chapter  9
George Orwell: myth and counter-myth
Pages 24

T. S. Eliot's great creative decade as an essayist (from "Tradition and the Individual Talent" in 1919 to "Dante" in 1929) roughly coincided with the 1920s. For George Orwell, the equivalent decade was the 1940s (Hazlitt's was the 1820s; perhaps essayists peak in the decade in which they turn forty). Apart from five brief "documentary" pieces from "The Spike" (1931) to "Marrakech" (1939), Orwell's major achievement in the essay runs from "Charles Dickens" in 1939 to "Writers and Leviathan" in 1948, inc1uding autobiographical and critical essays as well as pieces on literature, culture, and society and their interrelations. This period coincides with the hiatus in Orwell' s career as a novelist between Coming Up For Air (1939) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949); during these ten years the only fiction he wrote was the fable Animal Farm (1945). The effect of the war years and their immediate aftermath was c1early to make the essay his main form of expression, and his production in it certainly bears the pressure of the time and its issues. However, Orwell did not write documentary prose ab out the war; his work in that genre (including The Road to Wigan Pier) belongs to the 1930s.