Book Review: Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays by George Orwell

Most of the books I’ve reviewed so far I read months if not years ago. This one I recently finished.

I did not realize that Orwell was such a superb essayist and journalist; perhaps even more so than his fiction. I would say a master; one of the best in his field. He writes with a clarity that’s rarely published nowadays.

Authentic, forceful, and not the least bit misleading regarding his own preferences, he viscerally flays with crisp, sharp, detailed analysis and descriptions. Unrelenting and unapologetic with his emotions, he exposes his genuineness—himself, humanity and the written word—with a sort of pragmatic cynicism (IT ME!). This is what makes him pure and refreshing; even when writing about the mundane—such as tea.

I experience a kinship and representation with Orwell that I rarely find in modern essayists.

He was very real and his realness was inherent in his writing. For a journalist that is rare. I crave his contemporary equivalent and am extremely curious as to how he would have written this current disastrous and depressing historical juncture.

“Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful.”

“They have nothing worthy to be called conversation, because emptiness of belly leaves no speculation in their souls. The world is too much with them. Their next meal is never quite secure, and so they cannot think of anything except the next meal.”

“It is a silly piece of cruelty to confine an ignorant man all day with nothing to do; it is like chaining a dog in a barrel. Only an educated man, who has consolations within himself, can endure confinement.”

“All people who work with their hands are partly invisible, and the more important the work they do, the less visible they are.”

“As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.”

“The reason why the English anti-militarism disgusts foreign observers is that it ignores the existence of the British Empire. It looks like sheer hypocrisy. After all, the English have absorbed a quarter of the earth and held on to it by means of a huge navy. How dare they then turn round and say that war is wicked?”

“We have become too civilised to grasp the obvious. For the truth is very simple. To survive you often have to fight, and to fight you have to dirty yourself. War is evil, and it is often the lesser evil. Those who take the sword perish by the sword, and those who don’t take the sword perish by smelly diseases. The fact that such a platitude is worth writing down shows what the years of rentier capitalism have done to us.”

‘I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various “party lines.”’

“Against that shifting phantasmagoric world in which black may be white tomorrow and yesterday’s weather can be changed by decree, there are in reality only two safeguards. One is that however much you deny the truth, the truth goes on existing, as it were, behind your back, and you consequently can’t violate it in ways that impair military efficiency. The other is that so long as some parts of the earth remain unconquered, the liberal tradition can be kept alive. Let Fascism, or possibly even a combination of several Fascisms, conquer the whole world, and those two conditions no longer exist.”

“Nourished for hundreds of years on a literature in which Right invariably triumphs in the last chapter, we believe half-instinctively that evil always defeats itself in the long run. Pacifism, for instance, is founded largely on this belief. Don’t resist evil, and it will somehow destroy itself. But why should it? What evidence is there that it does? And what instance is there of a modern industrialised state collapsing unless conquered from the outside by military force?”

“When the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom he destroys.”

— George Orwell, Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays

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