Orwell Round Up: Taking the Road to Wigan Pier and Beyond

non-fiction orwell book

Alrighty then- three days ago we all established on here that it was a-okay to write non-fiction reviews, which is what I’m gonna do today! I got this book that had the non-fiction works of Orwell, so rather than review each work in individual posts, I decided to do them all in one (yay timesaving!!)

Since these are, for the most part, political works, there will be no way to avoid the subject- you have been warned!

Down and Out in Paris and London

Now this one is really hard to sum up, but actually pretty easy to read. Essentially in this book Orwell went on a jaunt as a poor person. An interesting social experiment, no doubt, but my more cynical side kind of overtook me at points. I will be blunt- I found a lot of it made me think of the song “Common People” (“if you called your dad you could stop it all”). This is definitely one of those books where I can see why other people love it, even if I didn’t.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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Some excellent quotes:

“Fear of the mob is a superstitious fear”

“What do the majority of educated people know about poverty?”

“an educated man can put up with enforced idleness, which is one of the worst evils of poverty”

“The man who really merits pity is the man who has been down from the start, and faces poverty with a blank resourceless mind”

The Road to Wigan Pier

I did massively prefer this, even if the very partisan arguments at times felt like a manifesto to encourage a certain type of activism. I had my issues with Orwell’s argument:

  • “Socialism is such an elementary common sense that I am amazed that it has not established itself already”- this is an optimistic view, but if you’re not a socialist, it’s not a very sensible assertion. In fact there is often a view in left wing circles that everyone secretly wants to be a socialist and anyone that’s not feels guilty about it- a foolish stance to take because not only is it a touch arrogant, but it is fundamentally naïve and if you view the world in this binary manner you will never be able to accept other points of view exist (let alone acknowledge their validity).
  • “the worst advertisements for Socialism is its adherents”- ah the “no true Scotsman” fallacy rears its head again. I feel like every ideologue says this- but maybe, just maybe, it’s the ideologies that are flawed…
  • “Socialism means justice and common decency”- again how often do ideologues argue that their ideology “just means x”? As charming as this statement is, it’s not even true on a dictionary definition level.
  • “The only possible course is to examine the Fascist case, grasp that there is something to be said for it, and then make it clear to the world that whatever good Fascism contains is also implicit in Socialism”- if you reverse this argument it undoes his point- whatever is negative about an ideology (particularly authoritarian ones) is also present in all other ideologies.

Nonetheless, the book was insightful at times, with notions about simple compassion and most powerfully when Orwell talks about the universal principles of liberty and justice. And made some excellent points:

  • Orwell highlights the hypocrisy of bourgeois left winger: “All his opinions change into their opposite at the first brush of reality”.
  • “writers of genuine talent are usually indifferent to Socialism”- this to my mind is because writers have to exist beyond the ideological in the universal world of stories
  • “Marxists as a rule are not very good at reading the minds of their adversaries”- this reiterates my point about left wing views of what conservatives are thinking
  • “if you give me to understand that in some way I am an inferior person because I have never worked with my hands, you will only succeed in antagonising me.”- this is such an important point because so many people think it is a good idea to accuse people of something they cannot help- and the end result is only to lose support.

Despite my criticisms of Orwell’s arguments, I did get a lot out of this book.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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Homage to Catalonia

I had trouble finding some of his recollections interesting, but I did find this picked up in his essay Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War.

The book directly contradicts the idea that history is written by the winners. It explains how the concept to believe that everything is all relative came into existence- in a case of delicious irony (given the sorts that currently hold this position) Orwell explains how the notion of moral relativism was founded on fascist principles: “Nazi theory specifically denies that such a thing as “the truth” exists”.

Unfortunately the consequences now are that objectivity has gone out the window and the pretence of truth seeking has gone. I could not help but find how true this rings: “Everyone believes in the atrocities of the enemy and disbelieves his own side”.

Ultimately I found this the most interesting and the one which rang most true:

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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Some brilliant quotes:

“People forget that a soldier anywhere near the front line is usually too hungry, or frightened, or cold, or, above all, too tired to bother about the political origins of the war”

“War is evil, and it is often the lesser evil”

Okay everyone that read all of that deserves a banana for sure!! And while we’re at it, I probably owe you all bananas for being so absent this week!

Have you read Orwell’s non-fiction? Are you interested in reading it? Let me know in the comments!

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20 thoughts on “Orwell Round Up: Taking the Road to Wigan Pier and Beyond

  1. daleydowning says:

    Honestly, now I’m not interested in reading Orwell’s views in real life (I’ve never read 1984 and was thinking about doing some research on the man himself, to see where some of those concepts may have come from). But thanks for cutting to the chase for me!

    It’s very true, though, that so many who subscribe to one ideology or another (not even going to be so narrow-minded as to flatout say “all socialists” or whatever that just isn’t true) are not capable of seeing any potential positives in another side. A major downside to that part of human nature, that finds it necessary to categorize and idealize things!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A Paradoxical Millennial says:

    I find Orwell to be one of the most readable essayists, and one who actually writes with a grain of common sense and world experience. I particularly love ‘Politics and the English Language’ and ‘England Your England’. Still, I haven’t read enough of him by far, and intend to read his writings on the Spanish Civil War at some point in the not-to-distant future.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anna @MyBookishDream says:

    The only book so far that I have read by Orwell is Animal Farm and I completely adored it. I did always plan on reading 1984, as it’s such an important book and basically everyone says I need to read it (hopefully I’ll be getting to it some time soon). Great review!! Now I definitely have to add his non-fiction to my TBR as well. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    It looks like I have some reading to do! So far I have only read Animal Farm and 1984 (a favorite of mine). I am honestly hardly familiar with the man behind the work or his ventures into nonfiction, but given the impact of his fiction, I should be!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lashaan and Trang (Bookidote) says:

    I’m so happy to read a review of Orwell’s books, besides 1984 and Animal Farm (the only two books that gets the most attention; also the only two books I’ve read from him). I’ve been super curious about the other pieces he’s written and now I know what to hunt for/look out for! Great reviews! 😛

    – Lashaan

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

    I have not read Orwell’s non-fiction, but having recently read 1984 for the first time, I am definitely compelled to. I adore the way he writes. While I don’t always agree with him, I find his words hypnotize me. Down and Out in Paris and London has been on my TBR for a long time.

    The problem with his non-fiction is that I’m a bit anxious that it will be too intellectual for me. I struggle with intellectual writing – I prefer discussing it with someone as I go to decide if I agree or disagree.

    Great reviews! I’m glad to see non-fiction is making an appearance!

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Yes- he’s a brilliant writer!! I really love his work too.
      Ah I can understand that- I think it’s fairly easy to read from a non-academic perspective to be honest. But I can see why it’d be good to discuss it with other people for sure.
      Thank you so much!! 🙂

      Like

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