Spain made all the difference. Describing in 1946 his own evolution as writer and as political man, George Orwell commented that he had been confused and uncertain until about 1935, but “the Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood.”
Before going to Barcelona and impulsively joining the militia of the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista), Orwell had experienced poverty and had used it as the main theme of his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London, but he had made his adventures into literature rather light-heartedly. The impoverished men and women of the rue du Coq d’Or are portrayed as a curious collection of rogues and scamps, each with a story and a part to play, like characters from Dickens. Orwell had been quite able, in 1933, to describe the dismal hardships he endured and to transform them into picaresque episodes. Detailing his experiences as a dishwasher, he remarked upon the wall separating dining room from kitchen: “There sat the customers in all their splendor—spotless table-cloths, bowls of flowers, mirrors and gilt cornices and painted cherubim; and here, just a few feet away, we in our disgusting filth.” There was then, however, apparently no desire to smash down the wall. In Homage to Catalonia, Orwell wrote, “A fat man eating quails while children are begging for bread is a disgusting sight, but you are less likely to see it when you are within sound of the guns.” There is a world of d...
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