Bernard Crick

Bernard Crick is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, London. At the beginning of the summer he gave the first George Orwell Memorial Lecture, sponsored by Penguin Books, at the University of London’s Extra-Mural Department. ‘Orwell and Biography’ is a shortened version of this lecture.

Orwell and Biography

Bernard Crick, 7 October 1982

The word ‘biography’ can create as many different expectations as the word ‘Orwell’. It can mean a memorial or a panegyric, it can mean a hatchet job, it can simply mean a good read (Wyndham Lewis once said that good biographies are like novels); or it can mean something scholarly, academic, definitive: a dull attempt to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – as far as that is possible. I have no wish to say that popular biography cannot be truthful. I merely point to the paradox that the popular biographer himself does not know if he is being truthful, unless somebody else has, not sketched a character, but done the hard graft of long and patient factual investigation into the circumstances and events of a life. Strictly speaking, a truthful popular biography can only be a simplified and shortened version of an existing scholarly biography, just as all school history books are taken from academic monographs. I am proud that my life of Orwell is already being recycled and usefully plagiarised in this way, especially by people who seem to have a greater intuitive grasp of his ‘essential character’ than I have, though they are civil enough to praise my capacity for hard work.

In one sense, nothing has changed. As we move into the Era of Foot, the Labour Party remains what it always was: a coalition of trade unions, working-class institutions and middle-class intellectuals (or men and women who have become middle-class by rising up).

Letter

He Needs Help

23 March 1995

Can your readers help me? Perhaps, growing old, I can no longer take things in as well as I was once able. Bill Johnson I never agree with but can always understand, whereas I always know I ought to agree with Tom Nairn (or else I would lose the respect of all my Scottish friends), but I cannot always grasp quite what he is saying. So may I offer a prize of one hundred pounds worth of new books (left...
Letter

Ideologues

20 February 1986

SIR: Peter Pulzer (LRB, 20 February) objects to Bryan Gould MP using Rawls in his Socialism and Freedom in the context of a case for Labour. Rawls’s ‘objective morality’ is, he points out, liberal. He generously allows that some of the Labour Party may follow Rawls’s prescriptions on liberty – he mentions the Leader and Deputy Leader – but are the others, he hints,...
Letter

Labour’s Programme

22 January 1981

SIR: George Watson (Letters, 19 February) has deconstructed my text too far. I wasn’t asking for decades or generations for the Labour Party to think out ‘what the sacred name of socialism means’. In fact, I think it has a fair idea of what it means. I was beseeching them to realise that the transformation of Britain into a democratic socialist society would take that long. Such a...

Pow-Wow

Mary Beard, 26 October 1989

If you want to see the cutting edge of Thatcherism, go to Basingstoke. There, as we learn in Paul Hirst’s After Thatcher, the local council (careful, no doubt, with its ratepayers’...

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Plain English

Denis Donoghue, 20 December 1984

Orwell took little care of his manuscripts. He didn’t anticipate that collectors of such things would pay real money for them, and that universities would think it a privilege to turn a...

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The Essential Orwell

Frank Kermode, 22 January 1981

Professor Crick’s subject is important and his research has evidently been diligent. We now know a lot more about Orwell than we did, and the increment of knowledge is not always trivial....

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