Orwell, Freud, and 1984
George Orwell and Sigmund Freud seem mutually uncongenial figures in intellectual history. In print Orwell rarely referred to the founder of psychoanalysis. According to his friend Geoffrey Gorer, Orwell regarded psychoanalysis with mild hostility, putting it somewhat on a par with Christian Science. Another friend, Sir Richard Rees, had no recollection of Orwell's ever once mentioning Freud's name, and considered this an aspect of Orwell's "psychological incuriosity." Orwell's first wife Eileen had a little training in the academic psychology of the late 1920's and early 1930's. Even though some eminent English intellectuals were psychoanalysts in that period, Orwell evidently had no contact with them nor any interest in their subject. On the other side of the kinship that I should like to explore, Freud in all likelihood never heard of Orwell. Freud's taste did not include many of the most illustrious 20th-century writers and artists. In his last years Freud liked to relax with a good mystery story and relished in particular Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express.Orwell also enjoyed detective stories, and he wrote about some of their implications and source of appeal. His novels that appeared in Freud's lifetime were narrowly read and artististically not unconventional; it is Orwell's masterpiece 1984, published in 1949, ten years after Freud's death, that retains its uncanny, horrifying—and one might say its Freudian—air. The Freud of history was a bourgeois gentleman. The commercial imagery of his writings reflects the declassed poverty of his youth and the middle-class character of his strivings: Freud wrote in terms of psychological "compensations," mental "balances," "investments," "expenditures," "depreciation," "speculators" and "speculations," "amortization," "transfer," "loss," and even spoke of "leasing" an analytic hour. Freud also was a bit of a snob, excessively admiring the wealth and position of someone like his disciple the Princess George, Marie Bonaparte, who was a direct descendant of Napoleon's brother Lucien. Orwell on his part made the most strenuous effort to break away from the class system of his society. He even sought to find out what it was like at the utmost bottom of the social pyramid. Going down and out in Paris and London hardly corresponded to either Freud's ambitions or his conception of himself. Freud conceived his role as a scientist, and he rarely lost sight of the need to systematize his ideas into a comprehensive framework. Although he might seek newspaper reviews of his books, he disdained writing for the popular press. Once in 1920, as his royalties in the United States began to mount, Freud volunteered through an American nephew, a public relations specialist, to write four articles for a New York magazine.Cosmopolitan then offered $1,000 for the first piece, but rejected Freud's suggested title, substituting its own topic. Freud was horrified at what he saw as the dictatorship of a crass and uncultivated society and drew back with shock at the venture. As his authorized biographer Ernest Jones commented about Freud's "stinging" letter of refusal to his relative, some of Freud's "indignation emanated from feeling a little ashamed of himself at having descended from his usual standards by proposing to earn money through writing popular articles." Unlike Freud, Orwell had no medical practice to rely on; he was an immensely hard-working journalist who sometimes had to do hack work. Orwell came to think that it was relatively easy to live by means of journalism although his book royalties, until the end of his life, remained meagre. Orwell once defined a regular book reviewer as anyone who reviews at least one hundred books a year. Orwell's vision was a sustained one, yet he was not a systematic thinker. Freud and Orwell had their respective missions in life, but Orwell's had a specifically political aim. As a Socialist, he was...
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