I’ve been rereading some of Orwell’s essays. When I was young I went from near-worship of Orwell to starting to see his flaws. When I read him nowadays, it seems as though all I see are the flaws… and yet I love him as much as I ever did.
I was struck by his classism in the essay "Raffles and Miss Blandish."
Arguing that hard-boiled, morally-ambivalent fiction is fascistic, Orwell claims:
People worship power in the form in which they are able to understand it. A twelve-year-old boy worships Jack Dempsey. An adolescent in a Glasgow slum worships Al Capone. An aspiring pupil at a business college worships Lord Nuffield. A New Statesman reader worships Stalin.
As someone who comes from a Glasgow slum, I laugh sadly when I read this. Here is what Orwell doesn’t understand: In the same way that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, powerlessness also corrupts, and absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely.
Orwell concludes the essay by praising, in so many words, snobbishness and hypocrisy. He shows his own snobbishness in his view that, while it’s good and proper for “serious” fiction to be morally ambivalent, “popular” fiction should be morally black and white, presumably so that we barbarians from Glasgow slums won’t become fascists.
I’ve been a published author since 1989. My books have been published by large, medium-sized and small publishers. But some of my best, and best-reviewed, books have taken years to find a publisher. On more than one occasion, editors have told me that they wanted to make an offer but were blocked by the marketing department, who didn’t see obvious or immediate commercial potential (because I don’t write about rich white people getting their feelings hurt).
Over the years, I’ve had publishers tell me, “This book is great but it’s too serious/dark/violent/political/experimental/short/whatever else for us to publish.”
With the rise of independent/self-publishing, I (and other authors) have been vindicated. My most recent book, One for My Baby, is a nasty, violent, erotic, political novella of slightly less than 15,000 words. There would have been no point in even showing it to a publisher. A few days after finishing it, I published it on Kindle and Createspace. As I write this post, it’s on the Kindle bestseller list in two categories - at #41 in Action and Adventure, and #57 in Thrillers.
The readers have decided, and traditional publishing is cordially invited to crawl under my kilt and kiss my Caledonian ass.