his views transcended the initial situations they were written to address.
A further cause for the neglect of the periodical's importance in assessing Orwell lies in the publication history of the essays themselves. In A George Orwell Companion John Hammond estimates Orwell's output at more than one hundred essays (187). Hammond neglects to add that at the time of Orwell's death less than one-tenth of those essays were readily available to the public. Eleven essays could be found in the two collections published in Orwell's life: Inside the Whale and Critical Essays. Three long essays, "The Lion and The Unicorn," "James Burnham and The Managerial Revolution," and "The English People" were published individually, and two collections, The Betrayal of the Left (Gollancz, ed.) and Victory or Vested Interest? (Cole, G. D. H., et al.) carried three essays by Orwell among the work of others.(4) Of these, only "The Lion and the Unicorn," published nearly a decade before Orwell's death, sold more than ten thousand copies (Willison 39). The rest of his essay output, still amounting to well over one hundred pieces, languished in the rapidly yellowing pages of dozens of periodicals. While some of these journals (Horizon or Partisan Review) were themselves well known, others (Gangrel or Controversy) were obscure or defunct and sometimes both, remembered only by contributors and readers.
The quality of these scattered essays and their significance to perceptions of Orwell can hardly be exaggerated. None of the collections extant at the time of Orwell's death contained pieces ("Shooting an Elephant," "A Hanging," Politics and The English Language, Such, Such Were the Joys, "Why I Write") later seen as central to his psychological and political development. This situation did not last long. Orwell's death activated salvage crews, which set out to recover the essays of a writer belatedly attaining the status of a cultural cult hero. With his own productivity prematurely halted, essays provided a "fresh" supply of material. Readers (the overwhelming majority) who had missed out on reading the essays when they first appeared in periodicals were given belated access via anthologies. Two new collections were published (Shooting an Elephant in 1950 and England Your England in 1953) which more than trebled the number of essays available to a new and growing audience. To suggest the effect of these additions, "A Hanging" (included in Shooting an Elephant) had only previously appeared nearly twenty years earlier in the pages of The Adelphi, whose readership amounted only to several thousand. Then, the essay's author was given as Eric A. Blair.
Ironically, then, readers had greater access to Orwell's essays three years after his death than at any point during his lifetime. Over the next decade half a dozen collections were produced, an index of Orwell's enduring popularity: none contained new material, though, an index of editorial inertia. Yet while the number of collections proliferated, increasingly the provenance of most essays was ignored. In Shooting an Elephant the fact that the essays were drawn from periodicals was made clear, but no such information was included in England Your England. The omission obscured the source of essays from journals as distinct as New Writing and Contemporary Jewish Record. The lack of contextualisation suggested a cohesiveness of attitude and argument at odds with subject matter ranging from mining conditions in northern England, to the Spanish Civil War, to anti-Semitism. This failure properly to locate the essays blurred differences between analyses written from 1937 to 1948. Orwell's views changed markedly in this period, but the format of England Your England failed to represent those developments. Subsequent selections continued to ignore the periodical context from which the essays derived.
In 1968 the four-volume Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell arrived to fanfares. Much of the praise was deserved. The editors, Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, served up a generous helping of long-neglected essays: "Bookshop Memories," "In Defense of the Novel," "Why I Join the ILP" and "My Country Right or Left" in the first volume alone. CEJL also contained hefty selections from Orwell's sometimes combative, sometimes whimsical column As I Please and his letters-cum-essays to Partisan Review, as well as letters and diaries. Sonia Orwell provided an introductory rationale for the ordering and selection of material. The broadly chronological sequence, she argued, allowed the painting of a "continuous picture of Orwell's life" without disobeying his request that no biography be written (CEJL I xix). In "A Note on Editing" Orwell and Angus explained the "rare" tampering with chronology as having been carried out for the "sake of illustrating the development of Orwell's thought" (CEJL I xxi). The fact that this argument was self-contradictory seems to have escaped them. To exemplify the distorting effect of this approach, the first volume of CEJL begins with "Why I Write," written only three years before Orwell's death, and ends with "My Country Right or Left." The fact that the latter essay heralds a major change in Orwell's views suggests the reason for its placement at the end of the first volume, but in purely chronological terms "My Country Right or Left" should have appeared well into the second volume. Orwell's opinions did not fall into the neat piles suggested by the order of material.
