"WE WORK or Want"; "Don't
Take the Squanderbug Shopping With You" - these slogans, and many
like them, filled the public-information propaganda during the
Second World War. To the modern ear, the copy sounds quaint, but
among those few who still remember them, they are a source of rich
But to George Orwell - by
1945 a jaded socialist intellectual - these were the slogans of an
emergent Big Brother. "War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance
is Slavery" were his dark caricatures. For - as Archive on 4:
The Road to Nineteen Eighty-Four (Radio 4, Saturday) suggested
- Orwell's last novel was not a prophecy, despite what we were all
taught at school: it was a state-of-the-nation satire.
Orwell had seen it all
already, the presenter, David Aaronovitch, argued, in this dense
analysis. The "road to" Nineteen Eighty-Four began in
Spain, when Orwell observed the authoritarianism of the Fascists
and the Communists. He encountered the strategic volte-face of
institutions such as the BBC in the changing attitudes to Stalin
during the war; and he understood how the nuclear threat
concentrated power in the hands of a political and military
Along the road, Orwell
found support and stimulation in the work of Arthur Koestler, whose
book Darkness at Noon described Soviet show-trials in
which the innocent admitted to anything and everything; and James
Burnham, whose book The Managerial Revolution predicted
the rise of bureaucratic superstates.
Orwell was a socialist
libertarian, most at home somewhere away from the government's
heavy hand. There was not so much difference, Aaronovitch suggested
provocatively, between Orwell and the Tea Party movement in the
Scratch the surface of
many a writer, and you find a propagandist scribbler. Political
polemic has been read into a number of works by Handel, whose
favourite librettist, Charles Jennens, was a Non-Juror: he refused
to swear an oath of loyalty to what he regarded as the usurpatory
Hanoverians. Thus, in Belshazzar, for instance, we are
intended to read behind the story the wishful thinking of a Stuart
who longs for the return of his friends.
The Early Music
Show (Radio 3, Saturday) spent a hugely enjoyable hour at the
Handel House Museum, viewing an exhibition that focused on Jennens.
It is not unfair to say that Handel gives more to Jennens than vice
versa: Handel's music transforms the librettist's stilted poetry
into something sublime. But Jennens's contribution to Handel's
creations is not to be sniffed at. It was Jennens who persuaded
Handel to include the chorus "Their sound is gone out" into their
greatest collaboration, Messiah.
"And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness."
Thus Jennens introduces the libretto to Messiah - although
religious controversy was a normal part of cultural discourse at
the time. Jennens would have had it otherwise; but, as we were
reminded at the end of the programme, the oratorio that followed
has counted for more than any number of pamphlets and sermons.