GEORGE ORWELL: A Personal Memoir by Tosco Fyvel

GEORGE ORWELL: A Personal Memoir

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Fyvel succeeded Orwell as literary editor of the left-wing weekly Tribune; and while his memoir adds no substantive information to the growing biographical corpus (Crick, Stansky and Abrahams), it does provide some very interesting color. The first section, covering Orwell's life up to their meeting in 1940, is drawn from the existing studies and is largely superfluous. Fyvel believes Orwell's work to be highly autobiographical--but he questions the ""lower"" part of Orwell's famous characterization of his family as ""lower upper middle class"" and also whether his childhood was as dreadful as his writings make it appear. The middle section covers the decade in which Fyvel knew his subject, ending with his visit to Orwell's hospital bed hours before his death in January 1950. Orwell's famous reticence comes across strongly in several anecdotes--including one in which Orwell doesn't tell Fyvel, who's been away, of the recent death of his first wife--but the value of this section lies in Fyvel's account of his own concerns and their congruity, or incongruity, with Orwell's. Fyvel's emotional involvement with the Spanish Civil War puts Orwell's immersion in context. But Orwell's persistent interest in Indian independence, a holdover from his experiences in Burma, and his lack of concern for Jewish statehood, were the opposite of Fyvel's preoccupations. As a Jew, Fyvel thought the war against Nazism of supreme importance, and despite some doubts felt justified in his wartime propaganda efforts; Orwell, on the contrary, despised his work for the BBC's India Service. Fyvel defends Orwell against charges of anti-Semitism--but if not anti-Semitic, he was unable to feel for the Jewish situation, and Fyvel thus exposes one of Orwell's greatest weaknesses: for all his insight into modern totalitarianism, Orwell had little or no knowledge or understanding of Nazism. Orwell was fixated on British imperialism and Stalinism; he was unable to go beyond his experiences, and he knew little history. Consequently, in the final section where Fyvel judges Orwell's contribution, he finds Animal Farm to be Orwell's major work, not the more narrowly-based 1984. The former satirizes Stalinism effectively; the latter, meant as a critique of contemporary society, fails to incorporate an analysis of both Nazism and Stalinism. The many who consider themselves Orwellians will want to give this testimony some thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Macmillan