I don't know if it's the essay you're looking for, but Orwell wrote a review
of the first three Quartets that was originally published in Poetry London,
Orwell's main complaint is not about obscurity, but that the Quartets
represent a decline from Eliot's early poetry. This is a fairly familiar
criticism, and as one would expect Eliot's conversion to Anglicanism and
other orthodoxies does play a part. But Orwell's objection is not purely or
even mostly political: he starts off by saying that unlike Prufrock, the
Quartets fail to stick in his memory, and analyses the reasons for the
I'm not sure he mentions 'parlor tricks' at any stage, though.
The (untitled) essay is reprinted in the Collected Essays, Journalism and
Letters of Orwell (vol. II). I think you can also find it in TS Eliot: The
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Sent: Tuesday, February 18, 2003 5:41 PM
Subject: Re: Orwell on Eliot
> I'd sent out a query on this some years ago (in vain), but there are so
many new listers now it may be worth trying again.
> I recall reading, many years ago, an essay by George Orwell attacking
Eliot for having declined from vibrant, living language into abstract
obscurantism. (I believe the essay was written after some, but not all, of
Four Quartets had been published, but I may be wrong about that.) I recall
in particluar a line about Eliot's use of opposites ("what you know is what
you do not know", etc.") having degenerated from fresh and new into
something of "a parlor trick."
> At the time, I was just getting into Eliot's later poetry and remember
having a fair degree of sympathy with Orwell's view (though even then I
thought it overstated.) Having come to appreciate the post-conversion work
more, I would like to read the essay again and see what I think of it.
> I've tried to locate it on line with some fairly extensive googling, and
most of what I get is Orwell on Eliot on Kipling, or references to Eliot's
decision not to publish "Animal Farm." Does anyone else recall the essay I
am referring to, or know where it might be located (preferably on-line)?
> Tom K