THE PROSE BRACKET: HOLMES VS. ORWELL

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Eric Blair changed his name to George Orwell to hide from Stalin. 

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

–George Orwell

A dinner party is the last triumph of civilization over barbarism. Conversation depends on how much you take for granted. Vulgar chess-players have to play their games out; nothing short of the brutality of an actual checkmate satisfies their dull apprehensions. But look at two masters of that noble game! White stands well enough, so far as you see; but Red says, Mate in six moves;—White looks, —nods;—the game is over.

–Oliver Wendell Holmes

George Orwell is famous for expounding the truth of government control: lying that blatantly misleads and so breaks the will of resistance.  It’s a two step process. A lie—so obviously a lie, that it is also a form of oppression. The imposition of totalitarian thuggery on a sovereign nation—the Soviet state, in the modern era of advanced communication—and spying—caught the attention of an eccentric, rough-and-ready-yet-awkward, British Empire civil servant, who was born in India, and who served in Burma in the Imperial Police: yes, that’s right— George Orwell himself was an Orwellian Policeman who worked for the British Empire.

George Orwell was working towards a British identity in a H.G. Wells/Bertrand Russell free love, atheistic, homophobic (he called friend and associate Stephen Spender a “pansy”) socialist-but-watch-out-for-the-Soviet-Reds, keep-a-patronizing-eye-on-the-English-working-class, whip-the-school-boy-when-necessary, ramble-in-the-woods, tinker-in-the-garden, blow-up-a-chemistry-set, play-a-prank-or-two, good-cup-of-hot-tea-and-milk, traditional England, sort of way. He loved London. He hated Moscow. Orwell is a great deal simpler than he might seem. To be an eccentric Englishman is to be, quite matter-of-factly Orwellian, through and through—if you haven’t met one of these types, already.

Orwell is that special kind of hero to every western, post-War intellectual—the anti-Stalinist Leftist. He wrote two classics exposing, first in a fairy tale, and then in a dystopian thriller, totalitarian, ideological, mind control, Soviet-style, Communism—or, the CIA Deep State, if you like. He was deeply involved in working class, leftist, journalism and politics, and his two famous books were probably good because, in both, he was able to take a holiday and write fiction to indirectly say what he otherwise strenuously and directly said, and lived: shot in the throat by a sniper in Spain while fighting against Franco, threatened and decried by Stalinists, fighting for socialism, surviving the blitz, writing non-fiction, working part-time jobs, falling ill a lot, chasing women, traveling, and playing a tramp (spying) in poor districts as a journalist.

Writing Animal Farm must have been a lark for this non-stop, chain-smoking, frail, driven, adventurous, wreck of a man who died at 46.

He wrote the Alice in Wonderland of the 20th century about the Soviet Union.

He updates the Victorian classic with absurdism still the underlying trope:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. (1984)

Oliver Wendell Holmes, a Fire Side Poet who knew Emerson, who lived in Massachusetts, a physician and man of letters, is the American 19th century liberal, ready to join the English and punish the Russians and Germans. Checkmate is moves away, but as certain to come as high tea. Holmes is the brilliant 19th century, free-thinking American—not quite the same thing as an early 20th century, free-thinking, British eccentric, but close. We assume there is much too much evil in the world—so no need to play out the chess match. Accept the match is over.  The U.S. and Britain are to rule the world.  Haven’t you heard?

But what is this? Neither Red nor White have surrendered!

They are still playing!

After numerous overtimes, steady Holmes edges eccentric Orwell!

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3 Comments

  1. April 4, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Gov. Thomas Dudley m. Dorothy York
    Ann Dudley m. Gov. Simon Bradstreet
    Samuel Bradstreet m. Mercy Tyng
    Mercy Bradstreet m. James Oliver
    Sarah Oliver m. Jacob Wendell
    Oliver Wendell m. Mary Jackson
    Sarah Wendell m. Abiel Holmes
    OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES (1809-1894), poet, m. Amelia Lee Jackson
    OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES Jr (1841-1935), US Supreme Court justice

  2. thomasbrady said,

    April 4, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    Thanks, Simon.

    To clarify, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr, the Fireside Poet, not the Supreme Court Judge, is the contestant.

    The quote is from Holmes Sr’s “Autocrat at the Breakfast Table,” a fascinating book.

    Sorry for the confusion.


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