Unsigned notice, Times Literary Supplement
2 May 1936, p. 376
If this book is persistently irritating, this is exactly what makes it worth reading; few books have enough body in them to be irritants. Does what most people regard as a rational mode of living and of earning one’s way necessarily involve aspidistras and the narrowness of view of which the author uses them as symbols? He seems to think that the possession of wealth is in itself a sufficient guarantee against narrowness and drabness of outlook—which is obviously untrue—and that, lacking wealth, the effort to live in reasonable comfort and decency must imply absorption in money. This may, of course, be so in certain cases, but surely it depends on the individual in the last resort. Admittedly it is easier to lead a noble spiritual life if one is free from material worries, but there is nothing necessarily more noble in arbitrarily accepting a lower standard of life than one could enjoy—lower not only in creature comforts but in interests, in learning and in friends.
This, however, is what Mr Orwell’s hero does. Determined to be free from the bondage to money, he refuses what he considers the degradation of a ‘good job, ’ takes drab uninteresting work, and deliberately disintegrates into mental and physical squalor. One may protest that the author has begged the question in making his possible ‘good job’ a very unelevating one; a more serious objection is that he has evaded the final issue (whether an educated man could continue to let himself sink as a matter of principle) by dragging his hero back to the business world through the need to support the girl whom he has loved for some years in an entirely self-centred way.
Those who know Mr Orwell’s other work will know that he writes well and vividly. The more depressing his theme, the more effectively is his skill displayed, and he has dealt unusually convincingly with Gordon’s shabby-genteel origins and his gradual descent into a more sordid world.