“All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.”
-George Orwell, “Why I Write”
I came across this essay while browsing through Orwell’s works and was particularly struck by this passage. I have always loved Orwell’s prose, and this encapsulates his style as well as any. His utterly unqualified statement “Good prose is like a windowpane” is at once completely genuine and completely disingenuous. It is Orwell’s constant striving to approach matters in an objective and unflinching manner that unmistakably marks his prose as his own. It is at once both utterly unpretentious and utterly unmistakable. When reading Orwell one is immediately seized with a sense of claustrophobic proximity to the truth and searing self-criticism. Yet at the same time every one of Orwell’s passages betrays a fierce commitment to his art and to those around him. The almost subterranean fire of Orwell’s prose, which occasionally bursts into open flame, is a quality he shares with all the best socialist writers.