An ugly girl of twenty, hatless, in a white overall, with a sallow, blithering, honest face and powerful spectacles that distorted her eyes. A sort of spiritual sewer.’. Gordon slid a ‘slim’ red volume from the poetry shelves. Of course they had done it on purpose! He had been arrested for ‘loitering with intent to enter’ — a vague offence for which you generally get convicted if there are previous convictions against you. But I prefer to keep my friends.’, ‘Isn't that rather — well, rather a bourgeois kind of thing to say?’, ‘Do you think it would be borrowing if I took ten quid off you? The dank mossy path was bordered with chunks of some Rackhamesque pinkish stone. He had declared war on money; but secretly, of course. Keep The Aspidistra Flying is a 1936 novel by George Orwell. He began to talk in obscene detail of his life in Willowbed Road. There is no emotion that matters greatly when one is standing at a street corner in a biting wind. I want you to feel free.’, ‘You know what that means? Pampered bitches dozing on their chains. But he cursed them all the same. He was never quite certain of his welcome. Besides, he would never find another job. ‘Yes, you do. It horrified her to see him throwing money about like that. I haven't worn a hat for two years. No use. Slap the Joey down on the bar and pass it off as a joke. that packs a world of lies into a hundred words — they came to him almost unsought. Between the lover and his bride. Oh, boy! ‘It's time we had the other half of that.’. ‘But you oughtn't to have hit the sergeant, old chappie! But if you have even one it's all right, because when people see one cigarette in a packet they assume that the packet has been full. Gordon, left to himself, would have done it in a more regular manner. There was no village, but far below a dark green river wound, with what seemed quite like a large town scattered along its edge and a grey bridge crossing it. An’ a toori oori ay! There was a concert of something going on inside. Poetry? But it would help.’, ‘Hm — well! His brain had never been clearer. The old strawberry-nosed man was talking to himself as he pawed over the books. He had got to be alone. In Middlesbrough the unemployed huddle in frowzy beds, bread and marg and milkless tea in their bellies. Very pale, with bitter, ineradicable lines. You could both see and smell the river outside. I dessay they'd give you something; that is, they would if they was open.’. The taxi bore them away. They stood clasped together under the lamp-post, still laughing, two enemies breast to breast. The fire was out and there was no light in the room except four candles guttering in a saucer beside the aspidistra. He spoke of ‘ordering the books’ as one might speak of ordering a ton of coals. The door-bell pinged again. He stole a glance at the Nancy, who had drifted away from the poetry shelves and taken out a large expensive book on the Russian ballet. Save it, perhaps? It was so rarely that he could attain the peace of mind in which poetry, or prose for that matter, has got to be written. I very nearly didn't come after that beastly letter you sent me.’, ‘No, I don't. Good God, supposing they'd accepted it! As soon as he had made this discovery he developed as astonishing flair for bookdealing. Julia hadn't been able to get away from the teashop, and Gordon and Rosemary had only got the day off from the office by pretexts carefully manoeuvred a long time ahead. The only place where they could ever be private was the streets. He had only vague and general ideas of what pregnancy meant. And marriage must be indissoluble, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, till death do you part. He hated himself at this moment. Are we living in the reign of Queen Victoria?’, ‘Yes, we are, as far as that kind of thing's concerned. Upset, pained, embarrassed — yes; but not angry. By the pressure of her hand she tried to make it clear to him that she loved him. It sickened him, sometimes. ‘Gordon! And as for Aunt Angela and Uncle Walter — oh dear, oh dear! ‘So that's why you're all dolled up, is it?’ said Gordon, looking coldly at Flaxman's yellow gloves. What do you like, red or white? They would ‘endeavor’ to include it in their next number. download 1 file . I should think we might manage it. It was with difficulty that he could command his voice even for the most banal remark. ‘I'm not going to stand that sort of thing. He had felt so certain, then, that he was equal to it. His last suit of pyjamas had gone west more than a year ago. The rejection slip, however, he did not tear up yet. Those in front of him were prose, a miscellaneous lot. He wanted to get away from all that, below all that. Writing lies to tickle the money out of fools’ pockets! The local paper. If you have no money, men won't care for you, women won't love you; won't, that is, care for you or love you the last little bit that matters. The slip was decorated with a design of funereal laurel leaves. He knew in his bones that he was no good and his poems were no good. With smoke tickling his lungs, he abstracted himself from the mean and actual world. What? He rummaged in the litter of papers. There was the intimacy of hatred between the aspidistra and him. One can't put things right in a hole-and-corner way. Walpole we know, and Hichens we read, but Hemingway, who are you? Here was the outcome of all his fine attitudes! But it was she who had made the first movement, not he. Gordon always seemed to him to exaggerate. There was a tension between them all the time. There was a threatening note in it as