Burst Water-Pipes and Roasted Chestnuts: Orwell's Wartime Writings on Englishness World War II was a seismic event, transforming the sympathies and attitudes of many who experienced it, including the leftwing journalist George Orwell. An examination of his journalism and letters from the thirties to the fifties shows how the war compelled him to develop a new and sympathetic interest in Englishness and English culture.
First of all, it must be admitted that Orwell's definition of Englishness seems to be narrowly ethnic. When, in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), he describes the miserable caravan colonies of Wigan, he is careful to point out that their inhabitants "are not gypsies; they are decent English people," with the rebarbative implication that English Romany are neither decent nor English. [G. Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), 64.] (This is the first example of the famous association between Englishness and 'decency' that would become such a feature of his wartime writing; he again makes this connection in his description of a working-class Wigan couple with whom he stayed.) [G. Orwell, An Age Like This, ed. S. Orwell (1968), 216.] Whenever he discusses English Jewry he portrays it, too, as separate from English society, though not in a negative way. (However, gratuitously anti-Jewish comments in Down and Out in Paris and London have disturbed his biographer, who nevertheless points out that throughout his life, Orwell was an opponent of anti-Semitism.) Orwell has long been an inspiration to progressive writers on Englishness, but his exclusivist, ethnic (and, as we shall see, strangely arbitrary) definition of Englishness should always be borne in mind.
In the thirties, Orwell's attitudes to Englishness are largely negative. His remarks on English character are infrequent, and are always made with reference to international socialism and the hope of an English socialist revolution. He is especially sensitive to working-class snobbery, which he views as the enemy of any potential revolution, and for the same reason, English regionalisms irritate rather than interest him. [G. Orwell, An Age Like This, ed. S. Orwell (1968), 41, 50, 64, 215.] He despises English insularity, remarking in 1931 that "most English people have no idea that there are French books which are not pornographic," and in 1936 suggesting that the English be encouraged to spend time living and working abroad so that they can get to know foreigners as human beings rather than as types. [Ibid., 353.] Orwell deplores the English common people's placidity—again because of its negative implications for a possible revolution—using the word "sheeplike" more than once to describe them, and repeatedly wishing for some "turbulence," disheartened by the contradiction between the working-class's talent for organisation and their lack of effective leadership.[ Ibid., 84, 181.] He does, however, express admiration for working-class patience, and first uses the word 'decency,' which would become a major theme of his wartime writings, in his description of a working-class Wigan couple with whom he stayed while researching The Road to Wigan Pier. [Ibid., 216.]
So far, so largely middle class-radical-snobbish, and it is not surprising to find Orwell admitting that, for a great part of his life, he was unaware of the living conditions of the working class. [Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, 150.] It was only after his time in Burma that the great critic of imperialism realised that "Here in England, down under one's feet, were the submerged working class, suffering miseries which in their different way were as bad as any oriental ever knew." [Ibid.] Nevertheless, the class divide between himself and the English working class was so vast as to prevent him from feeling that he had anything in common with them: during the thirties, they had only "symbolic" significance for him, as the Oppressed rather than as fellow members of a nation or culture. [Ibid.] During the thirties Orwell is alarmed by the English lack of awareness of historical change, which makes them vulnerable in the current, volatile European situation. [Orwell, An Age Like This, 378.] The relative fairness of the English rule of law explains the inability of English people to comprehend the corruption of European politics, such as that displayed in the Moscow show trials of 1939. [Ibid., 333.] With a small professional army rather than a military governing bourgeoisie, England's culture is untouched by the militarism that is taking over the Continent. [Ibid., 401.]
In The Road to Wigan Pier he derides the "public-school code of honour" but acknowledges its secret hold over most educated English people. [Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, 166.] It is at least preferable to the American way: "In the old-style English novel you knocked your man down and then waited for him to get up before you knocked him down again; in the modern American version he is no sooner down than you take the opportunity of jumping on his face." [Orwell, An Age Like This, 220.] He believes that English violence lacks the sadism that he views as characteristic of the American cult of violence. [Ibid.] Orwell's aversion to American culture is thus already pronounced during the thirties, boosted by his detestation (though he is not yet a conscious patriot) of what he views as wide-spread American Anglophobia. [Ibid., 229.] Likewise, he instinctively reacts against Scottish anti-English nationalism. [Ibid., 223.] Though these responses, and his homesickness while on a trip to Morocco, seem to express a feeling of group loyalty, this is largely unconscious and unreflective before the war. However, it is noteworthy that by 1939, Orwell views 'decency' as a widespread and very positive English trait. [Ibid., 398.] His attitude towards the English is becoming markedly friendlier.
