Keep the aspidistra flying by George Orwell

Keep the aspidistra flying by George Orwell

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New York : Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1956. First American Edition. Hardcover. 248 pages ; 21 cm. Price clipped dust jacket with minor edges wear. Shelfwear to cover boards. Pages are unmarked and binding is firm.

George Orwell's Keep the Aspidistra Flying will have for American readers the freshness and appeal of a new book by the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Although it first appeared in England in 1936, long before Orwell became famous, it has not been published in this country until now. And it is one of Orwell's most engaging — as well as one of his most significant — novels.

It is the story of Gordon Comstock, a poor young man who works by day in a grubby London bookstore and spends his evenings shivering in a rented room, trying to write. Gordon has published a slim volume of verse (entitled Mice); he is determined to keep free of the "money world" of safe, lucrative jobs, marriage, family responsibilities. This world, to Gordon, spells the end of art and aspiration. It is symbolized for him by the aspidistra, the homely, indestructible house plant that stands in every middle-class British window.

Gordon's sweetheart, Rosemary, understands him: she is patient with his pride and lack of funds. But then, as it happens with lovers, events overtake them Orwell's picture of the "money world," as Gordon sees it, is in his best satirical vein. His exposure of Gordon's pretensions is both merciless and funny. But there is poignancy as well as wit in what Lionel Trilling has called "a remarkable novel." Keep the Aspidistra Flying, says Mr. Trilling, "is a summa of all the criticisms of a commercial civilization that have ever been made, and it is a detailed demonstration of the bitter and virtually hopeless plight of the lower-middle-class man. Yet it insists that to live even in this plight is not without its stubborn joy."

And indeed, hope does breakthrough in this book's happy ending, which is Orwell's tribute to the stubborn virtues of ordinary people — who keep the aspidistra flying.

George Orwell whom V. S. Pritchett has called "the conscience of his generation," was born in India in 1903 and was educated at Eton. From 1922 to 1927 he served in the Imperial Police in Burma. He spent the next few years in Paris and in England teaching school, writing, and working at a variety of jobs. He went to Spain when the Civil War broke out, fought on the Republican side, and was severely wounded. Back in England, he joined the Home Guard in World War II, and worked for the B.B.C.

Orwell first gained wide recognition in America with the publication of his satiric fable Animal Farm (1946). In addition to the well-known Nineteen Eighty-Four, his books include the novels Coming Up for Air, Burmese Days, and Down and Out in Paris and London; the documentary Homage to Catalonia; and several collections of essays, the most recent being Such, Such Were the Joys (1953).

Orwell died in London in 1950.

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