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Orwell is best known for "Animal Farm" and "1984," Waugh for "Brideshead Revisited" and comic novels like "Scoop" and "Vile Bodies." However different they may seem, these two towering figures of twentieth-century literature are linked for the first time in this engaging and unconventional biography, which goes beyond the story of their amazing lives to reach the core of their beliefs-a shared vision that was startlingly prescient about our own troubled times.
Both Waugh and Orwell were born in 1903, into the same comfortable stratum of England's class-obsessed society. But at first glance they seem to have lived opposite lives. Waugh married into the high aristocracy, writing hilarious novels that captured the amoral time between the wars. He converted to Catholicism after his wife's infidelity and their divorce. Orwell married a moneyless student of Tolkien's who followed him to Barcelona, where he fought in the Spanish Civil War. She saved his life there-twice-but her own fate was tragic.
Waugh and Orwell would meet only once, as the latter lay dying of tuberculosis, yet as "The Same Man" brilliantly shows, in their life and work both writers rebelled against a modern world run by a privileged, sometimes brutal, few. Orwell and Waugh were almost alone among their peers in seeing what the future-our time-would bring, and they dedicated their lives to warning us against what was coming: a world of material wealth but few values, an existence without tradition or community or common purpose, where lives are measured in dollars, not sense. They explained why, despite prosperity, so many people feel that our society is headed in the wrong direction. David Lebedoff believes that we need both Orwell and Waugh now more than ever.
Unique in its insights and filled with vivid scenes of these two fascinating men and their tumultuous times, "The Same Man" is an amazing story and an original work of literary biography.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 42.
- Review Date: 2008-06-16
- Reviewer: Staff
For those wearied by doorstop biographies, this lean and urbane dual portrait is a breath of fresh air. As lawyer and writer Lebedoff (Cleaning Up) makes clear, on the surface no two British writers could be more different. Evelyn Waugh was a loud convert to Catholicism, an even louder social climber and very much a man of Empire. George Orwell (Eric Blair) could best be described as a long-suffering atheistic humanist, a utopian socialist and dreamer. Waugh succeeded early; Orwell was an obscure polemicist until his masterpieces Animal Farm and 1984, which were written at the end of his life. But both men were born the same year (1903) and came from the same class. They admired each other's writing and moral courage, says Lebedoff, and finally met six months before the bed-ridden Orwell's death in 1950. Both men, the author says, rejected not only the immorality of dictators in their own time but the moral relativism they foresaw in the future. Aside from a slightly rambling chapter of summation, Lebedoff nimbly compares and contrasts the lives and art of these literary titans. 8 pages of photos. (Aug. 5)
As alike as chalk and cheese
The writings of George Orwell (Animal Farm) and Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisited) engaged and electrified international audiences in the first half of the 20th century. In that, these British literary lionseach with decidedly different lifestylesare similar. Writer David Lebedoff (Cleaning Up) uncovers deeper similarities in The Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in Love and War, a refreshing dual biography that compares and contrasts the lives and works of these authors, both of whom held the same (dim) views of totalitarianism, morality and the future of our modern world.
At a glance, the lives of George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh seem no more alike than chalk is to cheese. Though both were born in 1903 England into the same social class, their paths diverged as they were educated, grew to manhood against a background of world war, and pursued their literary callings (meeting only once). During his boarding school days, the sensitive Orwell was cruelly bullied (torture he later chronicled in the essay "Such, Such Were the Joys"). Waugh had a brash lineage (his grandfather's nickname was "The Brute"), and was a schoolboy bully who would later habitually torment both friend and foe alike. Orwell, a socialist and atheist, chose a hard life of near poverty. Waugh, a conservative and an ardent Catholic convert, was an unabashed social climber who courted the moneyed, aristocratic echelons of British society. Waugh lived into his 60s, gaining early success as a writer; Orwell's writings remained fairly obscure until shortly before his death at age 46.
The conceit of examining opposites to excavate similarities has driven many classic tales, and it is employed with deft honesty here, despite Lebedoff's effusive fondness for these authors. The Same Man is a first-rate read, an adroit portrait of two prescient thinkers who feared, with the steady upward and so-called progress of the Modern Age, our collective fall into "a bottomless abyss." Enlivened by Lebedoff's trenchant observations of the authors' inner and outer worlds, it is pulled down slightly by the final chapter, which strays occasionally into unfocused conjecture irrelevant to this biography's worthy premise.
Alison Hood plans to re-read Animal Farm and Brideshead Revisited before summer's end.