“I have been homeschooling for the last couple of months which means I have to be thoughtful about what audiobooks I listen to. When my little boy was younger I could get away with more grown up narratives but I recently had to turn a book off when I realised a little boy was listening intently and was just about to start asking difficult questions.”
That was written last year during the lock down. I was working on a series about Orwell and Animal Farm which involved me becoming very familiar with the text. Alex, my seven year old, was fascinated by the animal story and began to fall in love with the characters and listening to Animal Farm began to rival Wind in the Willows or Narnia as our fall asleep book. Very memorably we drove through South West Cornwall singing “Beasts of England”.
It has given great scope to think and talk about morality with Alex. Who are the “goodies” who are the “baddies”, why are they good and why are they bad. What did they do well and what did they do badly. These are key elements of the book and foundation questions for civilisation. CS Lewis talks, in The Abolition of Man, about how a man gives of his biological life to create a child and then of his spirit to educate that child. The Roman father who taught his son that it was sweet and fitting to die for ones country was giving his son the best and noblest that he knew. Likewise when Alex and I talk about Boxer, the Pigs and the farmers I am imparting to him the best I know and trying to inculcate in him virtues such as fair play, empathy and respect.
I find Orwell and his writing perfect for understanding these traditional and civilised virtues. I can see how they draw into his brand of socialism just as I can see how the same virtues and values are drawn up into CS Lewis’ Toryism. Contrary-wise you can see how both socialism and Toryism goes bad when those values are abandoned. There are two people who have nearly convinced me to become a socialist and one of them is Orwell.
Orwell is a significant influence on my life and a jewel of the English canon. His significance lies not on his socialism but in his humanity and humane values. Thus his work endures far after his death and all his work be it his “As I please” column, his novels and his essays bear fruit to this day.