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Why a visit to London is *very* dangerous for a bibliophile… #bookfinds

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Those of you who follow me on social media might have noticed I shared a little photo of a pile of books in the lovely Foyles cafe yesterday. I met up with my dear friend J. for a day out to celebrate the start of the summer break (a little tradition we seem to be developing), and by that point we were hot and laden with books. I’m afraid this is going to be a bit of a book haul post, as we *both* got a little carried away!

The joy of train travelling is being able to read – I devoured this marvellous book over the outward and return journey!

Often we meet up with a tight agenda of an exhibition to see and specific places to go, but yesterday we’d kept things loose. I had specifically said I wanted to pop into the British Library – apart from the fact it’s just a place of worship for anyone who loves books, they had a little display in their Treasure Room devoted to Karl and Eleanor Marx. Both are fascinating figures, and I recall in my teens seeing a rather wonderful BBC drama on the life of Eleanor. So we started at the BL (after a stop for coffee and stationery in Tottenham Court Road) and the Treasure Room was just wonderful. I found it ridiculously exciting to see Marx’s Reading Room slip from all those decades ago and the whole room itself is inspirational. As I pointed out to J., there was a perfect trio of manuscripts for us on display next to each other in one of the cases – Woolf, Peake and Plath. Such an inspirational place to visit, and we managed to successfully get out of the shop without purchasing after spending some time admiring a lovely display of British Library Crime Classics!

In keeping with our plan of no real plan, we ambled off and J. suggested that as we were quite close to Skoob Books we could drop in. It’s a dangerous place which I’ve only visited once, but I couldn’t resist the idea. However, as we flaneured our way in the general direction of the Brunswick Centre we happened upon a likely looking bookshop I don’t think I’ve been aware of before – Judd Books in Marchmont Street. It would of course have been rude not to go in and so we did. And this was the result for me…

The shop is a mixture of second-hand and what look to me to be remaindered books, including a lot of US editions, and was oh! so tempting. I was distracted by a number of titles, but ended up with the two above. I couldn’t not come home with the Orwell – ’nuff said. As for Khodasevich’s poems, that one was a must. I’ve only stumbled across him recently and whilst havering away trying to decide I flicked through the book. A stunning poem called “Look for Me” hit me in the eye and I was sold. It’s a beautiful hardback Overlook/Ardis edition in dual language, with translations by Peter Daniels, and so even though I can’t read Russian I can gaze in awe at the beauty of the cyrillic script while appreciating the efforts of Daniels. J. was very happy with Judd as well as she tracked down a lovely hardback edition of Willa Cather’s letters from her wishlist. So we thought this was a propitious start and drifted on in the direction of Skoob.

And as you can see, I didn’t get out unscathed… The Machado de Assis was a no-brainer as I’ve really enjoyed all of his books I’ve read so far, plus it’s a pretty little Peter Owen edition. The Maigret has a relevant year to an upcoming event (!) – plus will also give me a chance to try one of the new translations. I thought I was getting off quite lightly until I saw the Penguin Russian Writing Today anthology on my way to the till. Oh well…. J. was even happier than earlier as she found a nice edition of a Cather novel she doesn’t have – it was a Cather kind of day for her.

After this it was a bus to Foyles for tea and regrouping. Foyles itself (and its tea!) is always such a delight, and I was sorely tempted by a gigantic biography of Eleanor Marx (a Verso edition) but decided that my shoulders wouldn’t take it. J. however was seduced by a Thames and Hudson book on Frida Kahlo (we’re visiting the V& exhibition later in the year) so added to her bulging rucksack. We decided to take a break from bookshops and trotted (well, strolled at a very leisurely pace) down Charing Cross Road to make a detour into the Cas art shop (again, I bought nothing although J. invested in some art materials) and then on into the National Portrait Gallery.

This was just a flying visit, as we both have a fondness for the wonderful Allan Ramsay self-portrait that hangs there and always pop into the NPG to say hello. As the heat was increasing, we decided to bus back up to Tottenham Court Road and got distracted again by a shop called Hema – a new one to us, but it had Stationery Which Could Not Be Resisted – oh dear… After more drinks and sitting down, we decided we were too close to the LRB bookshop and the craft shop next door to say no, and paid both a visit. Again, I succeeded in restraint, but our decision to drop by the lovely Bloomsbury Oxfam was not so successful…

I thought the two Bowles books I own comprised her meagre published output, but not so it seems. This lovely volume from Sort Of collects stories, plays, sketches and letters. Again, not to be resisted…

We had just about reached our limit of endurance of heat and heavy bags, but I was still vaguely irked that the only options for books about Eleanor Marx were mahoosive. So I persuaded J. into Bookmarks, the left-wing bookstore over the road and hurrah!

