This book has some very great strengths. The recognition that both authors were able to view the malaise of twentieth century Britain and see its root causes as dehumanization caused by the failure of leadership from the top or the bottom of the society to insist on the propriety of fundamental values in maintaining their social structure. Money was king and the upper class needed it to fuel their vices and the lower class coveted both the money and the vices and, seeking it by progressively desperate means, found the vices without the wealth.
Evelyn Waugh made a career of lampooning the vices of the upper echelons of British society. Starting with a series of travel books that began as a defense of the prejudices that were British – I do not think I have ever in art or nature encountered anything uglier… – they became darker when his marriage failed due to his wife’s adultery. We go from having a man captured by a jungle tribe and held prisoner because he can read Dickens to the chief in the evenings to a journalist in Ethiopia who enjoys Good Friday luncheon [sic] at a Coptic monastery in Scoop. The latter was criticized as providing an excuse for the Italians to invade in 1936 which, while by no means true, got Waugh pigeon holed on the right forever more.
Orwell started out his journalism from the opposite end of the spectrum. Experiencing the failures of the Empire in Burma he returned to England to see the failures of the treatment of the miners at Wigan Pier and went on to live among the poor in Paris and London. Although he spent large periods of time living what might best be described as a solid middle class life as a journalist and high school teacher he was still disillusioned by what he saw as the failures of capitalism and, more specifically the European slide towards fascism. He went to Spain to join the republicans and learned first hand that the socialist presented no viable alternatives and while he spent the World War working for the BBC his greatest literary works – Animal Farm and 1984 – would come in that brief period between 1945 and his death in 1950. Ironically it was a Soviet agent who tried to prevent the publication of Animal Farm and generations of readers and critics have never done their homework well enough to realize that 1984 was a parody of Britain under the socialist government of Clement Atlee – i.e.; not only could it happen here it already had happened here.
This is one of the few points where we take an exception with Lebedoff. Orwell was neither a capitalist nor a socialist – he was more likely to say a curse on both your houses – but he was probably anti clerical and possibly anti religious. With his only faith in being English he was left with the same sort of despair as the captain of the Titanic whose last recorded words to his crew were to be British as he went down with his ship. Waugh, on the other hand, started out as Church of England and converted to Catholicism – both very much in an orthodox theological tradition – and although his writing is more in a comedy of manners tradition, which gives it a certain lightness to start out with it, it is also informed by a hope that Orwell seemed to have lost.
This is not really the same man twice. It is two men who recognized a common enemy and deployed their considerable – but very different – talents against that enemy and in the process gave us some of the best English prose of the 20th century. There is only one portrait of Orwell in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery (UK) while there are dozens of Waugh so, like Lebedoff, we have given Orwell top billing and then have proceeded to give Waugh the lion’s share – something the former wouldn’t mind and the latter would enjoy.
The same man : George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in love and war New York: Random House, c 2008 David Lebedoff Authors, English 20th century Biography Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xv, 264 p.,  p. of plates: ill.; 22 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. -254) and index. “Works”: p. -237. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
One climbed to the very top of the social ladder, the other chose to live among tramps. One was a celebrity at twenty-three, the other virtually unknown until his dying days. One was right-wing and religious, the other a socialist and an atheist. Yet, as this ingenious and important new book reveals, at the heart of their lives and writing, Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell were essentially the same man.
Orwell is best known for Animal Farm and 1984, Waugh for Brideshead Revisited and comic novels like Scoop and Vile Bodies. However different they may seem, these two towering figures of twentieth-century literature are linked for the first time in this engaging and unconventional biography, which goes beyond the story of their amazing lives to reach the core of their beliefs – a shared vision that was startlingly prescient about our own troubled times.
Both Waugh and Orwell were born in 1903, into the same comfortable stratum of England’s class-obsessed society. But at first glance they seem to have lived opposite lives. Waugh married into the high aristocracy, writing hilarious novels that captured the amoral time between the wars. He converted to Catholicism after his wife’s infidelity and their divorce. Orwell married a money less student of Tolkien’s who followed him to Barcelona, where he fought in the Spanish Civil War. She saved his life there – twice – but her own fate was tragic.
Waugh and Orwell would meet only once, as the latter lay dying of tuberculosis, yet as The Same Man brilliantly shows, in their life and work both writers rebelled against a modern world run by a privileged, sometimes brutal, few. Orwell and Waugh were almost alone among their peers in seeing what the future – our time – would bring, and they dedicated their lives to warning us against what was coming: a world of material wealth but few values, an existence without tradition or community or common purpose, where lives are measured in dollars, not sense. They explained why, despite prosperity, so many people feel that our society is headed in the wrong direction. David Lebedoff believes that we need both Orwell and Waugh now more than ever.
Unique in its insights and filled with vivid scenes of these two fascinating men and their tumultuous times, The Same Man is an amazing story and an original work of literary biography.