There have been many studies of George Orwell's life and work, but nothing quite like this book by Alex Woloch-an exuberant, revisionary account of Orwell's writing.
"Good prose is like a window-pane," Orwell famously avers. But what kind of literary criticism is possible, face-to-face with Orwell's plain-style prose? Too often this style has been either dismissed by a seemingly more savvy critical theory, or held up as a reprimand against the enterprise of theory. In a series of unusually close and intensive readings-focused on the unstable event of writing itself-Woloch recovers the radical and experimental energies of Orwell's prose. Against accounts that would quickly naturalize Orwell's truthfulness or reduce his window-pane prose to bad faith, Woloch's study bears down on a propulsive irony and formal restlessness that have always been intertwined with Orwell's plain-style. Such restlessness, far from diluting Orwell's democratic and socialist politics, is at its aesthetic and conceptual core.
The first half of Or Orwell ranges across his nonfiction prose, including new readings of "A Hanging," The Road to Wigan Pier, and Inside the Whale. The second half develops an extended analysis of a single writing project: Orwell's eighty "As I Please" newspaper columns, written for the Socialist weekly Tribune. Moving through multiple forms and genres, testing the limits of each, Orwell emerges in Woloch's fine-grained account as a boldly unconventional writer and a central figure in twentieth-century literature and political thought.
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Number of pages: 432
Weight: 703 g
Dimensions: 235 x 156 x 38 mm
This is a fascinating and important work, probably the best and most original book on Orwell I have read. It is the first book on Orwell that truly attends to the complexities of Orwell's language, composition technique, and poetics. Orwell is one of the most famous writers of the twentieth-century, a figure everyone feels they already know, and understand, and have seen clearly. Woloch's achievement is to show the great and theoretically sophisticated writer who has been hiding under our noses all along, blinded as we've been by what we already think we know about him.--Aidan Wasley, University of Georgia
[Woloch] has a keen feeling for the movements and tones of Orwell's prose, its restlessness, steady beat of self-correction, and vexing irony and negation. This sustained engagement with Orwell's language is an important contribution: it makes us realize how complicated Orwell is when he addresses imperialism, social class, labor, and other subjects. We think we know Orwell, who seems so clear and accessible, but it is not apparent that we do or for that matter that he does himself. Woloch makes us perceive that to a large extent Orwell is always striving in his writing to know his own mind--and the reward for us is the exercise of our minds through the consciousness-unsettling experience of reading him. Or Orwell secures a place for Woloch among this writer's most significant scholars and critics.-- (02/01/2017)
One of the most intelligent and careful works of criticism I have read in years, not least because it is genuinely illuminating to be shown how far from plain Orwell's plain style was--and why. Woloch's Or Orwell deserves to be widely known and to be incorporated into all future understandings of Orwell's achievements.-- (05/31/2017)