According to John Rodden, the end of the twentieth century also marks the end of the Orwell century. No other author, he convincingly argues, has left a more enduring imprint on the last one hundred years.
This assertion is amply supported in Scenes from an Afterlife: The Legacy of George Orwell, Rodden’s masterful and wide-ranging account of the impact and appropriation of Orwell and his ideas since his death in 1950. Considered by different groups and at different times as a prophet, secular saint, model leftist, exemplary liberal, proto-neoconservative, or would-be Tory, among many other things, Orwell, “the Zelig of modern intellectuals,” was a writer with whom virtually every intellectual movement of the late twentieth century felt it must contend.
Rodden, one of the world’s leading Orwell scholars, sorts through the uses to which Orwell has been put in the last few decades, suggesting where, when, and why Orwell’s friends and followers have sinned in conscripting him for this or that cause. Rodden ends by arguing that although Orwell’s own explicit contention that he was a socialist should not be dismissed, we must understand that he was nevertheless no progressive, but rather a thinker who fits best in the non-Marxist, radical Tory tradition of Morris, Cobbett, and Dickens.