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Written by Timothy Sexton
What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art.
In this appropriately titled essay, Orwell outlines the many reasons he feels compelled to write, including such selfish reasons as the desire to seem clever. Then he gets down to the brass tacks and discusses the primary motivating force behind picking up the pen for the last decade. At the time, he was just two years out from writing a little volume of political writing that goes by the title 1984.
First of all, kippers, Yorkshire pudding, Devonshire cream, muffins and crum- pets. Then a list of puddings that would be interminable if I gave it in full: I will pick out for special mention Christmas pudding, treacle tart and apple dumplings. Then an almost equally long list of cakes: for instance, dark plum cake (such as you used to get at Buszard’s before the war), shortbread and saffron buns. Also innumerable kinds of biscuit, which exist, of course, elsewhere, but are generally admitted to be better and crisper in England.
One of the recurring motifs of Orwell’s non-fiction essays is a defense of his homeland. In other essay, he defends England against stereotypical views displayed toward it by Americans. Here he specifically rises to the defense of his country against one of the most commonly criticisms leveled against it: England may be known for many things, but its food is not near the top of the list.
I mention the spawning of the toads because it is one of the phenomena of Spring which most deeply appeal to me, and because the toad, unlike the skylark and the primrose, has never had much of a boost from the poets.
This essay published in mid-April salutes the coming of spring. Such a topic has long been the domain of poets and Orwell here admits that he really cannot do much more to add to that volume of verse. One way of looking at this extended valuation of the lowly toad is to take it beyond its manifest subject and extricate from it a commentary upon the very act of essay writing. If a toad is not suitable to poetic flights of fancy on the arrival of spring, perhaps it is worthy of prose. This piece might well take on the subtextual title of some thoughts on the common essay.
It is the most violently combative sports, football and boxing, that have spread the widest. There cannot be much doubt 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.
Orwell was one of the first major voices to write openly of the connection between organized athletics and nationalistic aggression. A very common philosophy toward sports at the time judged it to be a positive influence that served the purpose of undermining natural aggressive tendencies by sublimating them into publicly acceptable exhibitions. Orwell penned this essay directly on the heels of the end of World War II hostilities when few were yet willing to share his view that a natural connection existed between professional athletic competitions and the battlefield beyond a few harmless metaphors.
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.
Orwell’s essays also offer the occasional glimpse into the private life of the writer. Unlike with fiction and even larger-scale non-fiction works, essays are very often the best part of a writer’s canon in which to uncover tiny little nuggets of self-confession. In this particular essay, for example, Orwell exposes the irony that working in a bookstore can often have the effect of making a book lover lose some of the affection for what most defines them. Why? The above assertion about the nature of the London population offers a clue.
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Julia is often crude and dismissive of the party, which alarms Winston. Outer Party members simply do not talk this way. This represents the idea that perhaps not everyone is totally brainwashed by the party.
George Orwell: Essays study guide contains a biography of George Orwell, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis of select short stories including Shooting an Elephant.