Homage to Orwell
5. ORWELL'S PERSONA
"He was the first saint of Our Age."
Between the time he left London in 1936, and his return to London in 1940, Orwell had started to become a legend in intellectual circles. The following description of his personality is compiled from the biography Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation, by Jeffrey Meyers. ~ Jackie Jura
"When Orwell returned from Spain as a wounded fighter his legend began to take hold. He'd made a name for himself and now had a well-defined role in English intellectual life. He kept up with old Etonians and upper-class friends but, as if to maintain his connection with the miners and workers, developed a working-class persona. He wore his habitual battered tweed jacket with leather patches at the elbows, dark shirt, hairy tie and baggy flannel trousers. He became an eccentric 'character' whose personality was identified with a political position, and cultivated this image in a dour, ironically self-aware way."
"...Tosco Fyvel met Orwell through Warburg in January 1940 when they began to edit the Searchlight series, and found they shared many literary and political interests. Fyvel came to know him well, wrote a perceptive memoir of him and -- like Runciman and Heppenstall -- felt Orwell helped create his own legend as a small-scale farmer, urban proletarian and sacrificial idealist. He vividly recalled meeting Orwell at his small mews-flat on Chagfard Street, "a rather poverty-stricken affair of one or two rather bare, austere rooms with second-hand furniture. I saw an extremely tall, thin man, looking more than his years, with gentle eyes and deep lines that hinted at suffering on his face. The word 'saint' was used by one of his friends and critics [V.S.Pritchett] after his death, and -- well -- perhaps he had a touch of this quality. Certainly there was nothing of the fierce pamphleteer in his personal manner. He was awkward, almost excessively mild. Both about him and and his wife...there was something strangely unphysical.'"
"...Orwell offered his dress and manner, his hand-rolled cigarettes and proletarian appearance, as an alternative not only to the nudists and homosexuals on the Socialist fringe, but also to bourgeois clothing and comfortable surroundings. His personal style became an acceptable norm for Left-wing intellectuals, and was widely imitated in British schools and universities. His obsessions could be mocked, even parodied, as when Connolly remarked that Orwell 'could not blow his nose without moralising on conditions in the handkerchief industry.' But his persona was a genuine attempt to reach out to and achieve solidarity with the workers. And his scruffy asceticism, his idealism, self-sacrifice, honesty and independence, eventually became identified with his literary work. His friend Peter Quennell noted that Orwell, though sensitive to the political connotations of dress, was also good-humored about it:
'We met one evening at Cyril Connolly's house; and, since I was bound, later that night, for a more ceremonious occasion, I happened to be wearing a black tie. This attracted the Socialist prophet's notice. 'So you still wear the uniform of the class enemy!' he observed with a faintly teasing smile. ...
Orwell's lengthy, hollow-cheeked face reflected the essential kindness of his nature. A thin military moustache bordered his tight-lipped mouth. He had a beaky, distinguished nose, rather larger ears, a big, irregularly prominent chin and a broad and deeply wrinkled forehead.'"
"Malcolm Muggeridge observed that Orwell's 'proletarian fancy dress' highlighted his eccentric personality: the 'punctilious rolling of his cigarettes, his rusty laugh and woebegone expression and kindly disposition.' John Morris, one of the few people who disliked Orwell, failed to recognize his warmth. Morris said his eyes combined 'benevolence and fanaticism,' and emphasized the saintly, sacrificial aspect, reinforced by his gaunt physique, that would become a prominent part of the legend: 'Orwell always reminded me of one of those figures on the front of Chartres Cathedral; there was a sort of pinched Gothic quality about his tall thin frame. He laughed often, but in repose his lined face suggested the grey asceticism of a medieval saint carved in stone and very weathered.' Yet he had a patrician accent, an unmistakable Eton drawl and, wrote Julian Symons, 'his talk, like his journalistic writing, was a mixture of brilliant perception, common sense and wild assertion.'"
"Noel Annan, reinforcing the saintly image, said that Orwell 'remained a biting, bleak, self-critical, self-denying man of the idealist left. ...[He] spoke with the voice of ethical socialism. ...He was the first saint of Our Age, quirky, fierce, independent and beholden to none.' Muggeridge, in a famous formulation, noted that after Spain, 'he loved the past, hated the present and dreaded the future.' Orwell never could -- perhaps never wanted to -- resolve the contradictions in his elusive character: Etonian prole, anti-colonial policeman, bourgeois bum, Tory Anarchist, Leftist critic of the Left, puritanical lecher, kindly autocrat."
"...The hedonistic Arthur Koestler revered his Spartan friend. According to Celia, he believed that of all contemporary writers, Orwell was most likely to survive, that it was not disillusioning to meet Orwell, who was exactly like his books. Koestler later mentioned a paradoxical quality in the character he had so closely studied: 'His uncompromising intellectual honesty...made him appear almost inhuman at times. There was an emanation of austere harshness around him which diminshed only in proportion to distance, as it were: he was merciless towards himself, severe upon his friends, unresponsive to admirers, full of understanding for those on the remote periphery."
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