REVIEW OF ORWELL THE LIFE
After an email exchange a couple of weeks ago [November 2004] I said I would read D. J. Taylor's Orwell biography entitled ORWELL THE LIFE and that if I changed my original negative opinion of it I would add it to my bookshelf of recommended Orwell biographies.
I have now finished reading the book and I liked it, except for one three-page essay from chapter 15 entitled THE CASE AGAINST, which is written from the perspective of a Communist criticising Orwell. The excerpts that had turned me off Taylor's book a year ago obviously came from this small chapter which is not representative of the rest of the 449 pages of the book. I find it strange that sentiments from this small chapter are also excerpted on the back cover of the book.
"...D.J. Taylor's magisterial assessment cuts through George Orwell's iconic status
to reveal a bitter critic who concealed a profound totalitarian streak and
whose progress through the literary world of the 1930s and 1940s was characterized by the myths he built around himself.
Drawing on previously unseen material, Orwell is a strikingly human portrait of the writer too often embalmed as a secular saint.
This is the biography we have been wating for -- as vibrant, powerful, and resonant as its extraordinary subject."
Although I liked ORWELL: THE LIFE, I don't consider it a true biography because it doesn't go through Orwell's life in detail but instead provides what could best be described as "colour commentary" to facts brought out in other biographies. If a person did not already have a solid background of knowledge on Orwell's life, they wouldn't understand much of what Taylor is referring to. But if a person has read previous Orwell biographies and/or Orwell's other books, then Taylor's book is a great addition because it helps put things clearly into space and time and rounds out some rough edges. In other words, it builds on other books and thus enhances a person's understanding of Orwell.
So, aside from the pages 350 to 352, entitled THE CASE AGAINST, and subtitled COMRADE X: A MARXIST GUIDE TO TWENTIETH CENTURY NOVELIST GEORGE ORWELL, I enjoyed Taylor's book and found it well researched and interesting. It contained some information that I had never come across before. Taylor says in the introduction that it took him "most of my twenties to establish the areas in which Orwell was fallible" and sets out to "desanctify" him but in fact he adds to Orwell's sanctification, intentionally or not. No matter how people try to spin Orwell, his words and actions always shine through and his "crystal spirit" emerges for all to see. ~ Jackie Jura
RECOMMENDED BOOKS ON ORWELL
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