I doubt that George Orwell needs ‘George Orwell Day’. Aldous Huxley, Henry Green, J.G. Ballard, each of those dead writers might benefit from a bit of sponsorship, and so might we. But Orwell? His spirit pervades our times, and with good reason. Orwell may have recognised some of the ill that our politics and era are producing, a point that Fraser reiterated in a Coffee House post earlier today. The ‘snooping bill’, CCTV, politically correct language – one might see fictional antecedents of those unpleasant realities in the pages of 1984. And perhaps social division caused by polarised wealth and the privations brought by economic decline can be seen in the pages of Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier.
Prophecy will only get you so far in understanding why Orwell endures. There was, obviously, more to Orwell than Big Brother, the Thought Police and Room 101. Whether writing of fact or ficti0n, Orwell could (though he didn’t always) reach beyond his immediate subject. 1984, for instance, concerns the eternal human themes of love, sex and betrayal as much as it does the machinery of an imagined totalitarian state. Animal Farm, the famous demolition of communism, doubles as a traditional beast fable about the horrific consequences of ineradicable petty foibles such as pride, greed and envy. The writer Robert Gray has commented on Orwell’s ‘buried spirtuality’. I don’t know about spirtuality; but Orwell’s morality is plain for all to see. (For more on this, read Gray’s detailed essay on the subject for the Spectator a couple of years back).
It is natural that the author of these varied books is celebrated and studied. Yet even fleeting inquiry into Orwell’s life and work reveals a mind that was not always settled and a voice that was not always clear. Orwell remains a tantalising figure, almost as interesting as his very best work.
There is, of course, no harm in George Orwell Day, so long as we don’t forget the others. I’ve written before of Henry Green’s importance and continued relevance; and Peter Hitchens has made a compelling case for Aldous Huxley as prophet. J.G Ballard isn’t yet cold (as the recent publication of his collected interviews suggests); but many other valuable writers are destined for obscurity thanks to the passage of time and our conformity and ignorance.