POLITICO'S £19.99 (401pp) £18.99 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

Orwell in 'Tribune', Ed. Paul Anderson

From columns to classics

George Orwell's schoolfriend, Cyril Connolly, wrote that the duty of a writer was to produce a masterpiece. He famously identified one of the main obstacles as "the pram in the hall". TS Eliot said the worst job for a creative writer was journalism, especially literary journalism. At the end of the 1930s, Orwell had been planning a masterpiece, an "epic saga" to be called "The Quick and the Dead".

He was prevented from writing it by almost every imaginable obstacle. Above all, there was the war, with its upheavals and privations, though he only played a marginal military role as Sergeant Blair of the Home Guard. He was married to Eileen and duly acquired the pram in the hall, in the form of their adopted son, Richard. He was already suffering from the disabling respiratory illness that would kill him, while continuing to smoke a heroic quantity of cigarettes. At the same time he was producing an awesome quantity of journalism, but he defied Eliot's injunction by writing Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four: not just masterpieces but cultural icons, on a level with Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe or Gulliver's Travels.

And the journalism was great as well. This revelatory collection shows how the different sides of Orwell's imagination interacted. Shortly after Orwell finished Animal Farm, he accepted the job as literary editor and columnist on the left-wing weekly, Tribune. His first "As I Please" column appeared on 3 December 1943. He continued until February 1945, when he took an eight-month break, during which he visited the continent as a reporter for the Observer (he met Hemingway in Paris).

Orwell enthusiasts will already have read much of this book in other collections. The fascination here is reading Orwell as a working journalist on a single paper. He attended editorial conferences with Nye Bevan (someone should write a play about the encounter), commissioned reviews and made a doomed attempt to publish short stories by organising a competition.

But above all, there were these columns. From week to week, he wrote on anything that came into his head: the unpopularity of American soldiers in Britain, the absurdity of bomb shelters, the ugliness of the photographs in the New Year honours list. He attacks anti-Semitism and trouser turn-ups, English railways and the BBC Brains Trust. He asks readers to identify quotations. He laments the replacement of railings in London squares.

Week by week, column by column, his inspirations take shape. He develops the ideas about euphemistic, pretentious and hackneyed prose that would result in his classic essay "Politics and the English Language" (in Cyril Connolly's Horizon, not Tribune). His swipes against propaganda, the manipulation of crowds, the squalor of wartime and postwar London life, the absurdities of bureaucracy and the growth of the Great Powers formed the raw material of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

For a writer so apparently personal, it is noteworthy what isn't there. He is fascinated by the minutiae of literary history, but there is no mention of movies, theatre or classical music. And a reading of the book alongside one of the biographies shows how selectively he draws on his life. In one of his most famous columns, he mounts a semi-defence of the German flying bombs, admitting that his first reaction when he heard the droning was to hope it fell on someone else. But he doesn't mention that just a few days earlier one such bomb had destroyed his own home (almost taking with it the unique typescript of Animal Farm).

During his 1945 break, the war ended and two important things happened in his life. After being turned down by various publishers (including TS Eliot), Animal Farm was published and achieved instant success. And his wife, Eileen, suddenly died. When Orwell began writing for Tribune again, something had been released. The columns had been good enough before. But now, one after another, come "Books v. Cigarettes", "Decline of the English Murder", "Some thoughts on the common toad", "A good word for the Vicar of Bray", "Confessions of a book reviewer". These are some of the greatest essays in the English language, and they seem all the more startling when succeeded by a mundane moan about the postwar shortage of clocks.

On 4 April 1947, Orwell wrote about the possibility of growing tobacco in England (the problem was not the sun, he said implausibly, but "some deficiency in the soil") and signed off for good. Three years later he was dead, aged 46. For a number of years, I also wrote a column impudently titled "As I Please" (for the New Statesman). Reading this book made me feel once more that I was, in the words of Wayne, not worthy.

'Losing You', the new novel by 'Nicci French', is published in January

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect