George Orwell: Essays Irony

George Orwell: Essays Irony

The Love of Books

In the essay “Bookshop Memories” Orwell recalls both his love of books and his time spent working in a London bookshop. He winds up providing an ironic conclusion:

There was a time when I really did love books—loved the sight and smell and feel of them, I mean, at least if they were fifty or more years old…as soon as I went to work in the bookshop I stopped buying books. Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books were boring and even slightly sickening

"The Sporting Spirit

The title of this essay is an exercise in irony based on a conventional wisdom that Orwell admits he finds amazing: “that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield.” Orwell becomes one of the first major literary voices to point out the irony of this widespread assumption through a careful delineation of facts pointing to a recent history strongly suggesting “that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism—that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.”

"A Nice Cup of Tea"

“A Nice Cup of Tea” is another example of Orwell engaging irony in his titles. This essay on the surface seeks to reveal what Orwell describes as “my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea.” The lead-in to that recipe—which is, indeed, the bulk of the essay—stirs a little dose of irony into the idea outlining a nice little recipe is nothing more than a nice little recipe:

tea is one of the mainstays of civilisation but.. the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.”

"In Defence of English Cooking"

One of the more famous essays that Orwell wrote is his defense against the widespread international view toward English food as being substantially inferior than the national cuisines of European neighbors like France or Italy. Orwell mentions quite a number of different dishes associated with English cooking and comes to their defense quite heartily only to deliver the ironic coup de grace: the reputation of any national cuisine is based precisely on what foreigners think of it and most tourists to England never get to discover just how good British food is because the versions served in restaurants are inevitably inferior to that being served in just about any home in the neighborhood:

It will be seen that we have no cause to be ashamed of our cookery, so far as originality goes, or so far as the ingredients go. And yet, it must be admitted that there is a serious snag from the foreign visitor’s point of view. This is, that you practically don’t find good English cooking outside a private house. If you want, say, a good, rich slice of Yorkshire pudding, you are more likely to get it in the poorest English home than in a restaurant, which is where the visitor necessarily eats most of his meals.”

Direct Irony

Orwell’s sense of irony is usually a pervasive one which subtly reaches into the DNA of his theme rather than being expressed directly. One of the few exceptions occurs in “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad” which also happens to be one of the best examples of Orwell’s general sense of irony. As part of the essay’s persistent examination of irony toward literary adulation of the coming of spring, Orwell repeats an ironic example of conventional wisdom:

To love the country one must live in the town, merely taking an occasional weekend ramble at the warmer times of year.”

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