Featured Reviews, VOLUME 7

Robert Colls – George Orwell: English Rebel [Feature Review]

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0199680809″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51S-yGp4LLL._SL160_.jpg” width=”107″]Page 2: Robert Colls – George Orwell: English Rebel

Colls brilliantly juxtaposes two of Orwell’s most well-known works, 1984 and “Politics and the English Language.” This is the man who gave us such brilliant and insightful concepts as these:  Newspeak, a simplified and obfuscatory language designed to make independent thought impossible; doublethink means holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously; thought police are those who suppress all dissenting opinion; prolefeed is homogenized, manufactured superficial literature, film and music, used to control and indoctrinate the populace through docility; and perhaps the largest playing terms in modern politics, Big Brother is a supreme dictator who watches everyone. And in “Politics and the English Language” we get these witty and smart sentences, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”; “Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as a noun), objective, categorical…are used to dress up simple statements and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements”; and “If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences, since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious.”
In his comparison of the novel (1984) and the essay “Politics and the English Language,” Colls says this: “Orwell spoke in praise of good prose as a window on the truth. He characterized the English language’s propensity to do this by its uncommonly large vocabulary and its simple and commonly understood grammar. In Nineteen Eighty-Four it is the state’s intention to use the language to make truth unthinkable and freedom unknowable by decimating its vocabulary and simplifying its grammatical rules to nullity.”
Colls’s book accomplishes much in its short 236 pages. Readers will get more out of this book if they are adequately familiar with Orwell’s seminal works—1984, The Road to Wigan Pier, Down and Out in Paris and London, as well as his assorted essays. This book serves as a wonderful supplement of historical context, telling what shaped Orwell’s perceptions, his choices in career, and his eventual speaking on behalf of the worker.

***[easyazon-link keywords=”George Orwell” locale=”us”]Books by George Orwell[/easyazon-link]

Colls’s closing paragraph reveals the contradictory tone of our modern plight to define Orwell, making a wonderful joke of the whole endeavor to pin-down a contrarian: “It is not only that Orwell’s country has disappeared and he has been dead for over sixty years: the more he is invoked, the more we define his absence; the greater our trust in him, the smaller our trust in ourselves…He is a saint, a knight, a champion, a hero, a victor, a mystic, a patriot, a plain speaker, a great writer, a moral force, and unflinching patriot, a good and virtuous man…In 2012, in the absence of a successor, he nearly became a statue. Not that there has been a shortage of candidates for his position. Calling for a second Orwell, indeed, is one of the great political clichés of our time.”
It seems, then, that this book is best used as a tool for coloring in a black-and-white photograph of one of the 20th century’s most important and enduring writers. As Robert Colls highlights, Orwell gives permission to critique, examine, and struggle not only for and against causes, but against one’s own country. Orwell gave us a language that was sturdy, hard, and exact–may that lesson live on well into the coming centuries.

Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities
and the life of the church." 

-Karen Swallow Prior

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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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