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This article is taken from PN Review 18, Volume 7 Number 4, March - April 1981.

Still Life Inside the Whale Dudley Young

In 1940 George Orwell wrote a long essay called Inside the Whale, which is arguably still the best single guide to twentieth-century English literature, an exceptionally good piece of prose. Its principal theme was that since the world of politics has passed irrevocably into the hands of knaves and fools, the sooner we learn to ignore it the happier we'll be; and he offers us, strange as it may seem, Henry Miller as the man to follow. The essay's weakness lies in its secularism and its sexlessness, which blinds Orwell to Lawrence's genius above all, but also makes him shortsighted with Miller, and in a different way, Auden. Still, Orwell's house is solidly built: and what I hope to do presently is both to extend it into post-war America and suggest some structural alterations.

In fact my chief concerns are the two subjects Orwell slights: piety and sex. Lawrence, in my view, survives the war with more integrity than any of his contemporaries largely because he has been less damaged in his piety, though the sex is a problem. Auden, of the great talents, arises in the thirties, as a kind of anti-Lawrence, with what looks like cheerfulness and self-respect, but his foundations are suspect: once again, piety and sex. And so to Miller and Mailer, who carry on the Lawrencian heritage. This essay is thus divided into three parts, but its underlying concerns are constant.

What is also at stake is the Americanization of ...


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