George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview
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Douglas Goldring, Fortnightly

April 1937, pp. 505-6

Douglas Goldring (1887-1960), English novelist, critic and editor.

The first half of this thought-provoking book describes what the author saw in the coal areas of Lancashire and Yorkshire. For some months he lived entirely in coal miners’ houses. ‘I ate my meals with the family, he writes, ‘I washed at the kitchen sink, I shared bedrooms with miners, drank beer with them, played darts with them, talked with them by the hour together. He went down a mine and spent an hour of agony, crawling to the coal face. He got to know exact details of average working-class budgets, and witnessed the result of mass unemployment at its worst and the cruel effect of the Means Test in breaking up families. He examined, and gives a minute description of, every kind of working-class dwelling, from the horrifying and disgraceful caravan settlements, at Wigan and elsewhere, to the ‘Council’ houses which are, all too slowly, being erected to replace them. This section is illustrated with thirty-two photographs of slums, which are calculated to shock even the most complacent.

The second half is partly autobiographical. In it the author explains his attitude on the ‘terribly difficult issue of class’ and his views on Socialism and Socialists. He was born in the ‘lower-upper-middle-class, educated, with the help of a scholarship, at an expensive public school and afterwards spent five years as a police officer in Burma. When he came home on leave in 1927, he decided he could not go back to be part of that ‘evil despotism. He wanted to submerge himself, ‘to get right among the oppressed, to be one of them and on their side against their tyrants. But he soon discovered that class barriers cannot be broken down in a hurry, and that if you advance too eagerly to embrace your proletarian brother he may not like it. The impoverished ‘gentleman’ and the working man, under present conditions, are as far apart in their habits and ways of thinking as if they belonged to


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George Orwell: The Critical Heritage
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