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[91] Keep the Aspidistra Flying – George Orwell

aspidistra.jpgKeep the Aspidistra Flying embraces man’s greed and fear like in Burmese Days but under a completely different allure. Poverty is written all over the face of Gordon Comstock, a struggling poet who declares war on money by living in a constant state of destitute. While the book is written with his usual satirical vein, Orwell subtly takes all the criticisms of a money-coded, commercial civilization and impart them into the poet’s being, in whom a maddening behavior is amplified to achieve a satirical power. He based this grimly comic novel in part on experiences he had while researching on poverty for Down and Out in Paris and London.

Comstock lives in poverty by choice–he is well-educated but decides to give up money and status for the fulfillment of romantic ambition. Foregoing a promising job that makes good use of his literary talent for a low-wage work in a shabby London bookshop, he plunges into poignant poverty that subjects him to humiliation. But not so much that Orwell seeks to emphasize his being stricken by mental deadness, spiritual squalor as he wishes to point the finger at the rich. For Comstock he makes money the object of his worship even as he reviles it and looks down upon those who make it such.

There is no denying that society is grounded on greed and incessant want, as well as the fear of not living up to the mercenary standard, fear that is spawned by vanity. His determination to withdraw from the money world is respectable but that which alienates him from the loved ones is too big of a price to pay since by plunging himself into ultimate mud does not necessarily make the world less corrupt. For this money chase is so ingrained in the human mind that somehow the wanting his been mysteriously transmuted into something nobler.

[Note: The aspidistra of the title is an extremely hardy common house-plant that at the time was widely considered a symbol of dull bourgeois British taste.]

8 Responses

  1. Sounds interesting! And thanks for telling me what the title means. I had no idea.

    Despite working in the poor bookstore, does Comstock’s inner life improve?

    Have you read Nickeled and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich? Do you find any similarities?

  2. Nice capsule! I too enjoyed this novel.

  3. I haven’t read any Orwell for a long time – it sounds as if I’ve got to pick him up again – haven’t read this one (yet)….

  4. I agree with seachanges, I have not read Orwell in a long time, and this work is now on my ever growing list. It sounds very interesting.

  5. Isabel:
    I suppose his inner being has grown as a result of his being poor. It’s a journey to self-enlightenment, although very poignant.

    Ted, Seachanges, Christopher:
    Also check out Burmese Days. I have grown to appreciate Orwell and his writings more, since all that I read by him was 1984 in high school .

  6. I haven’t read Orwell since college. And I’ve never heard of this book. I’ll keep an eye for it. Since your last review I’ve been reading Burmese Days.

  7. Peter:
    I hope you enjoy Burmese Days, it’s one of my favorite reads this year.

  8. I didnt find the book to interesting except for the end perhaps, when all of Gordons complains comes to a halt. Still, Its good read just to understand the man behind the book. Isn’t Orwell the coolest fucking auther ever to have walked the earth? I think so. Compassionate about his belief. Today we need people like him, but they dont exist anymore…

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