This is a Japanese translation of Raymond Williams’ Orwell (Fontana, 1971, third edition, 1991). I translated this book as I believe that it is significant to look back on it as a work of critical confrontation between the two authors: Orwell and Williams.
As the author of classic dystopian fiction such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, George Orwell (the subject of this book) is perhaps one of the most well-known British authors in contemporary Japan. In contrast to the overwhelming popularity of Nineteen Eighty-Four, however, the life and career of Orwell before this novel might not be so widely known yet.
The biggest contribution of Williams in this book is to provide us with a perspective to understand Orwell’s life and career in terms of his lifelong struggle to realize socialism. Williams was born in a Welsh working-class family in 1921 and later became one of the most representative cultural critics in Britain of the second half of the twentieth century. For Williams and other intellectuals of the British New Left who came of age in the postwar years, Orwell was a significant predecessor in his espousal for the ideal of ‘democratic socialism’ firmly based in the ‘genuinely popular culture of England.’
After Orwell’s premature death in 1950, however, his critique of the ‘myth’ of Soviet-style communism was often appropriated by conservatism and sometimes seen as a defence of political ‘quietism’. Especially after the 1960s when the labour movement had declined in Britain, Williams needed to struggle with the popular image of Orwell to pursue the mission of cultural critique as a ‘social activity’. The complex intermixture of Williams’ respect and antipathy, admiration for and critique of Orwell in this book is informed by this central conflict. How did the generation of thinkers (including Williams) who innovated the new cultural studies had critically inherited the legacy of Orwell?--this is the question we set out to consider when reading this significant book.
Apart from this central question of the interaction between literature and socialism, Williams’ reading of Orwell’s oeuvre includes complex reflections on the relationship between border-crossing individuals and community, art and society, culture and class, and language and experience, which are deeply informed by the problematics of modernism. What are the possibilities and limitations of modernism? How is the new ‘realism’ that goes beyond modernism’s limitations possible? Moreover, how are we to evaluate the contemporary vogue of ‘dystopia’ as a literary form? Williams’ struggles with Orwell’s legacy contain a number of hints to solve these questions.
As additional features of this Japanese translation, it includes six newspaper and magazine reviews on Orwell-related books written by Williams between 1955 and 1968. Also included is my piece of critical reflection that historically traces Williams’ first encounter with Orwell in 1947-48 to his continuing, lifelong engagement with the meanings of the latter’s legacy. I hope these appendices help deepen the reader’s understanding of this book.
(Written by SHIN Kunio, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences / 2023)
Table of Contents
2 England whose England?
3 Being a Writer
4 Observation and Imagination
Afterword: Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1984
Appendix (six reviews on Orwell-related books by Raymond Williams)
“George Orwell” (1955)
“Past Wigan Pier” (1959)
“The Anger of George Orwell” (1961)
“Father Knew George Orwell” (1967)
“Blair into Orwell” (1968)
“Raymond Williams and George Orwell: A Commentary on an Interrupted Conversation” (by Kunio Shin)
Critical Orwell: an online conference (University of Birmingham April 12-14, 2022)