November 30, 2020

Books V. Cigarettes

George Orwell
Reading Time: 10 Minutes

Orwell On Books

  • This idea that the buying or even the reading of books is an expensive hobby, and beyond the reach of the average person, is so widespread that it deserves some detailed examination.

  • Adding the other batch of books that I have elsewhere, it seems that I possess altogether nearly 900 books, at the cost of £165 15s.

  • So my total reading expenses over the past fifteen years have been in the neighbourhood of £25 a year.

  • Of course, all prices are now inflated, including the price of books: still, it looks as though the cost of reading, even if you buy books instead of borrowing them and take in a relatively large number of periodicals, does not amount to more than the combined cost of smoking and drinking.

  • It isn't easy to establish any relationship between the price of books and the value one gets out of them.

  • If you read nothing but novels and 'light' literature and bought every book that you read, you would be spending – allowing eight shillings as the price of a book. And four hours as the time spent in reading it. That is two shillings an hour. That is about what it costs to sit in one of the more expensive seats in the cinema.

  • But I do know that before the war this country was publishing annually about 15,000 books, which included reprints and school books. Suppose as many as 10,000 copies of each book got sold. And even allowing for the school books, this is probably a high estimate. The average person was only buying, directly or indirectly, about three books a year.

  • In a town like London, there are always plenty of not quite certifiable lunatics walking the streets. And they tend to gravitate towards bookshops because a bookshop is one of the few places where you can hang about for a long time, without spending any money.

  • It is not true that men don't read novels, but there are indeed whole branches of fiction that they avoid.

  • In a lending library, you see people's real tastes, not their pretended ones. And one thing that strikes you is how completely the 'classical' English novelists have dropped out of favour.

  • Dickens is one of those authors whom people are 'always meaning to' read, and, like the Bible, he gets widely known at second hand.

  • Another very noticeable thing is the growing unpopularity of American books. And another – the publishers get into a stew about this every few years – the unpopularity of short stories.

  • But the real reason why I should not like to be in the book trade for life is that while I was in it, I lost my love of books.

  • Until one has some professional relationship with books, one does not discover how bad the majority of them are.

Orwell On Book Reviews

  • The prolonged, indiscriminate reviewing of books is an exceptionally thankless, irritating and exhausting job.

  • The great majority of reviews give an inadequate or misleading account.

  • The best practice would be to ignore the great majority of books and to give very long reviews – 1,000 words is a bare minimum – to the few that seem to matter.

  • Short notes of a line or two on forthcoming books can be useful. The usual middle-length review of about 600 words is bound to be worthless even if the reviewer genuinely wants to write it.

Orwell On British Society

  • One ought not to exaggerate the direct influence of the small English Communist Party. There can be no question about the poisonous effect of the Russian mythos on English intellectual life.

  • The extraordinary thing was how everyone took it for granted. The oozing, bulging wealth of the English upper and upper-middle classes, that would last forever and was part of the order of things.

  • Before the war, the worship of money was entirely unreflecting and untroubled by any pang of conscience.

  • The real reason for the cult of Scotland was that only wealthy people could spend their summers there.

  • Most of the English middle class are trained for war from the cradle onwards, not technically but morally.

  • The Russian Revolution, for instance, made no impression, except on the few whose parents happened to have money invested in Russia.

  • It is precisely the people whose hearts have never leapt at the sight of a Union Jack who will flinch from revolution when the moment comes.

Orwell On Children

  • It is the advantage of being thirteen that you can not only live in the moment but do so with full consciousness, foreseeing the future and yet not caring about it.

  • Only by resurrecting our memories can we realize how incredibly distorted is the child's vision of the world.

  • The child and the adult live in different worlds.

  • The weakness of the child is that it starts with a blank sheet. It neither understands nor questions the society in which it lives. Because of this, other people can work upon it, infecting it with the sense of inferiority and the dread of offending against mysterious, terrible laws.