Bookmarks publish a little series of “Rebel’s Guide” books and one of their subjects was indeed Eleanor Marx! It was the last copy left and of a much more manageable size!

So these were my bookish purchases yesterday:

And I don’t regret a single one! However, the story doesn’t end there, because J. arrived with some books for me which were charity shop finds she’d read and was passing on to me. However, she didn’t tell me she was bringing six.… And unfortunately I hadn’t brought a backpack so she very bravely and stoutly carted them round all day until we exchanged books at the end of the day (I had brought one for her to borrow) – now that’s friendship. And here they are:

There are only five in the picture as one of the six was a return of my copy of Guard Your Daughters which J. had borrowed.

Phew! Four nice BLCCs and a lovely Virago edition of Gertrude Stein – how wonderful! But how heavy!! They took a bit of lugging home, I can tell you…

The blog’s trusty tote guarding the books while I have a meal in Leon!

Fortunately, I had come armed with my trusty KBR tote – a gift from Middle Child which always goes to London with me, and which although small is perfectly formed and manages to hold a surprising number of books; and also enables effective smuggling of them past OH who was feeling vaguely tense at the arrival of the six from J. There was a reason for this, as a package had arrived while I was away gallivanting containing these:

I think the BL are going into overdrive, but I’m always delighted to have review books from them – these two are out in September, and I’m very keen to read them, as Symons’ books were about a lot in my younger years. However, I can empathise a little with OH’s concern – he muttered something about having to build an annexe to the house and he has a point. I think this summer will need to see a little more pruning of books….

But all in all itΒ  was a lovely (if warm) day out in London. It’s always wonderful to meet up with an old friend, and J. is great company. I need to put in a word for the Leon chain of restaurants too – a recent discovery for me and to which I was introduced by J. I paid two visits yesterday – one so that J. could get a late breakfast, and one for a meal later before journeying home. Their vegan options are excellent and well worth a visit!

Meantime, I need to have another bit of a book shuffle – oh dear…. =:o

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Penguin Moderns 7 and 8 – Distinctive voices, polar opposites

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Well – this must be the least likely pairing so far in my choices of two Penguin Moderns to read at a time! I’ve been picking them out in pairs in numerical order, but George Orwell and Gertrude Stein?? Not obvious bedfellows…

Stylistically, I don’t think you could two more dissimilar authors: Orwell is prized in these parts for his wonderful clarity, immense reasonableness, and his clear-sightedness about humans, their foibles and the way the world was going; Stein, however, can be a murky writer, spinning webs of words that often appear to make little sense. Yet both have been acclaimed as geniuses in their own way which just goes to show that there is plenty of appetite out there for different kinds of writing. So – what did I make of these two little books?

Penguin Modern 7 – Notes on Nationalism by George Orwell

It’ll be no surprise to anyone that this was a great joy – Orwell is much loved on the Ramblings. And Penguin are remarkably clever at choosing very apposite Orwell essays to reprint which chime in remarkably well with the times. Penguin Modern 7 contains three essays first published in 1945: the title one, Antisemitism in Britain and The Sporting Spirit.

The nationalism Orwell refers to is not just an extreme love of country, but a violent partisanship for country, creed or group. It’s a dangerous state of mind, breeding intolerance and causing conflict and as always Orwell is spot-on at identifying problems which are still relevant today.

To study any subject scientifically one needs a detached attitude, which is obviously harder when one’s own interests or emotions are involved. Plenty of people who are quite capable of being objective about sea urchins, say, or the square root of 2, become schizophrenic if they have to think about the sources of their own income.

The anti-Semitism essay is of course remarkably topical and GO is clear about how it is impossible to look at the subject objectively as so many emotions get in the way – as we can see from hysterical modern media reactions. As for sport – well, that one had me laughing all the way through!

Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.

There speaks a fellow sport-hater! :)))

As always, and as I (and many others) have said before, what strikes you is Orwell’s basic decency and reasonableness. I read this little book while the Royal shenanigans were going on, distracting us all from the real issues and hiding everything up in fake news. As GO says so presciently:

The calamities that are constantly being reported – battles, massacres, famines, revolutions – tend to inspire in the average person a feeling of unreality. One has no way of verifying the facts, one is not really fully certain that they have happened, and one is always presented with totally different interpretations from different sources.

