George Orwell and the “process of life”

From Dan Hitchens, Orwell and Contraception
In all of Evelyn Waugh’s novels up to Brideshead Revisited, ­Orwell detected a consistent theme: Waugh’s “private ideal” of “a middle-sized country house.” In each of Orwell’s novels, his own private ideal is voiced by his characters: It is what Dorothy Hare in A Clergyman’s Daughter calls “that mystical joy in the beauty of the earth and the very nature of things.” In Coming Up for Air, George Bowling gazes into a pond crowded with living creatures and is overcome by “the sort of feeling of wonder, the peculiar flame inside you. It’s the only thing worth having, and we don’t want it.” ­Orwell’s essay “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad” asks whether this delight in nature might distract us from the struggle for justice. He responds that there is not much point in political change if we lose “all pleasure in the actual process of life.” That process itself resists the money-god and the totalitarians: “The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.”

Orwell was drawn to remote places, to an existence close to the “process of life.” (In the thirties, for instance, he decamped to a tiny village where he tended a garden and kept goats.) His villains, “they,” are against it. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell’s last novel, O’Brien predicts that “the intoxication of power” will obliterate everything else: In the future there will be “no enjoyment of the process of life.” In Orwell’s debut novel, Burmese Days, Flory is impressed by “the whole life and spirit of Burma,” but to his racist fellow Brits he cannot say anything. “It is a corrupting thing to live one’s real life in secret,” he muses sadly. “One should live with the stream of life, not against it.” George Bowling recalls that his childhood home had a routine “like clockwork. Or no, not like clockwork, which suggests something mechanical. It was more like some kind of natural process. You knew that breakfast would be on the table to-morrow morning in much the same way as you knew the sun would rise.”

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