1940, the year of the Battle of Britain, is the real turning point for Orwell, the year in which he begins to examine 'English' subjects specifically, instead of making desultory asides about them in writings on other topics. He probes Charles Dickens' works for what they reveal about Englishness, and concludes that Dickens is so popular in England because he is reflective of English tastes and attitudes in his hatred of petty officialdom, his alienation from the "landowning-military-bureaucratic class," his snobbery, his disavowal of violence as a way to resolve problems (in contrast to Americans), and his instinctive sympathy for the underdog. [Ibid., 429-430, 434-435, 440, 458.]. Dickens is, however, unlike his compatriots in his lack of xenophobia, which Orwell interestingly connects to his lack of conscious pride in being English. [Ibid., 433.] Here Orwell expands on his previous criticisms: the English-speaking nations are the most prejudiced of all against foreigners, though this prejudice has steadily diminished in England since the 1830s, its high-water mark. [Ibid., 431.] Although Marxists might dismiss Dickens as typically bourgeois, his values, which Orwell sums up as "native decency" and a distaste for power politics, are shared by most English people and cut across class boundaries. [Ibid., 459.] Here Orwell makes his first admission that "in a country like England, in spite of its class-structure there does exist a certain cultural unity." [Ibid.] This is in marked contrast to the rigid distinctions between bourgeoisie and proletariat that shaped his pre-war thinking.
In the same year Orwell performs a dissection of boys' weeklies, which, because of their massive circulation, he sees as a valid reflection of the English outlook. [Ibid., 461.] His main focus is the Billy Bunter stories by Frank Richards, which have not changed at all in the twenty-five years before 1940. [Ibid., 462, 473.] They depict a small, snobbish, but cosy and reassuring world, and their morality is of the "clean-living Englishman" type. [Ibid., 464-465.] The stories' popularity is mainly due to class dynamics: they appeal to boys who, excluded from public school, imagine it as a desirable and glamorous life consisting mainly of football matches and study feasts. [Ibid., 467.] Boys' weeklies illuminate English attitudes to foreigners: "The assumption....is not only that foreigners are comics who are put there for us to laugh at, but that they can be classified in much the same way as insects." [Ibid., 471.] This system of taxonomy as extracted by Orwell is justly famous ("FRENCHMAN: Excitable. Wears beard, gesticulates wildly"). [Ibid., 472.] The patriotism to which this odd form of xenophobia is connected resembles a family loyalty, largely unconscious but easily rallied if the unit is attacked; this is Orwell's first use of the 'family' metaphor to describe the English. [Ibid.] He sees the Bunter stories and their ilk as demonstrating the English lack of the power worship and inclination towards violence currently afflicting the Continent. [Ibid., 476.]
Though American-style sex-and-violence is beginning to contaminate the newer type of boys' periodicals, they still remain as closed to class realities and the changing political situation as the Bunter stories. [Ibid., 478-481.]In "Inside the Whale," a famous essay also published in 1940, Orwell dwells on "the softness and security of life in England," reiterating the argument that the English have largely been protected from the injustice that is part of life on the Continent, so that they cannot imagine what it is like, or truly empathise with its victims. [Ibid., 515.] At this point, he acknowledges the inevitability of patriotism, whether in the traditional form or in that of the dangerous new mass ideologies, arguing that people need "something to believe in." [Ibid.] He returns to the theme of English "decency" in a letter written in the same year, portraying it as the English substitute for organised religion. [Ibid., 530.] Reviewing a book by Malcolm Muggeridge, he discovers that this left-wing intellectual has reacted to the stresses of the times by reverting to his boyhood public-school values and emerging as an English patriot. [Ibid., 535.] Orwell applauds this as infinitely preferable to the priggish type of leftwing internationalism. [Ibid.] In the same context, he remarks intriguingly on the enigmatic quality of the English: "it is impossible to discover what the English people are really thinking and feeling, about the war or about anything else." [Ibid.]
"My Country Right or Left" forms the culmination of a change in Orwell's thinking about patriotism. It is a description of a personal epiphany: he reveals that he himself became a patriot in 1939 on the day of the Soviet-German pact, after a dream which showed him that when the war started, he would reject pacifism and support England. [Ibid., 539.] In rationalising this change of heart, he reflects that leftwing members of the middle class, such as himself, cannot entirely get rid of the patriotism that was drilled into them as children, and that patriotism and leftwing ideology are not necessarily incompatible. [Ibid.] Here, Orwell expresses ideas about patriotism which verge on the ineffable: "Patriotism has nothing to do with conservatism. It is devotion to something that is changing but felt to be mystically the same." [Ibid., 539-540.] He argues that there is a "spiritual need for patriotism and the military virtues." [Ibid., 540.] In his diary for the 9th of August 1940, during the height of the Battle of Britain, he admits that "I would give my life readily enough for England, if I thought it necessary." [Ibid., 365.]