it swept over; the first growl of winter's anger. All three of them wanted to get away. Many a time he had furtively attempted to kill it — starving it of water, grinding hot cigarette-ends against its stem, even mixing salt with its earth. He still carried the grimy manuscript of London Pleasures to and fro in his pocket, but it was from mere force of habit; he had dropped even the pretence of working. Gordon was sent to wretched, pretentious schools whose fees were round about £ 120 a year. Oh, boy! Nearly all the lodgers cooked their own squalid meals in their bedrooms. You know we can't afford to marry.’, ‘I don't know. Dead stars above, damp squibs below. She'll know. He could not — no, he could not do it. The commissionaire knew Ravelston, of course. Gordon spent it rather miserably, more and more embarrassed by his shabby clothes and lack of pocket-money, which made girls an object of terror to him. Halitosis is ruining his career.” Poverty is spiritual halitosis.’. He pulled her to the ground beside him, kissed her, pulled off the flat felt hat, lay upon her breast to breast, kissed her face all over. Come on, now for another. He had the powerful bony shoulders of the dwarf, the large ugly hands, and the sharp nosing movements of the head. You can't really feel that kind of thing when your income is eight hundred a year. Ravelston came upstairs to find Rosemary alone and on the point of departure. They did not say euphemistically that Gordon was ‘right in principle’; they knew that to refuse a ‘good’ job can never be right. He must have been very drunk to say a thing like that. Not this evening, I'm afraid. But presently the sun went in, the room grew grey again, and they realized that it was time to go. But what else could you expect? The stupid slovenly routine did not irk him. He added with a kind of deadly joy: ‘In a way you do despise me. Priestley's latest. For perhaps a minute he was cold sober. He grasped the rusty gate-bar so hard that he hurt his hand and almost tore it. Drip, drip, drip. Gordon had been three months at the library now. The main theme is the protagonist's romantic ambition to give up money and status, and the dismal life that results. Now the evening was ending, and he must part from Ravelston, whom he adored, and go back to his foul lonely bedroom. He sat down to enter the book on the girl's ticket, but his hands had begun trembling so that he could hardly do it. Why do you have to be so beastly to me?’, ‘I'm sorry, I'm sorry! ‘I mean I shall have to get a proper job — go back to the New Albion. It was the first time in months — years, perhaps — that he had thought of it and not wanted it. Half an hour later they went out to the florist's to order the aspidistra. There were six or seven of them. But he was very hungry. Lingerie, jewellery, cosmetics, fur coats, silk stockings flicked up and down like the figures in a child's peepshow. She may say she doesn't, she may think she doesn't, but she does. Besides, that business of the eightpence had usurped his mind. He walked a step or two, and then suddenly his head was going round and round. They wasted no words, but just demanded with sinister simplicity: Just that — no pictures, no explanations. But in practice Ravelston never went into a pub unless he was with somebody like Gordon, and he always felt like a fish out of water when he got there. He was proud that Ravelston should see her. But Rosemary had put her foot down to that idea. He was a different person. At this moment he became aware of a lace cap, some dark hair, and a pair of youthful eyes regarding him furtively from the basement of the house next door. Sitting in a corner torturing a nerve which won't even respond any longer. It was a servant-girl who had come out to see what all the noise was about. ‘I can't hear anything,’ he said at last. — and five he had borrowed from Julia. No, suppose not. ‘Hi! As for the cup, he always washed it in his hand basin in the morning. People said that in her youth she had been no better than she ought, and probably it was true. ‘I don't believe I did, as a matter of fact.’, ‘And then you expect people to give you a job! He had finished with all that. So the die was cast. He had developed a sort of Sherlock Holmes technique for finding out whether a house was inhabited or not. He had paused a step or two below her. Ought to have his lips cut off, Eight hundred strong, the novels lined the room on three sides ceiling-high, row upon row of gaudy oblong backs, as though the walls had been built of many-coloured bricks laid upright. The library was not due to shut for two hours yet. His heart pounding, his entrails constricted, he had to pull out book after book and assure the fat woman that this was the very book she was looking for. The bending poplars, newly bare, Better the lone wolf than the cringing dogs. He looked at Gordon, supine on the ragged bed. It is in the brain and the soul that lack of money damages you. So there was another friend gone west. Four and three-quarter hours till closing time. Money is what God used to be. He watched the ribbon of torn paper whirling, fluttering on the Q. T. Sauce advertisement. Between whiles there was nothing to do except read. It was a painful business altogether. The street was so crowded that you could only with difficulty thread your way down the cabbage-littered alley between the stalls. A foul yet coldish air enveloped them. But it is quite true; there are times when one cannot work. Circumcise ye your foreskins, saith the Lord. ‘It is rather nice,’ she said, giving the hat a little pat with her hand. I told you that before. ‘What have you done with Rosemary?’ he said. A thin yellow froth was subsiding on the beer. He set his shoulders, plucked up courage, went in. She wound her arm through his and pulled him out into the light. If only it could ever be finished! The oil in the lamp was giving out and it was getting beastly cold. Today was Wednesday and he had no money coming to him till Friday. Free from the nagging consciousness of his failure; free to sink, as she had said, down, down into quiet worlds where money and effort and moral obligation did not exist. Gordon pushed aside the blue, dust-sodden curtains that served as a doorway to the next room. You don't feel I've sort of bullied you into it?’, ‘No, it's all right. The dreadful thing with Julia was that she understood nothing, absolutely nothing, of his motives. They would manage all right. He's rather a fool about money, as a matter of fact. ‘I'm not going round there to fetch them. Gordon damned their eyes again. But it was a poor weedy specimen — indeed, it was obviously dying. He smelt very strongly of wine. He used to carry the wad of grimy manuscript about with him in his pocket. But this was one of those cheap arid evil little libraries ('mushroom libraries’, they are called) which are springing up all over London and are deliberately aimed at the uneducated. I'll be a smart young business man. In a couple of minutes he had got Ravelston on the pub phone. Oh, well, let's get out of this. Rhyme to rhyme, click-click, click-click. Her arms still round him, she leaned a little backwards, pressing her belly against his with a sort of innocent voluptuousness. The money-stink, everywhere the money-stink. From these conversations Gordon pieced together Mr Cheeseman's history. Author also of London Pleasures. Even sevenpence for a pint. Don't forget the date this time. Women!’, ‘Women!’ echoed Rosemary on a different note. Drunken half clamoured for more drink, and more, and more. More alcoholic than the draught beer, it fizzed and prickled in his throat, and because he was hungry it went a little to his head. Of course he said trade was bad and they couldn't afford to take on new staff and all that. By 1934 only three of that generation survived; Aunt Charlotte already mentioned, and Aunt Angela, who by some happy chance had been induced to buy a house and a tiny annuity in 1912, and Uncle Walter, who dingily existed on the few hundred pounds that were left out of his five thousand and by running short-ived ‘agencies’ for this and that. Gordon waved a foot at the buggy ceiling. You'd like me to go back there now and write slogans for Q. T. Sauce and Truweet Breakfast Crisps. Gordon was very hungry. As the door-bell ping'd, a tiny, evil-looking creature, with a sharp nose and heavy black eyebrows, emerged from the office behind the shop. The worst was that he had both of them in pursuit of him together. Five quid he had set aside for her, and then spent it on a tart! We'll go to some better place. Ravelston appeared a moment later, hatless and pulling on a pair of gauntlet gloves. Prisoners were coming and going all the time. Gordon slumped into the corner seat and seemed immediately to sink into some immense abyss from which he rose again more gradually and with only partial consciousness of what he had been doing. But he was angriest of all at the thought of his assistant being drunk and disorderly. How it would disappoint him! Mr Cheeseman had great dusty stacks of them, left over from his uncle's day and used for wrapping paper. Not hardship — you don't suffer hardship on two quid a week, and if you did it wouldn't matter — but just humiliation, the awful, bloody humiliation. There is nothing more dreadful in the world than to live in somebody else's house, eating his bread and doing nothing in return for it. Without words said, with a sort of bodily certainty, he knew that within an hour she would be in his arms, naked. A stale feeling, not quite a pain, settled upon his breast. More girls streamed past, unseeing. ‘What bloody fools we were not to go in that pub when we had the chance!’, ‘Oh, dear! His relatives had paid back the embezzled money, all except twelve pounds, but the club members had decided to prosecute. His overcoat was up the spout for fifteen shillings, as a matter of fact. He was stout, but he had eagle eyes.’, ‘Ah? Flaxman's wife had forgiven him, and he was back at Peckham, in aspidistral bliss. Not even now, when Gordon was openly on the rocks, could Ravelston say, ‘You haven't got any money.’ One can't say things like that. That too was money. It's a pity you didn't give them a false name when they brought you here last night.’, ‘You told them everything. He had wanted her so long, and he could not stop to weigh the consequences. But this could not be said, as yet. When he had gone another fifty yards the rhyme for the final stanza of his poem occurred to him. Even at sixteen she had ‘old maid’ written all over her. Aunt Angela and Uncle Walter, of course, were bleating weakly at him in long, fatuous letters. It's disgusting.’, ‘I know it is. By far the commonest phrase in the Comstock household was, ‘We can't afford it.’ In those days he longed for money as only a child can long. He recoiled from the thought; he fled back into his drunkenness as into a refuge. It was good. They were to meet at nine o'clock at Paddington Station. All of them, of course, were hopeless fools about money. He could not help it. All the morning Gordon hung about the flat, restless and out of sorts, smoking cigarettes in an endless chain. I'd like to.’