Barry Pennock-Speck's Blog

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Even Orwell slagged us

Posted by pennock on 28 November 2013

From George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidestra Flying

I like Orwell but I’m especially fond of this novel, which I laughed all the way through. Ravelston, Gordon Comstock’s well meaning but rather pathetic wealthy “socialist” editor is my favourite character. It breaks your heart to read how the plight of the citizens of the Boro spoils his meals and nearly dampens his sex life -if you’ll pardon the rather unfortunate expression!

Chapter 5

Ravelston murmured agreement, with a curious air of guilt. And now they were off upon their favourite subject-Gordon’s favourite subject, anyway; the futility, the bloodiness, the deathliness of modern life. They never met without talking for at least half an hour in this vein. But it always made Ravelston feel rather uncomfortable. In a way, of course, he knew-it was precisely this that Antichrist existed to point out-that life under a decaying capitalism is deathly and meaningless. But this knowledge was only theoretical. You can’t really feel that kind of thing when your income is eight hundred a year. Most of the time, when he wasn’t thinking of coal-miners, Chinese junk-coolies, and the unemployed in Middlesbrough, he felt that life was pretty good fun. Moreover, he had the naive belief that in a little while Socialism is going to put things right.

Ravelston, guilty and miserable, sat staring at his glass and revolving it slowly between his hands. Against his right breast he could feel, a square accusing shape, the pocket-book in which, as he knew, eight pound notes and two ten-bob notes nestled against his fat green cheque-book. How awful these details of poverty are! Not that what Gordon was describing was real poverty. It was at worst the fringe of poverty. But what of the real poor? What of the unemployed in Middlesbrough, seven in a room on twenty-five bob a week? When there are people living like that, how dare one walk the world with pound notes and cheque-books in one’s pocket?

Ravelston was distressed. It must be pretty bloody when you haven’t even the money to take your girl out. He tried to nerve himself to say something, and failed. With guilt, and also with desire, he thought of Hermione’s body, naked like a ripe warm fruit. With any luck she would have dropped in at the flat this evening. Probably she was waiting for him now. He thought of the unemployed in Middlesbrough. Sexual starvation is awful among the unemployed.

In the taxi she lay against him, still half asleep, her head pillowed on his breast. He thought of the unemployed in Middlesbrough, seven in a room on twenty-five bob a week. But the girl’s body was heavy against him, and Middlesbrough was very far away.

They went to their favourite table in the corner. Hermione played with some grapes, but Ravelston was very hungry. He ordered the grilled rumpsteak he had been thinking of, and half a bottle of Beaujolais. The fat, white-haired Italian waiter, an old friend of Ravelston’s, brought the smoking steak. Ravelston cut it open. Lovely, its red-blue heart! In Middlesbrough the unemployed huddle in frowzy beds, bread and marg and milkless tea in their bellies. He settled down to his steak with all the shameful joy of a dog with a stolen leg of mutton.

Chapter 10

It was a curious fact-rather a shameful fact from a Socialist’s point of view-that the thought of Gordon, who had brains and was of gentle birth, lurking in that vile place and that almost menial job, worried him more than the thought of ten thousand unemployed in Middlesbrough.

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