Orwell in Context: Communities, Myths, Values by B. Clarke

By B. Clarke

This daring new studying of Orwell's paintings focuses upon his illustration of groups and the myths that form them. It analyzes his interpretations of sophistication, gender and nationality in the context of the interval. The publication makes use of a variety of texts to argue that Orwell tried to combine 'traditional' communal identities with socialist politics.

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The threat posed by the ‘masses’ to established ‘civilisation’ is, of course, always also material. 58 The statement emphasises the exclusion of those in the slums Waymark visits as a rent-collector from the overall national prosperity. 60 In order to ‘humanise the multitude’, an ‘entire change of economic conditions’61 was therefore necessary. 63 It also exposes the extent to which ‘culture’ and prosperity are interwoven. 64 Those deprived of ‘art, letters, science’, however, Gissing implies, threaten the ‘civilisation’ that excludes them.

The impact of ill-health continued into adulthood. Numerous writers argued that excessive work and poor food led to illness and premature ageing not least amongst women working in the home. In Hungry England, for example, A. Fenner Brockway describes a woman who is ‘still young’, insisting that If her life had been different, she would have been good looking; black hair, dark eyes, good features, good figure. But she doesn’t worry much about her appearance now. 193 Maud Pember Reeves also comments that in working-class areas ‘women who look to be in the dull middle of middle age are young’,194 Dame Janet Campbell that it is ‘heartbreaking to see how rapidly a pretty attractive girl grows old and drab after a few years of marriage’,195 and B.

The Road to Wigan Pier is, in part, an example of the latter. Orwell insisted that he had ‘seen just enough of the working class to avoid idealising them’,202 but nevertheless praised, for example, their ‘plain-spokenness’,203 ‘kindness’,204 ‘extraordinary courtesy and good nature’,205 and solidarity. 206 Despite Woodcock’s description of The Road to Wigan Pier as ‘Orwell’s account of his further expeditions among English primitive’,207 the text emphasises the distinct values of working-class communities, rather than figuring them as evolving towards middle-class ideals.

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