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Life and Art

Jeffrey Meyers

Publication Year: 2010

This remarkable volume collects, for the first time, essays representing more than four decades of scholarship by one of the world's leading authorities on George Orwell. In clear, energetic prose that exemplifies his indefatigable attention to Orwell's life work, Jeffrey Meyers analyzes the works and reception of one of the most widely read and admired twentieth-century authors._x000B__x000B_Orwell: Life and Art covers the novelist's painful childhood and presents accounts of his autobiographical writings from the beginning of his career through the Spanish Civil War. Meyers continues with analyses of Orwell's major works, including Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, as well as his style, distinctive satiric humor, and approach to the art of writing. Meyers ends with a scrupulous examination of six biographies of Orwell, including his own, that embodies a consummate grasp and mastery of both the art of biography and Orwell's life and legacy._x000B__x000B_Writing with an authority born of decades of focused scholarship, visits to Orwell's homes and workplaces, and interviews with his survivors, Meyers sculpts a dynamic view of Orwell's enduring influence on literature, art, culture, and politics.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

George Orwell, the most widely read and influential serious writer of the twentieth century, has been my lifelong interest. My dissertation and first book, Fiction and the Colonial Experience (1973), considered cultural conflicts in the novels of Kipling...


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1. Orwell's Painful Childhood

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pp. 3-8

Orwell was always extremely reticent about his personal affairs, so we know virtually nothing about how his character was formed in his earliest years. He was born in 1903 in Motihari, situated on the bank of a lake in the state of Bihar, between Patna...

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2. Orwell's Burma

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pp. 9-21

It was not easy to follow George Orwell’s footsteps in Burma. Not that I was hampered by a lack of freedom to travel. While the country’s military junta was still limiting the movements of the courageous Aung San Suu Kyi—the hopeful alternative...

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3. The Ethics of Responsibility: Burmese Days

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pp. 22-26

Passing through Paris on his way to fight in Spain in 1936, Orwell stopped to meet Henry Miller, whose books he had reviewed and admired. Miller cared nothing for the Spanish War, and forcibly told Orwell, who was going to combat Fascism and defend...

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4. Orwell: The Honorary Proletarian

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pp. 27-46

When I look back upon resolutions of improvement and amendments, which have year after year been made and broken, either by negligence, forgetfulness, vicious idleness, casual interruption, or morbid infirmity, I find that so much of my life...

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5. Orwell and the Experience of France

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pp. 47-61

George Orwell, author of the satiric fable Animal Farm and the prophetic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, created an image of himself as a quintessentially English writer in his choice of pseudonym, in the subject-matter of his novels...

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6. "An Affirming Flame": Homage to Catalonia

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pp. 62-74

In his valuable essay, “Orwell in Perspective,” John Wain states that much of the criticism on Orwell is useless or misdirected because it “started out from the wrong end. It is impossible to criticize an author’s work adequately...

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7. Repeating the Old Lies

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pp. 75-80

As a biographer, I’m often more puzzled than enlightened by personal interviews. Establishing the facts is tricky enough, and the truth can be elusive. The people I talk to may be old, have frail health or failing memories. They sometimes “remember...


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8. Orwell's Apocalypse: Coming Up for Air

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pp. 83-93

Coming Up for Air (1939), Orwell’s central transitional work, is both a synthetic and seminal book, gathering the themes that had been explored in the poverty books of the thirties and anticipating the cultural essays and political satires of the next...

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9. Orwell as Film Critic

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pp. 94-100

Between October 1940 and August 1941 George Orwell wrote twenty-six film review columns—which were omitted from the four volumes of his Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters—for Time and Tide. This politically independent...

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10. The Reluctant Propagandist

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pp. 101-105

In the 1970s, when I studied the Orwell papers at the British Broadcasting Company archives in Reading, England, I was given a radically incomplete file. In the early 1980s the amateur scholar William J. West, searching for material on C. K. Ogden’s...

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11. The Wind in the Willows: A New Source for Animal Farm

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pp. 106-113

The lucid, witty and ironic beast fables, The Wind in the Willows (1908) and Animal Farm (1945), are two of the most popular books of the twentieth century, but no one (including...

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12. Orwell's Bestiary: The Political Allegory of Animal Farm

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pp. 114-125

Orwell’s hostility to the Russian Communists was a direct result of his experiences in Spain in 1937 when the Loyalists, like the revolutionaries in China in 1927, were betrayed by the Russians, and the Trotskyists whom Orwell had joined were mercilessly...

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13. The Evolution of Nineteen Eighty-Four

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pp. 126-134

The most common cliché of Orwell criticism is that Nineteen Eighty-Four is a “nightmare vision” of future totalitarianism.1 I believe, on the contrary, that it is a very concrete and naturalistic portrayal of the present and the past, and that its great...

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14. Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel of the 1930s

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pp. 135-146

Nineteen Eighty-Four is a projection of the future that is based on a concrete and naturalistic portrayal of the present and the past. Its originality is rooted in a realistic synthesis and arrangement of familiar materials rather than in prophetic and imaginary...

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15. Miseries and Splendors of Scholarship

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pp. 147-152

Wyndham Lewis’s prescient political study, The Art of Being Ruled (1926), which would have been a brilliant title for Orwell’s novel, begins with similar premises but arrives at quite different conclusions. Written a few years after the Russian Revolution...

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16. The Completel Works of George Orwell

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pp. 153-157

Peter Davison’s magisterial edition of Orwell’s Complete Works includes everything listed in Fenwick’s Bibliography and a great deal of fascinating complementary material. It has a handsome format and binding, attractive paper and type, and...

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17. Orwell: A Voice That Naked Goes

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pp. 158-167

The 20-volume Complete Works of George Orwell (1998), brilliantly edited by Peter Davison, reveals as much about Orwell’s life as about his books. In 1945 he noted the contrast in many writers “between the character which they display in private life...

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18. Orwell and the Art of Writing

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pp. 168-187

While our country is bitterly divided by radically opposing views on domestic and foreign policy and we are engaged in an increasingly costly and risky far-off war, we had to vote in a presidential election in which neither candidate...

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19. Orwell's Satiric Humor

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pp. 188-198

Orwell called the doom-laden Thirties “a riot of appalling folly that suddenly becomes a nightmare, a scenic railway ending in a torture-chamber,” and wrote that “since about 1930 everyone describable as an ‘intellectual’ has lived in a state of chronic...


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20. Reviewing the Orwellians

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pp. 201-217

A Personal Prologue: In the spring of 1968 I won a grant from my university to do research at the Orwell Archive in University College, London. I wrote in advance to the director of the Library asking if I could read Orwell’s unpublished letters and manuscripts, and I duly...

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21. True to Life: Writing Orwell's Biography

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pp. 218-228

The impulse to write literary biography begins in fascination with an artist’s character, mind and art. George Orwell had interested me since 1968, when I went to read his unpublished letters and manuscripts at University College in London. Unwittingly..

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pp. 229-230

After writing twenty-two lives, I’ve formulated twelve principles of biography. This is how I think lives should be written and what they ought...


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pp. 231-246

Sources and Jeffrey Meyers: Other Works on Orwell

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pp. 247-250


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pp. 251-256

E-ISBN-13: 9780252090226
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252035616

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2010

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Subject Headings

  • Orwell, George, -- 1903-1950 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Authors, English -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • Journalists -- Great Britain -- Biography.
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