A Life in Letters by George Orwell

A Life in Letters by George Orwell

Author:George Orwell [Orwell, George]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Published: 0101-01-01T00:00:00+00:00

‘Orwell and the Stinkers’: A Correspondence

29 June 1945


On 29 June 1945, Tribune published a short review by Subramaniam 1 of Million: Second Collection,2 edited by John Singer. This briefly summarised the contents and recommended the collection, but devoted half its length to an essay by J. E. Miller, ‘George Orwell and Our Times,’ which was said to deserve a separate paragraph:

This article, which is as provocative as any of Orwell’s, is analytical, stimulating and almost brilliant. Mr. Miller, however, fails in one respect. He does not give enough importance to the fact that Orwell is one of the few writers who give political writing a literary form. Instead, he seems to be primarily concerned as to how far George Orwell has correlated his beliefs with correct Socialist behaviour and submits a long indictment with several counts.

A lively correspondence followed, and Tribune clearly played it for all it was worth. Twice letters were given headings as provocative as the argument: ‘Orwell and the Stinkers’ and ‘More Views on Stinkers’. The first letter, from Paul Potts,3 was published on 6 July 1945:

When reviewing Million last week Subramaniam mentioned an article on George Orwell by J. E. Miller. In this article Miller reiterates an old libel on Orwell, current at the time The Road To Wigan Pier first appeared, that Orwell said somewhere in that book that working-class folks stank. What he did say was that as a schoolboy at Eton he was brought up to believe they did. This error has been pointed out to Mr. Miller, who persists in circulating it. May one remind him that the particular version of socialism that he advocates is in no way aided by a mean untruth?

Further letters are included in XVII, pp. 202–3, and Orwell’s letter to the Editor of Million is to be found in The Lost Orwell, pp. 107–8. This is an extract from Orwell’s response in Tribune:

[…] what I was discussing in this chapter of Wigan Pier was the theory taught to us as children that the working classes are, as it were, smelly by nature. We were taught that the ‘lower classes’ (as it was usual to call them) had a different smell from ourselves, and that it was a nasty smell; we were taught just the same about Jews, Negroes and various other categories of human beings. In the book, I explained elaborately how I was taught this, how I accepted it, and how and why I afterwards got rid of it. Mr. Miller ignores all this and simply picks out isolated sentences which seem to support his thesis, a method by which anybody can be made to say anything.4

[XVII, 2691, pp. 201–205]


2.Million ran for three issues. It was undated; they are assigned to 1943–45. It was published in Glasgow and carried one of two subtitles: ‘New Left Writing’ or ‘The People’s Review’.

3.For Paul Potts, see 1.7.46, n. 5.

4.Orwell wrote, ‘That was what we were taught—the lower classes smell’ (V, p. 119); the italics are in the original. He then discussed this proposition on the following four pages.


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