Sonia Orwell justified the exclusion from CEJL of certain material on the grounds that it was mundane, of inferior quality, or ephemeral. Given the resurrection of so much "new" material in CEJL itself, ephemerality clearly lay in the eyes of the editor. She also claimed, "anything [Orwell] would have considered as an essay is certainly included" (CEJL I xvii). Unless her husband harbored a peculiar definition of the essay, this statement is untrue. For example, Orwell wrote two essays on the Spanish Civil War not included in CEJL (one will be discussed later).(5) Nor do the two essays from The Betrayal of the Left appear though they are mentioned in an appendix in CEJL II:453.(6) Orwell biographer Bernard Crick emphasizes the importance of this editorial decision, arguing that "Admittedly the same ground is covered in The Lion and the Unicorn, but not including [the essays! paints a misleading and depoliticised picture of the balance and nature of [Orwell's] writing in 1940 and 1941" (396). In fact, the two essays had originally appeared in editions of the Left Book Club's monthly journal Left News along with a third essay which was not included in The Betrayal of the Left. This essay, "Will Freedom Die With Capitalism?", did not make it into the pages of CEJL either. Happily the ignored essays should find a place in the forthcoming volumes of The Complete Works of George Orwell, edited by Peter Davison.(7)
These shortcomings aside, CEJL performed several valuable functions, reinstating material and also going some way to contextualizing the essays. Original publication dates and details were given, the editors including footnotes with short histories of relevant periodicals - especially illuminating in the case of obscure journals. By their very nature, however, the four volumes suggested an inherent unity of vision and (headed by "Why I Write") a unity of purpose. Furthermore, and again as a result of their format, CEJL dislocated individual essays from the context in which each was published, so that Orwell's arguments appeared to spring fully formed from his head. In reality, many essays were written in reaction to arguments and analyses of others, and with specific periodical audiences in mind. The signaling of the periodical provenance of the essays was, however, not taken up by critics. John Rodden suggests one explanation, plausibly arguing that "these volumes did not alter most critics' opinions: by 1968 many critics had committed themselves to a certain view of Orwell and they continued to defend entrenched positions" (149). These interpretive trenches presumably blocked a view of the wider field in which Orwell's essays first appeared.
Despite this critical neglect, the influence of the periodical on the development and transmission of Orwell's essays needs to be recognized and integrated into the analysis of his work. Orwell's 1946 essay "Why I Write" provides a pertinent example of the distortions possible when periodicals are ignored. Placed at the beginning of CEJL, "Why I Write" functions as a statement of intent, a manifesto seemingly adhered to in what follows. Orwell's "authorized" biographer Michael Shelden blithely accepts this reading of the essay; he is not alone. Shelden extracts Orwell's comment in "Why I Write" that "good prose is like a window pane," using it to argue that Orwell's rhetorical "voice shapes the window and gives the reader a clear field of view, whether the scene is a Burmese prison yard, the Embankment, Wigan, Barcelona, Manor Farm or Airstrip One" (255). Shelden assumes that Orwell had adopted this stance as early as his 1931 essay "A Hanging," set in the Burmese prison yard. Yet Orwell himself doesn't look back that far in "Why I Write," locating his first attempts to fuse the literary and the political in the middle of the 1930's. Significantly, too, in the essay Orwell gazes not into the future from even the mid-1930's, but into the past from the mid-1940's. The essay is a review of an established career, not a manifesto for one just commenced.
