A brief comparative study of the lives, works and attitudes of two great 20th-century authors.
Hardly an original work, Lebedoff (The Uncivil War: How a New Elite is Destroying Our Democracy, 2004, etc.) offers a series of linked analyses and speculations based on information readily available in standard biographies and related works about the worlds in which both men lived and did battle. This book’s premise and purpose, however, are distinctive, in that Lebedoff surveys his subjects’ histories as illustrative of their essential similarity, even oneness (hence his title), despite obvious differences in personality, social standing and worldviews. Waugh was a ferociously devout Catholic, Orwell an equally impassioned anti-communist and socialist “concerned entirely with this world…[while Waugh was preoccupied] with the next.” Lebedoff thus compares and contrasts Waugh’s celebrity-obsessed school experiences, abortive teaching career and disastrous first marriage with the stoicism exhibited by Eric Blair (before he adopted the famous nom de plume), who renounced any possibility of rising socially, joining the British civil service as a policeman stationed in Burma. Subsequently, there are juxtaposed considerations of each man's literary trials and triumphs; Waugh’s misadventures in Croatia as a scandalously unconventional officer and gentleman; the increasingly tubercular Orwell’s days as a Home Guard during the London Blitz; both men as husbands and fathers. Pages are filled by such risible expedients as a potted biography of the Mitford sisters, a needless summary of the overfamiliar plot of Brideshead Revisited and a labored analysis of this “masterpiece” and Orwell’s 1984 as each author’s grave Final Statement. Fortunately, both Orwell and Waugh are such engagingly stubborn and heroic figures that there’s no resisting such deservedly well-known anecdotes as Captain Waugh’s maliciously merry rumor-mongering insistence that Yugoslavia’s Marshall Tito was a woman.
We’ve heard it all before, but it’s well worth hearing again.