THE UNKNOWN ORWELL by Peter & William Abrahams Stansky
Kirkus Star

THE UNKNOWN ORWELL

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

At the age of 30, with the publication of his first book (Down and Out in Paris and London) Eric Blair, the ""upper-lower-middle class"" Old Boy became the writer George Orwell, a passionate egalitarian, idiosyncratic socialist and remorseless dissector of the covert injuries of class. In this superb biography of Blair, Stanksy and Abrahams undertake the extended search for the sources of his alter ego, the literary personality into whom Blair projected the long deferred resentments of the sensitive scholarship boy, the diffident Etonian, and the Kiplingesque police officer staunchly shouldering the imperial burden of his caste. ""Orwell was his way of making himself into a writer, at which he brilliantly succeeded and of unmaking himself as a gentleman"" by opting out of the gentility to which he was born and bred. Tracing Orwell backwards to Blair, the authors chip away at the formative years which Orwell, for the rest of his life, so deliberately obscured and selectively misrepresented. Step by step they proceed with the reconstruction of the schoolboy miseries inflicted at St. Cyprian's which years later generated the devastating and unforgiving essay of English public school life Such, Such Were The Joys, the Burmese days when Blair lived as a sahib but internalized the experience of the victim, and the later compulsion to expiate the burden of class by going ""down and out"" to immerse himself in the squalor and smell of poverty -- ""the experience he had been taught since childhood to fear most."" Outdistancing by far all previous attempts to penetrate the Orwellian reticence, Stansky and Abrahams (their Journey to the Frontier won a National Book award in 1967) have accomplished the feat of integrating Blair with his carefully controlled creation Orwell, producing a wholly convincing study of the psychological distancing that converts disaffection into art.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1972
Publisher: Knopf