Just as important, while the title "Why I Write" suggests a highly personal statement, in the essay itself the "four great motives" Orwell delineates are consciously meant to apply to writers in general.(8) This wider perspective is rarely acknowledged in considerations of 'Why I Write," but a glance at Gangrel, the periodical in which the essay was first printed, proves instructive. Orwell in fact was only one of four writers to produce an essay entitled "Why I Write." The back cover of the third number of Gangrel proclaims, "We have persuaded Neil M. Gunn, Rayner Heppenstall, Claude Houghton, Henry Miller, George Orwell, Alfred Perles to give their views on Why I Write in the next Gangrel pamphlet." The puff proved a little misleading, as puffs often do. In the event, Houghton prepared something on another topic, and Miller (characteristically, perhaps) did not contribute at all. Sadly, the efforts of Gunn, Heppenstall, Perles, and Orwell were to grace what was the fourth and final number of Gangrel. Like many a marginal periodical, Gangrel was not long for this world.
In a small way, however, the individual explorations of why each writer wrote vindicated the journal. A note in the fourth number explains that "the Editorial aim in requesting writers to contribute to Gangrel these articles on Why I Write was to discover whether their answers would justify the assumption that, generally speaking, writing is a vocational task" (2). The religious connotations are not arbitrary, the argument being that "these four articles do provide a picture which justifies the vocational attitude: 'I write because I became a writer, because I can't help writing, because I was called'" (2). Gangrel's quasi-religious bias might suggest reading Orwell's "Why I Write" not so much as a manifesto but as a testimony, if not a confession. This should be avoided, but the editorial 'presumption, while producing a reductive reading, is not entirely misconceived.
Orwell's "Why I Write" begins in a suitably vocational tone with the recollection that
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. (CEJL I 1)
This opening carries a definite hint of some (albeit secular) form of the calling presumed by the editors of Gangrel, though Orwell eventually develops his account beyond this initial tussle with his "true nature." Nevertheless, the essay does carry the mark of Gangtel in its concerns, and would not have been written but for the promptings of that periodical's editors. While Gangrel had no religious affiliations, the quasi-religious terminology might suggest the need to read Orwell's "Why I Write" as a testimony - confession, even. This suggestion, tempting as it is, should be avoided.
A similar argument can be made for "Shooting an Elephant," long considered an informative signpost to Orwell's political development. Published in the second number of New Writing in Autumn 1936, the essay, as with "Why I Write," was written only at the instigation of a periodical editor: in this case John Lehmann. The first issue of New Writing carries a "Manifesto," as did several thirties periodicals, in which the editor declares the journal "devoted to imaginative writing, mainly of young authors . . . whose work is too unorthodox in length or style to be suitable for the established monthly and quarterly magazines" (v). Staking its claim to this potentially rich seam, the manifesto continues that "New Writing also hopes to present the work of writers from colonial and foreign countries" (v). The first number transformed pious intention into worthy deed, containing translations of Russian, German, Chinese, and French literature alongside prose pieces set in Spain, Germany, the Soviet Union, and Northern Ireland.
Expressing himself "full of admiration for Burmese Days" and keen to maintain the brief to present young authors with an international outlook, Lehmann asked Orwell for a contribution to New Writing (Lehmann 245). Orwell replied circumspectly that he was in the process of writing a book, though he had recently recalled an incident regarding the shooting of an elephant. He suggests the possibility of a "sketch," admitting that
I would like to write it, but it may be that it is quite out of your line. I mean it might be too lowbrow for your paper. . . . Of course you can't say in advance that you would like it, but perhaps you could say tentatively whether it is at all likely to be in your line or not. If not, then I won't write it. . . . I'm sorry to be so vague but without seeing a copy of New Writing I can't tell what sort of stuff it uses. (CEJL I 221)
Like any good hustling editor, Lehmann sent Orwell a copy of the first number of New Writing. Clearly convinced by the diversity and seriousness of the periodical, Orwell reciprocated, presenting Lehmann "Shooting an Elephant" in a fortnight.