As with all of Orwell’s writings, I ended up with a sheaf of post-its marking relevant and quotable parts, places where I shouted “Yes!” as I was reading (not literally of course, as that would have alarmed OH – though I did feel obliged to read him the above quote, and send messages to the Offspring reminding them how much I love Orwell and what a genius he was. Youngest Child was moved to reply that she lived for receiving such messages from me… But I digress!) The world is in many ways no better or no different from how it was in Orwell’s day; the rich are getting richer (and greedier) while the poor suffer lack of services, lack of basic living standards, lack of respect. Oh, how we need Orwell now…

Penguin Modern 8 – Food by Gertrude Stein

Aaaaand, in complete contrast – Gertrude Stein. Where Orwell is all clarity, Stein’s work comes in varying degrees of comprehensibility. I’ve read a number of her works (mostly pre-blog) and have enjoyed some more than others. These pieces come from her book “Tender Buttons” which I have vague memories of struggling with – and I can understand why…

… it is so easy to change meaning, it is so easy to see the difference.

The short extracts are given titles like Roastbeef, Breakfast and Single Fish. Do they describe food? Or the art of cooking? Or shopping? Or dining? Or indeed sex, as the blurb claims. The answer is, I don’t know! I’ve found when reading Stein in the past that if you treat the prose as musical, going for sound rather than obvious meaning, you get further. But I didn’t, if I’m truly honest, get very far trying that here.

It may be that because the text actually had a strong subject I was looking *too* hard for meaning and wasn’t able to get past that into the sound. Or it may just have been the wrong timing. Or it may just be that this was one of Stein more incomprehensible works. Which was a little frustrating, because occasionally lovely and silly phrases did jump out at me!

This is no authority for the abuse of cheese.

If you’re looking to read some Gertrude Stein, I have to honestly say this is probably not the best place to start. “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” (which I read decades ago) I remember as definitely being more approachable – “Tender Buttons” and its extracts I would class as for Advanced Stein Readers only!

***

So a mixed bag of Penguin Moderns this time. I obviously loved the Orwell (but then when do I *not* love reading Orwell?) Stein was difficult, and I think I will go for something less lexically complex next time I want to read her. Any road up – the next two titles in the box look rather intriguing. Watch this space! πŸ™‚

My Blog’s Name in Books…. :)

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There is a lovely meme doing the rounds at the moment that I’ve been umming and ahhing about, but I’ve finally succumbed! It originated with Fictionophile and basically you have to choose books from your TBR to spell out your blog name. Sounds fun, yes, and I’ve enjoyed everyone else’s posts on this; however, I hesitated for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because my TBR books are frankly all over the house; and because I figured it would take quite a lot of books. But I gave in at last, and with some helpful suggestions from OH behind the scenes, this is what I came up with:

Yes, there they are – a selection of unread books that spell out Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings! I’ve split them up into the three words (without apostrophe, of course) so that I can run through what they are. Be prepared – as my blog has a long name, this will be a long post…

First up, Kaggsys:

(The) Kremlin Ball by Curzio Malaparte – a fascinating sounding review copy from NYRB – I’mΒ  hoping to get this one to the top of the pile soon!

A Passionate Apprentice – early essays by Virginia Woolf – one day I would like to read through all of Woolf’s essays – one day….

(The) Great Hunger – Patrick Kavanagh – a Penguin Modern from my box set by an author I’ve not read before.

Grand Hotel Abyss by Stuart Jeffries – an interesting title picked up when Verso were having one of their regular online offers (which I can never resist – damn you Verso!)

Silas Marner by George Eliot – another lovely review copy, this time from OUP – I *may* have read this book decades ago, but I can’t be sure….

(The) Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis by Jose Saramago – I loved my first experience of reading Saramago so I’m glad I had picked this one up in the charity shop. It has connections to Pessoa, too – more of whom later in this post… πŸ˜‰

Selected Writings by John Muir – I had this on a wishlist for ages; then I had a fit of fedupness and decided to treat myself. So there you go.

Next up is Bookish:

Bats in the Belfry by E.C.R. Lorac – another beautiful review copy, this time from the British Library. It sounds fun. This meme is making me want to read all these books at once…

On the Beach At Night Alone by Walt Whitman – one of my many Penguin Little Black Classics – I need to get reading some more of those too. Plus the complete Walt Whitman that OH gave me. Gulp. Will the books to be read never end???

