Summer 1990 • Vol. XII No. 3 NonfictionJuly 1, 1990 |

George Orwell, Pickwickian Radical? An Ambivalent Case

I Eleven-year old Eric Blair first attracted her attention, recalled childhood friend Jacintha Buddicom years later, when she spotted him in a nearby field doing something she hadn't seen before: standing on his head.1 Even then George Orwell was "a man with both feet planted firmly in the air," as Franklin Roosevelt once defined a radical.2 Ah, were the case for "the radical Orwell" so easy! I begin here, however, because that wedding of biographical trivia and Pickwickian definition represents no more than a slight caricature of some of the rhetorical sleights of hand by which intellectuals of all stripes have claimed Orwell for the radical, liberal, conservative, neoconservative, anarchist and other camps since his death in 1950. In a recent book, The Politics of Literary Reputation: The Making and Claiming of 'St. George' Orwell (Oxford, 1989), I discussed at length the complicated historical and institutional processes whereby George Orwell has become the Zelig of modern

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John Rodden’s most recent books are Textbook Reds: Schoolbooks, Ideology, and Eastern German Identity (2013) and The Unexamined Orwell (2012).

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