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Nightingale

George Orwell

A collection of essays by George Orwell might not seem very promising reading material to some and I'm not all that sure why I picked up Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays in the library. I'm just really pleased I did because it was absolutely excellent. The essays seem mostly to be written between 1930 and 1949 and covered such diverse topics as English cooking, Boy's weekly comics, books (bookshops, book reviewing, books versus cigarettes, nonsense poetry etc.), the English murder (the fact that by 1946 there had ceased to any good ones *g*), Ghandi, the Spanish civil war and so on. Two of the longest were Charles Dickens and Such, Such Were the Joys an account of Orwell's early life in his first public school, from around the age of eight to thirteen. These two were the best, imo. I learnt a lot about Dicken's work - the pros and cons - and it made me realise I haven't read enough of that author's work by far. The latter was rivetting... mainly because of the awfulness of the boy's life in a minor public (meaning 'private' for non-Brits) school just before the first world war. The casual cruelty dished out, both physical and emotional, and not so much by other boys but by the headmaster and his wife, was almost unbelievable. If I hadn't read of such things elsewhere I probably wouldn't have believed it. The book is well worth reading for that essay alone, imo.

If this book has one drawback it's its lack of an introduction. Like many people, I suppose, I've read the two really well known works by Orwell, 1984 and Animal Farm and not much else. And that's all I know about the man other than vague snippets about his politics. An introduction might have filled in a few gaps and answered one or two of my questions. (Like, what was he doing in a place called the spike, which is a temporary home for tramps, in 1931?) But that's okay, the onus is on me now to look for a biography and find the answers for myself. And I will - and at the same time find a bibliography and see what other books by him I ought to read.

Comments

The Wikipedia article is very good, isn't it? I just skimmed through it but will go back and read it again when I have a bit more time.
When you first mentioned the book of essays by Orwell I thought it might be more interesting than it first sounds, as Orwell was quite a perceptive observer of people and societies, judging by Animal Farm and 1984. It's always interesting to read comtemporary observations by someone like that.
I shall resist the temptation even to look for the collection at the moment as my wtbr pile is already teetering but may keep it in mind, just in case I fall over it at the library sometime!
Dickens, eh? Mmmm, well, I've read some, of course, many years ago, but can't work up much enthusiasm these days! Let us know if you start dipping in and which ones!
Orwell was incredibly perceptive - I had no idea. And, even though he was writing these essays 50 or 60 years ago, much of what he was saying was still appropriate today. That took me by surprise a bit...

Oh heck, yes... the 'to be read' pile (or Mount Toobie Read as some wag referred to it once). Mine is massive. It ought to stop me buying new (or 2nd. hand) books but somehow it doesn't. Not sure what the cure is for this disease. ;-)

My Dickens reading took place years ago too, as a teenager in fact. Oliver Twist, David Copperfield (which I remember loving), The Old Curiousity Shop, Great Expectations and so on. I promised myself I would read Bleak House for the first time this summer too, after loving the BBC adaptation from last year, plus enjoying Miriam Margoyles trek around America in Dickens' footsteps for BBC2. I shall get around to it but goodness only knows when.
That Wikipedia article was *excellent* and yes, it did answer many of my questions, so thanks for that.

I saw that other link on another LJ this morning so I must go and investigate that when I have a moment. Again thanks.
That sounds like a really interesting collection of essays. I haven't read much Orwell other than the 'big two', but the one I wouldn't recommend is 'Homage to Catalonia'. Not because it's a bad book, or not an interesting subject, but the many different groups and splinter groups involved in the fighting are referred to by initials (POUM, CNT, UGT), and maybe it's just me but I got terribly mixed up trying to remember what the initials stood for and who was fighting whom...
Yes, I can see that that would have me mixed up too. Plus, I'm not that rivetted by the Spanish Civil War stuff. I mean, the essay was interesting (I had no idea it was another trench warfare affair) but not enough for me to want to know more. I actually came home with Coming up For Air so will report back on that one eventually. And, because he was a friend of E.M.Forster's and did actually mention A Passage to India in one of the essays, I grabbed that too. Bit of a tenuous reason for reading something I know *g*, but in actual fact it's another title I've been meaning to read for ages.
I think the trouble with the Spanish Civil War is that it *is* complicated and not entirely clear-cut, but interesting in that it occurred so shortly before WW2 and is thus kind of tied in with that. I suppose it's become part of the literary consciousness as so many writers/painters got involved in it, one way or another.

Worth reading is the biography of the Mitford sisters, and Jessica Mitford's autobiography, which covers this period - Unity supported fascism (and even went to Germany and met Hitler), but Jessica was a die-hard Communist.

I *adore* EM Forster :D
Still catching up on a few LJ comments.

I don't suppose you can remember the title of the Mitford sisters biography, can you? I think that one would interest me.

The only EM Forster I've read is Howard's End which I absolutely loved. I have Maurice on my tbr pile (charity shop buy) and am keeping an eye out for more.
Yes - it's "The Mitford Girls" by Mary S Lovell.

