George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

24.

Dorothy Van Ghent, Yale Review

Spring 1956, pp. 461-3

Dorothy Van Ghent (b. 1907), was Professor of English at the University of Vermont and author of English Novel: Form and Function (1956).

In George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying (published in England in 1936, now in its first American publication), the hero makes a valiant effort to live by what he thinks he knows: ‘One’s got to get right out of it, out of the money-stink. It was a kind of plot that he was nursing. He was as though dedicated to this war against money. ’ The aspidistra is the symbol of the pretensions and mendacities of the middle-class money-dependent situation Gordon Comstock refuses: he has a secret feud with the aspidistra: ‘Many a time he had furtively attempted to kill it—starving it of water, grinding hot cigarette-ends against its stem, even mixing salt with its earth. But the beastly things are practically immortal. In almost any circumstances they can preserve a wilting, diseased existence. ’ The adaptation of I Corinthians xiii, used as epigraph, expresses the thesis of the greater part of the novel: ‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not money, I am become as sounding brass…’ and so on, down to ‘And now abideth faith, hope, money, these three; but the greatest of these is money. ’ Orwell hammers on this note so continuously, for so long a time, that he begins to sound like sounding brass himself;

Money and culture! In a country like England you can no more be cultured without money than you can join the Cavalry Club…. For after all, what is there behind it, except money? Money for the right kind of education, money for influential friends, money for leisure and peace of mind, money for trips to Italy. Money writes books, money sells them. Give me not righteousness, O Lord, give me money, only money.

There is enough truth in this exasperated satirical campaign to make some of it stick:

It was only now, when he was down to two quid a week and had practically cut himself off from the prospect of earning more that he grasped the real

-82-

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