American Madness

Intelligent Criticism in the Service of a Better Nation

George Orwell on Eric Blair

Posted by Eric Hazard | 9 Comments

Eric Blair lived an interesting life. It should come as a surprise to no one that this life was noted, recorded and dissected into the daily pages of a journal. Now into the blogosphere come daily notations made by the man who would take the nom de plume George Orwell published 70 years to the day after they were first penned. From the Orwell Diaries:

From 9th August 2008, you will be able to gather your own impression of Orwell’s face from reading his most strongly individual piece of writing: his diaries.

This entry got me all hot and bothered about the daily life and philosophy of Blair. This was the man who believed the destruction of language is an essential part of oppression, laid bear in the creation of Newspeak for 1984. And I had reason to be excited; when the Orwell Project first posted, they teased us with one of Orwell’s most famous quotes from 1984: “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.” Oh man, this is going to be good.

From a man who sought double meaning in even the simplest phrases; who alloyed the syntax of the English language to allow bending beyond its natural breaking point, what do we get?

10 August 1938: Drizzly. Dense mist in evening. Yellow moon.

Um, ok. Perhaps the next entry will lend us more insight:

11 August 1938: Am told the men caught another snake this morning – definitely a grass snake this time.

Oh geez…..can’t we get something more than the happenings of a farm? Should the pigs be revolting or something? Can’t we blame the snake’s ills on Big Brother?

12 August 1938: Very hot in the morning. In the afternoon sudden thunder-storm & very heavy rain. About 50 yards from the gate the road & pavement flooded a foot deep after only 1 1/2 hours rain.
Blackberries beginning to redden.

So rather than witty commentary on the appeasement of a fascist Germany, or growing influence and power of Franco in Spain, or the threat from communist throughout Europe (1938 is after Blair’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War) we get a conversation that sounds very much like a dialogue between my grandfather and I: talk about the weather.

Thus far, I’m sadden to report, nothing much changes. Now three weeks into the entries, what I am particularly struck by is in how bland Blair’s daily life truly was. All he did on August 22 was measure slugs and beetles? Really?

Why the surprise you may ask? Because anyone who has read Down And Out in Paris and London, or Burmese Days does not know an Orwell who concerns himself with the minutia of amateur biology and meteorology. These were serious books (non-fiction and fiction, respectively) in which Blair took his own experiences and applied them to the social fabric of the time. Solutions were presented for experiences with poverty and homelessness, and better courses of action suggested for foreign territories. Where did these ideas come from? I’m left only to wonder. Hopefully future entries will lend more insight into the daily mind of Blair-cum-Orwell.


9 Responses to “George Orwell on Eric Blair”

  1. Josh Friedlander
    August 25th, 2008 @

    Well, goodness, you expect the man to be interesting in all his writing. That seems unfair.

  2. Josh Friedlander
    August 25th, 2008 @

    Maybe this is his weather journal!

  3. Matt Friedlander
    August 26th, 2008 @

    He is…the most uninteresting man in the world! ;-)

  4. Eric
    August 26th, 2008 @

    Ok, a bit of explination. I’m not faulting Blair for being boring. This is after all his private journal. Rather, I’m asking why the Orwell Diaries project felt it necessary to start publication of the journal from this point forward. From what I’ve read it starts getting really good a year from now with the start of World War II. So why not publish diary entries from 1939, instead of 1938? It’s not like we don’t know what happened.

  5. Joel L. Friedlander
    August 26th, 2008 @

    Not all the time of the greatest men or women is spend in rapt contemplation of the state of the world. Certainly, Blair was concerned with the physical condition of the world in his entries. Gandi was continually concerned in private conversations with the digestive systems of his friends and with their excretory functions. He was nonetheless a great man. This is the reason why letters are usually edited before being released. We tend to think that this is to protect people from being defamed, but very often it is just to prevent the very boring aspects of the diaries from slowing down the transmission of knowledge.

  6. Jason
    August 26th, 2008 @

    James Joyce’s letters to his wife, on the other hand, is the stuff that magical literary porn is made of.

  7. Josh Friedlander
    August 26th, 2008 @

    “The smallest things give me a great cockstand.”

  8. Eric Hazard
    August 26th, 2008 @

    Jason, you win! What a great link.

  9. Jason
    August 26th, 2008 @

    It was a bit of serendipity that brought those letters to mind. I was just recently re-reading old letters from my brother from the first time he went to live in Ireland (summer 1995) in which he told me about those letters which he was reading at the time.

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