B0nnie's Reviews > Homage to Catalonia

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
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Orwell in Spain, the tall guy standing in the middle 1937
Another *FAQ* I wrote from back in the day in usenet for alt.books.george-orwell

Mr. Orwell has kindly granted me an interview regarding his book, Homage to Catalonia

B: There has been some talk about the Spanish Civil War lately, perhaps inspired by the recent movie El Laberinto del Fauno . This war was a labyrinth as well: sorting out the various factions and who did what to whom certainly is quite a chore.

But first things first. Could you describe your ensemble - you are wearing some unusual clothing. Is it a uniform?

O: Of a sort. It is not exactly a uniform - perhaps a 'multiform' would be the proper name for it. I am wearing a thick vest and pants, a flannel shirt, two pull-overs, a woollen jacket, a pigskin jacket, corduroy breeches, puttees, thick socks, boots, a stout trench-coat, a muffler, lined leather gloves, and a woollen cap.

B: !!! That is a lot of ensemble - you must be very hot.

O: I heard that Canada is quite cold. I dressed in what I wore on cold nights at the front.

B: Now, is this typical clothing for the militia?

O: Practically everyone in the army wore corduroy knee-breeches . . . . some wore puttees, others corduroy gaiters, others leather leggings or high boots.

Everyone wore a zipper jacket, but some of the jackets were of leather, others of wool and of every conceivable colour. The kinds of cap were about as numerous as their wearers.

It was usual to adorn the front of your cap with a party badge, and in addition nearly every man wore a red or red and black handkerchief round his throat.

B: Very dashing. And red goes particularly well with dark hair. You guys gave those clothes-horse fascists something to think about.

O: I believe we did, in our own way.

B: Let's discuss the puttees. For the benefit of those who do not know it, could you give a brief etymology of this word?

O: It's from the Hindi and Urdu, their word for a strip of cloth, which in turn originated from Sanskrit. It is usually a woolen strip of cloth and it's wrapped around the leg from the ankle to knee. This prevents your trousers from being torn or soiled.

B: Ah, practical *and* chic. Surely a real chore to remove though?

O: One rarely removed one's clothing. You see, one had to be ready to turn out instantly in case of an attack. In eighty nights I only took my clothes off three times, though I did occasionally manage to get them off in the daytime.

B: I won't ask you about *that*. Sleeping in your clothes must have been a hardship?

O: No, not after a day or two. But there was a worse problem. For sheer beastliness the louse beats everything I have encountered . . . . he lives chiefly in your trousers. Short of burning all your clothes there is no known way of getting rid of him. Down the seams of your trousers he lays his glittering white eggs, like tiny grains of rice, which hatch out and breed families of their own at horrible speed.

I think the pacifists might find it helpful to illustrate their pamphlets with enlarged photographs of lice. Glory of war, indeed! In war all soldiers are lousy . . .

B: Surely not - they are usually brave, I understand.

O: No, not lousy. 'Lousy.' The men who fought at Verdun, at Waterloo, at Flodden, at Senlac, at Thermopylae - every one of them had lice crawling over his testicles.

B: Ok, enough of that! Ha-ha, I'm confident no one wants to discuss your testicles, lousy or otherwise.

O: ???

B: So there you were, an Englishman thrown in with the Spaniards. How is your Spanish?

O: Villainous. All this time I was having the usual struggles with the Spanish language. Apart from myself there was only one Englishman at the barracks, and nobody even among the officers spoke a word of French . . .

B: Impossible!

O: Things were not made easier for me by the fact that when my companions spoke to one another they generally spoke in Catalan. The only way I could get along was to carry everywhere a small dictionary which I whipped out of my pocket in moments of crisis. But I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than in most countries. How easy it is to make friends in Spain!

B: You joined the P.O.U.M. militia, and you have been criticized for not criticizing the way they ran the war.

O: They didn't 'run' the war, they were muddling through like everyone else. The whole militia-system had serious faults, and the men themselves were a mixed lot, for by this time voluntary recruitment was falling off and many of the best men were already at the front or dead.

There was always among us a certain percentage who were completely useless. Boys of fifteen were being brought up for enlistment by their parents, quite openly for the sake of the ten pesetas a day which was the militiaman's wage; also for the sake of the bread which the militia received in plenty and could smuggle home to their parents.

B: You wrote Homage to Catalonia with a certain detachment and regard for form?

O: Yes, I tried to tell the whole truth without violating my literary instincts.

B: What sort of action did you see?

O: All the time I was in Spain I saw very little fighting. I was on the Aragon front from January to May, and between January and late March little or nothing happened on that front, except at Teruel.

In March there was heavy fighting round Huesca, but I personally played only a minor part in it. Later, in June, there was the disastrous attack on Huesca in which several thousand men were killed in a single day, but I had been wounded and disabled before that happened.

B: That wound turned out to be quite lucky. You had been promoted to second lieutenant, and then on May 20, 1937 you caught a sniper's bullet in the throat. Please describe it.

O: It was a 7mm bore, copper-plated, Spanish Mauser bullet, shot from a distance of about 175 yards, at a velocity of 600 feet per second . . .

B: I mean, describe your experience.

O: Roughly speaking it was the sensation of being at the centre of an explosion. There seemed to be a loud bang and a blinding flash of light all round me, and I felt a tremendous shock - no pain, only a violent shock, such as you get from an electric terminal; with it a sense of utter weakness, a feeling of being stricken and shrivelled up to nothing . . . .

All this happened in a space of time much less than a second. The next moment my knees crumpled up and I was falling, my head hitting the ground with a violent bang which, to my relief, did not hurt. I had a numb, dazed feeling, a consciousness of being very badly hurt, but no pain in the ordinary sense.

B: Did your life flash before your eyes, as they say?

O: I felt a vague satisfaction. This ought to please my wife, I thought; she had always wanted me to be wounded, which would save me from being killed when the great battle came.

B: She must have felt a vague sorrow for your pain. But I understand Eileen was working in Barcelona as a secretary in the IPL office, very rare for a foreign woman to come to Spain at that time.

O: Yes, and in mid-March she visited me for three days in the front line trenches. The fascists threw in a small bombardment and quite a lot of machine-gun fire while she was there.

B: She must have hated it.

O: No, she wasn't frightened and found it quite interesting. She never enjoyed anything more.

B: Come on.

O: That's what she said, really.

B: She certainly wasn't mousey like she was once called.

O: She wasn't a bad old stick, at any rate. My commanding officer George Kopp rather admired her too, and thought her awfully brave and heroical. But that's another story.

B: You and Eileen barely escaped out of Spain, with the Soviet Police hunting down P.O.U.M. members.

O: We started off by being heroic defenders of democracy and ended by slipping over the border with the police panting on our heels.

B: C'est la vie, hein!

O: . . .


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Quotes B0nnie Liked

George Orwell
“All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.”
George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

Reading Progress

Finished Reading
January 6, 2012 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Mark (new)

Mark Clever review Bonnie. I read this a few years ago and found it very powerful

message 2: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Wonderful, Bonnie.

It made me want to respond:

You are able to inspire us with a combination of your writing, your life, and your sincerity - and even if that was faked, you were sincere in the faking.

You had the power of facing unpleasant facts, you were able to set aside your ego, and you believed the world could be better - but you didn't expect it to be perfect.

You kept in touch with the natural world - though you didn't get caught up in smelly things.

For which, much thanks,

Ian (sort of)

message 3: by Nataliya (new)

Nataliya You interviewed George Orwell? Very impressed.

Will Carlstrom Wonderful comment.... need an interview with Hemmingway as well....

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