The Complete Works of



George Orwell > Inside The Whale > Essay

Inside The Whale



When Henry Miller's novel, TROPIC OF CANCER, appeared in 1935, it was
greeted with rather cautious praise, obviously conditioned in some cases
by a fear of seeming to enjoy pornography. Among the people who praised
it were T. S. Eliot, Herbert Read, Aldous Huxley, John dos Passes, Ezra
Pound--on the whole, not the writers who are in fashion at this moment.
And in fact the subject matter ofthebook, and to a certain extent its
mental atmosphere, belong to the twenties rather than to the thirties.

TROPIC OF CANCER is a novel in the first person, or autobiography in the
form of a novel, whichever way you like to look at it. Miller himself
insists that it is straight autobiography, but the tempo and method of
telling the story are those of a novel. It is a story of the American
Paris, but not along quite the usual lines, because the Americans who
figure in it happen to be people without money. During the boom years,
when dollars were plentiful and the exchange-value of the franc was low,
Paris was invaded by such a swarm of artists, writers, students,
dilettanti, sight-seers, debauchees, and plain idlers as the world has
probably never seen. In some quarters of the town the so-called artists
must actually have outnumbered the working population--indeed, it has
been reckoned thatm the late twenties ther were as many as 30,000
painters in Paris, most of them impostors. The populace had grown so
hardened to artists that gruff-voiced lesbians in corduroy breeches and
young men in Grecian or medieval costume could walk the streets without
attracting a glance, and along the Seine banks Notre Dame it was almost
impossible to pick one's way between the sketching-stools. It was the age
of dark horses and neglected genii; the phrase on everybody's lips was
'QUAND JE SERAI LANCÉ'. As it turned out, nobody was 'LANCÉ', the slump
descended like another Ice Age, the cosmopolitan mob of artists vanished,
and the huge Montparnasse cafés which only ten years ago were filled till
the small hours by hordes of shrieking poseurs have turned into darkened
tombs in which there arc not even any ghosts. It is this world--
described in, among other novels, Wyndham Lewis's TARR--that Miller is
writing about, but he is dealing only with the under side of it, the
lumpen-proletarian fringe which has been able to survive the slump
because it is composed partly of genuine artists and partly of genuine
scoundrels. The neglected genii, the paranoiacs who art always 'going to'
write the novel that will knock Proust into a cocked hat, are there, but
they are only genii in the rather rare moments when they are not scouting
about for the next meal. For the most part it is a story of bug-ridden
rooms in working-men's hotels, of fights, drinking bouts, cheap brothels,
Russian refugees, cadging, swindling, and temporary jobs. And the whole
atmosphere of the poor quarters of Paris as a foreigner sees them--the
cobbled alleys, the sour reek of refuse, the bistros with their greasy
zinc counters and worn brick floors, the green waters of the Seine, the
blue cloaks of the Republican Guard, the crumbling iron urinals, the
peculiar sweetish smell of the Metro stations, the cigarettes that come
to pieces, the pigeons in the Luxembourg Gardens--it is all there, or at
any rate the feeling of it is there.

On the face of it no material could be less promising. When TROPIC OF
CANCER was published the Italians were marching into Abyssinia and
Hitler's concentration camps were already bulging. The intellectual foci
of the world were Rome, Moscow, and Berlin. It did not seem to be a
moment at which a novel of outstanding value was likely to be written
about American dead-beats cadging drinks in the Latin Quarter. Of course
a novelist is not obliged to write directly about contemporary history,
but a novelist who simply disregards the major public events of the
moment is generally either a footler or a plain idiot. From a mere
account of the subject matter of TROPIC OF CANCER most people would
probably assume it to be no more thatt a bit of naughty-naughty left over
from the twenties. Actually, nearly everyone who read it saw at once that
it was nothing of the kind, but a very remarkable book. How or why
remarkable? That question is never easy to answer. It is better to begin
by describing the impression that TROPIC OF CANCER has left on my own

When I first opened TROPIC OF CANCER and saw that it was full of
unprintable words, my immediate reaction was a refusal to be impressed.
Most people's would be the same, I believe. Nevertheless, after a lapse
of time the atmosphere of the book, besides innumerable details, seemed
to linger in my memory in a peculiar way. A year later Miller's second
book, BLACK SPRING, was published. By this tim? TROPIC OF CANCER was much
more vividly present in my mind than it had been when I first read it. My
first feeling about BLACK SPRING was that it showed a falling-off, and it
is a fact that it has not the same unity as the other book. Yet after
another year there were many passages in BLACK SPRING that had also
rooted themselves in my memory. Evidently these books are of the sort to
leave a flavour behind them--books that 'create a world of their own',
as the saying goes. The books that do this are not necessarily good
books, they may be good bad books like RAFFLES or the SHERLOCK HOLMES
stories, or perverse and morbid books like WUTHERING HEIGHTS or THE HOUSE
WITH THE GREEN SHUTTERS. But now and again there appears a novel which
opens up a new world not by revealing what is strange, but by revealing
what is familiar. The truly remarkable thing about ULYSSES, for instance,
is the commonplaceness of its material. Of course there is much more in
ULYSSES than this, because Joyce is a kind of poet and also an
elephantine pedant, but his real achievement has been to get the familiar
on to paper. He dared--for it is a matter of DARING just as much as of
technique--to expose the imbecilities of the inner mind, and in doing so
he discovered an America which was under everybody's nose. Here is a
whole world of stuff which you supposed to be of its nature
incommunicable, and somebody has managed to communicate it. The effect is
to break down, at any rate momentarily, the solitude in which the human
being lives. When you read certain passages in ULYSSES you feel that
Joyce's mind and your mind are one, that he knows all about you though he
has never heard your name, that there some world outside time and space
in which you and he are together. And though he does not resemble Joyce
in other ways, there is a touch of this quality in Henry Miller. Not
everywhere, because his work is very uneven, and sometimes, especially in
BLACK SPRING, tends to slide away into more verbiage or into the squashy
universe of the surresalists. But read him for five pages, ten pages, and
you feel the peculiar relief that comes not so much from understanding as
from being UNDERSTOOD. 'He knows all about me,' you feel; 'he wrote this
specially for me'. It is as though you could hear a voice speaking to
you, a friendly Amierican voice, with no humbug in it, no moral purpose,
merely an implicit assumption that we are all alike. For the moment you
have got away from the lies and simplifications, the stylized,
marionette-like quality of ordinary fiction, even quite good fiction, and
are dealing with the recognizable experiences of human beings.