These ponderings set the stage for Orwell's fullest and most eloquent meditation on English identity and culture, The Lion and the Unicorn, published in 1941 but partially written in 1940. By this stage, Orwell is largely proud of and grateful for the fact that the English are very different from other Western peoples. [G. Orwell, My Country Right or Left, ed. S. Orwell (1968), 56.] Given the extraordinary year in which it was written, the heightened emotion in this work is unsurprising: "it [English culture] is your civilisation, it is you. ...The suet puddings and the red pillar-boxes have entered into your soul." [Ibid., 57.] The various facets of English society are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, forming a pattern despite their disparateness, and again, although England changes, it also stays the same: "A seed may grow or not grow, but at any rate a turnip seed never grows into a parsnip." [Ibid., 57-58.] Distinct English regional types can all be seen to belong together, despite their differences, since patriotism is ultimately stronger than class hatred or regional resentment. [Ibid., 64.] As has already been remarked, Orwell's distinctions between who is and who is not English seem peculiarly arbitrary: he includes the Scots in this pantheon of English regional types, and portrays Yorkshiremen as farther removed than the Scots from the traditional idea of the Englishman. [Ibid.]
The essay depicts the English as un-intellectual. They have a horror of abstract ideologies, and their habit of acting on the basis of instinct allows them all to move in the same direction in periods of crisis. [Ibid., 58.] The value that they place on personal liberty, especially the liberty to engage in private pursuits, means that they are not likely to join any Continental-style mass political movements. [Ibid., 59.] English criminal law may be dotted with barbarous anachronisms, such as the hanging judge, but respect for the law and legality and a conviction that the system cannot be bought nevertheless dominate English life, and prevent totalitarian power-worship. [Ibid., 62-63.] Orwell cites gentleness as England's most marked characteristic, to explain the general hatred of war and militarism, and remarks that aggressive jingoism is the province of only a few Blimps.[Ibid., 60.] Belief in absolute values such as "justice, liberty and objective truth" is very strong, helping to make England the peaceful and orderly society that it is. [Ibid., 63.] Though there is corruption in England, it can never become total. Orwell again uses the figure of the hanging judge to illustrate this: "He is a symbol of the strange mixture of reality and illusion, democracy and privilege, humbug and decency, the subtle network of compromises, by which the nation keeps itself in its familiar shape." [Ibid.]
In The Lion and the Unicorn, Orwell for the first time finds something slightly positive to say for English insularity—strongest amongst the working class—noting that it has two sides, since "it is the same quality in the English character that repels the tourist and keeps out the invader." [Ibid., 65.] It also creates a wide cultural gulf between England and Europe: English literature, the only art at which the English excel, is like a family in-joke and cannot be exported successfully. [Ibid., 66.] At the same time, this isolation protects the English from being swept into the European political maelstrom. The patriotism and group-consciousness produced by this insularity make possible the general tribal response at moments of crisis, such as Dunkirk, but these actions are inevitably followed by "alas, the prompt relapse into sleep." [Ibid.] The doziness of English civilisation is not, by and large, admired by Orwell.
National cohesion is the key to the mystery of how English democracy functions at all. [Ibid., 66-67.] Although it looks like a fraud on the surface, with its class privilege and its unfair electoral system, "one has got to take into account its emotional unity," which also explains how treasonous material can be sold on the street without governmental concern about its possible effect. [Ibid., 67.] Popular opinion can exert influence on the government when it wants to, and the democratic element in English culture makes Orwell prefer the British Empire to Fascist alternatives, because it at least allows a degree of freedom of expression. [Ibid., 68-69.] Orwell's observations about the ruling class are surprisingly charitable, given his socialist leanings: while they are profoundly stupid, out-of-date, and vulnerable to being caught napping by the brutality of the modern age, they have some virtues, notably loyalty to their country and physical courage, and, unlike the French ruling class, would never "sell their own people into slavery." [Ibid., 74.] It this combination of a stupid ruling class and a cohesive society that leads Orwell to make the famous observation that "England is a family with the wrong members in control." [Ibid., 84.] In wartime, it seems to Orwell that England's class divisions are not as deep as those of other European countries and, since its society is fundamentally cohesive, made up of people whose patriotism expresses itself in tenacity and stoical sacrifice, it stands a better chance of survival: "if England were overrun by foreign troops the English people would know that they had been beaten and they would continue the struggle." [Ibid., 88.] Continuing in this Churchillian vein, Orwell remarks defiantly that the English are still good fighters, if they learn to think well enough of themselves. [Ibid., 104.]Orwell reserves his harshest criticism in The Lion and the Unicorn, not for the ruling class, but for the middle-class leftwing intelligentsia, whose dislike of all things English puts them completely out of touch with their own people. [Ibid., 74-75.] England's problem, therefore, is that the ruling class is patriotic but stupid, while the intelligentsia is clever but unpatriotic. Patriotism and intelligence are both necessary in peacetime as well as in war, in order to bring about the English Revolution. [Ibid., 75.] Orwell is convinced that the Revolution has already begun with Dunkirk, although, of course, only in "a sleepy way." [Ibid., 90.] He wants a specifically English socialist movement, something to "really touch the heart of the English people" in a way that foreign forms of socialism, including Marxism, cannot. [Ibid., 101.]
