The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Saturday, December 11, 2004  

This is What You’re Missing

The December 27 edition of The Nation is now online. Unfortunately, for those of you who don’t subscribe, you’re missing a terrific “Letters” section, not reproduced online, one that includes a missive from the detestable Christopher Hitchens, which I share with you herewith.

Bruce Robbins is entitled to his room-temperature resentment of me [“Prisoner of Love,” Dec. 6], but he makes a false allegation when he says that I have “repeatedly claimed [George] Orwell’s mantle.” To the contrary, and leaving aside the fact that I don’t believe in “mantles” anyway, I have taken every opportunity to disown this aspiration. My denial doesn’t involve me in much immodest effort: Orwell suffered from censorship and hardship all his writing life and took a bullet from a Francoist while narrowly escaping another one in the back from Stalin’s agents in Catalonia. My own life has been somewhat easier, and better rewarded. Moreover, Orwell wrote much better than I do and was capable of producing serious fiction, which I am not.

Once or twice, critics and reviewers have been good enough to make a comparison between us, which makes my shy but which delights my publishers. As with, say, “Jeffersonian,” the term “Orwellian” has only one proper attribution. The coinage “Hitchensian” is unkindly affixed by Robbins to the word “simplifications,” but even if it were yoked to a nobler term, I just can’t see much of a radiant future for it.

The mind reels. This is just so precious, isn’t it? If ever a piece warranted, needed even, a “fisking,” this would be it, but nobody, other than, I think, Andrew Sullivan, does that anymore, so I’ll let you share this with family and friends for your own hearty laughs. (I especially like the part about not being “capable of producing serious fiction.” And Hitchens “shy”? Hilarious.)

Note to Hitchens: Do not write letters to editors while intoxicated.

By the way, Robbins’s reply to Hitchens is outstanding. But to see that you will have to subscribe for, or buy, the magazine. And you really should anyway.


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