(The) Old Man of the Moon by Shen Fu – and another Penguin Little Black Classic. I love the diversity of Penguin books.

Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell – I was really struggling to find another K book, when OH suggested this. Now, I initially thought I’d read it but I went and had a look on my shelves anyway. And as I don’t have a paperback copy of it, I don’t think I can have – so George to look forward to!! This is a gorgeous hardback edition from a fancy box set that OH gifted me many years ago – he’s a great book enabler! πŸ™‚

I am a phenomenon quite out of the ordinary by Daniil Kharms – this has been sitting on the TBR for a while and I’ve dipped but not read properly or finished. I love Kharms’ strange and beguiling work, and I really must get back to this one.

Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate – another lovely from the British Library – I obviously desperately need to catch up with review books.

His Only Son by Leopoldo Alas – and yet another review book from NYRB, one about which I know nothing but I’m willing to explore!

And finally, Ramblings (goodness knows, I do enough of that…):

(The) Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald – I didn’t get Sebald the first time round, but I think I’m probably better placed on a second attempt – we shall see…

Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning – another gift from my book-enabling OH who thought it was a pioneering feminist work I should have. I don’t think I’ve read it before, so on the TBR it sits.

Memoirs from Beyond the Grave by Chateaubriand – a review copy from NYRB which is fascinating so far (I *have* started it, I confess) and which promises to stretch into the French Revolution – so *that* should be good! πŸ™‚

(The) Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa – which I’ve been intending to read for ages and which has links to the Saramago above. But I keep wondering which translation/version is best to read – any advice out there??

Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy – early sci fi which has been lurking for ages and which I might have nicked from Eldest Child (the sci fi buff of the family). One day I will read this…

Iconoclasm in revolutionary Paris by Richard Clay – #Iconoclasm #FrenchRevolution #ProfRichardClay #Coveted book I finally got a copy of. ‘Nuff said…

Notes of a Crocodile by Qui Miaojin – have you noticed several NYRB review books in this meme? I should catch up, I really should…

(The) Gigolo by Francoise Sagan – another Penguin Modern. I have had mixed experiences with Sagan so it will be interesting to find out how I react to this one!

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen – I have only read a couple of Austens, despite owning them all (sometimes multiple copies). Perhaps this gorgeous hardback review copy from OUP will help a bit.

*****

There – I told you it would be a long post! So what does this tell you about me and my TBR? Probably that I have a grasshopper mind, refuse to stick to genres or types of books, and that I have more books than I need and that I’ll probably die before I read them all. At least I’ll be ok for reading matter if there’s a zombie apocalypse…

Some pithy prose from Orwell @shinynewbooks @PenguinUKBooks

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There are some authors who never seem to lose their relevance, and George Orwell is most certainly high on that list. Last year, I read one of his essays, “England, Your England”, which had been brought out as a pamphlet by Penguin. That essay was part of a larger work, “The Lion and the Unicorn”, and Penguin have just released a beautiful new edition of the book in their Modern Classics range.

Now, isn’t that choice of cover image so wonderfully ironic…

I’ve reviewed the Orwell on Shiny New Books, and it’s a work that seems to me to still be painfully relevant to our modern situation. Pop over and have a look at my thoughts – I don’t think we can ever have enough Orwell…

…in which I find myself unreasonably amused by some literary parodies…

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Pistache by Sebastian Faulks

After reading “Locus Solus” I felt I definitely needed a change of pace, and browsing through the Christmas arrivals I decided to pick up this little volume of pastiches. I have to confess that this is actually the first book by Faulks I’ve ever read, and it obviously isn’t typical of his work; but it does show him as a very clever writer with strong literary awareness! Pleasingly, the book carries the pastiche element all the way through to the author biography on the inside jacket flap, the acknowledgements and even the book title itself!

Now, I love a good spoof; I have a wonderful volume called “The Faber Book of Parodies”, and I’ve been known to laugh like a drain for hours at some of the great joys it contains, like “The Skinhead Hamlet”, much to the annoyance of anyone within hearing distance… So really, this was likely to be the ideal read for me, and it was – I devoured it in a couple of sittings and had I had more spare time I would have read it in one go.