John Hammond comments, "It seems incredible that one of the most celebrated essays of modern times was first mooted with such apparent casualness. Fortunately the editor replied that he would be pleased to publish the 'sketch'" (214). Orwell's apparent casualness in proposing what became "Shooting an Elephant" is worth noticing, but Lehmann's decision to publish hardly counts as fortuitous. As Lehmann must have suspected and hoped, the eventual essay dovetailed neatly with the concerns of New Writing. The setting of "Shooting an Elephant," the illumination of a dim and rather squalid corner of colonial experience, and the narrator's suspension between the political imperatives of colonial rule and his own moral code, as well as Orwell's relative youth, were made for the pages of New Writing. "Shooting an Elephant" duly opened the second number of the periodical, alongside work by Mulk Raj Anand, Ignazio Silone, and writers of Russian, Austrian, French, American, German, British, and Trinidadian descent.
While the impetus for "Why I Write" and "Shooting an Elephant" came from particular periodical editors, Orwell was adept at using periodicals to promote his own arguments. One of the earliest and clearest examples of this tactic involves his analysis of the Spanish Civil War. Only loosely aligned politically before arriving in Spain, Orwell perceived that the conflict was being portrayed falsely by the press both outside and inside Spain. While still in Barcelona, Orwell wrote to his publisher, Victor Gollancz, "I hope I shall get a chance to write the truth about what I have seen. The stuff appearing in the English papers is largely the most appealing lies - more I can't say, owing to the censorship" (CEJL I 267). Ironically, Gollancz would impose his own form of censorship, refusing to publish the truth, at least that seen through Orwell's eyes.
Gollancz's rejection of Orwell's still unwritten account led Orwell to the rival publisher, Frederic Warburg. Warburg published Homage to Catalonia in April 1938, but despite the hopes of writer and publisher the book sold only 683 copies in the first six months (Warburg 238). To put this in perspective, Orwell's previous work, The Road to Wigan Pier, had sold over 40,000 copies, almost entirely the result of the Gollancz-inspired Left Book Club's built-in audience; the book had been the Club's monthly selection (Willison 19; Davison 227).(9) Since Homage to Catalonia was written explicitly for immediate impact, this commercial failure carried political implications. The time factor was also significant. Orwell acknowledges on the second page of the book that the opening scene at the Lenin Barracks takes place "in late December 1936, less than seven months ago as I write, and yet it is a period that has already receded into enormous distance" (2). If the time lag between events and their depiction potentially raised interpretive problems, the gap between writing and eventual publication was even greater. Not surprisingly, Orwell was aware of the damage caused to his argument by the inevitable time lag, and circumvented the gap by employing periodicals to broadcast his message almost immediately.
Within weeks of escaping the poisoned situation in Barcelona, Orwell had published two essays dealing with events and their depiction: "Spilling the Spanish Beans" and "Eye-witness in Barcelona." Only the first of these appears in CEJL. "Spilling the Spanish Beans" was published originally in two parts, in consecutive issues of the New English Weekly, for which Orwell had written since 1932. A month before he departed for Spain, the Weekly had published his essay "In Defense of the Novel." The publication route for "Eye-witness in Barcelona" was more circuitous. In a letter to Rayner Heppenstall written in July 1937, Orwell complains that his proposal for an article on Spain, seemingly accepted by the New Statesman and Nation, had been rejected once the position to be espoused became clear (CEJL I 279).
Instead, "Eye-witness in Barcelona" was published in the marginal political periodical, Controversy. Michael Shelden downplays the rejection of "Eye-witness in Barcelona" by the New Statesman and Nation, commenting that "at this stage of his career, Orwell could always find someone willing to publish his reviews . . . so [New Statesman and Nation editor] Kingsley Martin's rejections were only temporary setbacks" (306). Though correct in recognizing the options that periodicals provided Orwell, Shelden misreads completely the relative significance of the two journals. Controversy struggled constantly simply to survive, with a circulation measurable in hundreds, while the New Statesman and Nation enjoyed weekly sales of nearly 25,000 copies and a national profile which projected beyond restrictive political boundaries. To equate the two exaggerates the impact of even an essay as vigorously and consciously polemical as "Eye-witness in Barcelona."
