THREE AMUSING ESSAYS FROM GEORGE ORWELL
George Orwell is well-known for his more serious works, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), and Animal Farm (1945). He is also well-known as an essayist; his essay Poetry and the Microphone is an incredible commentary on the modern world and its changing relation to poetry.
Orwell has been known to the common man for works that invoke thought about governing systems, politics, language, antisemitism, nationalism, and war. He writes frankly and straightforwardly about his chosen subject, whether in the form of a novel or an essay. The simple diction of the narrative-style essays, however, does not take away from Orwell’s power of elucidation and on-point communication. His writing is embellished with everyman metaphors, giving an indication of a profound understanding and love for his local culture.
However, today’s focus is not Orwell’s literary essays, but rather those whose subjects I personally found intriguing and amusing. (A tiny thing to note: this is not to say that these subjects are inconsequential, or treated in an amusing manner by Orwell. I’m not particularly focusing on authorial intentions here.)
#1: A Nice Cup of Tea
The essay, A Nice Cup of Tea, published in the Evening Standard in 1946, speaks about…you guessed it! Tea!
In this decently long essay, Orwell recommends his personal recipe for tea with, as he proclaims, “no fewer than 11 outstanding points.”
He proceeds to lay out eleven rules for the reader, staging his tea-related icks as he goes. Over the course of the essay, he admits to being a cauldron-made tea hater, a tea bag hater, a flat cup hater, a milk cream hater, and worst of all — a sugar hater!
Towards the end of the essay, he discusses social conventions surrounding tea, such as:
the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tea leaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet.
#2: Some Thoughts on the Common Toad
The essay was published in Tribune in 1946, and it’s looking so far like Orwell was having fun branching out his areas of interest in writing this year. However, the essay, which begins with a description of the common toad, takes on a more philosophical tone towards the middle, revealing Orwell’s sentiments towards the toads, and what they symbolise.
What I found amusing was Orwell’s description of the toad:
…The toad has a very spiritual look, like a strict Anglo-Catholic towards the end of Lent. His movements are languid but purposeful, his body is shrunken, and by contrast his eyes look abnormally large.
There is a further interesting and deep narration of the toad’s mating cycle. And while it makes for an entertaining subject, the focus of the narrative shifts. Orwell says that he finds the common toad interesting because “the toad, unlike the skylark and the primrose, has never had much of a boost from poets.”
It’s a heartfelt thought that makes you pause. Orwell then goes on to talk about the toad and its significance to the season of spring. He expresses that he now cherishes spring even more after the devastation that the war caused, and how hopeless spring was, despite being called the season of miracles.
Orwell then lays down a question about his subject to the reader (though it is more of a rhetoric question), asking if it is not politically reprehensible to point out that life is worth living because of the beauty of natural phenomena rather than what people apparently ought to be doing, which is groaning under the weight of capitalism.
The gist of the essay can be summed up in Orwell’s own words:
I think that by retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and – to return to my first instance – toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable, and that by preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader worship.
#3: In Defense of English Cooking
In Defense of English Cooking was published in 1945 in the Evening Standard. It’s a pretty passionate note about the hindrances that have limited people from experiencing the wonders of English cooking. The reason why it’s amusing to me is because I came across the first few paragraphs of this essay as an out-of-context passage in school. I didn’t know who wrote it, and I had a good laugh in the middle of my exam wondering who could be this passionate about cooking.
One paragraph, in particular, reminded me of Mr. Collins from the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice:
Then there are the various ways of cooking potatoes that are peculiar to our own country. Where else do you see potatoes roasted under the joint, which is far and away the best way of cooking them? Or the delicious potato cakes that you get in the north of England? And it is far better to cook new potatoes in the English way — that is, boiled with mint and then served with a little melted butter or margarine — than to fry them as is done in most countries.
However, Orwell’s love towards his local culture comes through in their piece in the form of a light subject, which is nonetheless very important towards the experience of any region’s culture.
Orwell writes about diverse subjects in an expressive manner, and even if they draw a laugh out of you at first, all of these essays have underlying profound messages that ultimately make you reflect on deeper subjects.
If you’re interested in reading more of Orwell’s works, visit the Orwell Foundation Website!
ABOUT THE BLOGGER
Mrunal Rajadhyaksha is a student currently studying English Literature in Ruia College. She is passionate about reading, art and history, and the sea. She plays the guitar as a hobby.