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John Rodden's The Politics of Literary Reputation is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting books about Orwell published during the decade of the 1980s. Rodden's work is not, however, a hermeneutical analysis of the meanings in Orwell's literary texts; the book begins by assuming, rather, that such interpretation is what Helmut Hauptmeier et al. call "an action to be studied by the researcher and not to be performed by him as a researcher" (Poetics Today 10.3 [Fall 1989]). Aimed at two specific time periods in Orwell's reputational career—the post-World War Two decade and the months surrounding 1984—Politics of Literary Reputation tries to make explicit the various sets of presuppositions intrinsic in any critical construction of Orwell's reputation rather than arguing "a specific case for its upward or downward revaluation."
Rodden has apparently done his philosophical homework, however, because he also states explicitly that the very act of analyzing other analyses quite literally influences "their development and figure[s] in the emergence of new images" of Orwell; because such acts are, therefore, themselves immediately open to reinterpretation and reanalysis, Rodden thinks it crucial for the researcher to situate his own "critical location and consciousness." Indeed, his "situating" rather humorously reminds one of Orwell's analysis of his own precise social stratification (lower-upper middle class) when Rodden calls himself a "left-of-center white male of working-class origins, a post-Vatican II Catholic liberal, an academic in English and Communication studies, and an American who came to Orwell's work in the 1970's." Furthermore, Rodden's time frames are particularly interesting to this reviewer because during the latter time period (Spring 1984), he delivered a paper at the Northern Illinois University Conference on Orwell, "Unresolved Contradictions" (now part of Chapter Six, Section Twenty-one); I can speak, therefore, from direct experience that Rodden is quite correct in his caveat about mentioning his "situation." Unrelated to his ideas in the delivered paper, Rodden's views of Orwell's German reception were considerably influenced (Chapter Five, Section Seventeen) by Heinz Osterle (of Northern Illinois University's German Department) who was in turn influenced by Günter Grass who was in turn influenced by Orwell, and so on.
In any event, having "placed" himself, Rodden goes on to argue that Orwell furnishes "perhaps the best opportunity among modern authors for exploring how patterns of interpersonal and institutional relations transform a writer into a literary figure." What it means to be a literary figure and thus a public personality is intimately connected to the writer's culture and its political history. That is, the "social-institutional affiliations of [the writer's] audiences" bear upon "the formation [End Page 614] mation of literary reputation," which in turn "re-form[s] them as readers and reshape[s] history itself." This sort of literary sociology is crucial, thinks Rodden, because for too long "literary criticism and literary sociology have traditionally behaved like estranged bedfellows" by segregating "intrinsic" and "extrinsic" and so keeping each one's back to the other.
Rodden thinks, therefore, that "systematic study [is needed on] how books and authors emerge through [a] web of relations . . . publishers, censors, agents, book clubs, libraries, reviewers . . . and through institutional history"; furthermore, he asks about the "roles specific audiences play in the formation of popular images, and how critical and popular influences interact to transform critical acclaim into public reputation." His study is then a "reputation-history" and thus addresses "some elementary patterns of interaction in this intricate process" by looking at responses to George Orwell's writings and persona.
Of the many hundreds of such responses—books, articles, reviews, media conversations—Rodden has merged them into four constructs, or what he calls the four public faces of George...