Deprived of access to the influential presses of both Gollancz and the New Statesman and Nation Orwell was able to present his heterodox views. Tellingly, his chief target in "Spilling the Spanish Beans" is propaganda's perverting impact on the depiction of events in Spain. Acknowledging the lies of the right-wing press, Orwell launches a withering surprise attack on the "left wing papers, the News Chronicle and the Daily Worker, [who] with their far subtler methods of distortion . . . have prevented the British public from grasping the true nature of the struggle" (CEJL I 269). "Spilling the Spanish Beans" exposes what Orwell sees as the damage wrought on British perceptions by propaganda sympathetic to the communist line on Spain. In an argument which echoes on in his 1941 attack on the left-wing intelligentsia in Britain, Orwell accuses the periodicals and papers of the left of playing a decisive part in misinterpreting events and in misleading their readers.
Orwell makes this forceful attack on certain elements of the left-wing press by utilizing a left-wing weekly. This irony should be appreciated, but it remains worth recognizing that Orwell's audience in the New English Weekly was comprised of many of those sympathetic to the views he vilifies. In effect, the New English Weekly not only allowed him a platform from which to propound his interpretations of events and distortions but also provided access to a politically sophisticated audience well suited to appreciate (if not necessarily to applaud) his argument' Despite its overtly polemical stance, though, "Spilling the Spanish Beans" created no great stir within the pages of the New English Weekly. No doubt Orwell's relative obscurity at the time the essay was printed mitigated against widespread consideration of his views. He was only one of many ready to give their account of the situation in Spain, and certainly he was not the most prestigious. That title probably went to Ernest Hemingway. Even so, the New English Weekly did allow Orwell swift access to the arena of debate. Homage to Catalonia, by contrast, was not published until the following year.
Periodicals and papers provided not only speedy publication of unorthodox views but also a variety of audiences. Whereas the readers of the New English Weekly tended toward the center left rather than to the extremities, those of Controversy (which published "Eye-witness in Barcelona") were more overtly and perhaps more belligerently leftist in stance. The journal proclaimed itself the "Monthly Forum for Socialist Discussion" and left its pages open to comments by supporters of the Labour Party, the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Independent Labour Party, various anarchist groups, and sundry left-wing independents. Smaller but more politically committed than the readership of the New English Weekly, that of Controversy was amenable to different arguments. Orwell takes the opportunity presented, for although published at the same time as "Spilling the Spanish Beans," "Eye-witness in Barcelona" looks at the war in Spain from a different angle and proposes a different assessment.
The perspective in "Eye-witness in Barcelona" is in one sense more limited, in one sense more acute than that of "Spilling the Spanish Beans." In the latter essay Orwell argues the case vigorously that in Spain "the real struggle is between revolution and counter-revolution" (CEJL I 270). Not, as the misinformed outsider might assume, a struggle between Franco and a broad anti-Fascist coalition, but one "between workers who are vainly trying to hold on to a little of what they have won in 1936, and the Liberal-Communist bloc who are so successfully taking it away from them" (CEJL I 270). In "Eye-witness in Barcelona" he defends the factions with which he was associated or for which he had sympathy against Communist charges that their May 1937 uprising in Barcelona had played into the hands of the Fascists. Orwell argues that only a fringe element thought of these particular actions as revolutionary, before speculating that it "may be . . . that the revolution was finally lost in those few days in May. But I still think it was a little better, though only a very little, to lose the revolution than to lose the war" (86).
These strikingly different assessments of revolution in Spain were published, remember, at the same time. In "Spilling the Spanish Beans" Orwell argues the necessity of understanding the threat to the true revolution, while in "Eye-witness in Barcelona" he seems willing to sacrifice the revolution for the sake of the war. What can account for the differences? In a letter to Frank Jellinek commenting on Homage To Catalonia, Orwell suggests an explanation, revealing that "I've given a more sympathetic account of the POUM line than I actually felt. . . . I had to put it as sympathetically as possible, because it had no hearing in the capitalist press and nothing but libel in the left-wing press" (CEJL I 341). Orwell was not averse to a little distortion in a good cause, and these two essays on Spain reveal him using different vehicles to present different assessments of the situation. There remains a further aspect worth noting. Orwell presents his more radical assessment in the relatively moderate New English Weekly, saving his more measured consideration of the possibility of revolution for the more radical Controversy. There is a common tactic discernible, however, for in each case Orwell's specific argument challenges, rather than reinforces, the perceptions of the respective readerships. Targeting arguments to unsettle specific periodical audiences enables Orwell to gain the maximum polemical benefit from each essay.