Faulks obviously knows his literature, and the book contains a mixture of short poetry and prose pieces, each a take on some famous author or literary group. The titles on their own are pretty amusing; such as “Kingsley Amis has a shot at a female narrator”, “Jane Austen steps out with an American Psycho”, “Samuel Beckett writes a monologue for Ronnie Corbett” or “T.S. Eliot reflects that it might have come out better in limericks”. Each piece is just the right length to make its point, as there’s nothing worse than an over-extended joke, but I was actually left feeling I wanted more and I could happily have read a collection of these which was twice as long.

Of course, I did have some particular favourites! “Charles Dickens has a shot at being concise” is an absolute hoot, with a weather report which could simply have been rendered in the words “it was raining” treated to an ornate paragraph or two of Dickens’ wonderfully long-winded prose. “George Orwell confronts the real 1984” captures the real year surprisingly well; and as someone who remembers it, I can recall how much our view of 1984 was coloured by our thoughts of the book, but we actually had little idea at the time of how the world really *was* going to go down the road of Orwell’s visionary work. “Hilaria Holmroyd offers an exclusive extract from her new literary biography” features extracts from a spoof Bloomsbury-style work (presumably of the type purveyed by Michael Holroyd…) and is spot on about the ridiculous complexities of their personal lives. As for “Philip Larkin prepares lines in celebration of the Queen Mother’s 115th birthday” (which the book’s spurious blurb claims was banned and cut by the BBC!) this manages to mix wit with surprising pathos, and is a real winner.

Some guy who writes very funny parodies….

I have to say that “Pistache” had me snorting away merrily in many places, which did have a slightly irritant effect on OH (who was being a bit sniffy about the book). The book also has some lovely line illustrations by George Papadakis, which add to the jollity. It probably helps if you know a bit about the writing style of the authors being sent up (and possibly you need to have a particularly British sense of humour), but even if you don’t, it’s wonderful, silly, clever fun and a great way to lighten a gloomy January day! I think I may just have to dig out my old copy of that Faber book and be a bit more irritating…. πŸ˜‰

Time for some bookish confessions…

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Yes. Good intentions. Not to buy more books, to read from the stacks and to try to downsize the amount of volumes in the house. Unfortunately, as OH observed a little fretfully recently, even more seem to be arriving on a regular basis (and he hasn’t actually seen all of those that have made their way in…) I seem to be destined to acquire books, however hard I try, so I though I would share the latest fruits of my addiction with you… πŸ™‚

First up, some titles have arrived courtesy of Very Kind Fellow Bloggers:

The very lovely Liz at Adventures in reading, writing and working at home kindly passed on to me the Alexei Sayle autobiographies when she’d read them. I’m looking forward to them very much, as he’s so funny and of course staunchly left-wing, so they should be a fab read.

“Rupture” arrived from Sarah at Hard Book Habit, and I’m also really looking forward to that one, as I haven’t read any Icelandic crime for a while and this one comes highly recommended. So kind!

So I can’t take the blame, can I, when lovely people send me books? Or, indeed, when lovely publishers send me books like these!

The top two titles are ones I’m covering for Shiny New Books and probably should be read next. Then there are a couple of lovely titles from the British Library, which are very exciting – particularly the collection of translated crime shorts. Below them are two titles from the excellent Michael Walmer that sound marvellous; and finally at the bottom an intriguing book from OUP on scent in Victorian literature…

And then – ahem – there are the books I’ve been buying, and here they are:

I should say that this has been over a period of several weeks but even so, it’s not good for the rafters… To be specific:

I bought these two online – “The Cornish Trilogy” because of Kat’s excellent review and because I felt I really should read Robertson Davies; and “Grand Hotel Abyss” because it sounded marvellous and Verso sent one of those rotten emails with substantial discounts (they do this regularly and it’s Very Bad for the TBR!!)

These three are from charity shops. The two on the outside were Β£1 each so there was no question about picking them up. Patrick Leigh Fermor is a must, and Saramago is an author I want to read. The Orwell was more expensive (thanks, Oxfam) but, hey – it’s Orwell so no contest.

This, of course, was inevitable… Although I picked up a copy of Stevenson’s poems in Edinburgh I wanted more. I’ve been rummaging through bookshelves all week to try to find my copy of “Jekyll” and having failed, I picked up a copy for Β£1 in a charity shop last weekend. The other two came from an online source, and in particular I was keen to get “New Arabian Nights” after Himadri at The Argumentative Old Git waxed so lyrical about it recently.

