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When I described The Wind in the Willows as about the only book that adults as well as children can read with equal satisfaction, in which the protagonists are animals, I was drawing a contrast mainly with fables. I was implying, perhaps not entirely correctly, that adults would not derive as much satisfaction from fables as children. Conversely, the writer who perhaps made the most effective transition to the world after the Second World War, wrote a book involving animals which was emphatically intended for adults. Children who read it, often as a prescribed text, are in effect being treated as apprentices in the world of politics and social criticism.

I refer to Animal Farm, the allegory about Soviet Communism with which George Orwell made his name in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. He was a strange man, and a strange writer, an Etonian with deep resentment of the British ruling class, a socialist who seemed to look down on the workers and was accused of claiming that ‘the working classes smell’.

The accusation was by the Daily Worker, the communist party newspaper, and arose from the bitter infighting that had overtaken the left, following the split between Stalin and Trotsky in the Soviet Union. Orwell had seen this in its most dramatic form during the Spanish Civil War, when he had gone out to support the Republican forces, and found that their internal rivalries allowed the Fascist forces easy triumphs. He wrote about this in Homage to Catalonia, which was not a success, perhaps because when it was published, in 1938, the dangers of fascism loomed large, and the minutiae of the problems in Spain were of less importance.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

September 2010
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