16 June (1918): George Orwell to J.R. Ackerley

Below, George Orwell writes to J.R. Ackerley, an editor at the BBC’s The Listener, a magazine featuring transcriptions of radio programs. While Orwell occasionally reviewed books for The Listener, in this instance he was the author under review; his biographical account of the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia, was panned by the journalist Philip Furneaux Jordan. Jordan responded to Orwell’s letter, saying: “I am sorry if Mr. Orwell thinks that I wanted to put readers off a magnificently written book: I didn’t. I want people to read it even if, in my opinion, his analysis is wrong. It is the essence of a democracy in peace time that all views should be available to everybody.” Though Jordan was gracious in his response, Ackerley would later call him out on avoiding a direct treatment of Orwell’s argument.

16 June 1918

Your reviewer’s treatment of the facts is a little curious. In his review of my book Homage to Catalonia in The Listener of May 25 he uses about four-fifths of his space in resurrecting from the Communist Press the charge that the Spanish political party known as the P.O.U.M. is a ‘fifth column’ organisation in the pay of General Franco. He states first that this accusation was ‘hyperbolical’ but adds later that it was ‘credible’, and that the leaders of the P.O.U.M. were ‘little better than traitors to the Governmental cause.’ Now, I leave on one side the question of how it can be credible that Franco’s ‘fifth column’ could be composed of the poorest of the working class, led by men most of whom had been imprisoned under the regime Franco was trying to restore, and at least one of whom was on Franco’s special list of ‘persons to be shot’. If your reviewer can believe in stories of that kind, he is entitled to do so. What he is not entitled to do is to repeat his accusation, which is incidentally an accusation against myself, without even indicating from whom it came or that I had had anything to say about it. He leaves it to be inferred all through that the absurd charges of treachery and espionage originated with the Spanish Government. But, as I pointed out in great detail (Chapter XI of my book), these charges never had any footing outside the Communist Press, nor was any evidence in support of them ever produced. The Spanish Government has again and again repudiated all belief in them, and has steadfastly refused to prosecute the men whom the Communist newspapers denounced. I gave chapter and verse from the Spanish Government’s statements, which have since been repeated several times. Your reviewer simply ignores all this, no doubt hoping that he has so effectually put people off reading the book that his misrepresentations will pass unnoticed.

I do not expect or wish for ‘good’ reviews, and if your reviewer chooses to use most of his space in expressing his own political opinions, that is a matter between him and yourself. But I think I have a right to ask that when a book of mine is discussed at the length of a column there shall be at least some mention of what I have actually said.

George Orwell

From George Orwell: A Life in Letters. New York: W.W. Norton and Co. (2013), pp. 109-110.

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Orwell’s fiction (and its censorship) in the Spanish literary scene.

Remembering what Orwell was like as as a soldier.