I’ve always resisted—to the best of my ability— adopting literary heroes. Such a degree of admiration, I reason, tends to cloud critical reading and, by extension, critical thought. Besides, human frailty is such that heroes, of any type, are rarely worshiped as three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood people. They instead become representations of some action, series of actions or world view that resonates with us and speaks for us to such a degree that they become, by proxy, a wellspring of courage in our own hearts.
This, of course, is not without its value and, if one can put forth the conscious effort to avoid deifying, a hero can be both healthy and inspirational.
Such is my decades old admiration for George Orwell. Introduced to him, as so many are, as a student assigned the wickedly satiric allegory Animal Farm, I quickly moved from the pages of that classic into every scrap of biographical information about the author I could find.
I then set about reading his collected works, starting with his essays and working my way through his books until I held in my hands his final novel, the masterpiece of speculative fiction—Nineteen Eighty-Four (the best political novel of the last century, says me).
Orwell possessed unique insights into the potential of political power as a deeply oppressive force in the modern world, and deftly translated that knowledge into staggeringly incisive cautionary tales. Indeed, as he put it: “What I have most wanted to do… is to make political writing into an art.”
His writings reflect the spectrum of his life experiences, viewed (in most part) through the prism of politics, from his early career as an imperial policeman, to his tenure as a teacher, to the life of a vagabond poet, to his bravery in joining the anti-fascist Republican army in the Spanish Civil War.
It was during this conflict that Orwell was shot through the neck and almost died, after which he and his wife traveled to Morocco so that he could recuperate. While there, 70 years ago this week, Orwell began a diary, which (in case you were wondering) leads us to the reason for this post.
From 9th August 2008, you will be able to gather your own impression of Orwell’s face from reading his most strongly individual piece of writing: his diaries. The Orwell Prize is delighted to announce that, to mark the 70th anniversary of the diaries, each diary entry will be published on this blog exactly seventy years after it was written, allowing you to follow Orwell’s recuperation in Morocco, his return to the UK, and his opinions on the descent of Europe into war in real time. The diaries end in 1942, three years into the conflict.
For someone who has read every word Orwell ever published (allowing for some obscure exceptions, of course), I can’t begin to explain the joy and satisfaction I will experience every day for the next four years as each entry is posted.
I will post every day here, on AuthorScoop, a link to, and brief excerpt from, each repective day’s entry. If even a handful of readers who might not have otherwise explored Orwell and his works are led into some deeper appreciation of him, that will be a bonus.
But I won’t lie: this is for me.