Tuesday, September 15, 2009

george orwell titled

Not, of course that Orwell was titled in the ennobled sense of the word. He made clear that he had no time for that sort of thing, and as the establishment of the day was decades away from trying to garner any Cool Britannia relevance by giving honours to edgy people, they were unlikely to have offered him it in any case. Governments of the 1930s didn't suffer anything like the Benjamin Zephaniah OBE debacle.

I have a deep love of George Orwell's writing. His shining clarity of mind, his articulate bluntness, his fearless radical perspective, the way that most sentences of his journalism seem like they start with a silent, 'oh for fuck's sake, any idiot can see that...'.

The early novels are interesting, and there is much of his social analysis and commentary in ones like Coming Up for Air and Keep The Aspidistra Flying, but it's his non-fiction that really dings my bell, especially the essays and journalism.

It wasn't written for posterity but to make a clear topical point and it's that freshness and fire - so familiar to us in an age of broadcast media and blogging - that makes it really shine.

Additionally, he was a highly educated person who turned his attention not only to the highbrow topics but also to then-ignored areas, pioneering what we'd now call cultural criticism. His essays on boys comics and The Art of Donald McGill (about the norms and implications of scenes depicted in saucy seaside postcards) get the same incisive thought and illuminating opinion as his writing on Gissing.

So on the occasions when I've been asked where someone should start with Orwell, I recommend an anthology of his essays. But it recently occurred to me that there is a side of his writing that's pretty rubbish. His titles.

Early books have, at best, drab and uninspiring ones like A Clergyman's Daughter, Down and Out In Paris and London or Burmese Days. The title of his reportage of the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia, is pretty odd when you think about it. Indeed, there's a letter from Orwell to his publishers conceding that he couldn't think of a title and at least that choice lets them put something on the cover.

The only ones that seem smart, intriguing and clever are Keep The Aspidistra Flying and The Road to Wigan Pier.

Even late on, Animal Farm is another dull and functional one, whilst 1984 is such a potent book that any number of evocative superior titles readily suggest themselves in place of the peculiarly vague one he actually chose.

At least he did better picking a name for himself. He was born Eric Arthur Blair, and seemingly chose a pseudonym so he wouldn't be too closely associated with what he felt was his awful first book, the superb Down and Out In Paris and London. (I know someone who worked in a bookshop who was once asked for George Orwell's 'Dining Out in Paris and London', a very different image).

After rejecting publishing it under the name X, he had a shortlist of H. Lewis Allways (surely ludicrously stuffy even in the early 1930s), Kenneth Miles, PS Burton and George Orwell. Imagine if we were having to refer to Allwaysian ideas.

Worse still, imagine if he'd been proud of Down and Out in Paris and London and kept his legal name.

Britain has a quarter of the world's CCTV cameras. We have a government trying to get us used to ID culture by encouraging the absurd Challenge 25 policy for buying alcohol. It amounts to us blithely sleepwalking into, er, a Blairite nightmare.


Landlord said...

Isn't what George Orwell wrote about in 1984 a prophecy that has now come to pass as a result of the destruction, persecution and hate wreaked by The Labour? The country is an international joke because of The Labour. A billion CCTV cameras, and it's STILL the crime hole of Europe (especially the Scottish bit) after a dozen years of The Labour. Bile-spitting lefties must be so proud.

merrick said...

Isn't what George Orwell wrote about in 1984 a prophecy that has now come to pass


Bile-spitting lefties must be so proud.

Labour stopped being a leftie party precisely to attain the power it has wielded over the last 12 years.

It adopted freemarket policies, which inevitably mean greater social inequality, which in turn leads to greater crime.

Dunc said...

Yeah, it's the lefties that are spitting bile, whilst Landlord's comment is moderate, carefully-reasoned analysis.

I really wish these bastards would stop abusing the sad, mutilated corpse of irony.

Anonymous said...

My aunt Ena had an aspidistra.