"Maurice" is my absolute favourite EM Forster novel - it's absolutely gorgeous, the most beautiful and touching love story (the Merchant-Ivory film of it is very good, too!)
Excellent, thank you for that, I've made a note of the title and author. I'll check in the library but the biography section is not very big so it may be that eBay gets a visit...

I shall move Maurice closer to the top of the tbr pile. :-)
The Lovell biog is available on Amazon Marketplace for a couple of quid :-)
I checked eBay and they had 2 copies, one for ten quid and the other in Australia. So I nabbed the one off Amazon from a seller called
'snapeisinnocent' which I thought rather appropriate with my love of all things Potter. I do like Amazon Marketplace. Thanks for the rec!
Oh good - I'm glad you found a copy! eBay is sometimes good for books, but I find Amazon Marketplace much better, and often much cheaper.
A book I want is on AM for 1p and another copy for 25p.(Kitchen Confidential) Am I right to be concerned about the cheapness or do you think that there isn't a catch there?
No, don't be worried! I've bought loads of books from AM priced between 1p and 10p. Basically the sellers make money from the postage (£2.75 flat rate per item). So for any item you purchase from AM, you're paying £2.75 per item *plus* whatever the actual 'price' of the item is.
Ah right, so that's how it goes. Fair enough. I ordered it anyway. And thanks for your help.
You might see if you can get hold of a copy of Down and Out in Paris and London.

I enjoy Keep the Aspidistra Flying and A Clergyman's Daughter, as much for the small incidentals of life as anything. (Five postal deliveries a day -- send somebody a postcard in the morning, and they get it in the evening! I've had slower email!)
Rats. The library had Keep the Aspidestra Flying but I plumped for Coming up For Air instead. Will get that next time. Have made a note of your recs. as well, thanks.
Re Dickens: David Copperfield and Great Expectations are the standard recs, but my own favourite is Martin Chuzzlewit, crammed full of wonderful-horrible characters (Sairey Gamp, the Pecksniffs, for instance) and there's the additional interest of Martin's trip to America.

And I love the little account of Tom and Ruth Pinch's housekeeping.

I had an aunt who lived in a rather gloomy little flat in Old Gloucester Street and my mind always plonks impoverished Dickensian characters down in that setting. Nicholas Nickleby's mother and sister ended up there as well. I hope they didn't crowd one another too much!



Definitely one of my favorites!!!!!
My hub and I both enjoyed the BBC showing
a few years back. I want to name a future cat Chuzzlewit, "CHUZZ" for short....
Now, I had no idea the BBC had *done* Martin Chuzzlewit. Hmm. Must investigate that.
Ooh! Ooh! Yes - you must see it! Keith Allen was in it - one of his finest roles - I've always felt he spent too much time pratting about - he's actually a very fine straight actor.
I did a double-take when you said 'Keith Allen' as I had him down as a comedy actor. I had no idea he did straight acting too. Hmm. Must investigate that as I'm a bit keen on Dickens adaptations... as we all know. *cough*
He's much better as a straight actor, IMO, than as a comic actor. I liked him in The Life and Crimes of William Palmer, a period drama which I think you might like. He was also very good in a late 80s series I used to like, Making Out, and he was also very good in an episode of Inspector Morse! As a straight actor, I do think he's under-rated.
If I remember correctly (I can't check, the book went back to the library) Orwell was pretty keen on MC as well. Mentioned it quite a bit in his essay anyway. I'll give that a go at some stage.
Thanks so much for mentioning George Orwell's essays, Caff. I had a big interest in him in my late teens/early twenties and really enjoyed his books, including the essays, and I see that Hagrus has mentioned Down and Out in Paris and London - I think you'd enjoy that one, too. I think part of my interest stemmed from the fact that he really was a one-off sort of character (even by the standards of other eccentrics from the British upper and upper-middle classes): an old Etonian who lived out his principles: fought in the Spanish Civil War, worked in Burma as a military policeman *and* experienced life on the downside in Paris. Also, I think he interested me a) because he was so interested in examining what it meant to be English and yet at the same time harboured the ambition of making politics into an artform, which to me is quite un-English. So I think he was a real original - a thoughtful and thought-provoking man. I don't know if you're aware or interested in the biographies on him too? I think the most well known is by Bernard Crick, but there's also a much older one which is hard to get and less well known, written by Christopher Hollis, who I think was the brother of Roger Hollis, once head of MI5 and widely believed to have been a major spy - the '3rd' or '5th' man - I *think* I've got that right. (All these toffs know each other, that's for sure). Thanks for bringing up this subject and sharing your thoughts
Funnily enough I was only thinking last night that I hadn't seen you around LJ lately and was wondering if everything was okay. And today here you are - life is funny sometimes.

Also odd that you happen to have an interest in George Orwell. He did indeed seem to be an usual man and I was quite fascinated by everything the essays seemed to be saying about him. I thought it was tragic that he died of TB in 1949 which he probably contracted when he was researching a book by living with tramps. How awful! I looked for a biography in the library but, I think I've said to you before, our library only has a small biography section so no luck. (I did rather think they might have something on one so famous.) I've made a note of Bernard Crick and will keep an eye out as I'm really quite interested now. Thanks for your input. Oh and I shall certainly try to find the title that both you and hagsrus recommended.