As I Please
Tribune, 2 June 1944
An extract from the Italian radio, about the middle of
1942, describing life in London:
Five shillings were given for one egg yesterday, and one pound sterling for a kilogram of potatoes. Rice has disappeared, even from the Black Market, and peas have become the prerogative of millionaires. There is no sugar on the market, although small quantities are still to be found at prohibitive prices.
One day there will be a big, careful, scientific
inquiry into the extent to which propaganda is believed. For instance, what
is the effect of an item like the one above, which is fairly typical of the Fascist
radio? Any Italian who took it seriously would have to assume that Britain
was due to collapse within a few weeks. When the collapse failed to happen,
one would expect him to lose confidence in the authorities who had deceived
him. But it is not certain that that is the reaction. For quite long periods,
at any rate, people can remain undisturbed by obvious lies, either because
they simply forget what is said from day to day or because they are under
such a constant propaganda bombardment that they become anaesthetized to the
Wading through the entries for the Short Story
Competition, I was struck once again by the disability that English short
stories suffer in being all cut to a uniform length. The great short stories
of the past are of all lengths from perhaps 1,500 words to 20,000. Most of Maupassant’s
stories, for instance, are very short, but his two masterpieces, ‘Boule de
Suif’ and ‘La Maison de Madame Tellier’, are decidedly long. Poe’s
stories vary similarly. D.
H. Lawrence’s ‘England, My England’, Joyce’s
‘The Dead’, Conrad’s
‘Youth’, and many stories by Henry
James, would probably be considered
too long for any modern English periodical. So, certainly, would a story
Carmen. This belongs to the class of ‘long short’ stories which
have almost died out in this country, because there is no place for them.
They are too long for the magazines and too short to be published as books.
You can, of course, publish a book containing several short stories, but
this is not often done because at normal times these books never sell.
Once a year in each village the maidens of an age to marry were collected altogether into one place, while the men stood round them in a circle. Then a herald called up the damsels one by one and offered them for sale. He began with the most beautiful. When she was sold for no small sum of money, he offered for sale the one who came next to her in beauty . . . . The custom was that when the herald had gone through the whole number of the beautiful damsels, he should then call up the ugliest and offer her to the men, asking who would agree to take her with the smallest marriage portion. And the man who offered to take the smallest sum had her assigned to him. The marriage portions were furnished by the money paid for the beautiful damsels, and thus the fairer maidens portioned out the uglier.
This custom seems to have worked very well and Herodotus is full of enthusiasm for it. He adds, however, that, like other good customs, it was already going out round about 450 BC.
The Estate of Eric Blair
Reproduced here under educational Fair Use law