I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized The Romantic Englishman

The Romantic Englishman

Enda O’Doherty
George Orwell: English Rebel, by Robert Colls, Oxford University Press, 330 pp, £25, ISBN: 978-099680801 In early 1936 the publisher Victor Gollancz commissioned George Orwell to conduct an investigation into the plight of the unemployed in England’s industrial North, a project that led to the book The Road to Wigan Pier. Unemployment and hardship in Lancashire and Yorkshire were, on the face of it, not subjects that Orwell could have been expected to know that much about. True, he had written vividly about tramps and tramping, “spikes”, charity wards and common lodging houses, but he had little experience of England outside London and the home counties and few friends or acquaintances who were working class or came from a non-privileged background. His own sentimental education had been forged in the sleek landscapes of the Thames valley or, later, genteel Southwold on the Suffolk coast – the England inhabited by those he was to term “the lower-upper-middle-class”, the people who kept the country running and who, though they owned no land, still felt they were “landowners in the sight of God”. If he did not have much relevant experience, what Orwell could offer his publisher were energy and passion, and a small but growing reputation as a young man with something to say. He also needed the money. Years later he told a friend that he would never have undertaken the trip north had it not been for the size of the advance Gollancz offered: £500, a rather large sum at the time for a writer still in his early thirties. As a man with not much taste for the high life, he reckoned he could survive for two years on that, and afford to get married. On January 31st he set out by train for Coventry, staying the night there in a bed and breakfast establishment: “very lousy, 3/6 … Smell as in common lodging houses. Half-witted servant girl with huge body, tiny head and rolls of fat at back of neck curiously recalling ham-fat.” From Coventry, on through Birmingham and the Black Country, he was mostly to walk, the better to see his surroundings (“Wolverhampton seems frightful place. Everywhere vistas of mean little houses …”) On February 5th he arrived at the home of his contact in Manchester, the trade unionist Frank Meade. He was now more or less at his destination and immediately began to observe his surroundings, and arrive at conclusions: The…

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