Animal Farm, by George Orwell

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“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Animal Farm, a widely read and loved Novella by George Orwell, was first published in 1945. On the surface it’s a simple tale of mistreated animals taking a farm from the hands of humans and building a new world order but once you look deeper it’s a very strong and crisp allegory of the Russian Revolution and the creation of the USSR. I’ve read a lot of books published over the last hundred years or so but none, with the possible exception of the Great Gatsby, is more deserving of the word classic.

For a novella, Animal Farm is actually quite dense and covers many issues/is set over a decade or so. The tale starts off with the death of Old Major who before he passes spreads the idea of the animals one day rising up and taking over the farm from the corrupt humans. Old Major’s death is followed by the quick expulsion of the humans, including the owner of the farm Mr. Jones, who ends up trying to come back but is driven away again. The main action of the story takes place after the original expulsion of the humans from the farm and most of the book covers the animals building a functional new order (led by two pigs Snowball and Napoleon) and the eventual corruption of their original communist ideals. The animals start off with seven simple rules but as time goes on Napoleon and his followers (mostly pigs and dogs) get a thirst for power the rules are changed and the “less intelligent” animals are manipulated into submitting to Napoleon.

As someone who has always had an interest in Russian history,specifically the Russian Revolution, the story was quite entertaining as I was able to spot the animal counterparts of real historical figures. Old Major represents either Marx or Lenin as the instigators of the Communist ideal (critics are still split over whether Old Major actually represents Marx or Lenin), Napoleon is Stalin, Snowball is Trotsky, Mr Jones is the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas I and other animals represent the workers and peasants of the USSR under Stalin.

Although I loved the story itself and the not-so-subtle allegorical hints, the discussion of the many issues (corruption, communism, how to build an equal society/how to sustain it, power and control) that the Animal Farm faced was definitely the most interesting. I live in Australia which is a first world, capitalist, multicultural, economically stable and secular country that is governed by a very conservative party. Australia is a contrast to the USSR in almost every area but I found some of the issues discussed in Animal Farm are the issues that my country is facing even now. Recently the liberal government released the Federal Budget which put forward the idea of raising the age of when the elderly could retire and have access to the aged pension to 70 years old. This is a parallel to Napoleon raising the pension age on Animal Farm and taking away certain benefits for animals who had reached the age to retire, such as the hard working horse Boxer. It’s quite alarming that even sixty years later our progression as a society isn’t much improved.

Yes, Animal Farm is a book very of it’s time but due to the discussions of society, government and the corruption of socialist ideals it will always remain relevant no matter which country or time period you’re living in.

The Professor, by Charlotte Bronte

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“In sunshine, in prosperity, the flowers are very well; but how many wet days are there in life—November seasons of disaster, when a man’s hearth and home would be cold indeed, without the clear, cheering gleam of intellect.”

The Professor, Charlotte Bronte’s (pen name Currer Bell) first novel, was published posthumously in 1857 and at first wasn’t well received mostly because of it’s similarity to another of her novels, Villette. It’s Charlotte Bronte’s least known novel but it’s valued because you can see her promising talent laced throughout the work. As well as the fictional elements it has shades of the autobiographical due to Charlotte Bronte’s own experience teaching in Brussels when she was younger.

 The story itself is quite simple. The Protagonist, William Crimsworth, is a poor orphaned Englishman who by chance is offered a place as a professor (teacher) at an esteemed boys boarding school in Brussels. This later turns into a second teaching placement at the all girls school next door. William isn’t a handsome man, he doesn’t have any considerable talent for trade and he’s certainly not rich but he does have moderate intellect which is his only weapon against a world that largely doesn’t care for him. He is determined to work for what he earns and mentions constantly that he doesn’t want to be given a single thing. Charlotte Bronte mentioned in the preface that she wanted to tell a real story, a story about a man who is average and plain who has to work for everything he has. In that respect she succeeds. I was quite enchanted by his character throughout the novel.

The secondary characters are memorable too. There is Frances Henri, a student of William’s, who at first is a reserved and guarded but sweet girl, but then transforms into a strong and smart young woman who is determined to pay for her own way in life. There are the two antagonists of the novel, Francois Pelet and Zoraide Reuter, who are ambitious and cunning but I found them simply delightful. And there is Hunsden Yorke Hunsden who befriends William early in the novel and who pops in now and then to offer his interesting take on where William’s life is heading and who ends up being a dear friend to both William and Frances.

This novel had a lot of promise and it did hold my attention throughout but the  prejudice against Catholics (at one point Bronte called them Romish Wizards and people who lacked integrity), the French and Belgians prevented me from completely enjoying the novel. The prejudice and racism was laced throughout the work and at points I had to take a breath and force myself through because of the strength of Bronte’s venomous hatred.

All in all I enjoyed parts of the novel but much like Northanger Abbey I highly doubt I’ll visit this one again.