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Becoming George Orwell: Life and Letters, Legend and Legacy

Princeton Univ. Jul. 2019. 264p. notes. index. ISBN 9780691182742. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780691190129. LIT
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Rodden (Univ. of Texas; The Cambridge Companion to George Orwell) here updates George Orwell: The Politics of Literary Reputation and Scenes from an Afterlife: The Legacy of George Orwell with the intent to separate Orwell (1903–50) the writer from the posthumous literary icon. Rodden briefly introduces the author's life and works, then delves into his enduring relevance, citing the renewed interest in 1984 following the election of Donald Trump. Although Rodden is frequently repetitious, there is much to recommend here. Writing at length about Orwell's famous essay "A Hanging," he examines the unexpected embrace of Orwell by the Catholic Church; the similarities among Orwell, Albert Camus, and now-obscure French writer Jean Malaquais; the early commercial successes of Animal Farm and 1984 (crediting a 1954 BBC TV version); and reflects on his own study of "reputation history" and personal relationship to Orwell. As a self-described "recovering utopian" in tune with his subject's utopian skepticism, Rodden's outlook on democratic socialism will resonate with our current political environment.
VERDICT Anyone with an interest in Orwell will appreciate Rodden's insights and reflections. Young scholars will do well to heed his suggestion for further research on Orwell's connections to Asia.

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