But what kind of experience? What kind of human beings? Miller is writing
about the man in the street, and it is incidentally rather a pity that it
should be a street full of brothers. That is the penalty of leaving your
native land. It means transferring your roots into shallower soil. Exile
is probably more damaging to a novelist than to a painter or even a poet,
because its effect is to take him out of contact with working life and
narrow down his range to the street, the cafe, the church, the brothel
and the studio. On the whole, in Miller's books you are reading about
people living the expatriate life, people drinking, talking, meditating,
and fornicating, not about people working, marrying, and bringing up
children; a pity, because he would have described the one set of
activities as well as the other. In BLACK SPRING there is a wonderful
flashback of New York, the swarming Irish-infested New York of the O.
Henry period, but the Paris scenes are the best, and, granted their utter
worthlessness as social types, the drunks and dead-beats of the cafes are
handled with a feeling for character and a mastery of technique that are
unapproached in any at all recent novel. All of them are not only
credible but completely familiar; you have the feeling that all their
adventures have happened to yourself. Not that they are anything very
startling in the way of adventures. Henry gets a job with a melancholy
Indian student, gets another job at a dreadful French school during a
cold snap when the lavatories are frozen solid, goes on drinking bouts in
Le Havre with his friend Collins, the sea captain, goes tse brothels
where there are wonderful Negresses, talks with his friend Van Norden,
the novelist, who has got the great novel of the world in his head but
can never bring himself to begin writing it. His friend Karl, on the
verge of starvation, is picked up by a wealthy widow who wishes to marry
him. There are interminable Hamlet-like conversations in which Karl tries
to decide which is worse, being hungry or sleeping with an old woman. In
great detail he describes his visits to the widow, how he went to the
hotel dressed in his best, how before going in he neglected to urinate,
so that the whole evening was one long crescendo of torment etc., etc.
And after all, none of it is true, the widow doesn't even exist--Karl
has simply invented her in order to make himself seem important. The
whole book is in this vein, more or less. Why is it that these monstrous
trivialities are so engrossing? Simply because the whole atmosphere is
deeply familiar, because you have all the while the feeling that these
things are happening to YOU. And you have this feeling because somebody
has chosen to drop the Geneva language of the ordinary novel and drag the
REAL-POLITIK of the inner mind into the open. In Miller's case it is not
so much a question of exploring the mechanisms of the mind as of owning
up to everyday facts and everyday emotions. For the truth is that many
ordinary people, perhaps an actual majority, do speak and behave in just
the way that is recorded here. The callous coarseness with which the
characters in TROPIC OF CANCER talk is very rare in fiction, but it is
extremely common in real life; again and again I have heard just such
conversations from people who were not even aware that they were talking
coarsely. It is worth noticing that TROPIC OF CANCER is not a young man's
book. Miller was in his forties when it was published, and though since
then he has produced three or four others, it is obvious that this first
book had been lived with for years. It is one of those books that are
slowly matured in poverty and obscurity, by people who know what they
have got to do and therefore are able to wait. The prose is astonishing,
and in parts of BLACK SPRING is even better. Unfortunately I cannot
quote; unprintable words occur almost everywhere. But get hold of TROPIC
OF CANCER, get hold of BLACK SPRING and read especially the first hundred
pages. They give you an idea of what can still be done, even at this late
date, with English prose. In them, English is treated as a spoken
language, but spoken WITHOUT FEAR, i.e. without fear of rhetoric or of
the unusual or poetical word. The adjective has come back, after its ten
years' exile. It is a flowing, swelling prose, a prose with rhythms in
it, something quite different from the flat cautious statements and
snack-bar dialects that are now in fashion.

When a book like TROPIC OF CANCER appears, it is only natural that the
first thing people notice should be its obscenity. Given our current
notions of literary decency, it is not at all easy to approach an
unprintable book with detachment. Either one is shocked and disgusted, or
one is morbidly thrilled, or one is determined above all else not to be
impressed. The last is probably the commonest reaction, with the result
that unprintable books often get less attention than they deserve. It is
rather the fashion to say that nothing is easier than to write an obscene
book, that people only do it in order to get themselves talked about and
make money, etc., etc. What makes it obvious that this is not the case is
that books which are obscene in the police-court sense are distinctly
uncommon. If there were easy money to be made out of dirty words, a lot
more people would be making it. But, because 'obscene' books do not
appear very frequently, there is a tendency to lump them together, as a
rule quite unjustifiably. TROPIC OF CANCER has been vaguely associated
with two other books, ULYSSES and VOYAGE AU BOUT DE LA NUIT, but in
neither case is there much resemblance. What Miller has in common with
Joyce is a willingness to mention the inane, squalid facts of everyday
life. Putting aside differences of technique, the funeral scene in
ULYSSES, for instance, would fit into TROPIC OF CANCER; the whole chapter
is a sort of confession, an exposé of the frightful inner callousness of
the human being. But there the resemblance ends. As a novel, TROPIC OF
CANCER is far inferior to ULYSSES. Joyce is an artist, in a sense in
which Miller is not and probably would not wish to be, and in any case he
is attempting much more. He is exploring different states of
consciousness, dream, reverie (the 'bronze-by-gold' chapter),
drunkenness, etc., and dovetailing them all into a huge complex pattern,
almost like a Victorian 'plot'. Miller is simply a hard-boiled person
talking about life, an ordinary American businessman with intellectual
courage and a gift for words. It is perhaps significant that he looks
exactly like everyone's idea of an American businessman. As for the
comparison with VOYAGE AU BOUT DE LA NUIT, it is even further from the
point. Both books, use unprintable words, both are in some sense
autobiographical, but that is all. VOYAGE AU BEUT DE LA NUIT is a
book-with-a-purpose, and its purpose is to protest against the horror and
meaninglessness of modern life--actually, indeed, of LIFE. It is a cry
of unbearable disgust, a voice from the cesspool. TROPIC OF CANCER is
almost exactly the opposite. The thing has become so unusual as to seem
almost anomalous, but it is the book of a man who is happy. So is BLACK
SPRING, though slightly less so, because tinged in places with nostalgia.
With years of lumpen-proletarian life behind him, hunger, vagabondage,
dirt, failure, nights in the open, battles with immigration officers,
endless struggles for a bit of cash, Miller finds that he is enjoying
himself. Exactly the aspects of life that feel Céline with horror are the
ones that appeal to him. So far from protesting, he is ACCEPTING. And the
very word 'acceptance' calls up his real affinity, another American, Walt

