Orwell on the 99%
An entry in George Orwell’s War-Time Diary for 3 June 1940:
From a letter from Lady Oxford to the Daily Telegraph, on the subject of war economies:
“Since most London houses are deserted there is little entertaining… in any case, most people have to part with their cooks and live in hotels.”
Apparently nothing will ever teach these people that the other 99% of the population exists.
Lady Oxford was Margot Asquith, widow of Herbert Henry Asquith, prime minister from 1908-1916.
HE was one of Britain’s leading political writers, famous for novels including Animal Farm and Burmese Days. But to a young Scottish junior doctor unaware of his identity, the quiet middle-aged man was just another patient. Within weeks, Dr James “Jimmy” Williamson found himself at the forefront of medical treatment in Scotland helping administer a revolutionary new “miracle drug” to George Orwell.
The author used his political and literary connections and royalties from Animal Farm to obtain the drug from the US. In 1948, Orwell, then 44, became the first person in Scotland to be treated with streptomycin, which was unlicensed in Britain and too expensive for the post-war government to ship in.
The writer, who had been living in a remote farmhouse on the island of Jura to help try to improve his health, was admitted to Hairmyres Hospital, near Glasgow, under his real name Eric Blair, for treatment for infectious chronic tuberculosis.
Professor Williamson, 91, from Edinburgh, recalled the novelist sitting in bed working on Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell jumbled the numbers of the year 1948 to produce one of the most famous titles of the 20th century, introducing words such as “Big Brother” and “doublespeak” to international audiences. “He’d been in the hospital for about two weeks for investigation of his tuberculosis before I arrived. I’d never heard of him. Then one of the nurses told me he was a well-known writer.
“I remember he was in a double room and he would be sitting up in bed with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth typing away most of the time. He smoked almost all the time, was sort of addicted to tobacco and rolled his own cigarettes. Lots of people in hospitals smoked in those days, even the doctors. The noise from the typing didn’t seem to cause any bother with the other patient and they got on very well together.”
Professor Williamson remembers Orwell bravely undergoing painful treatment. “We would chat about his condition and he would do what you wanted him to do. But he was highly strung and we had to give him treatment which involved air being injected into his abdominal cavity. This upset him a lot but he didn’t complain.”
However, more drastic remedies were required and in February 1948 Orwell wrote to his publisher David Astor saying his specialist had told him “it would speed recovery if one had some streptomycin. He suggested that you, with your American connections, might arrange to buy it and I could pay you.” Astor contacted Minister of Health Aneurin Bevan, who had been Orwell’s editor at the Tribune, checking this would not cause a political row.
But after a few weeks Orwell developed a severe allergic reaction to the drug and treatment stopped. Orwell donated the remaining supply to the hospital. Orwell’s health deteriorate further and he died in January 1950 – six months after the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Iain Macintyre, a former vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh and co-author of Scottish Medicine – An Illustrated History, which includes details of Orwell’s stay at the hospital, said: “There is an irony that Orwell, who wrote Animal Farm, was in a position to be able to take medical advice to go to Jura and then to obtain streptomycin.
“But when it’s your life on the line you try everything you can to save it.”
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever,” George Orwell wrote in “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” In “Animal Farm,” he concluded that revolutions are inevitably betrayed by their leaders. His novel “Burmese Days” ends with the hero killing himself because he is unfit to live in this sour world. He shoots his dog too.
As a rule, modern civilization disappointed Orwell when it did not actually sicken him. But in at least one respect he was way too optimistic. Bookselling, he wrote in Fortnightly in November 1936, “is a humane trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point. The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman.”
Jump forward three-quarters of a century, and a certain Seattle-based combine is being accused of exactly that. All sorts of merchants, but particularly booksellers, were infuriated by Amazon’s effort before the holidays to use shops on Main Street and in malls as showrooms for people to check out items before ordering them more cheaply online. The retailer’s refusal to collect sales tax is a persistent grievance. Independent booksellers have even been forced into the novel position of hoping that their one-time foe, Barnes & Noble, survives so that it can serve as a bulwark against Amazon. Publishers, if anything, are more fearful than booksellers.
Now take a look at the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek two weeks ago. It shows a book in flames with the headline, “Amazon wants to burn the book business.” What was remarkable was not just the overt Nazi iconography but the fact that it did not cause any particular uproar. In the struggle over the future of intellectual commerce in the United States, apparently even evocations of Joseph Goebbels and the Brown Shirts are considered fair game.
From Amazon’s point of view, the cover is incorrect even if you disregard any Nazi connotations. What would be the use to Amazon of a charred hulk? It does not want to destroy the book business, but simply to reinvent it — or, as its opponents would have it, seize control of it. (Amazon declined to comment.) [READ THE REST]
The house where Orwell was born on June 25, 1903 and spent his infant days till his parents migrated to England next year, vividly tell the story of neglect as thick vegetation has mushroomed in the six-acre premises.
