It’s always fun to delve into the mind of George Orwell, as he offers an insight into his opinions on the world through his appropriately bemused and ambivalent protagonists.
‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ is no different in that respect, as Orwell portrays his own disillusionment with money and its hold on society via the character of Gordon Comstock – a frustrated writer who gives up his ‘good job’ in advertising to declare war on the money god; a desperate attempt to sink deep down to the murky rungs of society, where things like money and respectability will have no bearing on his existence.
Gordon’s revulsion for taking charity sees him come to resent his best friend Ravelston and puts strains on his relationship with the ever faithful Rosemary.
The book centers around Gordon’s tormented struggle not to give in to money; his health and appearance deteriorating slowly as his pockets get emptier and his abodes more destitute. All the while he continues to fool himself into believing it is what he wants, attaching a kind of perverse glamour to the lives of the poorest in society. Perhaps these elements of the novel would come to inspire the ‘proles’ in Orwell’s most famous offering, 1984, which he would pen a decade later; so low in society that they were actually free from the oppression of the state.
The only thing Gordon’s slide into poverty seems to achieve is to cripple his creativity and his desire to write poetry. A persistent theme in the book is his constant obsessing over his poem ‘London Pleasures’ which,rather than add to,he merely chops and changes here and there, never progressing any further; an ironic title for a poem which acts a metaphor in some way for Gordon’s life, the constant and drastic changes getting him nowhere fast.
There are plenty of enjoyable moments to be had in this book – from Gordon’s cringe-inducing refusals to take money from the apologetically well-off Ravelston, to his hapless, drunken liaisons with prostitutes. There is also Gordon’s mortifyingly unpleasant love making to Rosemary, parts of which Orwell had to apparently rewrite whilst sat at his publisher’s desk, on account of it being too obscene and too rife for legal action at the time.
In all, ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ is a nice snapshot of the elements of 1930s London that Orwell despised the most, and well worth a read for any fans of his.