Cyril Connolly, New Statesman and Nation
25 April 1936, p. 635
Cyril Connolly (1903-74), at St Cyprian’s and Eton with Orwell; journalist and author of Enemies of Promise (1938) and The Unquiet Grave (1945).
Keep the Aspidistra Flying also brings up the question of material. It is about London. Burmese Days was about Burma. Now the reader knows too much of London, and not enough about Burma. He cannot, in fact, be as interested in Hampstead. But the writer of Burmese Days was also himself fond of Burma and included many beautiful descriptions of it, while the writer of Keep the Aspidistra Flying hates London and everything there. Hence the realism of one book was redeemed by an operating sense of beauty, that of the other is not. It is, in fact, a completely harrowing and stark account of poverty, and poverty as a squalid and all-pervading influence. The hero works for two pounds a week in a bookshop. He has a girl whom he is too poor to marry, and is writing a poem on which he is too poor really to concentrate. It is winter. The book is the recital of his misfortunes interrupted by tirades against money and the spiritual evil it causes. It is written in clear and violent language, at times making the reader feel he is sitting in a dentist’s chair with the drill whirring, at times seeming too emphatic and far-fetched. There have been so many novels in which young men and their fiancées sit over the gas fire and wonder where the next shilling is coming from, or go out and hate the streets. This is perhaps the most logical of all of them, but suffers, with an irony which the author would appreciate, from the fact that the obsession with money about which the book is written, is one which must prevent it from achieving the proportion of a work of art.