August 23, 2019


THE CATHOLIC WHO KNEW ORWELL (John P. Rossi,  Spring 2019, Modern Age)

An overarching theme of Hollis's estimate of Orwell is that, despite his atheism, he was essentially a moralist, and there was a religious sensibility to him and his writings, the same kind of meaning that Hollis himself was searching for when he became a Catholic. Hollis believed that Orwell's thought rested on a subconscious Christian foundation. What makes Hollis's study unusual is that despite his own deep Catholic belief, he is able to look beyond Orwell's anti-Catholicism and find what he called "a naturally Christian soul." Some commentators on Orwell have argued that Hollis is responsible for trying to press-gang the author of The Clergyman's Daughter into the Catholic camp, what Christopher Hitchens called "the body snatching of Orwell." In a review of Hollis's book, Kingsley Amis observed that Hollis "cannot resist drawing Orwell in his own image." Indeed, the book at times reads as a dual biography, as Hollis carries on an argument with Orwell about religious and spiritual matters, explaining away his atheism and translating their differences into agreement.

Hollis's portrait of Orwell as some kind of crypto-Christian has outraged scholars, but it contributed to the posthumous canonization of Orwell as a kind of secular "St. George." What gave this view some validity was Orwell's belief that religion might be without value but its collapse left a gap to be filled. Hollis noted that Orwell had written that one of "the major problems of our time is the decay of the belief in personal immortality." As the latest scholar on Orwell's religious sensibility, Michael Brennan, has written in George Orwell and Religion, he "simply could not leave religion alone, not only in his private correspondence and notebooks but also in his published fiction, journalism and reviews."

Seeing Orwell in his own image, Hollis argues that Orwell resembled the kind of old-fashioned conservative for whom tradition, decency, patriotism, and love of nature were important. Hollis believes Orwell shared his own view that despaired of modern "Conservatives because they despaired of Conservatism." Hollis was on to something. Orwell, while a political radical, was a traditionalist in cultural matters. His idols Dickens, Poe, and Swift were hardly avant-garde.

To think otherwise one has to have not read him.

Posted by at August 23, 2019 12:26 AM