  • A child may be a mass of egoism and rebelliousness. But, it has no accumulated experience to give it confidence in its judgements.

Orwell On Education

  • But it is difficult for a child to realize that a school is primarily a commercial venture.

  • A child believes that school exists to educate. And that the schoolmaster disciplines him either for his good or from a love of bullying.

  • No one can look back on his schooldays and say with truth that they were altogether unhappy.

  • This business of making a gifted boy's career depend on a competitive examination, taken when he is only twelve or thirteen, is an evil thing at best. But, there do appear to be preparatory schools which send scholars to Eton, Winchester, etc. without teaching them to see everything in terms of marks.

  • If a boy were the son of wealthy parents, Sambo would goad him along in a comparatively fatherly way, with jokes and digs in the ribs. And perhaps an occasional tap with the pencil, but no hair - pulling and no caning. It was the poor but 'clever' boys who suffered.

  • In effect, there were three castes in the school. There was a minority with an aristocratic or millionaire background. There were the children of the ordinary suburban rich, who made up the bulk of the school. And, there were a few underlings like myself, the sons of clergymen, Indian civil servants, struggling widows and the like.

  • Your home might be far from perfect, but at least it was a place ruled by love rather than by fear, where you did not have to be perpetually on your guard against the people surrounding you.

Orwell On Healthcare

  • 'Natural' death, almost by definition, means something slow, smelly and painful. Even at that, it makes a difference if you can achieve it in your own home and not in a public institution.

  • A thing we perhaps underrate in England is the advantage we enjoy in having large numbers of well-trained and rigidly disciplined nurses.

  • Moreover, national health insurance has partly done away with the idea that a working-class patient is a pauper who deserves little consideration.

  • And it is a great thing to die in your bed, though it is better still to die in your boots.

  • However great the kindness and the efficiency, in every hospital death there will be some cruel, squalid detail. Something perhaps too small to be told but leaving painful memories behind, arising out of the haste, the crowding, the impersonality of a place where every day people are dying among strangers.

  • As a non-paying patient, in the uniform nightshirt, you were primarily a specimen.

  • One wants to live, of course. Indeed one only stays alive by the fear of death, but I think now, as I thought then, that it's better to die violently and not too old.

  • People talk about the horrors of war. But, what weapon has a man invented that even approaches in cruelty some of the commoner diseases?

  • Even a creature that is weak, ugly, cowardly, smelly and in no way justifiable still wants to stay alive and be happy after its fashion.

Orwell On Intellectual Liberty

  • No one could point out that 'freedom of the press' if it means anything, means the freedom to criticize and oppose.

  • Everything in our age conspires to turn the writer, and every other kind of artist, into a minor official, working on themes handed to him from above.

  • Economic forces eat away the independence of the writer and the artist. At the same time, it is undermined by those who should be its defenders.

  • In our age, the idea of intellectual liberty is under attack from two directions. On the one side are its theoretical enemies, the apologists of totalitarianism, and on the other its immediate, practical enemies, monopoly and bureaucracy.

  • Freedom of the intellect means the freedom to report what one has seen, heard, and felt, and not to be obliged to fabricate imaginary facts and feelings.

  • The journalist is unfree and is conscious of unfreedom when he gets forced to write lies or suppress what seems to him important news. The imaginative writer is unfree when he has to falsify his subjective feelings, which, from his point of view, are facts.

  • In England, the immediate enemies of truthfulness, hence of freedom of thought, are the press lords, the film magnates, and the bureaucrats. But that on a long view, the weakening of the desire for liberty among the intellectuals themselves is the most severe symptom.

  • And so far as freedom of expression is concerned, there is not much difference between a mere journalist and the most 'unpolitical' imaginative writer.

  • To exercise your right of free speech, you have to fight against economic pressure and substantial sections of public opinion, but not, as yet, against a secret police force.

  • Wherever there is an enforced orthodoxy – or even two orthodoxies as often happens – good writing stops.

