I've just finished it. It's very real, and you're wrung by the wretchedness of the lower-middle-class challenge to cling on to respectability by one's fingernails, and the hero's equally desperate attempt to hold to his socialist principles and manly independence. He wants, as my friend said, to be a Renaissance man, without enjoying the Renaissance man's income; and when his contradictions are broken by Life - literally, as his girlfriend has fallen pregnant - it comes as a relief: "He was thirty and he had grey in his hair, yet he had a queer feeling that he had only just grown up."
A Guardian review from 2003 says: "Orwell refused to allow either Keep the Aspidistra Flying or his first novel, the considerably weaker A Clergyman's Daughter, to be reprinted in his lifetime. His dislike of his early novels arose from his incredibly strong sense that he would always be a literary failure, which enabled him to empathise so strongly with his creations like Comstock."
That haunting self-distrust and obstinacy; was it like that for J K Rowling, fighting her dementors while writing her novel in the Elephant House tea shop?
"If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’"
- said Kipling, to whom Orwell the Empire-hater was nevertheless fair, for disillusioned though he was, Orwell always remained decent - that virtue sneered at by social superiors, the powerful and the politically subversive. Not for him the outright moral criminality of Donleavy's postwar Ginger Man.
Nor ironic, Genet-boosting existentialist, he; surely he would have resigned rather than step into the shoes of a deported Jewish professor, which is what Sartre did; and he really did shoot at Fascists, rather than fantasize about it in a philosophical-fiction tetralogy.
Orwell kept steering by his star. He remained authentic.
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