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The Rise of the Memoir$
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Alex Zwerdling

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198755784

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198755784.001.0001

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Orwell’s Reticence and the Need to Bear Witness

Orwell’s Reticence and the Need to Bear Witness

(p.83) 4 Orwell’s Reticence and the Need to Bear Witness
The Rise of the Memoir

Alex Zwerdling

Oxford University Press

Orwell’s early work appeared under a pseudonym, revealing nothing about himself. Orwell sacrificed the power to record the shame of his compromised public life yet not only needed to bear witness but to bare his emotional investment. Orwell invented an essay form he called “sketches,” highlighting his complicity in the systems he served—British imperialism, class hierarchy, schooling that used his marginal social status to advance its own agenda. The method produced the groundbreaking essay “Such, Such Were the Joys,” in which the scholarship boy, separated from his family and home at eight, brings glory to his preparatory school by securing entry to Britain’s illustrious public schools, burying the humiliations he endures. This long essay could not be published in Orwell’s lifetime but became a model for a form in which memory is a weapon, revealing the solitude of a childhood deprived of family and the security of home.

Keywords:   bearing witness, guilt, shame, anonymity, unsponsored childhood

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