Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Shared Literary Vision

The Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in Love and WarThe Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in Love and War 
by David Lebedoff

"They would always lead completely different lives. But they both would devote those lives to writing. And though they wrote for different readers and in different voices, they left us a shared vision of their own time, and ours." (p xv)

Lebedoff takes the reader on a well researched, quick but sufficient journey through the lives and ideas of his two subjects, and in its biographical endeavors, the book succeeds admirably. However, Lebedoff's analysis lacks depth. The last chapter contains a list of comparisons between the two. The greatest enemy they saw was, as Waugh put it, "the Modern Age in arms." They hated totalitarianism with a passion but saw that even if totalitarianism was defeated, civilization as they knew it would remain in danger. Lebedoff writes: "What both believed—their core, who they were—was that individual freedom mattered more than anything else on earth and reliance on tradition was the best way to maintain it." But reliance on tradition and a belief in objective reality and objective truth was in decline. They also shared a trust in the common sense of the common man against the condescension of an upper-middle class. He ends his catalogue of ideological similarities: "It was in the freedom and courage to choose one's own life that Orwell and Waugh were most nearly the same". That their lives were deliberately chosen is the most valuable legacy that both offer to us now, in our own so-busy time."biographical endeavors, the book succeeds admirably.
Both writers saw the need for man to believe in a moral code, but Orwell thought he could have morality without religion . He wrote to Waugh that he liked Brideshead except for "hideous faults on the surface," one of these being the book's Catholic themes. But Waugh did not believe that morality would last without faith. For him, the days of spending Christianity's cultural and moral capital without embracing its creeds were coming to a swift end.
David Lebedoff's The Same Man is strongest when it tells the story of Waugh's and Orwell's lives, and useful when it shows the similarity of their critiques of modern society. Though exactly opposite in their beliefs about the root of the matter—Orwell chose this world, Waugh the next—the two men respected one another highly, perhaps in part because of their striking similarities. Both had willed themselves into being as writers and had consciously constructed personas. Orwell was the socialist proletarian whose Etonian accent and manner always gave him away, and Waugh was the country squire, whom few would ever mistake for a real aristocrat. Lebedoff’s project in his book is to explore this seeming paradox: Despite standing in the starkest opposition to each other in some respects, Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell were in other respects the same man.

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