But there is something rather curious in being Whitman in the
nineteen-thirties. It is not certain that if Whitman himself were alive
at the moment he would write anything in the least degree resembling
LEAVES OF GRASS. For what he is saying, after all, is 'I accept', and
there is a radical difference between acceptance now and acceptance then.
Whitman was writing in a time of unexampled prosperity, but more than
that, he was writing in a country where freedom was something more than a
word. The democracy, equality, and comradeship that he is always talking
about arc not remote ideals, but something that existed in front of his
eyes. In mid-nineteenth-century America men felt themselves free and
equal, WERE free and equal, so far as that is possible outside-a society
of pure communism. There was povery and there were even class
distinctions, but except for the Negroes there was no permanently
submerged class. Everyone had inside him, like a kind of core, the,
iteaowledge that he could earn a decent living, and earn it without
bootlicking. When you read about Mark Twain's Mississippi raftsmen and
pilots, or Bret Harte's Western gold-miners, they seem more remote than
the cannibals of the Stone Age. The reason is simply that they are free
human beings. But it is the same even with the peaceful domesticated
America of the Eastern states, the America of the LITTLE WOMEN, HELEN'S
BABIES, and RIDING DOWN FROM BANGOR. Life has a buoyant, carefree quality
that you can feel as you read, like a physical sensation in your belly.
If is this that Whitman is celebrating, though actually he does it very
badly, because he is one of those writers who tell you what you ought to
feel instead of making you feel it. Luckilly for his beliefs, perhaps, he
died too early to see the deterioration in American life that came with
the rise of large-scale industry and the exploiting of cheap immigrant

Millers outlook is deeply akin to that of Whitman, and neaarly everyone
who has read him has remarked on this. TROPIC OF CANCER ends with an
especially Whitmanesque passage, in which, after the lecheries, the
swindles, the fights, the drinking bouts, and the imbecilities, he simply
sits down and watches the Seine flowing past, in a sort of mystical
acceptance of thihg-as-it-is. Only, what is he accepting? In the first
place, not America, but the ancient bone-heap of Europe, where every
grain of soil has passed through innumerable human bodies. Secondly, not
an epoch of expansion and liberty, but an epoch of fear, tyranny, and
regimentation. To say 'I accept' in an age like our own is to say that
you accept concentration camps, rubber truncheons. Hitler, Stalin, bombs,
aeroplanes, tinned food, machine guns, putsches, purges, slogans, Bedaux
belts, gas masks, submarines, spies, PROVOCATEURS, press censorship,
secret prisons, aspirins, Hollywood films, and political murders. Not
only those things, of course, but, those things among-others. And on the
whole this is Henry Miller's attitude. Not quite always, because at
moments he shows signs of a fairly ordinary kind of literary nostalgia.
There is a long passage in the earlier part of BLACK SPRING, in praise of
the Middle Ages, which as prose must be one of the most remarkable pieces
of writing in recent years, but which displays an attitude not very
different from that of Chesterton. In MAX AND THE WHITE PHAGOCYTES there
is an attack on modern American civilization (breakfast cereals,
cellophane, etc.) from the usual angle of the literary man who hates
industrialism. But in general the attitude is 'Let's swallow it whole'.
And hence the seeming preocupation with indecency and with the
dirty-handkerchief sidd of life. It is only seeming, for the truth is
that ordinary everyday life consists far more largely of horrors than
writers of fiction usually care to admit. Whitman himself 'accepted' a
great deal that his contemporaries found unmentionable. For he is not
only writing of the prairie, he also wanders through the city and notes
the shattered skull of the suicide, the 'grey sick faces of onanists',
etc, etc. But unquestionably our own age, at any rate in Western Europe,
is less healthy and less hopeful than the age in which Whitman was
writing. Unlike Whitman, we live in a SHRINKING world. The 'democratic
vistas' have ended in barbed wire. There is less feeling of creation and
growth, less and less emphasis on the cradle, endlessly rocking, more and
more emphasis on the teapot, endlessly stewing. To accept civilization as
it is practically means accepting decay. It has ceased to be a strenuous
attitude and become a passive attitude--even 'decadent', if that word
means anything.

But precisely because, in one sense, he is passive to experience. Miller
is able to get nearer to the ordinary man than is possible to more
purposive writers. For the ordinary man is also passive. Within a narrow
circle (home life, and perhaps the trade union or local politics) he
feels himself master of his fate, but against major events he is as
helpless as against the elements. So far from endeavouring to influence
the future, he simply lies down and lets things happen to him. During the
past ten years literature has involved itself more and more deeply in
politics, with the result that there is now less room in it for the
ordinary man than at any time during the past two centuries. One can see
the change in the prevailing literary attitude by comparing the books
written about the Spanish civil war with those written about the war of
1914-18. The immediately striking thing about the Spanish war books, at
any rate those written in English, is their shocking dullness and
badness. But what is more significant is that almost all of them,
right-wing or left-wing, are written from a political angle, by cocksure
partisans telling you what to think, whereas the books about the Great
War were written by common soldiers or junior officers who did not even
pretend to understand what the whole thing was about. Books like ALL
THE SOMME were written not by propagandists but by VICTIMS. They are
saying in effect, 'What the hell is all this about? God knows. All we can
do is to endure.' And though he is not writing about war, nor, on the
whole, about unhappiness, this is nearer to Miller's attitude than the
omniscience which is now fashionable. The BOOSTER, a short-lived
periodical of which he was part-editor, used to describe itself in its
advertisements as 'non-political, non-educational, non-progressive,
non-co-operative, non-ethical, non-literary, non-consistent,
non-contemporary', and Miller's own work could be described in nearly the
same terms. It is a voice from the crowd, from the underling, from the
third-class carriage, from the ordinary, non-political, non-moral,
passive man.

I have been using the phrase 'ordinary man' rather loosely, and I have
taken it for granted that the 'ordinary man' exists, a thing now denied
by some people. I do not mean that the people Miller is writing about
constitute a majority, still less that he is writing about proletarians.
No English or American novelist has as yet seriously attempted that. And
again, the people in TROPIC OF CANCER fall short of being ordinary to the
extent that they are idle, disreputable, and more or less 'artistic'. As
I have said already, this a pity, but it is the necessary result of
expatriation. Miller's 'ordinary man' is neither the manual worker nor
the suburban householder, but the derelict, the DÉCLASSÉ, the adventurer,
the American intellectual without roots and without money. Still, the
experiences even of this type overlap fairly widely with those of more
normal people. Milter has been able to get the most out of his rather
limited material because he has had the courage to identify with it. The
ordinary man, the 'average sensual man', has been given the power of
speech, like Balaam's ass.

