Friday, August 15, 2008

Pg. 99: David Lebedoff's "The Same Man"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: David Lebedoff's The Same Man: George Orwell & Evelyn Waugh in Love and War.

About the book, from the publisher:
One climbed to the very top of the social ladder, the other chose to live among tramps. One was a celebrity at twenty-three, the other virtually unknown until his dying days. One was right-wing and religious, the other a socialist and an atheist. Yet, as this ingenious and important new book reveals, at the heart of their lives and writing, Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell were essentially the same man.

Orwell is best known for Animal Farm and 1984, Waugh for Brideshead Revisited and comic novels like Scoop and Vile Bodies. However different they may seem, these two towering figures of twentieth-century literature are linked for the first time in this engaging and unconventional biography, which goes beyond the story of their amazing lives to reach the core of their beliefs–a shared vision that was startlingly prescient about our own troubled times.

Both Waugh and Orwell were born in 1903, into the same comfortable stratum of England’s class-obsessed society. But at first glance they seem to have lived opposite lives. Waugh married into the high aristocracy, writing hilarious novels that captured the amoral time between the wars. He converted to Catholicism after his wife’s infidelity and their divorce. Orwell married a moneyless student of Tolkien’s who followed him to Barcelona, where he fought in the Spanish Civil War. She saved his life there–twice–but her own fate was tragic.

Waugh and Orwell would meet only once, as the latter lay dying of tuberculosis, yet as The Same Man brilliantly shows, in their life and work both writers rebelled against a modern world run by a privileged, sometimes brutal, few. Orwell and Waugh were almost alone among their peers in seeing what the future–our time–would bring, and they dedicated their lives to warning us against what was coming: a world of material wealth but few values, an existence without tradition or community or common purpose, where lives are measured in dollars, not sense. They explained why, despite prosperity, so many people feel that our society is headed in the wrong direction. David Lebedoff believes that we need both Orwell and Waugh now more than ever.

Unique in its insights and filled with vivid scenes of these two fascinating men and their tumultuous times, The Same Man is an amazing story and an original work of literary biography.
Among the early praise for The Same Man:
"For those wearied by doorstop biographies, this lean and urbane dual portrait is a breath of fresh air. As lawyer and writer Lebedoff (Cleaning Up) makes clear, on the surface no two British writers could be more different. Evelyn Waugh was a loud convert to Catholicism, an even louder social climber and very much a man of Empire. George Orwell (Eric Blair) could best be described as a long-suffering atheistic humanist, a utopian socialist and dreamer. Waugh succeeded early; Orwell was an obscure polemicist until his masterpieces Animal Farm and 1984, which were written at the end of his life. But both men were born the same year (1903) and came from the same class. They admired each other's writing and moral courage, says Lebedoff, and finally met six months before the bed-ridden Orwell's death in 1950. Both men, the author says, rejected not only the immorality of dictators in their own time but the moral relativism they foresaw in the future. Aside from a slightly rambling chapter of summation, Lebedoff nimbly compares and contrasts the lives and art of these literary titans."
--Publishers Weekly

Lebedoff's (The Uncivil War) thesis is that writers George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh, opposites in nearly all other respects, were at heart alike, namely, in their fierce and undying opposition to and foreseeing of such evils as moral relativism and the corruption of language. Lebedoff's unpretentious writing style, marked by a preference for proletarian short sentences, crackles with wit and playfulness as well as ardent advocacy for these embattled twin prophets. He laces his two brief biographies with sharp-edged details that brightly illuminate his subjects' innermost characters. The 19-year-old Orwell (whose life story Lebedoff treats as an Ein Heldenleben) grew to hate the English class system and his role in Burma as "visible overseer of empire." So began his willed descent down the social ladder, to a point of view that thereafter informed his writing. Concurrently, his contemporary, Waugh, who hungered after wealth and fame as a writer, too, reached a point of self-loathing, abandoning "the vacuity of life without faith" through conversion to Catholicism. Brief and to the point, this thrillingly written study of two of the 20th century's great social icons will impel readers to return to their timeless works."
--Charles C. Nash, Library Journal
Learn more about The Same Man at the Random House website.

David Lebedoff is the award-winning author of five books, including Cleaning Up, about the Exxon Valdez case, and The Uncivil War: How a New Elite Is Destroying Our Democracy.

The Page 99 Test: The Same Man.

--Marshal Zeringue