By Pat Finn
In his 1940 essay “Inside the Whale,” George Orwell famously asserted that “good novels are written by people who are not frightened.” In the context of his essay, this statement denotes a familiar idea, namely that novelists ought to attend to the integrity of their work rather than the fickle and, for Orwell, often politically suspect demands of critics. When considered literally, however, this statement, like so many of Orwell’s absolutist proclamations, takes on the weight and luminosity of a universal law: an axiom that is all the more attractive because of the absurdity of its grand ambition, doomed from the start, to make a totalizing claim about a subject as inexhaustible as the novel. The idea that good novelists are always unafraid isn’t true, but it feels true, which is more important because it gets at something essential in the way we think about the novel, the “most anarchical of all forms of literature” as Orwell writes in the same essay. Bound up with the idea of the novel, it seems, is the idea of freedom, and if novelists are to embody their vocations they themselves must be free. And people who are truly free are not frightened.