Orwell’s America

In response to:

'Not One of Us' from the June 14, 1984 issue

To the Editors:

In his enlightening essay on Orwell [NYR, June 14], my friend Alfred Kazin includes one brief shorthand remark which perhaps needs expanding, when he describes Orwell as “No friend of the United States, which he never cared to visit.” In his life, Orwell had in fact no chance to visit the United States. Before the war, he was much too poor. During the war, such a visit was impossible for him, as it was during his brief post-war spell in London after 1945, when as widower he looked after his adopted baby son, etc. A visit might theoretically have been just feasible after the American publication of Animal Farm, but by then, in 1947, Orwell was already on Jura and in precarious health as he began to write 1984. It is hard to remember how little of post-war developments Orwell had seen before starting on the book.

Earlier on, Orwell had recalled his admiration of that optimistic picture of nineteenth-century America which, he said, he had formed from his childhood reading of popular American fiction. To be sure, this was not the United States of his own time about which he had some strong cultural reservations. Even so, I remember how, when he was on Jura, he expressed his irritation with what he saw as shortsighted criticisms of American post-war policies voiced in the British press, including the editorial columns of Tribune. I think he would have agreed, at least in part, with Edmund Wilson’s aphorism that the British social revolution took place in America, for better or worse.

T.R. Fyvel

London, England