Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Apropos of Nothing

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Well, I woke up to find Leslie Nielson died–so the day hasn’t started out as well as it could have.

And I’ll just note, re Cheryl’s comment, that I never took up space in my journals trying to figure out the “root causes” of why I was so awful.  I just went on and on about how I was so awful.

I think I don’t do it on the blog because I know most of you would laugh at me.

But this morning I’m a little short for time, and I just want to note one thing.

Yesterday, I finished a book at one of those mental places where I just couldn’t think of what I wanted to read next.  What I did instead was to read an essay called “The Prevention of Literature” by George Orwell that I have in one of those compendium “readers” that contain a few complete essays and lots of excerpts from books.

Compendiums like that are definitely an exception to my compulsive need to finish everything I start.  For one thing, I don’t read abridged versions of anything if I can help it, so I’m not going to read the excerpts from Homage to Catalonia or 1984.  I’ve already read 1984, and if I want to read Homage to Catalonia, I’ll find a copy of the whole thing and read that.

All that being said, “The Prevention of Literature” was what I had expected it to be, a little piece on the sad post-War decline in the quality of English murders was kind of fun, and then I hit the essay on Rudyard Kipling.

This was one of those things I wish was up on the Net so that I could post a link to it.  For one thing, it reminded me that, no matter how useful Orwell has become to anti-Communisits and anti-totalitarians, he always was a writer on the left.  

What makes him more interesting than most writers on the left is the fact that he’s very aware of the kind of intellectual dishonesty this can cause and the way in which “intellectuals” blind themselves.

But the essays is a weird mixture of highbrow leftwing contempt and reluctant admiration, periodically veering into outright condemnation of the people he calls “enlightened”–just like that, with scare quotes–whenever he gets on to them.

And that led me back to my Kipling short story collection, although the essay itself was about Kipling’s poems.

I ended up reading one of the oddest little stories I’ve ever read in my life, called “The House Surgeon,”  and then sort of sitting back, nonplussed.

I’d tell you what it was about, but it’s one of those things–if you know ahead of time what the point is, you’re not going to be nearly as weirded out as if you come to it fresh, and I have a peculiar feeling that getting the reader weirded out is part of the point here.

Or maybe not.  It’s hard to tell.

Let’s just call this my recommendation of the day–no India, no dialogue writing, a straightforward story about rural Britain.

And really, really peculiar.

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Written by janeh

November 29th, 2010 at 6:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Apropos of Nothing'

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  1. I didn’t intend to attribute anything to you – I was just rambling on, and thinking that the people who are most vociferous about the healing effect of journalling also tend to be strong adherents of the view that you can’t improve anything about yourself or your life unless you understand the root causes, where ‘root causes’ inevitably seem to mean some sort of long-ago fault on the part of other people or groups.

    ‘The House Surgeon’ is at:

    Clever title, and nicely atmospheric story, but I’m not sure why you found it so peculiar.


    29 Nov 10 at 7:56 am

  2. I found Orwell’s The Prevention of Literature at


    The format is horrible but I’ll try to read it.

    I have the complete works of Kipling on my Kindle. Amazon considers it as 1 book. Unfortunately its hard to navigate but I did find and enjoy The House Surgeon. I’d call it upper middle class country England rather than rural Britain.


    29 Nov 10 at 6:54 pm

  3. Interesting. I didn’t think I’d left a lot of adult Kipling unread. It reinforces two of my suspicions about him: that he was an uncommonly good listener, and that the domestic English–as opposed to the colonial diaspora–were a somewhat alien race to him.

    As for Orwell’s reaction, the man was in a hard way. He was too honest not to admit Kipling’s gifts, but there are things a non-leftist has to say to be acceptable to the left, and Kipling wasn’t about to say them. Could be worse. Imagine Orwell assessing Tolkien, or Ayn Rand.


    29 Nov 10 at 7:15 pm

  4. Robert, that particular Orwell essay doesn’t mention Kipling. :)


    30 Nov 10 at 12:36 am

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