It will be seen that this is something out of date, or at any rate out of
fashion. The average sensual man is out of fashion. Preoccupation with
sex and truthfulness about the inner life are out of fashion. American
Paris is out of fashion. A book like TROPIC OF CANCER, published at such
a time, must be either a tedious preciosity or something unusual, and I
think a majority of the people who have read it would agree that it is
not the first. It is worth trying to discover just what, this escape from
the current literary fashion means. But to do that one has got to see it
against its background--that is, against the general development of
English literature in the twenty years since the Great War.


When one says that a writer is fashionable one practically always means
that he is admired by people under thirty. At the beginning of the period
I am speaking of, the years during and immediately after the war, the
writer who had the deepest hold upon the thinking young was almost
certainly Housman. Among people who were adolescent in the years 1910-25,
Housman had an influence which was enormous and is now not at all easy
to understand. In 1920, when I was about seventeen, I probably knew the
whole of the SHROPSHIRE LAD by heart. I wonder how much impression the
SHROPSHIRE LAD makes at this moment on a boy of the same age and more or
less the same cast of mind? No doubt he has heard of it and even glanced
into it; it might strike him as cheaply clever--probably that would be
about all. Yet these are the poems that I and my contemporaries used to
recite to ourselves, over and over, in a kind of ecstasy, just as earlier
generations had recited Meredith's 'Love in a Valley', Swinburne's
'Garden of Proserpine' etc., etc.

With rue my heart is laden
For golden friends I had,
For many a roselipt maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.

By brooks too broad for leaping
The lightfoot boys are laid;
The roselipt girls arc sleeping
In fields Where roses fade.

It just tinkles. But it did not seem to tinkle in 1920. Why does the
bubble always burst? To answer that question one has to take account of
the EXTERNAL conditions that make certain writers popular at certain
times. Housman's poems had not attracted much notice when they were first
published. What was there in them that appealed so deeply to a single
generation, the generation born round about 1900?

In the first place, Housman is a 'country' poet. His poems are full of
the charm of buried villages, the nostalgia of place-names, Clunton and
Clunbury, Knighton, Ludlow, 'on Wenlock Edge', 'in summer time on
Bredon', thatched roofs and the jingle of smithies, the wild jonquils in
the pastures, the 'blue, remembered hills'. War poems apart, English
verse of the 1910-25 period is mostly 'country'. The reason no doubt was
that the RENTIER-professional class was ceasing once and for all to have
any real relationship with the soil; but at any rate there prevailed
then, far more than now, a kind of snobbism of belonging to the country
and despising the town. England at that time was hardly more an
agricultural country than it is now, but before the light industries
began to spread themselves it was easier to think of it as one. Most
middle-class boys grew up within sight of a farm, and naturally it was
the picturesque side of farm life that appealed to them--the ploughing,
harvesting, stack-thrashing and so forth. Unless he has to do it himself
a boy is not likely to notice the horrible drudgery of hoeing turnip,
milking cows with chapped teats at four o'clock in the morning, etc.,
etc. Just before, just after, and for that matter, during the war was the
great age of the 'Nature poet', the heyday of Richard Jefferies and W. H.
Hudson. Rupert Brooke's 'Grantchester', the star poem of 1913, is nothing
but an enormous gush of 'country' sentiment, a sort of accumulated vomit
from a stomach stuffed with place-names. Considered as a poem
'Grantchester' is something wors than worthless, but as an illustration
of what the thinking middle-class young of that period FELT it is a
valuable document.

Housman, however, did not enthuse over the rambler roses in the
week-ending spirit of Brooke and the others. The 'country' motif is there
all the time, but mainly as a background. Most of the poems have a
quasi-human subject, a kind of idealized rustic, in reality Strephon or
Corydon brought up to date. This in itself had a deep appeal. Experience
shows that overcivilized people enjoy reading about rustics (key-phrase,
'close to the soil') because they imagine them to be more primitive and
passionate than themselves. Hence the 'dark earth' novel of Sheila
Kaye-Smith, etc. And at that time a middle-class boy, with his 'country'
bias, would identify with an agricultural worker as he would never have
done with a town worker. Most boys had in their minds a vision of an
idealized ploughman, gipsy, poacher, or gamekeeper, always pictured as a
wild, free, roving blade, living a life of rabbit-snaring, cockfighting,
horses, beer, and women. Masefield's 'Everlasting Mercy', another
valuable period-piece, immensely popular with boys round about the war
years, gives you this vision in a very crude form. But Housman's Maurices
and Terences could be taken seriously where Mascfield's Saul Kane could
not; on this side of him, Housman was Masefield with a dash of
Theocritus. Moreover all his themes are adolescent--murder, suicide,
unhappy love, early death. They deal with the simple, intelligible
disasters that give you the feeling of being up against the 'bedrock
facts'of life:

The sun burns on the half-mown hill,
By now the blood has dried;
And Maurice among the hay lies still
And my knife is in his side.

And again:

They hand us now in Shrewsbury jail
And whistles blow forlorn,
And trains all night groan on the rail
To men who die at morn.

It is all more or less in the same tune. Everything comes unstuck. 'Ned
lies long in the churchyard and Tom lies long in jail'. And notice also
the exquisite self-pity--the 'nobody loves me' feeling:

The diamond drops adorning
The low mound on the lea,
These arc the tears of morning,
That weeps, but not for thee.

Hard cheese, old chap! Such poems might have been written expressly for
adolescents. And the unvarying sexual pessimism (the girl always dies or
marries somebody else) seemed like wisdom to boys who were herded
together in public schools and were half-inclined to think of women as
something unattainable. Whether Housman ever had the same appeal for
girls I doubt. In his poems the woman's point of view is not considered,
she is merely the nymph, the siren, the treacherous half-human creature
who leads you a little distance and then gives you the slip.

But Housman would not have appealed so deeply to the people who were
young in 1920 if it had not been for another strain in him, and that was
his blasphemous, antinomian, 'cynical' strain. The fight that always
occurs between the generations was exceptionally bitter at the end of the
Great War; this was partly due to the war itself, and partly it was an
indirect result of the Russian Revolution, but an intellectual struggle
was in any case due at about that date. Owing probably to the ease and
security of life in England, which even the war hardly disturbed, many
people whose ideas were formed in the eighties or earlier had carried
them quite unmodified into the nineteen-twenties. Meanwhile, so far as
the younger generation was concerned, the official beliefs were
dissolving like sand-castles. The slump in religious belief, for
instance, was spectacular. For several years the old-young antagonism
took on a quality of real hatred. What was left of the war generation had
crept out of the massacre to find their elders still bellowing the
slogans of 1914, and a slightly younger generation of boys were writhing
under dirty-minded celibate schoolmasters. It was to these that Housman
appealed, with his implied sexual revolt and his personal grievance
against God. He was patriotic, it was true, but in a harmless
old-fashioned way, to the tune of red coats and 'God save the Queen'
rather than steel helmets and 'Hang the Kaiser'. And he was satisfyingly
anti-Christian--he stood for a kind of bitter, defiant paganism, the
conviction that life is short and the gods are against you, which exactly
fitted the prevailing mood of the young; and all in charming fragile
verse that was composed almost entirely of words of one syllable.

It will be seen that I have discussed Housman as though he were merely a
propagandist, an utterer of maxims and quotable 'bits'. Obviously he was
more than that. There is no need to under-rate him now because he was
over-rated a few years ago. Although one gets into trouble nowadays for
saying so, there are a number of his poems ('Into my heart an air that
kills', for instance, and 'Is my team ploughing?') that are not likely to
remain long out of favour. But at bottom it is always a writer's
tendency, his 'purpose', his 'message', that makes him liked or disliked.
The proof of this is the extreme difficulty of seeing any literary merit
in a book that seriously damages your deepest beliefs. And no book is
ever truly neutral. Some or other tendency is always discernible, in
verse as much as in prose, even if it does no more than determine the
form and the choice of imagery. But poets who attain wide popularity, Uke
Housman, are as a rule definitely gnomic writers.

After the war, after Housman and the Nature poets, there appears a group
of writers of completely different tendency--Joyce, Eliot, Pound,
Lawrence, Wyndham, Lewis, Aldous Huxley, Lytton Strachey. So far as the
middle and late twenties go, these are 'the movement', as surely as the
Auden-Spender group have been 'the movement' during the past few years.
It is true that not all of the gifted writers of the period can be fitted
into the pattern. E. M. Forster, for instance, though he wrote his best
book in 1923 or thereabouts, was essentially, pre-war, and Yeats does not
seem in either of his phases to belong to the twenties. Others who were
still living, Moore, Conrad, Bennett, Wells, Norman Douglas, had shot
their bolt before the war ever happened. On the other hand, a writer who
should be added to the group, though in the narrowly literary sense he
hardly 'belongs', is Somerset Maughami. Of course the dates do not fit
exactly; most of these writers had already published books before the
war, but they can be classified as post-war in the same sense that the
younger men now writing are post-slump. Equally, of course, you could
read through most of the literary papers of the time without grasping
that these people are 'the movement'. Even more then than at most times
the big shots of literary journalism were busy pretending that the
age-before-last had not come to an end. Squire ruled the LONDON MERCURY
Gibbs and Walpole were the gods of the lending libraries, there was a
cult of cheeriness and manliness, beer and cricket, briar pipes and
monogamy, and it was at all times possible to earn a few guineas by
writing an article denouncing 'high-brows'. But all the same it was the
despised highbrows who had captured the young. The wind was blowing from
Europe, and long before 1930 it had blowu the beer-and-cricket school
naked, except for their knight-hoods.

But the first thing one would notice about the group of writers I have
named above is that they do not look like a group. Moreover several of
them would strongly object to being coupled with several of the others.
Lawrence and Eliot were in reality antipathetic, Huxley worshipped
Lawrence but was repelled by Joyce, most of the others would have looked
down on Huxley, Strachey, and Maugham, and Lewis attacked everyone in
turn; indeed, his reputation as a writer rests largely on these attacks.
And yet there is a certain temperamental similarity, evident enough now,
though it would not have been so a dozen years ago. What it amounts to is
PESSIMISM OF OUTLOOK. But it is necessary to make clear what is meant by

If the keynote of the Georgian poets was 'beauty of Nature', the keynote
of the post-war writers would be 'tragic sense of life'. The spirit
behind Housman's poems for instance, is not tragic, merely querulous; it
is hedonism disappointed. The same is true of Hardy, though one ought to
make an exception of THE DYNASTS. But the Joyce-Eliot group come later in
time, puritanism is not their main adversary, they are able from the
start to 'see through' most of the things that their predecessors had
fought for. All of them are temperamentally hostile to the notion of
'progress'; it is felt that progress not only doesn't happen, but OUGHT
not to happen. Given this general similarity, there are, of course,
differences of approach between the writers I have named as well as
different degrees of talent. Eliot's pessimism is partly the Christian
pessimism, which implies a certain indifference to human misery, partly a
lament over the decadence of Western civilization ('We are the hollow
men, we are the stuffed men', etc., etc.), a sort of twilight-of-the-gods
feeling, which finally leads him, in Sweeney Agonistes for instance, to
achieve the difficult feat of making modern life out to be worse than it
is. With Strachey it is merely a polite eighteenth-century scepticism
mixed up with a taste for debunking. With Maugham it is a kind of stoical
resignation, the stiff upper lip of the pukka sahib somewhere east of
Suez, carrying on with his job without believing in it, like an Antonine
Emperor. Lawrence at first sight does not seem to be a pessimistic
writer, because, like Dickens, he is a 'change-of-heart' man and
constantly insisting that life here and now would be all right if only
you looked at it a little differently. But what he is demanding is a
movement away from our mechanized civilization, which is not going to
happen. Therefore his exasperation with the present turns once more into
idealization of the past, this time a safely mythical past, the Bronze
Age. When bawrence prefers the Etruscans (his Etruscans) to ourselves it
is difficult not to agree with him, and yet, after all, it is a species
of defeatism, because that is not the direction in which the world is
moving. The kind of life that he is always pointing to, a life centring
round the simple mysteries--sex, earth, fire, water, blood--is merely a
lost cause. All he has been able to produce, therefore, is a wish that
things would happen in a way in which they are manifestly not going to
happen. 'A wave of generosity or a wave of death', he says, but it is
obvious that there are no waves of generosity this side of the horizon.
So he flees to Mexico, and then dies at forty-five, a few years before
the wave of death gets going. It will be seen that once again I am
speaking of these people as though they were not artists, as though they
were merely propagandists putting a 'message' across. And once again it
is obvious that all of them are more than that. It would be absurd, for
instance, to look on ULYSSES as MERELY a show-up of the horror of modern
life, the 'dirty DAILY MAIL era', as Pound put it. Joyce actually is more
of a 'pure artist' than most writers. But ULYSSES could not have been
written by someone who was merely dabbling with word-patterns; it is the
product of a special vision of life, the vision of a Catholic who has
lost his faith. What Joyce is saying is 'Here is life without God. Just
look at it!' and his technical innovations, important though they are,
are primarily to serve this purpose.

