George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

21.

Kenneth Macpherson, Life and Letters Today

Autumn 1936, pp. 207-8

Kenneth Macpherson (1903-71), Scottish novelist and editor. The description of Socialism in the quotation from the novel clearly foreshadows 1984.

Mr Orwell has resurrected the aspidistra. When most pens waver in the air, hesitating to scratch a name so spent to symbolise the crushing drabness of apartment rooms, the author here brings it back with a flourish, very much as Schiaparelli will start the whole town wearing revised versions of discredited fashions of the past.

It is a book about London. It is horribly a book about London. About the kind of London we glimpse as our boat-trains slow down near the terminus. About the kind of London we sense in an overheard remark, a bleached face, washing hanging in the soot, wet streets, and, of course, aspidistras seen in windows where the curtains are a little torn but starched. It is a book about the crushing deadliness of London, not London’s seamy side, but London’s suit ‘turned good as new’, its threadbare tie, its ankles inked to hide holes in its socks.

And what a remarkable, what a subtle distillation of reality! The dreadful little underling hero, earning two pounds a week in a bookshop, who hates socialism, (regarding it as ‘Some kind of Aldous Huxley Brave New World: only not so amusing. Four hours a day in a model factory, tightening up bolt 6003. Rations served out in grease-proof paper at the communal kitchen. Community-hikes from Marx Hostel to Lenin Hostel and back. Free abortion clinics on all the corners. ’) and yet has declared war on the Money God, a defiant, wailing war, full of longing and repudiation. ‘There was the intimacy of hatred between the aspidistra and him. “I’ll beat you yet, you b——, he whispered to the dusty leaves.

It is inevitable that this little man has a girl who doesn’t love him.

-70-

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