15 April (1938): George Orwell to Stephen Spender


Here, George Orwell, writing under his given name Eric Blair, writes to playwright Stephen Spender from a sanitarium in Aylesford, Kent, where he remained isolated while suffering from tuberculosis. Orwell recounts his first impressions of Spender and his work, and mentions his “Spanish book,” Homage to Catalonia, which was his personal narrative of the Spanish Civil War, to be released later on that month.

Friday [15? April 1938]
Jellicoe Pavillion
Preston Hall
Aylesford, Kent 

Dear Spender,

Thank you so much for your letter and the copy of your play. I waited to read the latter before replying. It interested me, but I’m not quite sure what I think about it. I think with a thing like that one wants to see it acted, because in writing you obviously had different scenic effects, supplementary noises etc. in mind which would determine the beat of the verse. But there’s a lot in it that I’d like to discuss with you when next I see you.

You ask how it is that I attacked you not having met you, & on the other hand changed my mind after meeting you. I don’t know that I had ever exactly attacked you, but I had certainly in passing made offensive remarks about ‘parlour Bolsheviks such as Auden & Spender’ or words to that effect. I was willing to use you as a symbol of the parlour Bolshie because a. your verse, what I had read of it, did not mean very much to me, b.  I looked upon you as a sort of fashionable successful person, also a Communist or Communist sympathizer, & I have been very hostile to the C.P. since about 1935, & c. because not having met you I could regard you as a type & also an abstraction. Even if when I met you I had not happened to like you, I should still have been bound to change my attitude, because when you meet anyone in the flesh you realize immediately that he is a human being and not a sort of caricature embodying certain ideas. It is partly for this reason that I don’t mix much in literary circles, because I know from experience that once I have met & spoken to anyone I shall never again be able to show any intellectual brutality towards him, even when I feel I ought to, like the Labour M.Ps. who get patted on the back by dukes & are lost forever more. 

It is very kind of you to review my Spanish book. But don’t go & get into trouble with your own Party—it’s not worth it. However, of course you can disagree with all my conclusions, as I think you would probably do anyway, without actually calling me a liar. If you could come & see me some time I would like it very much, if it’s not much of an inconvenience. I am not infectious. I don’t think this place is very difficult to get to, because the Green Lines buses stop at the gate. I am quite happy here & they are very nice to me, but of course it’s a bore not being able to work and I spend most of my time doing crossword puzzles.

                 Eric Blair


From A Life in Letters. Orwell, George, and Peter Davison.  London: Harvill Secker, 2010.