The Orwell Society visits the Orwell Weekend at Letchworth

One of the questions that never seem to be asked when it comes to George Orwell is what we should DO as a result of reading this great writer, writes Peter Cordwell. Maybe nothing. Or maybe adopt some kind of pro-activity in one area of life or another that we think Orwell might applaud.

As wonderful as his words are, he himself was undoubtedly a doer, a get up and goer – up north, down mines, into battles – and the last thing he would have wanted, in my opinion, was to be the subject solely of talking shops. Perhaps his wish not to have a biography was even partly due to his not wanting to be a pet of the chirping classes.

These thoughts (for what they’re worth) came to me after attending the George Orwell Weekend held in Letchworth Garden City between September 20-23. My friend Tim and I could only attend the launch evening debate – ‘Poverty Then and Now – Orwell and His Successors’. The debate was arranged by the Orwell Prize and well chaired by its operations manager, Katriona Lewis, and what impressed me about the panel of four was how they were each involved in “doing” something about the inequalities of today – Orwell’s successors indeed.

Stephen Armstrong, one of our members, retraced Orwell’s steps in ‘The Road to Wigan Pier Revisited’ and spoke passionately about the need to fight the new breed of poverty that’s sweeping the country; Jacqueline Crooks runs Befriend A Family, which works with children living with poverty in Westminster – yes, Westminster; Gavin Knight wrote ‘Hood Rat’ about ganglife and its roots in poverty; and Dr Michael Sayeau, an Orwell Archives trustee at UCL, brought all the discussion back to Orwell and his take on poverty, “how easily that minimum could be attained if we chose to set our minds to it for only 20 years!”

Letchworth is hardly an SWP hotbed (are they still going?) and it looked for a while as if the panel might outnumber the audience, but 70-odd suddenly turned up, avidly read the first Orwell Society newsletter handed out by the bouncy bloke in the Denholm Elliott strides, and showed in their points and questions that they cared and were ready to do something about it. What that might be we’ll probably never know, but two days later at Sainsbury’s in Lee Green I was greeted by three volunteers promoting foodbanks and parcels. Food parcels in 2012! The year we celebrate out global togetherness at the Olympic and Paralympic Games? Google food parcels and you’ll see all kinds of schemes all over the country.

The Orwell Society, quite rightly, has no political allegiances, but as individuals who believe in the core of his ideas and passions, we must do what we can about poverty and its causes.
We should ask ourselves: what would George make of it… and what would he DO?

Peter Cordwell


5 thoughts on “The Orwell Society visits the Orwell Weekend at Letchworth

  1. I disagree completely with the idea that the Society, that must be unpolitical, should be ‘doing something’ about poverty.
    FREEDOM is more important than ALLEGED SOCIAL GOODS, as Herbert Spencer pointed out years ago. Once we start running people’s lives for them in the name of ‘social justice’, we are well on the way to Airstrip One…


  2. I don’t think there is a suggestion here that the Society should be in any way active in fighting causes. For me this article resonates with my own personal philosophy. After being enlightened by Wigan Pier and Selected Essays I found it hard for myself to justify some of the personal decisions I had made in life, I’ve decided not to work for certain companies at a considerable financial loss to myself and have actively taken up more charity work.


  3. Surely what one should do after (as far as possible) reading Orwell’s oeuvre is to persevere in standing by one’s own perception of the truth, in spite of whatever -ism may currently hold sway, possibly even at the risk of our own jobs and livelihoods. Just as Orwell himself did.

    One can’t say it too often.



  4. I agree with Bill and Denis (unsurprisingly) and think this particular angle is all about being pro-active, reactive or remaining plonked on the sofa. You either live this life or you don’t. In the mid-70s I spent a lot of time in Finland and have been in touch with Finnish friends ever since. What’s amazing about the Finns is how shy they are. There’s no cure for this shyness, the Finnish blues, brought on by the darkness that clouds their lives. They drink not to forget but to remember the light. This very week I got a short email from my dear friend Kai-Pekka Laitinen that included “writing from the dead of night – waiting for the Sunlight.”
    I think that Orwell’s uniqueness has a similar effect on his “fans”. His brains and bravery can cause a kind of diffidence or, conversely, an over-educated detachment. He, as with the Finnish night, is too much for us – and we lived with reserve long before he turned up!
    When we planned the show at Greenwich Theatre I was asked for the title. ‘One Georgie Orwell’ was chosen for that reason, to smash through the reserve. I love the man. Do you?


    • I will be in London on oct20 for the demonstration against cuts in public expenditure. I do not see that as a political act, but a statement in support of a fairer society, something I am sure George Orwell would whole heartily endorse. Talk about self sacrifice I will be missing my beloved Charlton FC play.See some of you there.


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