Two of a Kind

From The New York Times:

Orwell This book has a thesis, and it is, on the face of it, a preposterous one: George Orwell = Evelyn Waugh.

Why is this preposterous? Because Orwell and Waugh were, in almost every salient respect, precise opposites. Orwell conjured up the nightmarish dystopia of “1984.” Waugh’s best-known work, “Brideshead Revisited,” was a reverie about a vanished age of Oxford privilege, titled Catholic families, large country houses and fastidious conscience. Orwell was tall, gaunt and self-mortifying, a socialist with an affinity for mineworkers and tramps. Waugh was a short, plump, florid social climber and a proud reactionary who declared, “I do not aspire to advise my sovereign in her choice of servants.” Orwell fought on the loyalist side in the Spanish Civil War. Waugh announced, “If I were a Spaniard I should be fighting for General Franco.” Orwell could tell you how to make a perfect cup of tea or Waugh where the best place was to roast a potato (under the meat). Waugh could give you advice on laying down a wine cellar or dressing like Beau Brummel on a budget. Orwell thought “good prose is like a window pane,” forceful and direct. Waugh was an elaborate stylist whose prose ranged from the dryly ironical to the richly ornamented and rhetorical. Orwell was solitary and fiercely earnest. Waugh was convivial and brutally funny. And, perhaps most important, Orwell was a secularist whose greatest fear was the emergence of Big Brother in this world. Waugh was a Roman Catholic convert whose greatest hope lay with God in the next. Indeed, about the only thing Orwell and Waugh seem to have had in common was the rather boring fact that they were both Englishmen born to middle-class families in 1903.

So what could David Lebedoff be getting at in “The Same Man”? Is he deliberately trafficking in paradox? Is he employing some sort of dialectical magic in which each thing is identical to its opposite?

More here.

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