While Orwell's relatively minor status in the mid-1930s softened the impact of some of his more provocative attacks, in the early 1940s periodicals and newspapers played their part in establishing him more firmly in the public eye. Two examples, Tribune and Partisan Review, deserve particular consideration. In both cases Orwell maintained a relatively constant association over a number of years, writing a regular "As I Please" column for Tribune and sending a series of "London Letters" to Partisan Review. The readerships of the two organs were distinct, however; Tribune's was comprised of those aligned to the radical wing of the British Labour Party (Aneurin Bevan edited the paper at the time), while Partisan Review's audience drew upon the New York-based intelligentsia. Not surprisingly, the two columns allowed Orwell the opportunity to play different tunes to different audiences.
Orwell's links with Tribune were extensive: the Orwell Archive catalogue lists nearly 150 items marking this association. Writing in 1947 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the paper, Orwell mentions first hearing of Tribune in 1939 ("As I Pleased" CEJL IV 276). He provided articles and reviews for the paper in 1940, but became more regularly involved in November 1943, when he became Tribune's literary editor. The following month the first of the "As I Please" columns appeared, as they would weekly until February 1945, and then occasionally until 1947. In this inaugural piece Orwell considered the middle-class understanding of Fascism, the improvement in attitudes to the desperately poor, and anti-Americanism in wartime Britain. The last of these proved inflammatory, Orwell noting two issues later that "so many letters have arrived attacking me for my remarks about the American soldiers in this country, that I must return to the subject" (CEJL III 58). In one of the letters published in Tribune W. T. Grose describes Orwell's remarks as "plain dirty" before asserting that "such writings . . . can do no good, but plenty of harm. To me they sound prejudiced; cut 'em out, George - help not hinder" (14).
Orwell's efforts were not all as stimulating, but the "As I Please" columns did bring him regularly before a relatively sizable audience: in 1948 Orwell judged the paper's readership then at around 20,000 ("Britain's" 18). He also notes that during the war Tribune's "prestige among the B.B.C. personnel was very striking. In the libraries where commentators went to prime themselves it was one of the most sought after periodicals" ("As I Pleased" CEJL IV 278). Indeed, the audience spilled over the boundaries of Britain, Orwell going on to recount how as an Observer reporter in Paris in early 1945 he learnt that "Tribune had a prestige which was somewhat astonishing" ("As I Pleased" CEJL IV 279). Attending a meeting of supporters of Libertes, the French equivalent of Tribune, Orwell expresses himself "amazed to find that about half of them knew all about me and about Tribune. . . . It seemed to me somehow touching that one could have acquired, without knowing it, a public among people like this" ("As I Pleased" CEJL IV 279).
The "As I Please" column not only placed Orwell more firmly in the public eye (admittedly, a "public" restricted to Tribune readers) but also allowed him a freedom to deal regularly with a catholic array of topics. As Michael Shelden recognizes, the column allowed Orwell "to increase his annual catch [of "stray thoughts"] in a dramatic way" (388). Shelden argues that as a whole the "As I Please" pieces "form a splendid monument to his literary powers and his dynamic character" (388). Perhaps. Certainly the columns could contribute to a monument, if one need be built. John Hammond goes further, arguing that they "are among the finest contributions to the English essay written in this century" (226). This claim remains highly debatable, and in the desire to construct monuments and to place the "As I Please" columns in the pantheon of twentieth-century essays, Shelden and Hammond in different ways ignore the importance of Tribune itself in providing a vehicle for Orwell's ideas.
