Orwell Recollections


The Orwell Tapes, compiled by Stephen Wadhams (Locarno Press), is necessary reading for George Orwell fans. The book consists of taped remembrances by friends and family, most of whom knew him as Eric Blair, before his name change and subsequent fame. These interviews were originally broadcast in 1983 on CBC Radio, as part of its Ideas series. I came across several details in The Orwell Tapes that were new to me. For example, when Orwell was a student at Eton, one of his instructors was Aldous Huxley, who taught there briefly during World War I (when there was a shortage of teachers). It’s interesting to ponder how the author of Brave New World might have influenced the author of 1984. Orwell’s classmate Sir Steven Runciman has said, “I don’t think you can compare Brave New World to 1984, but I’ve often wondered if Aldous had any effect on Eric’s later writing; just the sheer writing.” Orwell’s friends often had rather droll reactions to his passionate social and political views. Shortly after his return to England from Burma, his best friend was Dennis Collings, who is quoted as saying, “Actually, I think [Orwell] just wanted to see change. Even if he was in heaven he’d want to change the order of the angels.” A later quote shows how discouraged he was when a number of editors—including T.S. Eliot—rejected Down and Out in Paris and London. His friend Mabel Fierz had said, “He was very disappointed. He said, ‘I can’t get it published, so throw it away… Keep the paper clips, at least they are valuable’.” What a lesson in endurance, and what a relief that Fierz encouraged him to keep trying. The best reason for reading Stephen Wadhams’s compilation is that all these reminiscences have the effect of capturing the vividness of Orwell’s character once again.

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