Orwell On Literature

  • There is no such thing as non-political literature, least of all in our age, where hatred and loyalty of a political kind, are at the surface of consciousness.

  • German literature almost disappeared during the Hitler régime, and the case was not much better in Italy.

  • Newspapers will presumably continue until television technique reaches a higher level. But apart from newspapers, it is doubtful whether the great mass of people in the industrialized countries feels the need for any literature.

  • Literary prostitutes like Ilya Ehrenburg or Alexei Tolstoy get paid vast sums of money. But, the only thing which is of value to a writer – his freedom of expression – is taken away.

  • Unless spontaneity enters at some point or another, literary creation is impossible, and language itself becomes ossified.

  • Suppose you look at almost any literature before the later part of the nineteenth century. In that case, you find that a hospital gets popularly regarded as much the same thing as a prison. A hospital is a place of filth, torture and death, a sort of antechamber to the tomb.

Orwell On Media Consumption

  • They are unwilling, at any rate, to spend anywhere near as much on books as they spend on several other recreations. Probably novels and stories will be entirely superseded by film and radio productions. Or perhaps some low-grade sensational fiction will survive, produced by a sort of conveyor-belt process that reduces human initiative to the minimum.

  • Disney films, for instance, are produced by what is essentially a factory process. The work being done partly mechanically and partly by teams of artists have to subordinate their style.

Orwell On Patriotism

  • Patriotism has nothing to do with conservatism.

  • To this day, it gives me a faint feeling of sacrilege not to stand to attention during 'God save the King'. I would sooner have had that kind of upbringing than be like the left-wing intellectuals who are so 'enlightened' that they cannot understand ordinary emotions.

Orwell On Poetry

  • The thought contained in a poem is always simple. It is no more the primary purpose of the poem than the anecdote is the primary purpose of a picture.

  • A poem is an arrangement of sounds and associations, as a painting is an arrangement of brush-marks.

  • Poetry might survive, in a totalitarian age, and specific arts or half-arts, such as architecture, might even find tyranny beneficial. But, the prose writer would have no choice between silence and death.

Orwell On Social Thoughts

  • Already countless people would think it scandalous to falsify a scientific textbook but would see nothing wrong in falsifying a historical fact.

  • When one sees educated men looking on indifferently at oppression and persecution, one wonders. Which should they despise more, their cynicism or their shortsightedness?

  • Contrary to popular belief, the past was not more eventful than the present.

  • The gods are jealous, and when you have good fortune, you should conceal it.

  • I had learned early in my career that one can do wrong against one's will. Before long, I also understood that one can do wrong without ever discovering what one has done or why it was wrong.

Orwell On Tobacco

  • In 1938 the people of this country spent nearly £10 per head per annum on alcohol and tobacco. However, 20 per cent of the population were children under fifteen. And another 40 per cent were women. So the average smoker and drinker must have been spending much more than £10.

  • Suppose my estimate is anywhere near right. In that case, it's not a proud record for a nearly 100 per cent literate country, where the ordinary man spends more on cigarettes than an Indian peasant has for his whole life.

Orwell On Totalitarianism

  • From the totalitarian point of view, history is something to be created rather than learned.

  • A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial. That is when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud.

  • One doesn't have to live in a totalitarian country to become corrupted by it.

  • Many scientists, for example, are the uncritical admirers of the U.S.S.R. They appear to think that the destruction of liberty is of no importance so long as their line of work is for the moment unaffected.

Orwell On Writing

  • To write in a plain, vigorous language one has to think fearlessly. If one thinks fearlessly, one cannot be politically orthodox.

  • Political writing in our time consists almost entirely of prefabricated phrases bolted together like the pieces of a child's Meccano set.

  • Serious prose, in any case, has to be composed in solitude.

  • No one ever wrote a good book in praise of the Inquisition.

  • Although the point of emphasis may vary, the writer who refuses to sell his opinions always gets branded as a mere egoist.

  • At present, we know only that the imagination, like specific wild animals, will not breed in captivity.
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