Lionel Trilling memorialized him as "a virtuous man." To Arthur Koestler his life was "a rebel's progress." Irving Howe called him "my intellectual hero"; and V.S. Pritchett eulogized him as a "saint" and the "conscience of his generation." Since his death in 1950, George Orwell has served as a personal and intellectual model for countless writers across the political spectrum, ranging from the New Left to the New York intellectuals to the National Review conservatives. His last two books, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, have sold forty million copies in sixty-five languages, more than any other pair of books by a single author in history. How did this enormous reputation develop? And what can Orwell's reputation tell us about reputation-building in general?
As the first systematic exploration of reputation as a literary and sociological issue, The Politics of Literary Reputation addresses these questions. In the process of telling the story of how Orwell's reputation was made and maintained, John Rodden breaks new ground on a host of topics connected with the phenomenon of fame (literary heroism, intellectual role-modeling, political grave-robbing, literary canon-formation). Through this fascinating account of the posthumous history of the best-selling political writer of the century, Rodden has, in a sense, invented a new way of writing the traditional "Life and Times" biography: telling the story of a person's "afterlife."
Using the vicissitudes of Orwell's reputation as a giant lens through which to behold a history of the events he has influenced, Rodden achieves nothing less than a kaleidoscopic biography of the postwar West. He discusses how the recent Soviet publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four unveils some of the paradoxes of perestroika; how the first BBC-TV adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1954 signaled the changing conditions of reputation-building in the media age; how Orwell's exclusion from the "high canon" of modern British literature reflects the longstanding bias of modernism and the literary academy against the realistic novel; and how the criticism of the New York Intellectuals (Lionel Trilling, Irving Howe, Norman Podhoretz) actually forms more of a portrait of their ideal self-images than of George Orwell himself. Rodden focuses not only on Orwell's work but also on his "saintly life," analyzing the impassioned responses of his admirers and enemies, including socialists, liberals, Marxists, feminists, anarchists, conservatives, neo-conservatives, Zionists, and Catholics.
No reader will emerge from this rigorous journey through the world of Orwell without having his or her own intellectual commitments challenged.show more