The Corner

Re: Peter’s Question

Orwell’s marvelous “smelly little orthodoxies” quip comes from his

monograph-book on Charles Dickens, published in 1939 and collected in

“Dickens, Dali and Others.” It’s from Chapter Six, which you can find on the

Web at

In the passage, Orwell writes about how, when you read a memorable writer,

you can see a face speaking to you behind the words you’re reading:

“In the case of Dickens I see a face that is not quite the face of Dickens’s

photographs, though it resembles it. It is the face of a man of about forty,

with a small beard and a high colour. He is laughing, with a touch of anger

in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity. It is the face of a man who

is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not

frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry ‹ in other words, of a

nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal

hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our


By the way, the last words Orwell ever wrote were these astoundingly

memorable ones: “At fifty, everyone has the face he deserves.” He died a few

weeks later — at the overwhelmingly sad age of 47.


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