Today’s indie press needs no introduction on the Ramblings, as I’ve featured them many times; in fact, I even interviewed Will, the man behind the imprint, for Shiny New Books! They are, of course, Renard Press, purveyors of lovely handbound editions of a really fascinating range of works; and today I want to talk about their recent release of some essays from one of my favourite authors of all time – George Orwell!

Renard have recently issued a lovely set of Orwellian pamphlets, each featuring one of the great man’s essays; and as well as being beautiful objects, they’re a timely reminder of how relevant his writing still is. Renard’s pamphlets are hand bound, each with its own bookmark and with a removeable dustjacket; this is a lovely format, and as well as having decent sized type on quality paper (making it easy to read…), they look rather lovely on the shelves! Onto the essays themselves!

Up first is “Why I Write”, the most fundamental thing an author considers, I suppose. After providing a kind of mini summary of biography, telling of his early attempts at poetry and short stories, Orwell explores the theme of constantly telling a story in his head and covers his development as a writer. He discusses the main motivations for writing, and spells out the importance of the political and the personal meeting in his own works. His politics are as clearly laid out as his writing, and it’s obvious that he feels his best writing is that which has a political as well as artistic purpose.

Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, AGAINST totalitarianism and FOR democratic socialism, as I understand it.

Pamphlet 2 of the Essays features “Politics and the English Language”. This is a fascinating essay, which I’ve read before though possibly haven’t written about; and in it Orwell explores the kind of political language which is, as he says, “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”. I’m pretty sure I’ve quoted that from an anthology of his writing before, and he’s spot on. In this world of spin and fake news and the media feeding us constant lies, Orwell’s commentary on the distortion of political language is an essential counterpoint to the nonsense being flung at us from every angle. Quite brilliant.

In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.

The third essay is “The Prevention of Literature”, which I’ve read before in one of my Penguin Great Ideas volumes. It’s a deep and thoughtful discussion of how political regimes affect the literature of their authors, and Orwell is so clear eyed about the effect of totalitarianism on writing, on what can survive during a dictatorship and about the pressures on authors. Interestingly, he thinks poetry has the best chance in a country under tight control, and he may well be right. Lots of food for thought here.

…in England the immediate enemies of truthfulness, and hence of freedom of thought, are the press lords, the film magnates and the bureaucrats…

Pamphlet 4 contains “Politics vs. Literature”, the longest of the four essays, and a really fascinating one. It’s subtitled “An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels”, and in it Orwell takes a close look not only Swift’s great work but also his politics and viewpoints. Despite loving Swift and his book, Orwell is critical of the thinking expressed in the book, even equating Swift with Tolstoy when it comes to both men’s intolerance. Nevertheless, he does feel that despite his disagreement with Swift politically he loves the book, considering it a great work of art; and feels that even if a book expresses a viewpoint with which he disagrees, it can still be good!

Orwell is always a wonderful essayist to read, expressing his arguments so clearly and in such seemingly plain yet actually quite sophisticated language. I have numerous collections of his writings, but somehow reading them in pamphlet form worked quite brilliantly. Not only was I not pressured or overwhelmed by the vast amount of his wisdom waiting to be discovered, the format is a pleasure to read physically, and there is time to pause after finishing each pamphlet to reflect. I don’t know if Renard are planning to issue more Orwell essays like this, but I do hope they do. It’s a wonderful initiative, a great way to visit (or revisit) the great man’s works, and they really *are* going to look pretty on my Orwell shelf… [ You *do* all have an Orwell shelf, don’t you? 😉 ]