Orwell’s Essays 1–4

George Orwell

Four paperbacks

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George Orwell set out ‘to make political writing into an art’, and to a wide extent this aim shaped the future of English literature – his descriptions of authoritarian regimes helped to form a new vocabulary that is fundamental to understanding totalitarianism. While 1984 and Animal Farm are amongst the most popular classic novels in the English language, this new series of Orwell’s essays seeks to bring a wider selection of his writing on politics and literature to a new readership. The first four books in the series are:

Why I Write

In Why I Write, the first in the Orwell’s Essays series, Orwell describes his journey to becoming a writer, and his movement from writing poems to short stories to the essays, fiction and non-fiction we remember him for. He also discusses what he sees as the ‘four great motives for writing’ – ‘sheer egoism’, ‘aesthetic enthusiasm’, ‘historical impulse’ and ‘political purpose’ – and considers the importance of keeping these in balance. Why I Write is a unique opportunity to look into Orwell’s mind, and it grants the reader an entirely different vantage point from which to consider the rest of the great writer’s oeuvre.

Politics and the English Language

In Politics and the English Language, the second in the Orwell’s Essays series, Orwell takes aim at the language used in politics, which, he says, ‘is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind’. In an age where the language used in politics is constantly under the microscope, Orwell’s Politics and the English Language is just as relevant today, and gives the reader a vital understanding of the tactics at play.

The Prevention of Literature

In The Prevention of Literature, the third in the Orwell’s Essays series, Orwell considers the freedom of thought and expression. He discusses the effect of the ownership of the press on the accuracy of reports of events, and takes aim at political language, which ‘consists almost entirely of prefabricated phrases bolted together.’ The Prevention of Literature is a stirring cry for freedom from censorship, which Orwell says must start with the writer themselves: ‘To write in plain vigorous language one has to think fearlessly.’

Politics vs. Literature

Politics vs. Literature, the fourth in the Orwell’s Essays series, is, at heart, a review of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Having been given a copy of the book on his eighth birthday, Orwell knows it inside out, and thinks highly of it; it is ‘pessimistic’, though, he says – ‘it descends into political partisanship of a narrow kind,’ designed to ‘humiliate man by reminding him that he is weak and ridiculous.’ Using the book as an example of enjoying a book whose author one cannot stand, Orwell goes on to say that he considers Gulliver’s Travels a work of art, leaving the reader to reconsider the books on their own shelves.
 

 
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George Orwell

Born Eric Arthur Blair (1903–1950), George Orwell was an English journalist, writer and critic, best remembered today for his innumerable essays, his novels – in particular Animal Farm and 1984 – and his longer non-fiction works.