Thursday, June 25, 2009

Orwell off-limits

Yesterday I wrote of duplicates and triplicates in my library that I have culled for the July 26 Hillsdale Used Book Sale.

I confess there is some redundancy in my library that I overlook and did not mention. When it comes to pruning, I leave be the literary branches of George Orwell.

I have five anthologies of Orwell’s essays. One brick of a book includes 240 essays. It’s depth and scope might lead me to justifiably get rid of the other four relatively slim anthologies. Then again, each smaller edition, in addition to being transportable, has its own introduction and insight into George Orwell, whose real name was Eric Blair.

No, Orwell, whose birthday happens to be today, is spared my pruning. His work anchors my library, his insights inspire my thinking, and his prose is as clear and direct as any I know.

Blair was born 106 years ago today and died in 1950, the year following the publication of “1984.” I have three copies of the dystopian classic. One is the American Book-of-the Month Club edition published in that first year of publication, 1949. The flyleaf reads, “The new novel by George Orwell is the major work towards which all his previous writing has pointed.”

I’m not certain I agree, but the anonymous notion invites consideration and discussion.

The other two “1984”s are editions of “1984 — Text, Sources and Criticism” edited by the great critic Irving Howe. The first appeared in 1963; second in 1982.

(A personal note: Howe edited the first edition while at Stanford as a “scholar in residence.” At the time I was an undergraduate at Stanford. I remember attending a free-form lecture/discussion by Howe, who astonished me by speaking off-the-cuff in flawless, rounded, publishable prose. On the fly, he fine-edited his words to a finished draft in the moment between mind and mouth.)

I have 37 books by or about Eric Blair. During pruning for future book sales, I’m certain my “Orwellian” volumes will remain. If anything, I expect their numbers to grow.

A curiosity on the Web is “Orwell’s Blog,” which posts 70-year-old entries from Blair’s journals. Here is his entry for his 36th birthday, which, oddly, he doesn’t mention. But the posted comments to the blog most certainly do. One writer notes that at the time, Hitler’s shadow was falling over Europe, yet in his journal, Orwell seems oblivious (which he certainly wasn’t). The June 25, 1939 entry, like so many others, is fixated on nearby flora and his hens’ egg production.

It’s all quite strange, suggesting yet another dimension and meaning to the term “Orwellian.”

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