The beginning of a Journal is a difficult task. It takes a great deal of courage and even greater amount of talent to be able to write diaries, when written honestly. Journals are a great way to get a good start into a literary journey if only one could gather enough courage and is blessed with talent to tolerate the mundane realism of life. You need a sharp pen and thick skin to get down writing a readable journal. It can be a starting point for a writer. You can use the real to reach out to imaginary. Not all diaries become The Orwell Diaries or The Notebook of Samuel Butler, Autobiography of Anthony Trollope or that of Mark Twain. Some are propelled by the honesty and courage of the writer to expose him or herself to public scrutiny and ridicule, but mostly, these memoirs are made memorable by the immense talent that goes into writing them.
Journals tell the world your point of view with a rare honesty. You have, of course, written them without knowing or intending that they will someday be read. This is where the demarcation between the public and private position of the author on various issues melts and merges into one. Journals look back mostly at the recent past and allows the inherent way with words that the author has be exploited and make him look wiser than he really is. But then, they also make him look sillier than he really is if his lies are caught. A smart writer of journal travels through the truth telling with a skillful skirting of opinion. He does not make an opinion, does not posit, he merely states, or at least, pretends to.
George Orwell’s diaries (in all eleven of them covering the period 1931-1949) are similarly descriptive and do not eminently attempts to take a position. Even when he speaks about the Jews outnumbering the rest in the tube, Christopher Hitchens suggests that the writer merely attempts to objectively state a fact, and is not prejudiced. The simplicity and sparseness of style makes one believe Hitchens. Even when the writer at certain occasion makes a comment on the general state of being around him for instance, “..I don’t think an intelligent man can be consistently cheerful these days”, there is some attempt to escape the attention of the reader in spite of the universality and profundity of the statement.
One cannot help but notice a keen eye which notices the truth which hides beneath the labyrinth of pretense and hypocrisy which plagues the society as much today as it did in the 1930s. For instance, the statement, “…beyond a certain point (therefore) Socialism and Capitalism are not easy to distinguish, the state and the capitalist tending to merge into one” – a lament as true and as common today as it was then. Truth has this inherent capacity to transcend time, it survives time. In fact, the eternal existence of truth is the measure of its veracity. That is what denotes the strength of a Journal, its honesty, not its style. Orwell’s diary doesn’t work on emotions like say, Paul Aster’s Winter Journal; it plays on truth, stark and glorious (not to say, that an emotional diary doesn’t have its charm, it does, in fact Paul Auster mesmerizes with his emotive narrative). It is not an introspective style of diary writing. It doesn't dwell into the inside of his own minds and feelings, it doesn’t brood in melancholy. It is an outward-looking writing which keenly observes the world around him with rare objectivity. He mentions painstakingly his statement of account and the miles he walked in the day (also the recipe of fruit loaf attributed to Mrs Searle). Truth is strikingly attractive when it is without pretense. He writes, “Women are allowed to do all the housework unaided, even when the man is unemployed, and it is always the man who sits in the comfortable chair” and in its plainness and factual nature, it hits home the truth better than any complicated essay on gender equality.
The diary is a social commentary of the times Orwell lived in. The truth he writes stays true even today. “A working man always feels himself the slave of a more or less mysterious authority” which would hit home any working man even today, though it would be hard to perfectly define the boundaries between a middle-class and working man that Orwell refers to in today’s world of knowledge worker as they overlap into each other. Sometimes the diaries gets too dreary to keep the interest of reader captivated but then one needs to sift through cabbages and eggs and potatoes (his domestic diaries which are the one’s made most popular through online blog being run by Orwell Prize, beginning on 9th of August, 1938) do become tiresome, for the egg is an egg even if they were laid by George Orwell’s Moroccan hens) to discover the grim optimism of war time in his war-time diaries. His writings turn political here, from the social commentary of the road to Wigan pier. These diaries without attempting to aggrandize the war offer a peek into the mind of common citizens as they wait for impending calamities and rare hope of peace, sometime ahead in their lives. He is tired of war, critical of leaders and saddened by the megalomania wrapped in patriotism and faux-nationalism but still hopes and writes, “I have so much to live for, in spite of poor health and having no children.” There is a general disgust of war and the dilettante decision-makers, the rabble-rousers- the media, responsible for the war being thrust on hapless citizens which reflects in his writing for instance, when he quotes from Homage to Catalonia, “One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting..; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front-line trench..” The matter is even more relevant today with armchair pundits advocating war on twitter and Facebook. This is a journal which does not for a minute, pretends to be an autobiography, being too unemotional, too sparse and too objective to qualify as one. But it is the same laconic dryness which makes it interesting and even interesting at places while one wades through the mundane and counts the eggs hatched by Orwell’s Moroccan hens. We lesser mortals can only look in awe at Orwell’s Moroccan hens just as we are charmed by Mr. Eliot’s cats.
This post celebrates Orwell Diaries which starts today, though in year 1938. The same is being preserved in a blog format by Orwell Prize society which proclaims to be working towards transforming political writing into art.The Orwell Diaries