David Lebedoff, a nonfiction writer trained in the law, has written several interesting books, culminating with "The Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in Love and War."
Although the subjects of this dual biography are English literary men, both born in 1903, the book is not a work of literary criticism and is clearly written for the lay reader. Lebedoff writes lyrically and simply without any hint of scholarly analysis.
It is Lebedoff's contention that as different as they seem Orwell, noted for "1984" and "Animal Farm," and Waugh, most famous for "Brideshead Revisited" their common qualities outweigh their differences.
The reader will judge that one. Lebedoff thinks their lives compare most favorably in a moral sense. Suffice it to say that each novelist's life is terribly interesting, especially as it relates to his writings. Lebedoff has done extensive research into the personalities and contributions of both Orwell and Waugh.
Although already well-versed in their writings, Lebedoff is determined to mine "every detail of their lives." Fortunately, he did not produce a tedious work but one that jumps off the page with glitter and discovery about the full lives these men lived. That can be said, even though Orwell, who stood barely 5 feet 6 inches, died at 48 of tuberculosis, while Waugh, a tall man at 6 feet 3 inches, lived until the age of 62.
For the most part, Lebedoff treats the two in alternating chapters, although there are times when both have to be considered together.
"Their similarities were striking to me," said Lebedoff, during a phone interview from New York City, even though he lives in Minneapolis. "Nobody could invent these two men. Their lives are beyond fiction," he said.
Lebedoff called Waugh "the rudest man in England, a man with a low tolerance for boredom, extremely witty, with the ability to devastate people, always on stage, a country squire and a highly skilled artist."
Orwell, on the other hand, was "serious, even grim in most cases, but he was also kind and thoughtful."
Whereas Waugh experienced success and fame for his writings while still in his 20s, Orwell had to die before he became famous. "Each thought the other one of the great writers of his time. In common, each hated political correctness and flew in the face of fashion and each wrote truth as he saw it."
As Lebedoff sees it, "Waugh wrote about aristocrats and religious faith when it was not in vogue and Orwell, though a socialist, was violently anti-communist at a time when intellectuals tended to respect Josef Stalin."
Lebedoff called Waugh "the champion social climber of all time, both upper and middle class. Waugh wanted to move up, while Orwell hated class divisions in England and wanted to live with the poor and also write about them."
The author considers "Waugh to be the greater novelist and Orwell to be the better essayist. Most people read 'Animal Farm' and '1984' and nothing else but I would urge people to read Orwell's essays. They're powerful, simple and breathtaking. They are perfect."
Lebedoff considers "Animal Farm" to be "a parable" about what happens in totalitarian societies.
On the other hand, Lebedoff sees Waugh to be "one of the funniest men who ever lived. His early novels are very, very funny. Both men were apparently exceptionally charitable to people and to causes. Waugh went to parties with the best known people in England. He got to know everyone in the upper circles of British society."
Whereas most people remain in the same social class, "Waugh shot to the top while Orwell was descending to the bottom of the hill. Both were helped by their connections, but Waugh had more. Because Orwell chose not to attend Oxford, it was hard for him to break into print."
One of the especially noteworthy elements of each man's talent is that nothing could stop him from writing. In fact, some of their best work was produced when surrounded by chaos.
"Waugh's masterpiece, 'Brideshead Revisited,' was written while Waugh was in the army. He stole off to a hotel in England's countryside and wrote thousands of words a day. He also wrote a book while traveling to Egypt on a troop ship. Writing was the first responsibility for each man," said Lebedoff.
In Lebedoff's opinion, "Waugh was the greater natural writer. Orwell had to work and work to develop an acceptable style. Both men had great respect for famed novelist Somerset Maugham, who remains unfashionable among literary critics. They thought he was a great craftsman who taught himself to write."
Often, said Lebedoff, "People who want to save the world don't spend enough time with their own families. But both Orwell and Waugh were loving fathers. Orwell had one child and Waugh had six."
Orwell drank too much and chain-smoked, even though he had weak lungs. When he was shot in the throat, he was weakened even more. Waugh probably "drank more than anyone else in history. He was an overeater who "partied a lot" and he took "powerful drugs to sleep." The result was his ingenious book, "The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold," a story that was really about his personal brush with insanity.
Lebedoff notes that Waugh "cultivated a reputation for being grouchy, yet his children loved him passionately. Aristocrats didn't usually spend much time with children" and that was true of Waugh as well, while Orwell spent all meals with his son.The two writers read and appreciated each other's work, but only met once, when Waugh traveled to meet Orwell on his deathbed. Unfortunately, there is no account recorded of the meeting by either Waugh's or Orwell's families.
Title: The Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in Love and War
Author: David Lebedoff
Publisher: Random House
In a nutshell: In this sparkling dual biography, there seems only one major element in need of criticism: The author's premise that the great British novelists, George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh, were essentially the same man is just plain wrong. Their multiple differences, however, make for awfully good reading. Each were known for writing masterworks, Animal Farm and 1984 by Orwell and Brideshead Revisited by Waugh, but they reached success in entirely different ways with opposing philosophies of life
The author is very successful in delineating the differences but a flat failure in proving any similarities. Lebedoff does a good job, however, analyzing the books produced by each and tying those books to their lives. Most readers are liable to rush out and buy copies of their works so they can go more deeply into the mind of each.