recognition that he’s good at it). No, he would have loved a clean shirt, clean linen, a bath, a decent living, and a circle of his peers. But in Down and Out Orwell was writing in his characteristic mien of fairness to all, himself included, and he made no bones about his reasonableness. He condoned his own failure to be a gentleman or—it comes to the same thing—managed to forgive himself for being one.
Louis Simpson, Hudson Review
Summer 1956, pp. 306-7
Louis Simpson (b. 1923 in Jamaica), poet and Professor of English at the State University of New York in Stonybrook; author of At the End of the Open Road (1963).
Significantly, the hero of Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying is employed around books: he works in a London bookshop. The time is before World War II. As Gordon Comstock, ‘last member of the Comstock family, aged twenty-nine and rather motheaten already’ looks out from the shop, he confronts a hoarding covered with posters:
A gallery of monstrous doll-faces—pink vacuous faces, full of goofy optimism. Q. T. Sauce, Trusweet Breakfast Crisps (‘Kiddies clamour for their Breakfast Crisps’), Kangaroo Burgundy, Vitamilt Chocolate, Bovex. Of them all, the Bovex one oppressed Gordon the most. A spectacled rat-faced clerk, with patent-leather hair, sitting at a cafe table grinning over a white mug of Bovex. ‘Corner Table enjoys his meal with Bovex, ’ the legend ran.
As he looks around, Gordon Comstock pieces together lines for a poem about the dreariness of the lower-middle-class life, the clerk’s hopes and terrors. He is also working on a long poem called London Pleasures, which will never be finished. He is obsessed with the power of money. ‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not