Followers of my Twitter account will have previously been informed about my recent Orwell purchases from my local second hand book shop. Volumes 1-4 of The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters have now been added to my bookshelves and it was with great relish this weekend that I started perusing the tanned, musty pages that evoke such pleasure in book collectors worldwide.
The opening essay, ‘Why I Write’, struck me as particularly fascinating. As I writer myself, why do I write? Orwell lists four reasons why he, and indeed anyone, would write and I thought it interesting to compare with my own.
The first of these he describes as ‘sheer egoism’ – the desire for fame, to be remembered and to get your own back on those who previously snubbed you – “It is humbug to pretend that this is not a motive, and a strong one”. Now, I’d like to think that my ego is very much in check, although I can’t deny that I would indeed love to produce some masterpiece that could be held up as an example of contemporary literature, as well as laying siege to those who have doubted me in the past. First blood to Orwell.
Point two is given as ‘aesthetic enthusiasm’ – “Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement”. On this point, I concur wholeheartedly. In A-Level History, I was accused by my lecturer (and rightly so) of using poetic and ‘flowery’ language to pad out the word count of a rather dull essay on Germany’s Weimar Republic. I remember it clearly – “This is a wonderfully written essay, beautifully worded; however, it tells me nothing about Weimar Germany.” The ensuing nine years have led to many more similar accusations from readers, employers and lecturers, all I haste to add, fully justified.
Orwell lists the third point as ‘Historical Impulse’ – the desire to see things as they are, find out the true facts and store these for posterity. This point didn’t strike me as immediately applicable, but then why else would one blog about American Presidents, BBC advertising and current affairs that pique my interest? Perhaps on a subconscious level, I too am recording my personal history as I also flex my writing muscles.
The last point Orwell makes in his essay is ‘Political Purpose’. Whilst many will immediately evoke Orwell’s ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’ as examples of political writing, he argues that there are underlying politics in every piece of writing, borne out of the society and upbringing of the writer who records it.
I must say, this again, is another valid point. From an inherently bitter view regarding the educational system and its resulting accumulated debt, to the writing I produced as a worker under the oppressive regime of retail dictatorship, my own personal politics play out on the page before me.
So it appears, regarding my own literary ramblings and fanciful writing, that he reasons I write, are indeed, the same cited by Orwell. Whilst every writer wants to believe that they are better than their peers and their reasons for writing are individual when perhaps they are not, I take heart from the fact that my reasons for writing share such prestigious company – now for the bestselling novel…