Anna's Reviews > The Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in Love and War

The Same Man by David Lebedoff
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Aug 10, 08

bookshelves: reviewed-for-watermark
Read in August, 2008

I don’t read a lot of biography, especially of writers; something about knowing too much about an author can leach the genius right out of his work. But David Lebedoff sucked me right in with his gutsy premise—that George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh, two men with lives nearly opposite to each other, shared a vision of their time and ours that made them two sides of the same coin.
Both men were born in 1903, to roughly equivalent levels in the complex British class system of the early 20th century, for while Waugh’s family had more money, his father, being a publisher, was “in trade,” while Orwell’s held a more gentlemanly position in the civil service, as an opium agent in the government of the Raj in India. Both spent time at public school, where Orwell was bullied and Waugh a bully. While Waugh enjoyed the idyllic debauchery of Oxford (a time he would later document lyrically in “Brideshead Revisited”), Orwell skipped college to become a Burmese imperial policeman. Waugh was a social climber; Orwell hung out with tramps. The former was an apolitical Tory, the latter an impassioned socialist. Their literary lives, too, were totally different: while Waugh enjoyed early and sustained celebrity, Orwell struggled even to publish. “Animal Farm” went through several publishers before it found a home, as both Left and Right in England were wary of publishing such a virulently anti-Stalin manuscript in delicate postwar times. Despite all this, the two respected each other, exchanging letters and novels though only meeting once, while Orwell was dying of tuberculosis.
Lebedoff makes a good case that Orwell and Waugh had in common a horror of modernity, a fear that totalitarianism, while it had to be overthrown, could only be overthrown by abandoning much of what made life worthwhile: common sense, common purpose, faith. They saw the triumph of materialism and the rise of a cliqueish intellectualism that, instead of looking down on the poor, dismisses people for “pedestrian” beliefs. Their solutions to these imminent nightmares were as far apart as anarchy from order, rebellion from orthodoxy: but through their literary gifts, both left not only warnings for the future but a record of what they found in the past worth keeping.
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