Dennis Glover: The Last Man In Europe


it wasn’t written by a machine, it wasn’t written by history, it was written by a human being with feelings and emotions and human motivations….
Dennis Glover

[The] flesh-and-blood Orwell is not well known. He exists more vividly as a set of ideas and moral positions that can be used to shore up one’s own argument

1984 is so much a part of our mental landscape that it’s easy to imagine that it was “written by history”. It’s hard to come at it with the freshness of new readers. Doublethink, thoughtcrime and Big Brother are just descriptions of how things are, not extreme prophecies of what might come. But 1984 comes alive again in The Last Man In Europe (Orwell’s working title). A Mosley rally is the two minutes hate, a Stalinist poster in Spain gives us the boot stamping on a face forever, a seedy secondhand shop in wartime Britain gives us a notebook of real, silky paper, a rat caught in a trap gives us Winston’s worst fear. And Glover writes in a style Orwell himself would approve of, a strong, unfussy style with no purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally, to use Orwell’s own words (Why I Write).

The world of wartime Britain here is the grimy, pinched backdrop to Smith’s life, and Orwell’s work at the BBC writing broadcasts that were both truthful and untruthful at the same time appears with a horrible logic in the Ministry Of Truth. We see the side of Orwell that loved the world and longed for a Utopian belief, but also the side that could never willingly deceive himself. I must admit I slunk off to bed when I finished this book feeling rather a worm, wishing I had half his moral and intellectual drive.

He’s such a literary lion that we forget Orwell was a relatively young man who had undergone truly terrible treatments for tuberculosis and was mortally ill as he finished the book. He himself wondered if that contributed to its blackness. We see close up just how the work comes from his life, see the uncertainty fighting with his convictions.

The sheer amount of Orwelliana – his own writings and writings about him – you would have thought, didn’t leave much scope for a book about the writing of 1984. But Orwell is the sort of hero we need these days – a man who wanted a “decent” world and who wasn’t fooled by ideology, cant or received ideas. It was such a pleasure to be with him here and to rediscover 1984.

7 thoughts on “Dennis Glover: The Last Man In Europe

  1. I agree that Dennis Glover has given us a very credible and readable portrait of George Orwell. I heard Glover speak about the book a few months ago, and asked him about the dialogue – one place, in such a work, where the writer might feel free to invent. Glover replied that, even in his dialogue, he stuck closely to what Orwell had said, or been reported to have said. This is a very different approach from others who have ‘fictionalised’ important historical figures.

    1. Yes, I was impressed by his focus on the known details, and I think that’s one of the reasons the books feels so grounded. You never feel that he’s embroidering.

  2. Do you think that more was revealed about Orwell by the use of a fictionalised account of his life and writing? ( The review made me look for my copy of Down and Out in Paris and London. Alas, nowhere to be found.)

    1. There was a lot that was new to me, about his first wife Eileen O’Shaugnessy and the background story about his time in Spain. And the detail of his TB treatment, really harrowing. It is obviously all on the record in biographies and in his letters but this puts it all together.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s