To Orwell Today,

Hello Jackie,

I found a copy of "We" in a bookshop in Berkely, Calafornia a few years ago. It was a very old copy, hardly bent at all. The pages had that kind of jaundice look to them which I always think adds to the whole experience of reading a book. One thing that stands out in my mind about that book was the way in which Zamyatin describes the buildings where they live. They seem really quite innovative for the age - early 1920. The glass walls and ceilings etc. I studied History of Modern Architecture and I don't recall such building being even theorised over before Le Corbusier and Mies Van Der Roe did their stuff in around 1923. I could be missing something completely and totally incorrrect but I do find it quite interesting that Zamyatin seemed to have had a sense of architecture in a social context before it's time - specifically totalitarian. Nothing was secrect in "We" because the walls were glass.

One other thing!

I haven't read any Orwell for a while until recently. I stole "Coming Up For Air" from my girlfriend and I'm about half way through it. There are so many great little details in it so far. I like his prophecy of impending war - a real one as it was written just before WW2. Bit like Zamyatin and his architecture!

I have come to take George Bowling (the main character and narrator) as George Orwell, whether or not that is right or not I don't know - perhaps not as fat as Orwell! His recalling of his childhood is fantastic - a little bit like Laurie Lee's "Cider With Rosie".

But what really struck me was something that Orwell is so good at projecting through his work and that is being a normal human being. He always has his characters cynical, often down trodden, cursing at society. I find it very easy to become that character in the book while you're reading. I think that's his strength in writing - you think you are Orwell for the odd moment!

Everyday I walk from Embankment along the Strand and up to Bush House in Adwytch. In the opening part of "Coming Up For Air" G Bowling does exactly this - but the opposite way! Any time you are planning coming to London read that little bit of the book and head Westerly down the Strand and feel like Orwell!

Sorry if I have rambled - really got into it then!

Ed Ward

Greetings Ed,

Thanks for bringing up the subject of "We" because just recently I read Orwell's review of "We" and I've been meaning to share it with readers. I read it in the jaundiced pages of THE COLLECTED ESSAYS, JOURNALISM AND LETTERS OF GEORGE ORWELL that I recently acquired and which, to enhance the reading experience, is a first-edition, four-volume set with Orwell's signature(s) written in gold across the covers:

EB & GO Gilded


I've never been able to get into "We" before but I'll probably give it another try now that I've read Orwell's review. I've got a copy in paperback.

Thanks too for passing on your thoughts on COMING UP FOR AIR which is a book I thoroughly enjoyed. Amazingly enough there was a stage adaptation of it playing in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago that my husband and I drove down to attend. It was FANTASTIC, a one-man-show with the actor dressed like George Bowling and pantomiming the various scenarios as he narrates the story. The stage was set to look like a pub with two chairs and a round table with a pint of beer on it as the main props. The script used the best parts of the book, starting with his soapy neck from having to hurry out of the bathtub because the kids wanted in, then the walk along the Strand to get his new false teeth, then the drive in the country where he got the idea to go to his childhood home, then the drive to Lower Binfield and his disappointments there, including the fish pool having been turned into a rubbish-dump. The audience got the sense of being along with Bowling wherever he went listening to him going on and on and everything he was saying was so easy to relate to, because most of us have experienced exactly what he's talking about. I was in stitches half the time as Orwell is so hilariously funny. The audience totally loved it.

I've got some COMING UP FOR AIR excerpts on my website, including part of the walk along the Strand, ie Part I, Chapter 4.

You're right to suspect that George Bowling is really George Orwell, albeit disguised as a roly-poly instead of Orwell's tall emaciated frame. All of Orwell's books are autobiographical and he is recognizable as usually the main character. He's even sometimes a woman as in THE CLERGYMAN'S DAUGHTER where he was Dorothy Hare.

As one of Orwell's friends said, "Orwell is just like his books."

In my Homage to Orwell in 2003 I went to George Bowling's "Lower Binfield" which in reality is George Orwell's "Henley-on-Thames".

When in London again I'll do that walk from Bush House (although the name "Bush" is a bit of a turn-off) along the Strand to the Embankment. As you've probably noticed, I love walking in George's footsteps, be they Orwell OR Bowling.

All the best,
Jackie Jura


Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~