George Orwell: A Life by Bernard Crick

This detailed biography received mixed reviews. However, the general picture of George Orwell was generous and of absorbing interest. Orwell had a tough life and sometimes made life hard for himself, so it seems fitting that this biographer had a charitable perspective. Frank Kermode may have been dissatisfied with the treatment of Orwell in that it did not condemn his occasional brutality, but not all biographies have to be negative studies in psychology.

Crick and Orwell shared an affection for democratic socialism. However, Orwell’s views were not consistent. His patriotism and his affection for the past meant that he was prone to bend with the ideological wind. Nevertheless, the great writer composed masterpieces like Homage to Catalonia. Crick may have lacked Orwell’s literary skills, but he included several lengthy quotes from the journalist and author.

The big question raised by the book is the correct attitude to hold towards totalitarian thinking. Is there a difference between harsh regimes of the left and the right? Is it possible to have a totalitarianism of the centre? It seems that the concept of totalitarianism is potentially misleading in that it can lead to McCarthyism. It must be possible to argue for democratic socialism without uniting with reactionary forces. This raises the issue of the media. Orwell understood this dilemma:

“While the journalist exists merely as the publicity agent of big business, a large circulation, got by fair means or foul, is a newspaper’s one and only aim.”

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