Thursday, 29 January 2009

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

The writer George Orwell spent the first part of 1937 in Spain fighting against the Fascists who were attempting to overthrow the government. His memoir, Homage to Catalonia, describes the fighting he took part in as well as the boredom of waiting for action to start, and he also describes the confusion of the times. Despite contemporary newspaper reports it was not simply a case of democracy versus fascism: many of the working class aimed at revolution and complete social change. This was exemplified in Orwell's P.O.U.M. militia, where officers and men were on the same pay and nobody was addressed by a title. Events moved fast however, and by the middle of 1937 other political parties were in the ascendent. Orwell and his wife barely managed to escape prison before they fled the country. It is poignant to read this book with the benefit of hindsight, and to know that Orwell's fears of fascist victory actually came about. As well as reading this, I have been dipping into Voices from the Spanish Civil War: personal recollections of Scottish volunteers in Republican Spain, 1936-1939 (edited by Ian McDougall). It is amazing to read of the commitment and bravery of ordinary men and women who made their way to Spain to fight with the International Brigades. These were men from the mining villages of Fife, for example, some of whom must still be alive today - a direct connection to history.

On a completely different note I had an easy and enjoyable read next, with the children's book A Very Proper Fox by Jan Fearnley. It features a naughty rabbit and a knicker-ironing fox! This is a favourite of a little girl I know, but adults will enjoy the sly humour and witty illustrations nearly as much. It would be ideal for a 3 to 5 year old.

Then, inspired by the film Withnail and I, I decided to read the play Journey's End by R C Sherriff. I had read this at school, but was reminded of it when Marwood in the film was reading a copy (presumably for his audition). This is a cleverly-constructed play with many touches of humour and excellent characterisation. It conveys the idea that the trench fighting in many cases may have been completely pointless, but that the individual heroism was not. It is a tragedy nevertheless.

Day 113; Book 113