Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The specter of war gets Orwell's attention

Over on the Orwell Diaries, George is allowing the storm clouds of war to blot out his sunny fixation on egg production, hollyhocks and ducklings.

The diary, which recorded Orwells thoughts 70 years ago, day by day, is an astonishing document — as much for what it doesn't say as for what it does.

Orwell locks onto ominous events by pasting often obscure newspaper clippings into his diary. You can see the faded newspaper stories on the web site. He has little to say about them. He treats them almost as journalistic specimens. It's as if suddenly, out of the corner of the gardener's eye, he senses an intruder, plucks it up for inspection and then pins it to his ever-growing collection of pests.

It's not that he has been naive these many weeks. Quite the opposite. Read "Homage to Catalonia" for proof positive that Orwell had grabbed danger and combat by the throat. And fighting had grabbed him by the throat. In the ranks of the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, he took a bullet in the neck.

Still, the reader wonders why for days on end in the spring of 1939, Orwell, one of the sharpest observers of the 20th Century, shared so little of his worldly awareness in his journal.

Now, ever so slowing, that is changing. The danger is creeping into is pastoral writing. It's curious, and even haunting, to read.

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