George Orwell’s America


Come where the booze is cheaper, Come where the pots hold more, Come where the boss is a bit of a sport Come to the pub next door!

Or again:

Two lovely black eyes— Oh, what a surprise! Only for calling another man wrong, Two lovely black eyes!

I would far rather have written either of those than, say, “The Blessed Damozel” or “Love in the Valley.” And by the same token I would back Uncle Tom’s Cabin to outlive the complete works of Virginia Woolf or George Moore, though I know of no strictly literary test which would show where the superiority lies.

—November 1945

Bret Harte’s Modern Reputation

I WONDER WHETHER people read Bret Harte nowadays. I do not know why, but for an hour past some stanzas from “The Society upon the Stanislaus” have been running in my head. It describes a meeting of an archaeological society which ended in disorder:

Then Abner Dean of Angel’s raised a point of order, when A chunk of old red sandstone took him in the abdomen; And he smiled a kind of sickly smile, and curled upon the floor, And the subsequent proceedings interested him no more.

It has perhaps been unfortunate for Bret Harte’s modern reputation that of his two funniest poems, one turns on colour prejudice and the other on class snobbery. But there are a number that are worth rereading, including one or two serious ones: especially “Dickens in Camp”, the now almost forgotten poem which Bret Harte wrote after Dickens’s death and which was about the finest tribute Dickens ever had.

—February 1945

Jack London

DURING THE LAST twenty years Jack London’s short stories have been rather unaccountably forgotten—how thoroughly forgotten, one could gauge by the completeness with which they were out of print. So far as the big public went, he was remembered by various animal books, particularly White Fang and The Call of the Wild—books which appealed to the Anglo-Saxon sentimentality about animals—and after 1933 his reputation took an upward bound because of the The Iron Heel, which had been written in 1907, and is in some sense a prophecy of Fascism. The Iron Heel is not a good book, and on the whole its predictions have not been borne out. Its dates and its geography are ridiculous, and London makes the mistake, which was usual at that time, of assuming that revolution would break out first in the highly industrialised countries. But on several points London was right where nearly all other prophets were wrong, and he was right because of just that strain in his nature that made him a good short-story writer and a doubtfully reliable Socialist…

London’s understanding of the nature of a ruling class—that is, the characteristics which a ruling class must have if it is to survive—went very deep. According to the conventional left-wing view, the “capitalist” is simply a cynical scoundrel, without honour or courage, and intent only on filling his own pockets. London knew that that view is false. But why, one might justly ask, should this hurried, sensational, in some ways childish writer have understood that particular thing so much better than the majority of his fellow Socialists?