The essence of this English socialism will be its gentleness and willingness to tolerate anachronism; Orwell believes that a country's history limits the number of pathways open to it, and England is, after all, consistent to a fault, remaining drowsy even during the Blitz. [Ibid., 102.] Thus an English socialist state will "disestablish the Church, but will not persecute religion. It will retain a vague reverence for the Christian moral code." [Ibid.,. 103.] The new England will accomplish the essentials of Orwell's programme for socialist reform without undergoing any radical cultural change. [Ibid., 102.] Again waxing mystical, Orwell prophesies that "England will still be England, an everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past and, like all living things, having the power to change out of recognition and yet remain the same." [Ibid., 78.] In his list of the essential characteristics that will remain after the Revolution ("gentleness," "hypocrisy," "thoughtlessness," "reverence for law," "hatred for uniforms"), he does not confront the question of whether these qualities are in any way connected with the class system. [Ibid.]
In the final pages of The Lion and the Unicorn Orwell presents us with a series of oppositions from which to choose, contrasting the frighteningly modern with the comfortably old-fashioned: "[In this war] it is the difference between land power and sea power, between cruelty and inefficiency, between lying and self-deception, between the SS-man and the rent collector." [Ibid., 107.] Muddle, backwardness, and mildness on the English side are opposed to efficiency, modernity, and cruelty on the Continental (specifically German) side. Does the reader want to see this gentler English culture disappear, along with its language, which is haunted by the idea of "liberty"? [Ibid., 106.] In the last paragraph of the essay Orwell suddenly slips into a traditional patriotic register, using allusions to English heroes to tug on the reader's emotions: "The heirs of Nelson and of Cromwell are not in the House of Lords. They are in the fields and in the streets, in the factories and the armed forces, in the four-ale bar and the suburban back garden." [Ibid., 109.] In this populist panegyric, Orwell dwells on the latent heroism of the common people in order to make the reader feel the injustice of the current class system, in which such sturdy free-born Englishmen "are still kept under by a generation of ghosts." [Ibid.]
These views on Englishness and class stay fairly constant in Orwell's writings for much of the war, and the same themes appear repeatedly (the old-fashioned patriotism of the English and their insularity and xenophobia, which manifest themselves in the determination not to be enslaved by foreigners). [Ibid., 104.] However, there are some new nuances as well. The extremes of English stubbornness are shown by the willingness, baffling to Europeans, to launch Quixotic military campaigns so as not to "let down" those foreigners (such as the Greeks) to whom the English feel an obligation. [Ibid., 122.] Orwell invokes Shakespeare as an example of English inconsistency of thought and aversion to philosophical systems, in an attempt, perhaps, to redeem English muddle. [Ibid., 128.]
In 1941, Orwell goes so far as to attack leftwing intellectuals who are trying to break down the xenophobia that he views as England's greatest wartime safeguard. [Ibid., 141.] This is startling, given his pre-war impatience with English insularity. The English Revolution is still much on his mind. Readers today would be amused by his belief in the Home Guard's capacity for violent revolution; he briefly loses touch with the placid mentality that he has been describing when he remarks menacingly that, because of their Home Guard membership, "Somewhere near a million British men now have rifles in their bedrooms and don't in the least want to give them up." [Ibid., 151, 153.] 1941 brings one of Orwell's great critical essays, "The Art of Donald McGill." McGill's seaside postcards, which are "overpoweringly" vulgar, express inter-working-class snobbery and are not conspicuously patriotic. [Ibid., 156, 158.] Unlike boys' weeklies, these postcards express an authentic English working-class mentality unadulterated by ruling-class propaganda. [Ibid., 159.] They reflect a moral code, centred on the ideas of marriage and family loyalty, so firmly entrenched that it can comfortably be mocked. [Ibid., 160.] It is precisely because the working class work so hard and stoically and are so painfully respectable that they need these raucous outlets, which constitute a "harmless rebellion against virtue." [Ibid., 154.] Orwell associates seaside postcards with the music-hall humour of comedians such as Little Tich, a link which, again, he takes as a sign of a national culture as closed and self-referential as that of a family. [Ibid., 162.] This sympathetic essay shows that Orwell has come a long way from his uncomprehending impatience with proletarian docility during the thirties, and from the view that he originally held of the working class as 'symbolic' victims. To a substantial degree, the English working class have been humanised for him.
Nevertheless, Orwell's new-found patriotism and empathy with the common people do not make him uncritical of the English. Xenophobia fosters the will to defeat the enemy, but it also creates injustices for immigrants and refugees, although it largely derives from English territoriality and a lack of understanding of foreigners rather than from any 'scientific' race hate theory. [Ibid., 178.] German Jewish refugees are met in England by a passive rather than an active anti-Semitism that may be more to do with their 'Continentalness' than their Jewishness; English Jews, who are culturally assimilated, are far more accepted. [Ibid., 290.] In his diary entry for the 25th of October, 1941, Orwell expresses doubt about the ability of Continental Jews and English people to get along, because "the fact is that the insular outlook and the continental outlook are completely incompatible." [Ibid., 378.] There is hope, though: despite current difficulties, the English have generally become more tolerant of Jews over the past thirty years. [Ibid., 291.]
In "Looking Back at the Spanish War," written in 1942, Orwell suggests that being forced to become aware of European affairs has been good for England in some ways, cultivating a deeper historical awareness and a greater sympathy with human tragedy. [Ibid., 206-207.] However, he confesses in his diary entry for the 14th of March that he himself is becoming increasingly baffled by Continental Europeans, whose mental outlook is radically different to that of the English: the English speak the language of conciliation, and Europeans, even those on the left, that of raw power. [Ibid., 386.] As a result, "it becomes harder and harder to understand the reaction of European peoples, just as they seem incapable of understanding ours." [Ibid.] His internationalism reasserts itself when he inveighs against "the provincialism of English people who can't grasp that India is of any importance." [Ibid., 410.] In 1942, he took part in a series of BBC broadcasts to India aimed at explaining English culture to Indians and thereby improving Indian-English understanding. In his programmes, Orwell emphasises the domesticity, peacefulness and frugality of the average English person. [G. Orwell, Orwell: The Radio Broadcasts (1985), 73.] Generally, however, 1942 is a year with little commentary on Englishness, and much of it negative.
By contrast, 1943-1945 is a rich period for Orwell's meditations on the English character. He reprises most of the points that he made in The Lion and the Unicorn for The English People, commissioned by Collins, but adds new observations as well. His remark that English gentleness is a fairly recent development leads him to tackle the issue of whether or not concepts of national identity have any validity, given the changes in national behaviour over time. [G. Orwell, As I Please (1968), ed. S. Orwell, 3.] Can the English of today really be said to have any connection to their brutal and bawdy early nineteenth century ancestors? [Ibid., 5-6.] The answer, again, is somewhat mystical: they do, because they feel that they do. [Ibid.] National identity is not so much based on rationality as on intuition, and this is also one of the main features of English thought: "England has produced poets and scientists rather than....pure theorists of any description." [Ibid., 7.] Here, Orwell makes the interesting argument that English tolerance is due mainly to a complete lack of willingness to take on orthodoxies of any kind, or to regard intellectual matters as important. [Ibid., 12.] This is why, in politics, English voters focus on individual personalities and policies rather than on political dogmas. [Ibid., 14.] It is an old-fashioned characteristic in the modern world of mass political ideologies, but in wartime, Orwell views it as something to be celebrated.
Orwell returns to the theme of personal liberties in The English People, defending the small pleasures of the working class against Puritan middle class disapproval. [Ibid., 11.] He also attacks foreign anti-English prejudice: some readers might still wince in wry recognition as he describes a sweeping Anglophobia that uses British imperialism as its justification. [Ibid., 9.] Orwell rebuts this prejudice with the argument that there is, in fact, no way of knowing what the vast majority of English people think of the Empire, or what they would do about it if the English political system gave them real power. [Ibid.]
Class is treated with greater sophistication in this essay than in Orwell's previous work. He has now given up on the prospect of violent revolution, which is prevented by the various things (he does not stipulate what) that the classes have in common: "the proletariat of Hammersmith will not arise and massacre the bourgeoisie of Kensington: they are not different enough." [Ibid., 15.] Instead, what ordinary English people want is social change that will preserve their standard of living while ensuring a fair deal for everyone. [Ibid.] Marxist theory, which views society as divided into a purely economic hierarchy, is inappropriate to the realities of the English class system, in which educational and cultural distinctions play a large role. [Ibid., 16, 20-21.] In fact, the English class system is more like a caste system, propped up by vestiges of anachronistic feudal notions. [Ibid., 18-19.] One by-product of the cultural divide between the classes involves attitudes towards foreigners: because the educated middle class inclines towards Europe, ordinary people automatically associate foreign language-learning with middle class pretension, and shy away from it. [Ibid., 5.] Paradoxically, though, the snobbery (or deference) displayed by working class people is often linked to an idealistic belief that the upper classes are purveyors of 'culture' and that this 'culture' is desirable. [Ibid., 22.] This is despite the fact that the working-class are politically in opposition to the upper classes—indeed, Orwell observes that the English common people have often felt allied with the monarchy against the upper classes. [Ibid., 17, 22.](He later declares himself a monarchist, with reservations.) [Ibid., 81.]Orwell believes that class distinctions are disappearing, largely as a result of the war (though well-made mass-produced clothing and a mass culture have also contributed). [Ibid., 30.] In his mind, the great goal is to eliminate them altogether, partly through universal education and partly through the stimulation of regional pride. [Ibid., 35.] England's standing as a "great nation" depends on the common people, who must be encouraged to develop more pan-European sentiment: "They are Europeans and ought to be aware of it." [Ibid., 36, 38.] This is an astounding remark, given the contemporary international situation, but it is consistent with Orwell's longstanding internationalism.
Also in 1943, Orwell becomes patriotic about the English language's native richness and flexibility, deploring its tendency to borrow foreign words and expressions unnecessarily. [Ibid., 24-25.] It is particularly afflicted by jargon and the "debasing effect" of American slang (the latter has a wide appeal in England because, unlike most English colloquialisms, it has no associations with the working class and can therefore be used by even the most snobbish). [Ibid., 26, 28, 29.] When Orwell remarks that English must resist these trends and again "show its kinship with the language of Shakespeare and Defoe," he again strikes a traditionally patriotic note. [Ibid., 29.] Patriotism also underlies his suggestion that the English are in a position to make an immense contribution to world civilisation, since "the highly original quality of the English is their habit of not killing one another." [Ibid., 30.] They could, perhaps, teach the rest of the world how to achieve political change without bloodshed. [Ibid., 31.]
He continues in this rather John Bullish tone when he robustly urges the young pacifist Alex Comfort (later the author of The Joy of Sex) to "spout your halo for a pint of bitter." [Ibid., 303.] His resentment of foreign Anglophobia seems to increase in 1943, particularly his dislike of Americans' ignorantly anti-English attitudes. [Ibid., 59.] He ridicules the American belief that England is a nation of horsy aristocrats: "forty-six million horse-riding snobs!" [Ibid.] Although these American prejudices pose an obvious threat to the English, most English people are oblivious to them. [Ibid., 58.] 1944 continues Orwell's preoccupation with English themes. He praises cricket's capacity to strengthen social cohesiveness, rejecting the idea that it is innately snobbish. [Ibid., 49.] He also returns to Dickens' views on class, and criticises English philistinism. [Ibid., 106-107.] In two different articles, he repeats his attack on the borrowing of foreign words and phrases that are not culturally appropriate to England, particularly foreign political slogans which, rather than inspiring the English, merely embarrass them: "nearly all English people dislike anything that sounds high-flown and boastful." [Ibid., 109, 130-131, 136.]
Prejudice in various forms is much on his mind in 1944, including the Anglo-Catholic contempt for English culture expressed by the columnists 'Beachcomber' (J. B. Morton) and 'Timothy Shy' (D.B. Wyndham-Lewis), though he registers his disapproval of this in a way which suggests anti-Catholic prejudice on his part. [Ibid., 175.] Likewise he bemoans the revival of Anglophobic Celtic movements, as well as the return of class distinctions that had been muted by the war. [Ibid., 194-195, 201.] He is, however, remarkably positive about the common people's lack of racism: while he is consistently at pains to emphasise the racist side of British imperialism, he believes that ordinary English people have generally got along well with the non-white people they have met during the course of the war. [Ibid., 204-205, 262.] He maintains that when a colour bar is introduced in an English night-club, it is usually the product of agitation by the rich or by white American soldiers. [Ibid.]
Orwell is concerned to distinguish between patriotism and nationalism and to disavow the latter (a move entirely typical of English discourse). He maintains that the English lack of political nationalism is due to historical circumstances which, compared with those of foreigners, have been extraordinarily fortunate. [Ibid., 149.] The English may be patriotic, but they are not nationalistic, and those who try to make them so are usually foreigners, like Beaverbrook, the Canadian Fleet Street king. [Ibid., 177.] The Empire was largely the creation of ambitious Celts, not the English people, who generally exhibit a placid lack of interest in power. [Ibid., 177, 193.] The heightened defensiveness of Orwell's train of thought in 1944 is somewhat perplexing, since there is no indication of what provoked it. It could simply be the product of understandable anger at the discovery that, after surviving the whirlwind and stoically enduring tremendous loss, the English in 1944 still face considerable prejudice. In his 1944 critical essay "Raffles and Miss Blandish," Orwell examines English moral attitudes by analysing the Raffles stories. Raffles' morality is completely class-based: in his world the 'old school' is the substitute for Christian conscience, and the chivalric code of cricket, which prizes style above winning, underpins all his actions. [Ibid., 213.] Orwell unfavourably contrasts the sadism and power-worship of American thrillers with the traditional Raffles-type yarns that they are now beginning to influence, and warns that the English affinity for the underdog rather than the he-man must be preserved at all costs against the American cultural onslaught. [Ibid., 220, 223.]
Faced with the horrors of the modern world, Orwell consistently finds English values comforting. [Ibid.] He contrasts the darkness of the European political situation with English tranquillity ("In Europe....things have been happening to middle-class people which in England do not even happen to the working class") but comments that the downside of this isolation from European realities has been a pronounced English political innocence, particularly with regard to the Soviets. [Ibid., 235.] The old image of the sheep-like English reappears when he remarks, of The Diary of a Nobody, that "Charles Pooter is a true Englishman both in native gentleness and his impenetrable stupidity." [Ibid., 280.] Pooterishness has had a bad effect on English humour, which is now "too genteel, too kind-hearted and too consciously lowbrow" to be effective (that is, political). [Ibid., 284-285.]
In 1945, Orwell rather poignantly expresses the emotional core of his patriotic and internationalist political thought, in terms which give us some insight into the stresses of his own wartime experiences: "I don't share the average English intellectual's hatred of his own country....I hate to see England either humiliated or humiliating anybody else. I wanted to think that we would not be defeated, and I wanted to think that the class distinctions and imperialist exploitation of which I am ashamed would not return." [Ibid., 297.] 1945 sees him again giving voice to his resentment of American Anglophobia and continuing his campaign for better, de-Americanised English, while also expressing disapproval of English xenophobia, this time that displayed by the publishing industry, which is refusing to publish German books. [Ibid., 314, 326-327.] Returning to the topic of English anti-Semitism, Orwell reiterates the idea that the English people are gentle and law-abiding, and, though they are anti-Semitic, they are also generally and genuinely ashamed of it. [Ibid. 333.] Nationalism, the chief source of this prejudice, must be eliminated if anti-Semitism is to disappear. [Ibid., 339-340.] (Here there is an obvious conflict with his previous assertions that the English lack nationalism.) In his essay "In Defence of P G Wodehouse," also written in 1945, he remarks on the "widespread English belief that intelligence and unscrupulousness are much the same thing," which feeds into the general suspicion of cleverness. [Ibid., 348.] Orwell wryly highlights the paradox that this sets up between the English interpretation of Wodehouse's work and its reception abroad. Wodehouse's profoundly English outlook prevents him from being understood at all by Anglophobic foreigners (particularly Americans). [Ibid. 349-350.] They see him as deriding English eccentricity and upper-class dimness, when he is, in fact, celebrating them. [Ibid.]
Orwell becomes patriotic --not to say chauvinistic— about English food ("In Defence of English Cooking") in 1945. English biscuits are "better and crisper" than those of any other country, and "Stilton is the best cheese of its type in the world, with Wensleydale not far behind." [G. Orwell, In Front of Your Nose:1945-1950 (1968), ed S. Orwell, 39.] While there is a playful tinge to these assertions, that does not mean that he is not in earnest. He proposes a system of good English restaurants, serving good English food, as the path to rehabilitating the reputation of the national cookery. [Ibid., 40.] He resumes his attack on Anglophobia when he reviews Sean O'Casey's Drums under the Window, asking despairingly, "Why is it that the worst extremes of jingoism and racialism have to be tolerated when they come from an Irishman?" [Ibid., 15.] Orwell recognises the historical background to Irish prejudices; his main target here is the English intelligentsia's willingness to tolerate bombastic nationalism as long as it is expressed by foreigners. [Ibid.]
In 1946, Orwell returns to English morality in the essay "The Decline of the English Murder." He bemoans the passing of the old-fashioned English murder, with its classically tragic theme of the respectable individual driven to murder in spite of him- or herself and tormented by guilt afterwards. [Ibid., 100.] This has been replaced by a new type of American-style murder, which involves physical violence (in contrast to the poisoning traditionally favoured by English murderers). [Ibid., 100-101.] Orwell is certainly not condoning either sort of murder, but he prefers the more human qualities of the English variety, with its weight of repressed anguish and guilt, to the modern, callous sort in which the murderer kills for the thrill of it. He argues that although the emotional turmoil surrounding the English murder was historically due partly to "all-prevailing hypocrisy," the English attitude to human life that it expresses is still more civilised than that of American culture. [Ibid., 101.] There is certainly a patriotic, even chauvinistic element here (the English are more sensitive and humane than Americans), but the essay's praise of a certain type of murder also renders it subversive and ironic in a way that The Lion and the Unicorn is not, and could not be in wartime.
Orwell's preoccupation with English food continues with "A Nice Cup of Tea," which describes in detail his favourite way of preparing the national beverage (which, he remarks mischievously, will no doubt arouse controversy). [Ibid., 42-43.] He also celebrates the English pub as a social institution. [Ibid., 43, 45-47.] In these writings, he seems to be deliberately savouring the culture that has survived the war. "Politics and the English Language," published in 1946, repeats the demand that English words be preferred over foreign ones. [Ibid., 139.]
