The Intimate Orwell

The Intimate Orwell by Simon Leys | The New York Review of Books.

Diaries  by George Orwell, edited by Peter Davison London: Harvill Secker.

Even in the heat of battle, and precisely because he distrusted ideology—ideology kills—Orwell remained always acutely aware of the primacy that must be given to human individuals over all “the smelly little orthodoxies.” His exchange of letters (and subsequent friendship) with Stephen Spender provides a splendid example of this. Orwell had lampooned Spender (“parlour Bolshevik,” “pansy poet”); then they met: the encounter was actually pleasant, which puzzled Spender, who wrote to Orwell on this very subject. Orwell, who later became a friend of Spender’s, replied:

You ask how it is that I attacked you not having met you, & on the other hand changed my mind after meeting you…. [Formerly] I was willing to use you as a symbol of the parlour Bolshie because a. your verse…did not mean very much to me, b. I looked upon you as a sort of fashionable successful person, also a Communist or Communist sympathiser, & I have been very hostile to the C.P. since about 1935, and c. because not having met you I could regard you as a type & also an abstraction. Even if, when I met you, I had happened not to like you, I should still have been bound to change my attitude, because when you meet someone in the flesh you realise immediately that he is a human being and not a sort of caricature embodying certain ideas. It is partly for this reason that I don’t mix much in literary circles, because I know from experience that once I have met & spoken with anyone I shall never again be able to show any intellectual brutality towards him, even when I feel that I ought to, like the Labour M.P.s who get patted on the back by dukes & are lost forever more...