- George Orwell and the Radical Eccentrics: Intermodernism in Literary London
Kristin Bluemel's book on "intermodernism" invents a new literary category through which to read selected works of British literature from the 1930s and 1940s. Intermodernism, Bluemel explains, is not a period so much "as a kind of writing, discourse, or orientation . . . that competes with others for particular years or texts or personalities" and that "can help scholars design new maps for the uncharted spaces between and within modernisms" (6). Thus Bluemel intends intermodernism to provide a way of reading and theorizing texts and trends that have been left out by standard period treatments of 1930s and 40s literature and, by extension, to provide a more cohesive and complex sense of the cultural and political landscape of that particular historical moment.
Though George Orwell is the only writer named in the book's title, his work is not the only focus of this study. Instead, Bluemel recontextualizes Orwell's political and literary output by placing it in relation to the work of three authors with whom he worked and socialized in the 1930s and 1940s. Indeed, rather than starting with her chapter on Orwell, Bluemel begins with a chapter each on Stevie Smith, Mulk Raj Anand, and Inez Holden, authors who, despite their professional and literary connections, have not received the same critical attention as other writers from the period and certainly not the kind of attention received by Orwell. Bluemel suggests that the critical neglect suffered by these authors has to do with their resistance to easy categorization; in part, it is their eccentric and (at times) radicalized relationship to their society that has caused scholars to pass over them. Indeed, she implies that it is possible that consideration of these authors could unmake some dearly held critical commonplaces (that is, the radical—and noble—isolation of George Orwell), and rather than remake the theories, perhaps critics have found it easier to scrap the authors. The extended comparison that the study makes between the eccentric radicalisms of Smith, Anand, and Holden and the socially-accepted and even acclaimed radicalism of George Orwell is deftly accomplished, inviting readers, as they [End Page 242] read the analyses of each individual author, to keep in mind the sophisticated overarching structure that points to our assumptions about the true nature of radicalism and the kinds of eccentric behavior we are prepared to accept.
The first chapter explores Stevie Smith's use of suburban satire as a means of critiquing—and also fashioning—nationalist rhetoric. Bluemel argues that what is valuable about Smith's work is her "confrontation with the painful pieces of a traditional English nationalism, its imperialism, its militarism, and its anti-Semitism, and her creation out of this confrontation of a new ideal of Englishness based on ordinary suburban life" (66).
The chapter on Mulk Raj Anand deals with a very different set of theoretical concerns, and in it we see Bluemel's considerable scholarship and mastery of widely varying theoretical discourses in impressive evidence. The chapter deftly contextualizes Anand's position as an Indian writer in England whose nationalist, anti-imperialist views radicalized and marginalized him. Anand was an astute colonial critic who also espoused a well-intentioned belief in the right to female equality, yet he also contributed to some of the most clichéd notions of women's subjectivity, seemingly blind to his own dependence in his novels on using stereotypical representations of women to create narrative momentum. Bluemel acknowledges the importance of Anand's representations of (male) outcaste members of Indian society in sympathetic, fully realized characterizations and argues that Anand (unconsciously) used the stereotypes of women to "smooth away threats of cross-cultural difference posed by his male protagonists" and thereby make his fiction more acceptable to British audiences (80). This chapter ends by considering ways in which Anand could be used to challenge and complicate current "postcolonial criticism that is deeply skeptical about the possibility or meaning of individual dissent" (99). For her, the individual dissent of radical eccentrics can help us...