In 2011 I committed to work my way through the Orwell corpus, both books by and on him. I’ve read Selden’s biography, Hitch’s Why Orwell Matters, and then a slew of books by the man himself like Nineteen Eighty-Four, Homage to Catalonia, The Clergyman’s Daughter, Coming Up for Air, a pile of collected essays, and more. As one with libertarian leanings, there is a lot that I find congruent in Orwell’s writings. Of course, he was a socialist, so there are areas where I have strong disagreements with him. But his strong anti-totalitarianism makes any libertarian smile; that’s why he tends to be well-received in such circles.
I recently listened to a podcast by the Ludwig von Mises Institute on Orwell by Jeff Riggenbach that gave Orwell a decent placement in the libertarian tradition. Riggenbach claims that Orwell’s posthumously published “Such, Such Were the Joys,” forms the basis for his anti-totalitarian writings like Nineteen Eighty-Four. I tend to disagree. Orwell famously lambasted his teachers from St. Cyprian’s where he attended public school. But recent biographers have indicated that Orwell’s fellow students, like Cyril Connolly didn’t share in Orwell’s distaste. My theory is that Orwell wrote “Such, Such Were the Joys” as a partly fictionalized story of totalitarianism, using the genres of memoir and historical fiction. It’s probably why the essay was never published by Orwell himself–it was likely something he toyed with, but never took seriously. So instead of “Such, Such Were the Joys” forming the basis of later writings, it was his experiences of totalitarianism in places like Burma and Spain that had Orwell re-evaluate his public school days, if only to communicate his fears in a medium that may have interested his society; it is worth remembering that Orwell wrote about the popularity of “boys’ weeklies,” and may have wanted to tap into that market as well.
Just a thought…
Here’s the podcast: