Broad Oak: your emotional support animal

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Orwell's "Keep The Aspidistra Flying"

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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5 comments:

Paddington said...

Sadly, simple decency and respect for differing opinions is not the order of the day, at least in the US. On the right, we have the loud voices who 'know' that everything they do is correct, regardless of the facts. There is a smaller group on the left of people who haul out the 'feminist' and 'racist' tag at every opportunity.

A K Haart said...

I read it years ago and recall being impressed by it, but not why. I'll read it again.

James Higham said...

I like the new layout too.

Andrew Zalotocky said...

Orwell's decency was an important part of his greatness as a writer. Decency is a product of empathy, the ability to imagine what other people think and feel and thus understand how our own actions will affect them. A similar act of imagination is required to inhabit the mind of a fictional character or to capture the essence of somebody else's life in a work of non-fiction. I'm not suggesting that all great writers were also decent people because that's obviously not true. But a writer who lacks empathy must work much harder to glean the subtle insights into human nature that come easily to one who has it in abundance, so being a swine makes it much more difficult to become a great writer. A writer of that kind is like a short-sighted painter who must constantly squint and strain his eyes to make out the fine detail of his subject. Conversely, a writer who is only interested in fame and money will find that an excess of empathy is a great impediment to trampling his rivals into the dust and doing whatever it takes to keep his name in the papers.

Sackerson said...

Andrew: thanks for your thoughtful response. I think you're right.

James: thanks.

AK: I'm tempted to work my way through his others now.

P: American politics seems vicious, worse even than ours.