happy birthday to charles dickens from eric blair

For reasons unknown, Blogger will not allow me to follow my friend NN's blog for more than a few hours. It insists on dropping Stacked-NYC from my reading list. Because of this, I missed Charles Dickens' 200th birthday!

NN's post reminded me of the excellent essay by George Orwell (call the Squad Squad, the phrase itself is a redundancy) exploring Dickens' staying power and analyzing his politics. Was Dickens a revolutionary? (No.) Did he really love the working class? (Nope.) If Dickens protested the conditions of his day, what did he offer as an alternative? (Be nice.)

I have three writing idols*, and reading one of them write about another is loaded with meaning. I love Dickens, and I love Orwell, and Orwell didn't make me love Dickens any less. But it did help me think about Dickens through a more political lens. And because it was Orwell, it was sparkling clear, perfect prose - brilliantly accessible, totally unpretentious, a bit wry, very warm, witty, generous, kind, moral but not rigid or dogmatic.

Reading Orwell's essays transports me. He is among the greatest writers of the English language. In fact, while I'm reading Orwell, I believe him to be The Greatest Writer I've Ever Read. Not that there is any need to choose such a person or bestow such a title, but while I'm reading an Orwell essay, I feel that he must be, because no one could possibly write better than this stuff I'm drinking in right now. One of my life goals is to read everything Orwell has written. It's a modest goal. Every once in a while, I read another essay, and the sad part will be when I've read the last one.

Although 1984 should be re-read every ten years or so, my favourite Orwell books are nonfiction: The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia.

The complete works of George Orwell are online, and if you haven't yet had the pleasure, or if it's been too long, try Shooting An Elephant, Why I Write, and the classic Politics and the English Language.

* John Steinbeck

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