The writings of George Orwell (Animal Farm) and Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisited) engaged and electrified international audiences in the first half of the 20th century. In that, these British literary lions - each with decidedly different lifestyles - are similar. Writer David Lebedoff (Cleaning Up) uncovers deeper similarities in The Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in Love and War, a refreshing dual biography that compares and contrasts the lives and works of these authors, both of whom held the same (dim) views of totalitarianism, morality and the future of our modern world.

At a glance, the lives of George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh seem no more alike than chalk is to cheese. Though both were born in 1903 England into the same social class, their paths diverged as they were educated, grew to manhood against a background of world war, and pursued their literary callings (meeting only once). During his boarding school days, the sensitive Orwell was cruelly bullied (torture he later chronicled in the essay "Such, Such Were the Joys"). Waugh had a brash lineage (his grandfather's nickname was "The Brute"), and was a schoolboy bully who would later habitually torment both friend and foe alike. Orwell, a socialist and atheist, chose a hard life of near poverty. Waugh, a conservative and an ardent Catholic convert, was an unabashed social climber who courted the moneyed, aristocratic echelons of British society. Waugh lived into his 60s, gaining early success as a writer; Orwell's writings remained fairly obscure until shortly before his death at age 46.

The conceit of examining opposites to excavate similarities has driven many classic tales, and it is employed with deft honesty here, despite Lebedoff's effusive fondness for these authors. The Same Man is a first-rate read, an adroit portrait of two prescient thinkers who feared, with the steady upward and so-called progress of the Modern Age, our collective fall into "a bottomless abyss." Enlivened by Lebedoff's trenchant observations of the authors' inner and outer worlds, it is pulled down slightly by the final chapter, which strays occasionally into unfocused conjecture irrelevant to this biography's worthy premise.

Alison Hood plans to re-read Animal Farm and Brideshead Revisited before summer's end.

comments powered by Disqus