But what is noticeable about all these writers is that what 'purpose'
they have is very much up in the air. There is no attention to the urgent
problems of the moment, above all no politics in the narrower sense. Our
eyes are directed to Rome, to Byzantium, to Montparnasse, to Mexico, to
the Etruscans, to the Subconscious, to the solar plexus--to everywhere
except the places where things are actually happening. When one looks
back at the twenties, nothing is queerer than the way in which every
important event in Europe escaped the notice of the English
intelligentsia. The Russian Revolution, for instance, all but vanishes
from the English consciousness between the death of Lenin and the Ukraine
famine--about ten years. Throughout those years Russia means Tolstoy,
Dostoievsky, and exiled counts driving taxi-cabs. Italy means
picture-galleries, ruins, churches, and museums--but not Black-shirts.
Germany means films, nudism, and psychoanalysis--but not Hitler, of whom
hardly anyone had heard till 1931. In 'cultured' circles
art-for-art's-saking extended practically to a worship of the
meaningless. Literature was supposed to consist solely in the
manipulation of words. To judge a book by its subject matter was the
unforgivable sin, and even to be aware of its subject matter was looked
on as a lapse of a taste. About 1928, in one of the three genuinely funny
jokes that PUNCH has produced since the Great War, an intolerable youth
is pictured informing his aunt that he intends to 'write'. 'And what are
you going to write about, dear?' asks the aunt. 'My dear aunt,' says the
youth crushingly, 'one doesn't write ABOUT anything, one just WRITES.'
The best writers of the twenties did not subscribe to this doctrine,
their 'purpose' is in most cases fairly overt, but it is usually
'purpose' along moral-religious-cultural lines. Also, when translatable
into political terms, it is in no case 'left'. In one way or another the
tendency of all the writers in this group is conservative. Lewis, for
instance, spent years in frenzied witch-smellings after 'Bolshevism',
which he was able to detect in very unlikely places. Recently he has
changed some of his views, perhaps influenced by Hitler's treatment of
artists, but it is safe to bet that he will not go very far leftward.
Pound seems to have plumped definitely for Fascism, at any rate the
Italian variety. Eliot has remained aloof, but if forced at the pistol's
point to choose between Fascism and some more democratic form of
socialism, would probably choose Fascism. Huxley starts off with the
usual despair-of-life, then, under the influence of Lawrence's 'dark
abdomen', tries something called Life-Worship, and finally arrives at
pacifism--atenable position, and at this moment an honourable one, but
probably in the long run involving rejection of socialism. It is also
noticeable that most of the writers in this group have a certain
tenderness for the Catholic Church, though not usually of a kind that an
orthodox Catholic would accept.

The mental connexion between pessimism and a reactionary outlook is no
doubt obvious enough. What is perhaps less obvious is just WHY the
leading writers of the twenties were predominantly pessimistic. Why
always the sense of decadence, the skulls and cactuses, the yearning
after lost faith and impossible civilizations? Was it not, after all,
BECAUSE these people were writing in an exceptionally comfortable epoch?
It is just in such times that 'cosmic despair' can flourish. People with
empty bellies never despair of the universe, nor even think about the
universe, for that matter. The whole period 1910-30 was a prosperous one,
and even the war years were physically tolerable if one happened to be a
non-combatant in one of the Allied countries. As for the twenties, they
were the golden age of the RENTIER-intellectual, a period of
irresponsibility such as the world had never before seen. The war was
over, the new totalitarian states had not arisen, moral and religious
tabus of all descriptions had vanished, and the cash was rolling in.
'Disillusionment' was all the fashion. Everyone with a safe £500 a year
turned highbrow and began training himself in TAEDIUM VITAE. It was an
age of eagles and of crumpets, facile despairs, backyard Hamlets, cheap
return tickets to the end of the night. In some of the minor
characteristic novels of the period, books like TOLD BY AN IDIOT, the
despair-of-life reaches a Turkish-bath atmosphere of self-pity. And even
the best writers of the time can be convicted of a too Olympian attitude,
a too great readiness to wash their hands of the immediate practical
problem. They see life very comprehensively, much more so than those who
come immediately before or after them, but they see it through the wrong
end of the telescope. Not that that invalidates their books, as books.
The first test of any work of art is survival, and it is a fact that a
great deal that was written in the period 1910-30 has survived and looks
like continuing to survive. One has only to think of ULYSSES, OF HUMAN
BONDAGE, most of Lawrence's early work, especially his short stories, and
virtually the whole of Eliot's poems up to about 1930, to wonder what is
now being written that will wear so well.

But quite Suddenly, in the years 1930-5, something happens. The literary
climate changes. A new group of writers, Auden and Spender and the rest
of them, has made its appearance, and although technically these writers
owe something to their predecessors, their 'tendency' is entirely
different. Suddenly we have got out of the twilight of the gods into a
sort of Boy Scout atmosphere of bare knees and community singing. The
typical literary man ceases to be a cultured expatriate with a leaning
towards the Church, and becomes an eager-minded schoolboy with a leaning
towards Communism. If the keynote of the writers of the twenties is
'tragic sense of life', the keynote of the new writers is 'serious

The differences between the two schools are discussed at some length in
Mr Louis MacNeice's book MODERN POETRY. This book is, of course, written
entirely from the angle of the younger group and takes the superiority of
their standards for granted. According to Mr MacNeice:

The poets of NEW SIGNATURES, [Note: Published in 1932.(Author's footnote)]
unlike Yeats and Eliot, are emotionally partisan. Yeats proposed to turn
his back on desire and hatred; Eliot sat back and watched other people's
emotions with ennui and an ironical self-pity. . . . The whole poetry, on
the other hand, of Auden, Spender, and Day Lewis implies that they have
desires and hatreds of their own and, further, that they think some things
ought to be desired and others hated.

And again:

The poets of NEW SIGNATURES have swung back. . . to the Greek preference
for information or statement. Then first requirement is to have something
to say, and after that you must say it as well as you can.

In other words, 'purpose' has come back, the younger writers have 'gone
into politics'. As I have pointed out already, Eliot & Co. are not really
so non-partisan as Mr MacNeice seems to suggest. Still, it is broadly
true that in the twenties the literary emphasis was more on technique and
less on subject matter than it is now.

