Inside The Whale
--- George Orwell, Inside The Whale (1940)
On March 11, 1940, George Orwell's Inside The Whale was published in a limited run of 1100 copies; he had begun writing it almost exactly a year before. It contained three essays of his. The title essay, Inside The Whale, analyzed the work of Henry Miller. The blurb of the book jacket describes Miller as a "little known writer." He was indeed pretty obscure at this point, except for those in touch with the literary underground. According to this Brown University exhibit, Orwell probably earned less than ₤30 by the time the book went out of print (within the year; some copies were destroyed by bombing as well).
"[I]t will probably be admitted that Miller is a writer out of the ordinary, worth more than a single glance; and after all, he is a completely negative, unconstructive, amoral writer, a mere Jonah, a passive acceptor of evil, a sort of Whitman among the corpses." [Orwell, Inside The Whale, Pt. III]
Orwell and Miller had begun a correspondence when Orwell gave some good press to Tropic Of Cancer in a review he wrote for the New English Weekly (Nov. 14, 1935). The two men met in person about a year later, when Orwell paid Miller a visit in Paris.
In Inside The Whale, Orwell declares Tropic Of Cancer an "important" book (and tells why), but the essay reserves its praise mostly for that one book alone; Black Spring is compared with less than favourable results (although he is impressed by the "opening chapters" of the latter). Orwell fires off so much humbling criticism that you sometimes forget the last complimentary thing he said about Miller.
"[Miller] seems to me essentially a man of one book. Sooner or later I should expect him to descend into unintelligibility, or into charlatanism: there are signs of both in his later work." [Orwell, Inside The Whale, Pt. III]
My purpose here is not to dissect or fully summarize the text of this essay. For that, I draw your attention to Stephen Starck's essay Damning Praise: George Orwell Confronts the Works of Henry Miller, found in the first issue of the Nexus journal. (for a smaller taste, peruse this excerpt from Narrative Detours by Raoul Ibarguen.)
"Orwell has written one of the best essays on Miller, although he takes the sociological approach and tries to place Miller as a Depression writer or something of the sort. What astonished Orwell about Miller wasd the difference between his view and the existential bitterness of a novelist like Celine." (Karl Shapiro, The Greatest Living Author (1960)]
I will, however, offer this summary: Inside The Whale is broken into three parts. (the entire essay may be read on-line at Etext and NetCharles). Orwell uses Miller as a springboard to dicuss politics, the state of literature, Paris, Communism, and a number of other topics. Parts I and III focus on Miller; Part II is a diversion. In Part III, George Orwell talks about his visit to Henry in Paris in 1936; I will cover this subject in my next posting.
Inside The Whale was later published in extended editions with the title Inside The Whale And Other Essays (see some of them at Alibris). I've been unable to find any commentary by Miller on this essay in particular.
"[Precisely] because, in one sense, he is passive to experience, Miller is able to get nearer to the ordinary man than is possible to more purposive writers. For the ordinary man is also passive." [Orwell, Inside The Whale, Pt. I]