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Orwell foresaw the literary culture war

An animated version of Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Poor Kate Clanchy, says Toby Young in The Spectator. In 2019 she published a well-received memoir about teaching poetry to disadvantaged schoolchildren. Now, two years later, she’s being hounded by “offence archaeologists” on social media, who trawled through her book for “problematic” passages. “It was as if they’d discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun.” Clanchy had described one child’s “almond-shaped eyes” and another’s “chocolate-coloured skin”. Before long “a cry of ‘Burn the witch’ was echoing across Twitter”. You’d expect that from the online mob, but “it pains me” to learn the Orwell Foundation has washed its hands of Clanchy. Last year it awarded her book a prize for political writing. Now it’s acknowledging the “concerns and hurt” she caused. And, “in a particularly cowardly move”, it dodged responsibility for giving her the prize, explaining that it was “awarded ‘by a panel of independent judges… who make their own decisions as to the awards in each category’”.

How ironic. No writer was more passionately opposed to censorship than Orwell – “he’d experienced it first-hand”. Animal Farm was rejected by four publishers and its original preface took a further 30 years to see the light of day. It reads: “If the intellectual liberty which without a doubt has been one of the distinguishing marks of western civilisation means anything at all, it means that everyone shall have the right to say and to print what he believes to be the truth…” What’s more, Orwell knew it was the “literary and scientific intelligentsia” who always end up muzzling free speech. “The very people who ought to be the guardians of liberty,” he wrote, “are beginning to despise it.”