The walls surrounding the house have been covered with piles of loose bricks, many of which have been taken away by the locals for their use. The vast open field in the walled structure where some dilapidate godowns (used during the British rule for storage of opium cultivated at the instruction of the colonial rulers) stand in dilapidated condition and the entire area is filled with garbage even as some unauthorised huts have sprung up.
All that is left to the memory of the legendary British author is his bust made of white stone and the foundation stone outside the gate of his house which get a symbolic facelift to mark his birth and death anniversaries.
The Rural Works Department (RWD) executive engineer Harendra Pratap said that Orwell’s house has been lying in a dilapidated state and the premises was encroached by local people. “We are unable to construct a proposed second gate at the structure due to encroachment by the locals,” he told PTI.
The Motihari Nagar Parishad Prakash Asthana also said that Orwell’s house has been lying in bad shape, but claimed that the renovation of the house will begin soon upon release of funds by the state government. There is definitely a project underway to renovate the house and give it a facelift as larger plan to development the British litterateurs house as a tourist destination, he said.
Bihar Art, Culture and Youth Affairs Minister Sukhda Pandey said that her department had released Rs 32.70 lakh to the district administration for beautification of Orwell’s memorial structure and construction of road, drainage and boundary wall sometime back and utilisation report sought. She said that a reminder will be issued soon to the district administration in this regard. On the encroachment in the British author’s house and the premises being used for residence by school teacher, Pandey said that she has also received complaints in this regard on which she has sought a report from the district magistrate. Maintaining that Orwell’s house was a treasure of Bihar, the Art, Culture and Youth Affairs Minister said that all steps will be taken for protection and development of the historical and monumental structure which, she said, will be developed as a tourist destination.
I went into many tea shops while I was in Myanmar. Each time, I looked around to see if any suspicious person was listening to my conversations with my tour guide and other people I got acquainted with there.
Teashops in this country, where freedom of speech has been restricted for many years, are places for not only relaxation but also exchanges of information, and I heard that secret police officers and tipsters were deployed to these places.
Several years ago, a U.S. female journalist published a report on Myanmar titled, “Secret Histories,” and its Japanese translation published by the Shobunsha publishing house drew attention from many Japanese readers. The writer followed in the footsteps of British novelist George Orwell (1903-50), who worked as a police officer in Myanmar for five years when the country was under Britain’s colonial rule. She identified Myanmar as a country with national monitoring under dictatorship that Orwell depicted in his futuristic novel “1984.”
The author wrote that she felt as if she had stepped into the world depicted by “1984.” She undoubtedly viewed teashops as the core of Myanmar’s monitoring network. Her book is subtitled, “Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop.”
However, Japanese experts agree that Myanmar is a loose society. “Although authorities regulate speech, ordinary people don’t feel the situation confining. It’s far from the world of ‘1984,’” says Toshihiro Kudo of the Institute of Developing Economies. I felt the same way.
A monitoring device called a “telescreen” has been extended throughout the society depicted in “1984.”
Sophia University professor Kei Nemoto says, “Britain, which has installed hundreds of surveillance cameras, is the democratic version of a country with national monitoring depicted by Orwell.”[…]
[T]here is no doubt that many difficult problems that Myanmar currently faces derive from Britain’s colonial rule. At the time, Britain gave important posts to ethnic Karens to repress ethnic Burmese. In other words, Britain ruled Myanmar by preventing different ethnic groups from joining hands in rising in revolt against it. The Burmese restored control over Myanmar when a democratic administration was formed when the country won independence. However, Karens and other ethnic minorities went into an armed struggle with the government to win separation and independence.[…]After Myanmar won independence and withdrew from the British Commonwealth, the socialist administration led by General Ne Win concluded that regulations requiring cars to travel on the left side of the road, a legacy of British rule, were inconvenient and dangerous, and switched to a right side of the road system, according to the guide. Some people say Myanmar did this as a result of fortune-telling, but it is widely viewed that it did so out of antipathy against Britain.
Pro-democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi wrote in her column in the Mainichi Shimbun in June 1996 that the State Law and Order Restoration Council, the military regime’s top decision-making body at the time, sounds as if its name had been given by Orwell, and sarcastically praised clauses in a law called, “Decree No. 1, 1990,” as great sentences like those by Orwell.
Suu Kyi studied in Britain and married a British national. It is natural that the leadership of the military regime, who had been eliminating the legacies of British rule, had antipathy against Suu Kyi who loudly called for Western-style democracy and talked about Orwell. […]
Britain, Myanmar’s military regime and the Burmese dynasty did almost the same things. In the words of George Orwell, “Good is bad, Bad is good.” I think this is true.
- Sheldon Richman on the Connection Between George Orwell and Friedrich Hayek (reason.com)
- George Orwell lived here (winextra.com)
- Orwell v Huxley (poumista.wordpress.com)
- Ever Wanted to Smell Like Animal Farm? Now You Can. (bellasugar.com)
- Orwell, Tribune, etc (poumista.wordpress.com)
- Original NY Times review of Orwell’s 1984 (kottke.org)
- Ken Macleod on George Orwell, Perry Anderson, Politics, and the English Language (delong.typepad.com)