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The making of literary reputations is as much a reflection of a writer's surrounding culture and politics as it is of the intrinsic quality and importance of his work. The current stature of George Orwell, commonly recognized as the foremost political journalist and essayist of the century, provides a notable instance of a writer whose legacy has been claimed from a host of contending political interests. The exemplary clarity and force of his style, the rectitude of his political judgment along with his personal integrity have made him, as he famously noted of Dickens, a writer well worth stealing. Thus, the intellectual battles over Orwell's posthumous career point up ambiguities in Orwell's own work as they do in the motives of his would-be heirs. John Rodden's George Orwell: The Politics of Literary Reputation, breaks new ground in bringing Orwell's work into proper focus while providing much original insight into the phenomenon of literary fame.
Rodden's intent is to clarify who Orwell was as a writer during his lifetime and who he became after his death. He explores the dichotomies between the novelist and the essayist, the socialist and the anti-communist and the contrast between his day-to-day activities as a journalist and his latter-day elevation to political prophet and secular saint. Rodden's approach is both contextual and textual, analyzing available reception materials on Orwell along with audiences and publications decisive for shaping his reputation. He then offers a detailed historical and biographical interpretation of the reception scene analyzing how and why did individuals and audiences cast Orwell in their own images and how these projected images served their own political needs and aspirations. Examined here are the views of Orwell as quixotic moralist, socialist renegade, anarchist, English patriot, neo-conservative, forerunner of cultural studies, and even media and commercial star. Rodden concludes with a consideration of the meaning of Orwell's life and work for the future.