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Hitchens’s introduction to Orwell’s Diaries

Vanity Fair, which regularly featured pieces by Christopher Hitchens, has published the late author’s introduction to an upcoming volume of George Orwell’s diaries.

I assume some of the contents previously appeared in Orwell’s Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters (including his 1940-1942 wartime diaries), which I hope has a prominent place in every HP reader’s bookshelf . But other parts of it will certainly be new to most readers.

I was pleased to note that something which drew my attention in light of the Occupy movement also caught Hitchens’s eye: namely Orwell’s reaction to a letter to The Telegraph from Lady Oxford in 1940.

Hitchens notes that in his diaries, the (self-defined) lower-upper-middle class Orwell gives vent to some of his prejudices– toward colonial “natives,” toward the “disgusting” habits of working-class people, and toward refugees and Jews. But crucially he adds, “One of the many things that made Orwell so interesting was his self-education away from such prejudices.” Orwell was aware of his prejudices, and he didn’t try to hide them from himself or pretend they didn’t exist; he struggled against them.

Whenever I read one of Orwell’s cringe-inducing comments about Jews, it helps to recall what he wrote in his 1939 essay about his stay Marrakech, Morocco:

As the Jews live in self-contained communities they follow the same trades as the Arabs, except for agriculture. Fruit-sellers, potters, silversmiths, blacksmiths, butchers, leather-workers, tailors, water-carriers, beggars, porters–whichever way you look you see nothing but Jews. As a matter of fact there are thirteen thousand of them, all living in the space of a few acres. A good job Hitler isn’t here. Perhaps he is on his way, however. You hear the usual dark rumours about the Jews, not only from the Arabs but from the poorer Europeans.

“Yes, MON VIEUX, they took my job away from me and gave it to a Jew. The Jews! They’re the real rulers of this country, you know. They’ve got all the money. They control the banks, finance–everything.”

“But,” I said, “isn’t it a fact that the average Jew is a labourer working for about a penny an hour?”

“Ah, that’s only for show! They’re all money-lenders really. They’re cunning, the Jews.”

In just the same way, a couple of hundred years ago, poor old women used to be burned for witchcraft when they could not even work enough magic to get themselves a square meal.