The leading figures in this group are Auden, Spender, Day Lewis,
MacNeice, and there is a long string of writers of more or less the same
tendency, Isherwood, John Lehmann, Arthur Calder-Marshall, Edward Upward,
Alee Brown, Philip Henderson, and many others. As before, I am lumping
them together simply according to tendency. Obviously there are very
great variations in talent. But when one compares these writers with the
Joyce-Eliot generation, the immediately striking thing is how much easier
it is to form them into a group. Technically they are closer together,
politically they are almost indistinguishable, and their criticisms of
one another's work have always been (to put it mildly) good-natured. The
outstanding writers of the twenties were of very varied origins, few of
them had passed through the ordinary English educational mill
(incidentally, the best of them, barring Lawrence, were not Englishmen),
and most of them had had at some time to struggle against poverty,
neglect, and even downright persecution. On the other hand, nearly all
the younger writers fit easily into the public-school-university-Bloomsbury
pattern. The few who are of proletarian origin are of the kind that is
declassed early in life, first by means of scholarships and then by the
bleaching-tub of London 'culture'. It is significant that several of the
writers in this group have been not only boys but, subsequently, masters
at public schools. Some years ago I described Auden as 'a sort of
gutless Kipling'. As criticism this was quite unworthy, indeed it was
merely a spiteful remark, but it is a fact that in Auden's work,
especially his earlier work, an atmosphere of uplift--something rather
like Kipling's If or Newbolt's Play up, Play up, and Play the Game!--never
seems to be very far away. Take, for instance, a poem like 'You're
leaving now, and it's up to you boys'. It is pure scoutmaster, the exact
note of the ten-minutes' straight talk on the dangers of self-abuse.
No doubt there is an element of parody that he intends, but there is also
a deeper resemblance that he does not intend. And of course the rather
priggish note that is common to most of these writers is a symptom,
of release. By throwing 'pure art' overboard they have freed themselves
from the fear of being laughed at and vastly enlarged their scope.
The prophetic side of Marxism, for example, is new material for poetry
and has great possibilities.

We are nothing
We have fallen
Into the dark and shall be destroyed.
Think though, that in this darkness
We hold the secret hub of an idea
Whose living sunlit wheel revolves in future years outside.


But at the same time, by being Marxized literature has moved no nearer to
the masses. Even allowing for the time-lag, Auden and Spender are
somewhat farther from being popular writers than Joyce and Eliot, let
alone Lawrence. As before, there are many contemporary writers who are
outside the current, but there is not much doubt about what is the
current. For the middle and late thirties, Auden Spender & Co. ARE 'the
movement', just as Joyce, Eliot & Co. were for the twenties. And the
movement is in the direction of some rather ill-defined thing called
Communism. As early as 1934 or 1935 it was considered eccentric in
literary circles not to be more or less 'left', and in another year or
two there had grown up a left-wing orthodoxy that made a certain set of
opinions absolutely DE RIGUEUR on certain subjects, The idea had begun to
gain ground (VIDE Edward Upward and others) that a writer must either be
actively 'left' or write badly. Between 1935 and 1939 the Communist
Party had an almost irresistible fascination for any writer under
forty. It became as normal to hear that so-and-so had 'joined' as
it had been a few years earlier, when Roman Catholicism was fashionable,
to hear that So-and-so had 'been received'. For about three years, in
fact, the central stream of English literature was more or less directly
under Communist control. How was it possible for such a thing to happen?
And at the same time, what is meant by 'Communism'? It is better to
answer the second question first.

The Communist movement in Western Europe began, as a movement for the
violent overthrow of capitalism, and degenerated within a few years into
an instrument of Russian foreign policy. This was probably inevitable
when this revolutionary ferment that followed the Great War had died
down. So far as I know, the only comprehensive history of this subject in
English is Franz Borfcenau's book, THE COMMUNIST INTERNATIONAL. What
Borkcnau's facts even more than his deductions make clear is that
Communism could never have developed along its present lines if any
revolutionary feeling had existed in the industrialized countries. In
England, for instance, it is obvious that no such feeling has existed for
years past. The pathetic membership figures of all extremist parties show
this clearly. It is, only natural, therefore, that the English Communist
movement should be controlled by people who are mentally sub-servient to
Russia and have no real aim except to manipulate British foreign policy
in the Russian interest. Of course such an aim cannot be openly admitted,
and it is this fact that gives the Communist Party its very peculiar
character. The more vocal kind of Communist is in effect a Russian
publicity agent posing as an international socialist. It is a pose that
is easily kept up at normal times, but becomes difficult in moments of
crisis, because of the fact that the U.S.S.R. is no more scrupulous in
its foreign policy than the rest of the Great Powers. Alliances, changes
of front etc., which only make sense as part of the game of power
politics have to be explained and justified in terms of international
socialism. Every time Stalin swaps partners, 'Marxism' has to be hammered
into a new shape. This entails sudden and violent changes of 'line',
purges, denunciations, systematic destruction of party literature, etc.,
etc. Every Communist is in fact liable at any moment to have to alter his
most fundamental convictions, or leave the party. The unquestionable
dogma of Monday may become the damnable heresy of Tuesday, and so on.
This has happened at least three times during the past ten years. It
follows that in any Western country a Communist Party is always unstable
and usually very small. Its long-term membership really consists of an
inner ring of intellectuals who have identified with the Russian
bureaucracy, and a slightly larger body of working-class people who feel
a loyalty towards Soviet Russia without necessarily understanding its
policies. Otherwise there is only a shifting membership, one lot coming
and another going with each change of 'line'.

In 1930 the English Communist Party was a tiny, barely legal organization
whose main activity was libelling the Labour Party. But by 1935 the face
of Europe had changed, and left-wing politics changed with it. Hitler had
risen to power and begun to rearm, the Russian five-year plans had
succeeded, Russia had reappeared as a great military power. As Hitler's
three targets of attack were, to all appearances, Great Britain, France,
and the U.S.S.R., the three countries were forced into a sort of uneasy
RAPPROCHEMENT. This meant that the English or French Communist was
obliged to become a good patriot and imperialist--that is, to defend the
very things he had been attacking for the past fifteen years. The
Comintern slogans suddenly faded from red to pink. 'World revolution' and
'Social-Fascism' gave way to 'Defence of democracy' and 'Stop Hitler'.
The years 1935-9 were the period of anti-Fascism and the Popular Front,
the heyday of the Left Book Club, when red Duchesses and 'broadminded'
deans toured the battlefields of the Spanish war and Winston Churchill
was the blue-eyed boy of the DAILY WORKER. Since then, of course, there
has been yet another change of 'line'. But what is important for my
purpose is that it was during the 'anti-Fascist' phase that the younger
English writers gravitated towards Communism.

