read_warbler (read_warbler) wrote,

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.
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