When they do fix a day in the country and that long desired end is about to be reached, with what shattering precision does Mr Orwell describe the ignoble frustration. With what shattering precision does he describe the spending of ten pounds arriving unexpectedly from an American magazine for a poem accepted, and with what cunning, through stages of disintegration, he leads his hero to marriage and a home and an aspidistra, no longer a poet but a man in a bowler hat with an advertising job.
Perhaps the most extraordinary of Mr Orwell’s many talents is his ability to create his characters with complete detachment. This was evident in his two other novels—A Clergyman’s Daughter and Burmese Days—and here again, without betraying sympathy for or against any character in the book, he seems, like a Toscanini, to interpret not to create, to photograph not to paint; and that perhaps, is the highest compliment that can be paid to him.
Anthony West, New Yorker
28 January 1956, pp. 86-92
Anthony West (b. 1914), English critic and staff member of the New Yorker; author of D. H. Lawrence (1948) and Principles and Persuasions (1956).
The publication of Keep the Aspidistra Flying in this country twenty years after its first appearance in England, makes most of George Orwell’s work available to American readers and provides the occasion for an urgently needed revaluation of it. The novel, which is his second, appeared in 1936, the year he said in his essay ‘Why I Write’ was the critical one of his career, because he felt that during it he discovered what he had to do. This was to write political books designed ‘to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s