Orwell’s Literary Achievement
Orwell is now acknowledged as one of the most significant writers of the twentieth century. Few observers would have forecast on the evidence of his early work that thirty years after his death his works would be available in numerous editions and in many languages and that he would be regarded as ‘a world figure, a name to set argument going wherever books are read’.35 Until 1945 his reputation rested on his early novels together with The Road to Wigan Pier which, due in large measure to the Left Book Club, had enjoyed a very wide circulation. Sales of Homage to Catalonia by comparison had been very small indeed. At the end of the Second World War, then, he was regarded as a comparatively minor novelist with a gift for documentary reportage and an essayist of some promise. The publication of Animal Farm brought his name before a considerably wider readership both in the English-speaking world and beyond. Comparisons began to be made with Gulliver’s Travels and the satires of Voltaire; critics were slowly beginning to recognise an unusual and original talent. Animal Farm was followed by many major essays which consolidated his growing reputation as a force to be reckoned with in English literature. Such essays as ‘How the Poor Die’, ‘Politics and the English Language’, ‘Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool’ and ‘Writers and Leviathan’, together with his prolific journalism for Tribune, the Observer and other papers earned him respect and admiration as an essayist in the vein of Hazlitt and Stevenson. With the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949 his stature as a major literary figure was secure.
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