As Orwell noted himself in 1948, during much of the war Tribune "was probably the best, and certainly by far the most independent, of left-wing periodicals" ("Britain's" 18). Orwell clearly enjoyed and benefited from this environment. The rapid response to his first column, requiring him to restate his case, signals the extent to which the "As I Please" pieces involved the active interplay between the arguments and biases of Tribune readers, the paper itself, and Orwell. This is not to detract from the quality of the column, or to downplay the fact that ultimately "As I Please" was Orwell's creation, but merely to replace the pieces in the invigorating context in which they first appeared. Like a speaker operating before a volatile crowd, Orwell was at times forced to respond to interjections, to appeal to and to question that crowd's concerns, while forcefully making his own case. Tribune provided Orwell with a soapbox, not a lectern.
If his association with Tribune was more extensive than that with Partisan Review, the latter periodical may have had the more lasting effect on his reputation. Orwell's "London Letters" describing life in wartime Britain began appearing in Partisan Review in early 1941, though a short series under the same title had been published in 1939 and 1940, written by Desmond Hawkins. Hawkins was the editor of an old Orwell staple, the New English Weekly. Orwell's connections with that periodical had languished, though Hawkins and Orwell were acquainted, having appeared on the B.B.C. Home Service discussing "The Proletarian Writer" in December 1940: the transcript was later published in The Listener. Whether these New English Weekly links provided Orwell's entry into the pages of Partisan Review remains uncertain.
While Orwell's "London Letters" provided Partisan Review with an insight into conditions in Britain, they also in a sense reintroduced Orwell to the United States. His first three books had been published separately though almost simultaneously in Britain and the United States, but between 1936 (when the American edition of A Clergyman's Daughter appeared) and 1946 (the American edition of Animal Farm) none of his works were taken up by American publishers. For some American readers, then, the "London Letters" were their first taste of Orwell. John Rodden comments that as a result of the "Letters" Orwell not only became known "in New York intellectual circles. . . . [but] his name became linked in America with anti- and ex-Communist European Socialists" (43). This misreading of Orwell's (admittedly idiosyncratic) commitment to Socialism was no doubt reinforced by simplistic anti-Socialist and anti-Communist interpretations of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four in America, but Rodden suggests that the "London Letters" prepared the ground for these later constructions. If Orwell's exalted posthumous status in part explains the neglect of the periodical's importance in analyses of his work, it is ironic that Partisan Review, at least, played a part in fashioning the pedestal on which Orwell now stands.
Beyond the question of reputation, however, periodicals clearly were fundamental to the transmission and formulation of Orwell's thoughts throughout his writing career. Almost all his essays first appeared in periodicals. On occasions they provided him with the impetus for essays, but at all times periodicals supplied various speedy vehicles for his views and a diverse array of audiences to which - and against which - he could argue. Periodicals allowed Orwell the freedom to range widely in subject matter, tone, and viewpoint, and demanded a precision of language and argument that flowed over into all his writing. His continued and varied associations show that, despite Orwell's attack in "The Lion and The Unicorn," not all papers and periodicals were negative, querulous, or destructive.
Stripped of its sarcasm, Orwell's comment that the mentality of the left-wing intelligentsia can be studied in half a dozen weekly and monthly papers provides an illuminating flash of truth. Presumably the same argument applies to the right-wing intelligentsia, and to other sections of the literary and political communities. Orwell's own involvement with periodicals was not unique; as for him, so for others. Yet, while studies of the nineteenth-century periodical continue to boom, its twentieth-century counterpart barely sustains a cottage industry. Orwell's grudging assessment of the periodical's importance suggests that the twentieth-century periodical as a whole deserves fuller consideration than it presently enjoys. As a perennial user of the periodical himself, surely he should know.
1 Page references to essays in the text are taken from The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell (CEJL) Individual volumes are indicated by Roman numerals. Where a cited essay does not appear in CEJL the page reference refers to the periodical in which the essay was published.
2 This was especially the case with The Adelphi, whose offices Orwell frequented, and in which he met Jack Common and Richard Rees, both to become lasting friends. See Crick: 203-05.