And finally – with all my reading around the French Revolution and (shhhh!) iconoclasm recently, I came across recommendations for these two books. Well, they were cheap – although to be honest, it’s not the cost that is ever the issue with book buying, as I tend to go for the bargains. It’s whether I can shoe-horn any more into the house… Ah well – carpe librum, as they say!!

In mitigation, I should direct your attention to the heap waiting to be removed from the house in one way or another (not the Dickens books, I hasten to add – they’re on my Dickens shelf and they’re staying there….):

The Continuing Relevance of George Orwell

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Working out what to read after an immersive experience with a book, is never easy and particularly so after something like “In Other Worlds”. However, I was looking through the stacks and this little pamphlet slid into view; I picked it up earlier on in the year and somehow it seemed the time was right to read it. I’ve dipped into Orwell’s essays off and on over the years and even if I don’t always agree with what he has to say, he’s always a thoughtful and thought-provoking read.

“England Your England” was first published in 1941 as the opening essay of a collection entitled “The Lion and the Unicorn”. In it, Orwell, surrounded by signs of the War and with bombers flying overhead, casts his eye over his country and its inhabitants and tries to make some sense of England whilst looking to its future. The quote featured on the back of the booklet will give you a flavour of the narrative:

England is a family in which the young are generally thwarted and most of the power is in the hands of irresponsible uncles and bedridden aunts. Still, it is a family… A family with the wrong members in control.

That latter sentence *does* seem particularly relevant still, but I wondered how the rest of his arguments would hold up. We are, of course 60-odd years on from that point, and the country could be considered to have changed beyond all recognition. Well, yes and no…

Orwell considers patriotism, the relationship between the English and other countries, the state of the Empire, whether there are national characteristics and if we are a homogenous nation. He even berates himself for using the words “England” and “English”, because of course he is considering the UK. Many of his arguments touch on class and the division of wealth, and this is where I think he’s still very much spot on.

What was it that at every decisive moment made every British statesman do the wrong thing with so unerring an instinct?

Although the class system has broken down to a certain extent, we still live in a country where there is apparently democracy, and also a Royal Family, a House of Lords, and the Eton-type public school system which *still* produces so many of those who are supposed to be providing sensible government but don’t.

England is a country in which property and financial power are concentrated in very few hands.

And somehow, despite the decline of the aristocracy, they have managed to survive by absorbing up and coming wealthy manufacturers, financiers and the like (the subject of so many 20th century middlebrow novels about mixed-class marriages!) However, Orwell does not reserve his ire exclusively for the monied and the upper classes; he is equally scathing about those left-wing intellectuals who toe the Soviet party line and refused to believe anything wrong about Russia and what was really happening there. He has strong words about the inability of the English working class to ever do anything as decisive as starting a revolution, and he cites this as one of the differences between this country and, say, the working class of France or Russia (both of which have managed multiple revolutions).

How can you not love a man who said β€œThe only ‘ism’ that has justified itself is pessimism.”??

Despite the fact that some elements of this essay have by necessity become dated, there are many things in it that ring true and leave you wondering if even the superficialities have changed as much as you might think. Football, for example, is still a force for entertaining the masses on a Saturday afternoon, and the reliance on the hope of a win via the pools has simply been replaced by the dream of a lottery jackpot. However, there is a sense that with the current state of the world we are edging away from those slightly bumbling elements that kept England safe from extremism taking hold; the innate belief in the legal system and its fairness; the lack of real enthusiasm for war; the preference for the everyday distractions rather than developing any strong philosophy of life or a belief system of any kind. Orwell refers to “the strange mixture of reality and illusion, democracy and privilege, humbug and decency, the subtle network of compromises, by which the nation keeps itself in its familiar shape” and I found myself wondering in the modern world if this kind of safety net was being eroded.

“England Your England” is a surprisingly wide-ranging piece of writing for 40 pages, and ends on a note of optimism which was perhaps ill-founded (and which Orwell may have rejected a little later in his life). He states “This war, unless we are defeated, will wipe out most of the existing, class privileges“. Looking around me today, I don’t think, alas, that that is the case. We seem to me to be living in a world just as riddled with inequality as it was in Orwell’s day, where the rich are getting richer, and the poor getting poorer, to paraphrase the old song. OH often comments that there is only one cake to go round and that the greedy lot just want to make their big piece even bigger at the expense of the rest of us, and I think he’s not far off. This was a fascinating little essay to read at this moment in time, and it makes me wish we still had commentators of the calibre of Orwell taking on those in power…

 

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