Keep the Aspidistra Flying – George Orwell

01 Jun

keep-the-aspidistra-flying-fullWhen people say they are ‘living the dream’, they usually mean they have won some vacuous reality TV show that brings nothing to society except an air of desperation and disappointment.

Little did I know that I would also be living a dream of sorts, namely the ‘living’ part, in a new house a few months after reading this.  Finding my life partly mirroring that of Orwell and his fictional counterpart Gordon Comstock, being that I am living in relative poverty moneywise, I was prepared for a life of dire consequences and hunger.  My life has turned out a lot less dramatic than all that, thankfully.

Gordon Comstock hates how society worships money and decides to quit his ‘respectable’ advertising job (he’s one of those people responsible for those meaningless slogans that somehow tempt people into buying stuff), to work part-time in a bookshop, to write and earn a respectable living.

However this idealised and somehow noble lifestyle which is one that probably appeals to more people than just me is fraught with poverty, hunger and social anonymity that start to wear down his spirit and creativity.

Interestingly I find myself in the same sort position, not enough hours in my job, tight with money out of necessity and socially I tend to keep my own company more often than not.  Having said that the internet helps me keep up with people nand keeps me inspired, so it’s not all doom and gloom.

Gordon’s world however is a place of dullness and malaise, his desire to give up on the capitalist world is at once noble and doomed to failure in this bleak satirical work, which throughout does retain a skein of warmth(?) whilst highlighting the ever widening gap between rich and poor and all the injustice that goes with it.

Giving up capitalism doesn’t work unless everyone does it and what at first seems a noble crusade ends up as something militant as he becomes more of an anti-hero the more you read of his journey to understanding, the ending is ambiguous and does make you consider exactly how societies values make us happy to any extent.  It also makes you question just which sphere of society is the more horrible place to live.

Orwell is as prophetic as usual, especially with the advertising industry bits but, unlike his later works this sometimes becomes a slightly grinding and much less fluent read, much like the character’s daily life.  That said it does contain enough of the authors cutting observations and foresight to make this worth a read.

Orwell like any normal person recognised the evils of capitalism but had the sense to accept it as it won’t change anytime soon. Ironically there were lots of edits to the novel as Mr O’s observances and parodies of certain firms were a little to close to the truth and threatened law suits.


Posted by on 01/06/2013 in Modern Classics


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26 responses to “Keep the Aspidistra Flying – George Orwell

  1. Alastair

    01/06/2013 at 11:31

    Having never read Orwell, but learning so much about him from others, I imagine that this is another of his books that attempts to slay the higher class as Animal Farm attempted to “All creatures are equal, but some are more equal than others” or some such line. I agree that he is prophetic as most of his books are mentioned in the “real world” especially 1984 with Big Brother.

    I wouldn’t want to read this book – Orwell has never done it for me. I do find it weird that your life and the protagonists life were going along the same path for a while.

    Excellent review as always

    Also, I have nominated you for an award –


    • StetotheJ

      01/06/2013 at 11:45

      Wow, thank you for the nomination, I appreciate it more muchly than muchos gratitude has a right to be in this comment.

      It’s less a ‘higher class slayer’ and more of an assault on capitalism in all its greasy glory and how people wishing to change it are perhaps doomed without a concerted effort by everyone to change the system. Nineteen Eighty Four would be a better read, if you did wish to pick up any Orwell, I think you would appreciate his points and also his prophetisism.


      • Alastair

        01/06/2013 at 11:49

        After I have read the Larsson Millennium trilogy I’ll take a look see if I can get it cheap somewhere.


        • StetotheJ

          01/06/2013 at 11:57

          If I find a decent cheap copy I shall send it your way.


  2. ModWestMuse

    01/06/2013 at 11:41

    Thank you for sharing this 🙂

    Orwell is essential reading, I believe, for anyone living (that is struggling) in modernity. Especially as our world (led by extreme capitalists) is increasingly becoming more and more Orwellian in nature.


    • StetotheJ

      01/06/2013 at 11:54

      It truly is frightening, it’s like people have used him as a handbook for their ideal society whilst communities crumble at their feet. Although not his best book, he really does make some truly fascinating and prescient insights.


      • ModWestMuse

        01/06/2013 at 12:04

        It gets worse:

        😦 We must have hope. We must strive. How? God knows. But I guess a step to do right, is a step in the right direction… 🙂


        • StetotheJ

          01/06/2013 at 12:11

          Well this is true, no steps can be taken until awareness is raised enough and there is some sort of agreement, it does seem such a long way away from becoming a society where people can live in happiness.


