It's striking that, before you've even read a few dozen pages, you find such amazing examples of both cutting insult and sublime praise.
The insult comes from a review of J. B. Priestley's novel Angel Pavement:
When a novel lacks the indefinable, unmistakable thing we call beauty, one looks in it for sound delineation of character, or humour of situation, or verbal wit. But one looks in vain in Angel Pavement--Mr. Priestley can be clever, but he cannot be in any way memorable. (26)Oh, that's painful, in a particularly painful way. But then comes the coup de grâce: Orwell notes that Priestley has been much over-praised by other reviewers, and he continues,
Once this absurd praise is discounted, we can salute Mr. Priestley for the qualities which he really possesses, and take Angel Pavement for what it is: an excellent holiday novel , genuinely gay and pleasant, which supplies a good bulk of reading matter for ten and sixpence.(Emphasis added, 27)
Oh man...that must have burned.
On the other hand, Orwell knew how to make a well-placed compliment.
In the context of a review of a biography of Herman Melville, he enthuses:
More important than his strength, he had--what is implied in real strength--passionate sensitiveness; to him seas were deeper and skies were vaster than to other men, and similarly beauty was more actual and pain and humiliation more agonising. Who but Melville would have seen the beauty and terror of a ridiculous beast like a whale? And who else could have written scenes like the bullying of Harry in Redburn, or that shocking and ludicrous account of an amputation in White Jacket? Such things were done by a man who felt more vividly than common men, just as a kestrel sees more vividly than a mole. (Emphasis added, 20-21.)
Partly because of this review, and partly because I noted recently that Melville also made the top of the 'best reads' list by J. G. Ballard some years ago (I found this in the additional material added to my copy of Millennium People), I have thought I should probably give Moby Dick another chance.
It was--like many things...and nearly Shakespeare!...ruined for me in high school (a common story, perhaps).
Though my renewed Melvillian interests may also be partly because I've been enjoying my belated discovery of Mastodon's 2004 heavy metal concept album, Leviathan, which is based on that novel about the white whale.
(I very much like the song--though not so much the video--for 'Blood and Thunder'...which for some reason involves clowns. Far scarier than whales, if you ask me.)
Any post-secondary-school Melville fans out there with their own observations?
And, yes, I know: from a strictly naturalistic perspective, one could have turned Orwell's metaphor on it's head, saying just as a mole feels more vividly than a kestrel.
But somehow I don't think it'd have worked as well.