3 A footnote in CEJL I: 195 mentions the critical letter written by New English Weekly reader C. C. Martindale to which Orwell replied.
4 The two essays from The Betrayal of the Left were "Fascism and Democracy:" 206-15 and "Patriots and Revolutionaries:" 234-45. They had first appeared in the Left Book Club paper Left News: "Patriots and Revolutionaries" (under the title "Our Opportunity") Jan. 1941: 1608-12), "Fascism and Democracy" Feb. 1941: 1637-39. "Culture and Democracy" was published in Cole et al. Victory or Vested Interest?: 77-97.
5 The essay not discussed here is "Caesarean Section in Spain." The Highway Mar. 1939: 145-47.
6 "Culture and Democracy" from Cole et al. Victory or Vested Interest? is also mentioned.
7 The volumes are forthcoming.
8 The motives Orwell considered important were sheer egotism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose.
9 According to Davison, by 28 Nov. 1939, 47,190 copies of The Road To Wigan Pier had been sold: 44,150 of the Left Book Club Edition, to club members; 2150 of the Gollancz Trade Edition, to the public; 890 of Part One only, sold as a "Supplementary Book" to Left Book Club members.
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Gangrel Spring 1946. N. pag.
Gollancz, Victor, ed. The Betrayal of the Left: An Examination and Refutation of Communist Policy. London: Gollancz, 1941.
Grose, W. T. Letter to Tribune 17 Dec. 1943: 14.
Hammond, John. A George Orwell Companion: A Guide to the Novels, Documentaries and Essays. London: Macmillan, 1982.
Lehmann, John. "Manifesto." New Writing Spring 1936: v.
-----. The Whispering Gallery: Autobiography I. London: Longmans, 1955.
Orwell, George. A Clergyman's Daughter. London: Gollancz, 1935; New York: Harper, 1936.
-----. "A Hanging." Adelphi April 1931: 417-22; CEJL I: 44-68.
-----. Animal Farm. London: Secker and Warburg, 1945; New York: Harcourt, 1946.
-----. "As I Please." Tribune 3 Dec. 1943: 10; CEJL III: 54-57.
-----. "As I Pleased." CEJL III: 58-60.
-----. "Britain's Left-Wing Press." Progressive June 1948: 17-19.
-----. The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell. Ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus. 4 vol. London: Secker: 1968; New York: Harcourt, 1968.
-----. Critical Essays. London: Secker 1946; Dickens, Dali and Others. New York: Reynal, 1946.
-----. "Culture and Democracy." In Cole: 77-97.
-----. "The English People." London: Collins, 1947; CEJL III: 1-38.
-----. "Eye-witness in Barcelona." Controversy Aug. 1937: 85-88.
-----. "Fascism and Democracy." Left News Feb. 1941: 1637-39; In Gollancz 206-15.
-----. Homage to Catalonia. London: Penguin, 1989.
-----. "In Defence of the Novel." New English Weekly 12 Nov. 1936: 91-92; 19 Nov. 1936:111-12. CEJL I: 249-55.
-----. Inside The Whale. London: Gollancz, 1940.
-----. "James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution." London: Socialist Book Centre, 1946; CEJL IV: 160-81.
-----. "The Lion and the Unicorn." London: Warburg, 1941; CEJL II: 56-109.
-----. "Patriots and Revolutionaries." In Gollancz 234-45. As "Our Opportunity" in Left News Jan. 1941: 1608-12.
-----. "Shooting an Elephant." New Writing Autumn 1936: 1-7; CEJL I: 235-42.
-----. "The Spike." Adelphi April 1931: 24-33; CEJL I: 36-45.
-----. "Spilling the Spanish Beans." New English Weekly 29 July 1937:307-08 and 2 Sept. 1937: 328-29; CEJL I: 269-76.
-----. "Will Freedom Die With Capitalism?" Left News April 1941: 1682-85.
-----. "Why I Write." Gangrel Summer 1946: 5-10; CEJL I: 1-7.
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