Orwell Matters

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Something happened to me a long time ago. It was a seminal moment in my life. It was simple as seminal moments go – I hope your own were more ‘memorable’. I read George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier. When I finished it, I read it again. And then I read it again. That kind of reading experience hasn’t happened since. Partly, I suppose, it was the spirit of youth, but it was also something in the text; somehow it stimulated a dormant political idealism. Of course, whilst I had read Orwell previously, I was not entirely aware of Orwell’s own background, and so the irony of the old Etonian politically proselytizing the working class Glaswegian lad was rather lost on me.

Reading Orwell later, I am less impressed with his writing (no handwringing, please). Nevertheless, it is hard to argue, as Christopher Hitchens does, that Orwell still matters. This week, I came across some nice materials for teaching Orwell, including a letter Orwell wrote explaining why he would write what would become his magnum opus, Nineteen Eighty-Four. The prescience of Orwell’s ideas is clear; he certainly anticipated the rise of Anglo-American millionaires!  

Last week, I reviewed Roger Fowler’s Language in the News. Fowler is well known for this book. It is perhaps less well known that he wrote a book on The Language of George Orwell. If you are teaching Orwell in the Language and Literature class, it really isn’t a book to be missed.

Orwell, famously, was interested in and political about the English language. Indeed, his most celebrated essay, arguably, is ‘Politics and the English Language’. No doubt, then, Orwell would have had an opinion on some of the reported euphemisms in Lucy Kellaway’s recent article ‘The corporate guff award goes to’, published on the BBC’s website. It’s hard to identify my own favourite. I am reminded, however, that part of my responsibility as a teacher is to help my students identify guff when they see it and, better still, unashamedly and in the spirit of Orwell, call guff guff.



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