As I Please: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters Volume III by George Orwell (1968) 435 p.
The third volume in Orwell’s collected non-fiction, As I Please covers the period from 1943 to 1945. At this time Orwell was working as literary editor at a magazine called Tribune, and wrote a regular column called “As I Please” in which he wrote, naturally, about whatever he pleased. This volume takes not only its title but the bulk of its material from that column, and as a result, it’s probably the best in the compendium so far. While the previous volume was heavily political, Orwell’s regular editorial columns wander over all sorts of subjects and never go for longer than a few pages. Orwell discusses the progress of the war, political feeling of all kinds in England, anti-American sentiment amongst the British, the use of language in newspapers, Burma, the drinking of tea, nationalism, and all kinds of things. One of my favourite essays occurs near the beginning, in which Orwell describes his favourite pub, “The Moon Under Water,” only to reveal that it is wholly fictional, checking the ten aspects he thinks the ideal pub should have. (A restaurant in Melbourne has named itself after the essay, and its decor cheerfully violates the “modern miseries” Orwell was against.)
I mentioned in my last review that I was keeping an eye out for the first mention of the Holocaust, but I’m still unsure whether I’ve found it. Orwell mentions that beastly things were going on in the German concentration camps, but it’s unclear whether the scope of the crimes were well-known to the rest of the world – indeed, Orwell mentions it in an essay describing how, because most people didn’t want to hear about it, the knowledge “slid off” them. It’s important to bear in mind throughout this compendium that Orwell was writing for his own time, not for history, and takes for granted the reader’s pre-existing knowledge. (For example, I imagine Hiroshima would have been a day that shocked the world, but Orwell mentions it only in passing, in letters and essays on other topics, written weeks or months after it happened.)
Overall, this volume was good stuff as usual. It’s a shame Orwell didn’t keep a diary during the latter part of the war, since that was one of the most enjoyable parts of the last volume, but I suppose that’s up to him.