Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Keep the Aspidistra Flying

This book I had only heard about, never read:

It's worth reading, and it is worth reading in the end. It's largely predictable, but then I think it's meant to be. Gordon Comstock can only ever be a failure, even, especially, on his own terms. He runs from the comfortable, satisfactory, though sometimes difficult and dull life of the hard-working family man, and takes refuge in a romantic image of himself which which probably can't exist, and which he, certainly, is quite incapable of living up to. He completely fails to realize that what he is running from is not imposed on anyone. It is what the people who have it want. Not all of them succeed, but those who do are happy. He has chosen not to have it, even though it is the route to everything he wants, including money, which he is far more obsessed with even than the people he pretends to despise, and he cannot have the girl he wants until he becomes like them.

He, not them, is the victim of the money-god. He is the one who measures everyone and everything in terms of money. He is a silly, infantile creature who expects the world to take him seriously because he has chosen to ignore it, to look down on it. He knows he is not what he claims to be but expects other people to believe it and to value it in a way that he himself cannot.

It is not surprising that he ends up a normal working man, nor the mechanism chosen by Orwell to achieve it. He begins to dimly understand that people choose to live the life he tried to renounce, and they so choose for perfectly good reasons, the same reasons that make him choose that life in the end. He wishes to live a symbolic life, as Ravelston does, but Ravelston can afford to live such a life and Gordon can't.
I was surprised he threw away the great poem, some of which wasn't bad, rather than keeping it locked in some desk as a memory of another time. And putting an aspidistra in his window shows a sense of humour and self-awareness that he has never appeared to have before.


James Higham said...

And putting an aspidistra in his window shows a sense of humour

I'll now have to reflect on why that is.

CIngram said...

You have to read the book, but basically it's an ironic reference to his failure to escape from a kind of life he pretended to dislike. I don't think the character would have been sufficiently self-aware to make that ironic statement, insist on it, even, in the face of opposition.