Experience, Interpretation, and the Performance of Authorship: A Study of Multiple Perspective in the Work of George Orwell
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This thesis examines stylistic technique and narrative strategy in a range of George Orwell’s fictional and non-fictional texts to demonstrate how personal experience and detached interpretation interact dialectically in his work to create layers of narrative complexity. Moving from Raymond Williams’ observation that the figure of “Orwell” is the writer’s “most successful” creation, this study asserts a vital correlation between form and content in Orwell’s work, specifically in the central position that perspective occupies in his political outlook. The multiple perspectives that surface in Orwell’s texts – the reluctant Imperial policeman, the tramp in disguise, the advocate of the working poor, the rebellious and satirically-inclined anti-totalitarian writer – correspond with the author’s life experiences, and yet are revealed as rhetorically constructed positions that are adopted strategically to generate nuanced, and at times contradictory, impressions of a wide range of subject matter. Chapter 1 treats Orwell’s Burmese writings as ethnographically-inflected texts; Chapter 2 examines the figure of the mask in Down and Out in Paris and London and in The Road to Wigan Pier; Chapter 3 analyses a dialectic of experience and interpretation at play in Homage to Catalonia; Chapter 4 scrutinizes the mobilization of the rebel writer figure in a selection of Orwell’s mature essays; and Chapter 5 examines the strategic deployment of competing perspectives in Nineteen Eighty-Four’s anatomy of the totalitarian state. This array of analytical approaches serves the dual function of highlighting the versatility and sophistication of narrative strategy across a range of individual texts in Orwell’s oeuvre, and of demonstrating a trajectory in his work that adheres simultaneously to both formal and political considerations. Orwell’s highly prolific two-decade-long writing career, I argue, can be productively understood as an ongoing experiment with narrative strategy, and this experiment exerts at each stage a direct influence on his evolving political aesthetic.