The Proletarian Writer | George Orwell Novels

Hawkins: Still, I think one must admit that the cult of proletarian literature — whether the theory is right or not — has had some effect. Look at writers like James Hanley, for instance, or Jack Hilton, or Jack Common. They have something new to say – something at any rate that could not quite be said by anyone who had the ordinary middle-class upbringing. Of course there was a tremendous amount of cant about proletarian literature in the years after the Slump, when Bloomsbury went all Marxist, and Communism became fashionable. But the thing had really started earlier. I should say it started just before the last war, when Ford Madox Ford, the editor of the English Review, met D. H. Lawrence and saw in him the portent of a new class finding expression in literature. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers really did break new ground. It recorded a kind of experience that simply had not got into print before. And yet it was an experience that had been shared by millions of people. The question is why it had never been recorded earlier. Why would you say there had been no books like Sons and Lovers before that time?

Orwell: I think it is simply a matter of education. After all, though Lawrence was the son of a coal miner he had had an education that was not very different from that of the middle class. He was a university graduate, remember. Before a certain date — roughly speaking, before the nineties, when the Education Act began to take effect — very few genuine proletarians could write: that is, write with enough facility to produce a book or a story. On the other hand the professional writers knew nothing about proletarian life. One feels this even with a really radical writer like Dickens. Dickens does not write about the working class; he does not know enough about them. He is for the working class, but he feels himself completely different from them — far more different than the average middle-class person would feel nowadays.

 

via The Proletarian Writer | George Orwell Novels.

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