Orwell Diaries 1938-1942


I now make entries in this diary much more seldom than I used to, for the reason that I literally have not any spare time. And yet I am doing nothing that is not futility and have less and less to show for the time I waste. It seems to be the same with everyone – the most fearful feeling of frustration, of just fooling round doing imbecile things, not imbecile because they are a part of the war and the war is inherently foolish, but things which in fact don’t help or in any way affect the war effort, but are considered necessary by the huge bureaucratic machine in which we are all caught up. Much of the stuff that goes out from the BBC is just shot into the stratosphere, not listened to by anybody and known by those responsible for it to be not listened to by anybody. And round this futile stuff hundreds of skilled workers are grouped [, costing the country tens of thousands per annum,] and tagging on to them are thousands of others who in effect have no real job but have found themselves a quiet niche and are sitting in it pretending to work. The same everywhere, especially in the Ministries.

[However, the bread one casts on the waters sometimes fetches up in strange places. We did a series of 6 talks on modern English literature, very highbrow and, I believe, completely un-listened to in India. Hsiao Chi’en, the Chinese student, reads the talks in the “Listener” and is so impressed that he begins writing a book in Chinese on modern Western literature, drawing largerly on our talks. So the propaganda aimed at India misses India and accidentally hits China. Perhaps the best way to influence India would be by broadcasting to China.]

The Indian Communist party, and its press, legalised again. I should say after this they will have to take the ban off the Daily Worker, otherwise the position is too absurd.

This reminds me of the story David Owen* told me and which I believe I didn’t enter in this diary. Cripps on his arrival in India asked the Viceroy to release the interned Communists. The Viceroy consented (I believe most of them have been released since), but at the last moment got cold feet and said nervously: “But how can you be sure they’re really Communists?”

We are going to have to increase our consumption of potatoes by 20 percent, so it is said. Partly to save bread, and partly to dispose of this year’s potato crop, which is enormous. [1]

*Then secretary to Stafford Cripps [Orwell’s handwritten footnote in typescript].

[1] The Ministry of Food (where Eileen worked) promoted a cartoon character, Potato Pete, in a campaign to persuade people to eat a pound of potatoes a day.