By 1947, Orwell has completely run out of patience with English insularity, writing with disgust and righteous indignation: "Tales of starvation....concentration camps....persecuted Jews.....all this is received with a sort of incurious surprise, as though such things had never been heard of before but at the same time were not particularly interesting." [Ibid., 270.] However, in the same year, he returns to a more positive examination of Englishness, reviving one of the major themes of The Lion and the Unicorn, the role of the environment in shaping the English individual. Here, he strikes a note of light-hearted self-parody: "Burst water-pipes are a part of the English winter, no less than muffins or roasted chestnuts, and doubtless Shakespeare would have mentioned them....if there had been water-pipes in those days." [Ibid., 281.] This is an obvious echo of those famous red pillar-boxes and suet puddings from The Lion and the Unicorn, but Orwell mercifully refrains from remarking that burst water-pipes have entered into the English soul.
Anglophobia still troubles him in 1947, especially the variant expressed in a letter sent to him by a Scottish nationalist, expressing hatred of the English, and of the Polish refugees for whose presence in Scotland the writer holds England responsible. [Ibid., 283-284.] Orwell argues that these forms of race-hatred are as insidious as anti-Semitism. [Ibid., 284.] The answer, however, is not to react intolerantly to such intolerance, but to recognise and address Scottish problems and concerns, particularly by helping to preserve Gaelic culture. [Ibid., 285.]
In 1947 Orwell published his essay about his miserable school career, "Such, Such Were the Joys." It depicts the young Orwell as a victim of middle-class assumptions about the virtues of private education: "I think the characteristic faults of the English upper and middle classes may be partly due to the practice, general until recently, of sending children away from home." [Ibid., 368.] Like "The Decline of the English Murder," this examination of the more disturbing aspects of English social life could not have been written during the danger years of the war. Orwell's tone is profoundly negative throughout: he even describes "sense of humour" as "that curse of English writers." [Ibid., 435.] In 1947 he is shifting back towards a more purely internationalist perspective, away from the combination of English and international concerns that dominated his war writings. One of his 1947 articles is entitled "Toward European Unity."
In a letter written in 1948, Orwell is once more exercised by American Anglophobia, which is "shared even by people like [the critic] Edmund Wilson." [Ibid., 450.] In a whole year of letters and journalism, chiefly on international politics, these are the only references remotely connected to English issues. In April 1949 Orwell is demoralised, while in a tuberculosis sanatorium, to hear "large numbers of English upper-class voices.....And what voices!.....a sort of heaviness and richness combined with a fundamental ill-will....No wonder everyone hates us so," he concludes forlornly. [Ibid., 515.] Given his previous attacks on Anglophobia as stupid and ignorant, this observation bespeaks significant disillusionment, though his illness may also have contributed to this low mood. Orwell seems to have changed his wartime view that English culture is an effective bulwark against totalitarianism. Now, instead, he argues that "the English-speaking races are not innately better than anyone else and....totalitarianism.....could triumph anywhere." [Ibid. 502.] As in 1948, these are solitary remarks in a mass of letters and journalism on many other subjects. Orwell died the following year.
It is clear that with the outbreak of World War II, Orwell developed a deeper and more emotionally-engaged interest in English culture and the English people -in particular, a growth in respect and empathy for the working class. This interest remained fairly steady throughout the war, with the exception of a dip in 1942. Its fade-out, beginning in 1946, is virtually complete by 1949. This may be due partly to Orwell's bitterness over the persistence of class differences and the failure of the English Revolution to materialise, as well as to the cooling-off of heightened wartime emotion. It is important to note that his internationalist concerns remained lively and consistent throughout the war, complementing his new interest in Englishness, and that his attacks on Anglophobia were part of his continued onslaught on racial prejudice in general.
Orwell's thoughts on English character are given tension and energy by his sensitivity to the positive and negative aspects of the various traits he describes: insularity is at once of survival value and the source of English xenophobia; meekness prevents civil war, but also a socialist revolution. The self-consciously old-fashioned tone of his patriotism, which, at its most ardent, summons up images of Nelson and pints of warm beer, is probably deliberately cultivated, given the opposition that he sets up between the mild backwardness of English civilisation and the barbarous modernity of Continental European affairs.
The English people who emerge from Orwell's wartime writings are gentle, traditional, insular to the point of neurosis, free of dogmatism, class-ridden but cohesive, respecters of the rule of law, cheerfully and harmlessly vulgar, and courageous without any attendant priggishness or self-conscious heroics. They are, in fact, not really a modern people at all. Between the violence and fear of Continental politics and the coarseness and brutality of American culture, wartime England as portrayed by Orwell is an oasis of general decency and tranquillity, if one that is also dominated by a stubborn parochialism. --Isabel Taylor