          • ModWestMuse

            01/06/2013 at 12:32

            Quick gut feelings to your thoughts: 1. Yes, awareness raising is critical. 2. Indecision and indifference (particularly the latter) is the road to stand-still – of no help to anyone, except to let things happen around. 3. Trying to do something right (‘trying’ is the key word, because there’s value in the effort) and doing nothing (as in 2. above) are options – as is the third option of walking down the wrong road: being part of the problem – by ‘selling out’ and trying to be an extreme capitalist, caring about your own profits, spinning news stories to promote your vested interests to make personal gains… you get the idea


            • StetotheJ

              02/06/2013 at 16:48

              Aye i get the idea, you have pretty much nailed it right there, the sad truth of it is whilst the businesses and politicians are making there money there will be no change and there will be a smaller and more ‘select’ group of politicians which will protect the status quo. Radical action is not something I would sanction for much but I do wonder exactly what other way would get the message across. Perhaps the upcoming oil wars will wreck society and we can start again but better, for a time until we repeat the mistakes…


  3. ModWestMuse

    01/06/2013 at 11:42

    Reblogged this on ModWestMuse.


  4. Liz at Libro

    01/06/2013 at 11:50

    I adore this book, I’ve read it a few times and I think I might add it to my pile for Re-Reading in July! Oh dear, I have the rhythm but not the words for that poem that dear Gordon is writing in the book in my head now. Didn’t they make a film of it with Helena Bonham-Carter at some stage?


    • StetotheJ

      01/06/2013 at 12:04

      I have no idea, not really my medium…yet. I thought Gordon’s poem was good, well some of the versions of it he started. Once I have read all the other Orwell books I have not so far, only three criminally (that I own), then I will probably appreciate this book more. I get that it has to have that sense of monotony to show Gordon’s life but i did get a little frustrated with it. Perhaps I reviewed this a little to late, for i read it last October/November.


  5. Letizia

    02/06/2013 at 01:02

    I’ve never read this – in fact, now that I think about it, I haven’t read Orwell since my school days. I really should revisit him. The cover of this book intrigues me as well for some reason.

    Your writing is, as ever, so engaging.


    • StetotheJ

      02/06/2013 at 16:44

      It is a good cover, the Penguin Modern Classics range does seem to have put some effort into its covers which is not something I usually notice but I have these. The title also just grabbed me for its uniqueness.

      If you were engaged, I feel like there should be a ring involved, I could do a Tolkien pun but I am preferring a Nibelung or Volsung reference and lazily for me, that was it!


  6. Christina ~

    04/06/2013 at 06:33

    You always write your reviews so as to tempt me into just about everything you write about….I stand by what I’ve said before…you are the bestest book chooser ever! It is rather remarkable how many authors wrote prophetically about advertising…TV…Big Brother…and such like. Remarkable…or frightening…she says think of The Matrix for some reason…. xxxx


    • StetotheJ

      04/06/2013 at 19:41

      You and your films lol, there are resonances and crossovers though….interesting thoughts occur, thank you for once again intriguing me.

      All these authors pointing out what’s going to happen and we still fall into the trap, I wonder what that says about us as a race….I have many more books to choose for you also and if I ever run dry, well I’ll read some more. xxxx


      • Christina ~

        04/06/2013 at 22:14

        I do love my films haha….but only the greatest ones I assure you! You are the bestest and I am more than positive that you will continually add to my reading list so that it is never-ending….of which I am most sincerely grateful and simultaneously in awe of your literary prowess. xxxx


        • StetotheJ

          05/06/2013 at 15:41

          I best get reading more then! As we speak I am looking for something on the book shelves which may take your fancy. xxxx


  7. LuAnn

    05/06/2013 at 11:29

    I too have not read any of Orwell since school, when it was required and I most certainly didn’t appreciate him as much. Must agree with Christina that you are the “bestest book chooser” and could lead me down just about any path with your reviews. Hmm, what does that say about me? 😉


    • StetotheJ

      05/06/2013 at 16:39

      Haha, what does that say indeed! I am like the Pied Piper of WordPress, I play my keyboard and everyone follows me, if no one paid your ransoms, for yes it is a kidnap, I would provide you with many good books, so it is a win/win situation for you.


      • LuAnn

        06/06/2013 at 10:59

        It always is when I come to your blog. Hope you are having a good week. 🙂


        • StetotheJ

          10/06/2013 at 18:25

          Ditto that, your blog is always a wondrous place to peruse words. I am hoping this week brings more writing and I equally hope you have a grand week and that this ‘ere Monday wasn’t to predictably dull.



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