Haarlson Phillipps's Reviews > Orwell: The Life

Orwell by D.J. Taylor
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's review
Aug 18, 2011

did not like it
bookshelves: biography, non-fiction
I own a copy

If you consider yourself a serious scholar of Orwell DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.
If you are curious about Orwell, especially his time in Spain during the Civil War - DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.
The book is riddled with inaccuracies, from simple errors to more subtle and deliberately misleading information which undermine Orwell's assessment of events during the Spanish Civil War.
Simple error? Turn to page 135 - Orwell's poem On a Ruined Farm near His Master's Voice Gramophone Factory is incorrectly titled as On a Ruined Farm near His Majesty's Voice Gramophone Factory.

A more serious error? Turn to page 149 where the author refers to "Stukas sweeping down over fleeing civilians at Guernica". Untruth. There were NO Stukas at Guernica. Piers Brendon, in The Guardian, referred to this as a "significant mistake".

Another:On page 220 D.J. Taylor writes:

"It was an odd state of affairs, Orwell reflected, that Barcelona, of all places, should turn out to be probably the only major city in non-Fascist Europe not to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Soviet Revolution."

Orwell reflected no such thing.

What Orwell actually reflected is rendered thus:

"It was a queer state of affairs. Barcelona, the so-called revolutionary city, was probably the only city in non-Fascist Europe that had no celebrations that day. Homage To Catalonia, Chapter 9, page 116.

No mention there of Soviet anniversaries!

The official anniversary of the Soviet Revolution is November 7th , not May 1st. (In fact the Communists in Barcelona marked the birthday of the Soviet Union with three weeks of concerts, talks, films and other celebratory events in October and November, 1937!)
I consider this to be the most serious error in the text because the author ascribes an erroneous reflection to Orwell, i.e. puts thoughts into his head.

Orwell would most certainly have known that May 1st, International Workers' Day, has nothing at all to do with the founding of the former Soviet Union and was established by the then I.W.M.A. (the anarcho-syndicalist Internatonal Working Mens Association) now I.W.A. (International Workers' Association).
To interpolate Orwell's reflections in such a way shows a lack of judgement and a lack of knowledge, or perhaps belies a deliberate attempt to distort.

Elsewhere in the book D.J. Taylor refers to the Ramblas (actually 5 connected ramblas)as being a "principal thoroughfare". Nonsense. Taylor compounds the error when describing Orwell's deployment on the Ramblas. If, as the author suggests, the Ramblas was a principal thoroughfare then the reader could assume Orwell was deployed to guard a strategic highway. Incorrect. The Ramblas then was the frontline between communist influenced government dictat and the self-governed barrios of Poble Sec and the Raval where anarchists were the prevailing influence.
And, remember, the author of this work, D.J. Taylor studied Modern History at St. John's College, Oxford!

I could go on - and I do, over a series of posts, at my blog HERE: http://haarlsonphillipps.blogspot.com...
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Chris Despite these innaccuracies, which I'm glad you pointed out, its still a memorable biography i would be prepared to re-read.

message 2: by Danka (new) - added it

Danka if this biography is such a failure, what should I read on Orwell's life instead?

Chris its no failure, trust me. Its a very original biography in its own right.

message 4: by Danka (new) - added it

Danka Good to know, considering the fact that the book is already laying on my shelf ;) But I'd like to get Haarlson Phillipps's opinion too :) Maybe there are other worthy biograpies of Orwell, I'd like to read them all. This man was a genius.

Chris and Taylor's is to be enjoyed!

message 6: by Elly (new)

Elly What Orwell biography would you recommend instead?

message 7: by Jan-Len (new) - added it

Jan-Len Read the one By Bernard Crick entitled: George Orwell: A Life published in 1982 by Secker and Warburg. Exceptional.

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