The Fascism-democracy dogfight was no doubt an attraction in itself, but
in any case their conversion was due at about that date. It was obvious
that LAISSEZ-FAIRE capitalism was finished and that there had got to be
some kind of reconstruction; in the world of 1935 it was hardly possible
to remain politically indifferent. But why did these young men turn
towards anything so alien as Russian Communism? Why should WRITERS be
attracted by a form of socialism that makes mental honesty impossible?
The explanation really lies in something that had already made itself
felt before the slump and before Hitler: middle-class unemployment.

Unemployment is not merely a matter of not having a job. Most people can
get a job of sorts, even at the worst of times. The trouble was that by
about 1930 there was no activity, except perhaps scientific research, the
arts, and left-wing politics, that a thinking person could believe in.
The debunking of Western civilization had reached its Climax and
'disillusionment' was immensely widespread. Who now could take it for
granted to go through life in the ordinary middle-class way, as a
soldier, a clergyman, a stockbroker, an Indian Civil Servant, or
what-not? And how many of the values by which our grandfathers lived
could not be taken seriously? Patriotism, religion, the Empire, the
family, the sanctity of marriage, the Old School Tie, birth, breeding,
honour, discipline--anyone of ordinary education could turn the whole
lot of them inside out in three minutes. But what do you achieve, after
all, by getting rid of such primal things as patriotism and religion? You
have not necessarily got rid of the need for SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN.
There had been a sort of false dawn a few years earlier when numbers of
young intellectuals, including several quite gifted writers (Evelyn
Waugh, Christopher Hollis, and others), had fled into the Catholic
Church. It is significant that these people went almost invariably to the
Roman Church and not, for instance, to the C. of E., the Greek Church, or
the Protestants sects. They went, that is, to the Church with a
world-wide organization, the one with a rigid discipline, the one with
power and prestige behind it. Perhaps it is even worth noticing that the
only latter-day convert of really first-rate gifts, Eliot, has embraced
not Romanism but Anglo-Catholicism, the ecclesiastical equivalent of
Trotskyism. But I do not think one need look farther than this for the
reason why the young writers of the thirties flocked into or towards the
Communist Party. If was simply something to believe in. Here was a
Church, an army, an orthodoxy, a discipline. Here was a Fatherland and--
at any rate since 1935 or thereabouts--a Fuehrer. All the loyalties and
superstitions that the intellect had seemingly banished could come
rushing back under the thinnest of disguises. Patriotism, religion,
empire, military glory--all in one word, Russia. Father, king, leader,
hero, saviour--all in one word, Stalin. God--Stalin. The devil--
Hitler. Heaven--Moscow. Hell--Berlin. All the gaps were filled up. So,
after all, the 'Communism' of the Ebglish intellectual is something
explicable enough. It is the patriotism of the deracinated

But there is one other thing that undoubtedly contributed to the cult of
Russia among the English intelligentsia during these years, and that is
the softness and security of life in England itself. With all its
injustices, England is still the land of habeas corpus, and the
over-whelming majority of English people have no experience of violence
or illegality. If you have grown up in that sort of atmosphere it is not
at all easy to imagine what a despotic régime is like. Nearly all the
dominant writers of the thirties belonged to the soft-boiled emancipated
middle class and were too young to have effective memories of the Great
War. To people of that kind such things as purges, secret police, summary
executions, imprisonment without trial etc., etc., are too remote to be
terrifying. They can swallow totalitarianism BECAUSE they have no
experience of anything except liberalism. Look, for instance, at this
extract from Mr Auden's poem 'Spain' (incidentally this poem is one of
the few decent things that have been written about the Spanish war):

To-morrow for the young, the poets exploding like bombs,
The walks by the lake, the weeks of perfect communion;
    To-morrow the bicycle races
Through the suburbs on summer evenings. But to-day the struggle.

To-day the deliberate increase in the chances of death,
The conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder;
    To-day the expending of powers
On the flat ephemeral pamphlet and the boring meeting.

The second stanza is intended as a sort of thumb-nail sketch of a day in
the life of a 'good party man'. In the-morning a couple of political
murders, a ten-minutes' interlude to stifle 'bourgeois' remorse, and then
a hurried luncheon and a busy afternoon and evening chalking walls and
distributing leaflets. All very edifying. But notice the phrase
'necessary murder'. It could only be written by a person to whom murder
is at most a WORD. Personally I would not speak so lightly of murder. It
so happens that I have seen the bodies of numbers of murdered men--I
don't mean killed in battle, I mean murdered. Therefore I have some
conception of what murder means--the terror, the hatred, the howling
relatives, the post-mortems, the blood, the smells. To me, murder is
something to be avoided. So it is to any ordinary person. The Hitlers and
Stalins find murder necessary, but they don't advertise their
callousness, and they don't speak of it as murder; it is 'liquidation',
'elimination', or some other soothing phrase. Mr Auden's brand of
amoralism is only possible, if you are the kind of person who is always
somewhere else when the trigger is pulled. So much of left-wing thought
is a kind of playing with fire by people who don't even know that fire is
hot. The warmongering to which the English intelligentsia gave themselves
up in the period 1935-9 was largely based on a sense of personal
immunity. The attitude was very different in France, where the military
service is hard to dodge and even literary men know the weight of a pack.

Towards the end of Mr Cyril Connolly's recent book, ENEMIES OF PROMISE,
there occurs an interesting and revealing passage. The first part of the
book, is, more or less, an evaluation of present-day literature. Mr
Connolly belongs exactly to the generation of the writers of 'the
movement', and with not many reservations their values are his values. It
is interesting to notice that among prose-writers her admires chiefly
those specialising in violence--the would-be tough American school,
Hemingway, etc. The latter part of the book, however, is autobiographical
and consists of an account, fascinatingly accurate, of life at a
preparatory school and Eton in the years 1910-20. Mr Connolly ends by

Were I to deduce anything from my feelings on leaving Eton, it might be
called THE THEORY OF PERMANENT ADOLESCENCE. It is the theory that the
experiences undergone by boys at the great public schools are so intense
as to dominate their lives and to arrest their development.

When you read the second sentence in this passage, your natural impulse
is to look for the misprint. Presumably there is a 'not' left out, or
something. But no, not a bit of it! He means it! And what is more, he is
merely s

Index Index

  • Other Authors:    
> Charles Darwin
> Charles Dickens
> Mark Twain
> William Shakespeare

George Orwell. Copyright 2003,
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.