. He told himself defiantly that he wasn't going to do any work tonight. There had been some kind of bust-up and he had landed in the clink. At the same moment he remembered his oath, constantly renewed and always broken, not to ‘borrow’ money off Julia. There was a large, low, broken-backed bed with a ragged patchwork quilt and sheets that were changed once fortnightly; a deal table ringed by dynasties of teapots; a rickety kitchen chair; a tin basin for washing in; a gas-ring in the fender. And even in bed with their wives they tremble and obey. A panorama of ignorance, greed, vulgarity, snobbishness, whoredom, and disease. I've only eightpence left.’. The book is a social critique set in 1930s London. Draught beer in the public, bottled beer in the saloon. He answered simply, ‘My poems.’ He had said the same to Rosemary and to Ravelston. She pressed a hand against her middle. That was a bit of bloody foolishness. Before long the pages were as they had been before, a scrawled, grimy labyrinth of words. Of course he couldn't pay his fine himself. It's always money, money, money that's at the bottom of everything. ‘I don't care,’ she said indistinctly, her face buried in his coat. So that was it! Over their glasses their eyes met. 264 Previews . Yet if you looked closely the marks of time were plain enough on her face. Tomorrow he would go up to the New Albion, in his best suit and overcoat (he must remember to get his overcoat out of pawn at the same time as his suit), in homburg hat of the correct gutter-crawling pattern, neatly shaved and with his hair cut short. He tried to nerve himself to say something, and failed. Rosemary walked ahead of him, rather nervous, not speaking. A mistake, that. Keep the Aspidistra Flying study guide contains a biography of George Orwell, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full … No, it isn't like that that one was meant to live. Until the afternoon Gordon felt sick and weak. As they sat down and he turned away for a moment she made a face at his back. He would write her an enormous letter, telling her what it felt like to be ignored and insulted, making her see how cruelly she had treated him. He had declared war on money but that did not prevent him from being damnably selfish. Impossible. Sharply the menacing wind sweeps over. And the dark ribbons of the chimneys Recently, he told Gordon, he had had an idea for a profitable side-line. They were in Regent Street again. In the darkness, as the bus loomed near, Rosemary found Gordon's hand and slipped half a crown into it, so that he might pay the fares and not be shamed in public by letting a woman pay for him. Julia depressed Gordon horribly. It was something about money, as usual. Oh, my God! For here was he, supposedly a ‘writer’, and he couldn't even ‘write’! One in particular caught his eye, a long slender thing, elegant as a swallow, all gleaming blue and silver; a thousand guineas it would have cost, he thought. Down in the basement Mother Meakin was boiling a haddock, and you could smell it half-way up the stairs. Let's look for a decent pub. For a moment he thought of following her, but found his legs too heavy. He had one hobby of never-failing interest, and that was his diseases. But Ravelston was a rich man and had many engagements; the chances were always against his being at home. When the hounds of spring are on winter's traces, in the spring time, the only pretty ring time, when the birds do sing, hey-ding-a-ding ding, cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-wee, ta-witta-woo! He had a peculiar chuckle, his mouth curving upwards at the corners and his large nose seeming about to disappear into it. He couldn't go shoving in that saloon bar with only fourpence halfpenny in his pocket. Dark gate-leg tables, pewter candlesticks, pictures by modern French painters on the walls. It was all so different from Mrs Wisbeach's. In a moment the waiter came back, carrying the bottle of cheap wine by the neck, and half concealing it behind his coat tails, as though it were something a little indecent or unclean. Why does one do these things? The whole atmosphere of this place had given Ravelston a kind of shock. And after three days a dreadful thing happened. Gordon frowned at him. From the room on the left a single voice took up the song with would-be facetious emphasis: ‘The man that kisses a pretty girl Under ground, under ground! Download for offline reading, highlight, bookmark or take notes while you read Keep the Aspidistra Flying. With a half-conscious gesture of caution he was clutching the lapel of his coat, holding it tight against him. Hm. The dreadful thing was that in his heart he was pining to go with him. ‘I'd never thought of it like that. He was growing more mature. Even now she believed that somehow, some day, he was going to retrieve the family fortunes. He said with a sort of philosophic interest: ‘Look at the Neon lights! Pen-pushing in some filthy office — God! I couldn't drink any more. In the middle of each of the small round tables there was a bowl of paper flowers, but at one side, to complete the aquarium effect, there was a whole florist's stand of evergreens, palms, and aspidistras and so forth, like dreary water-plants. It became perceptibly colder. The two hundred pounds, or more than half of it, must be used in completing Gordon's ‘education’. It was queer. The great garish pub seemed to be more brightly lighted than usual. If there were tears in his eyes it was only from the cold of the wind. It would blow over, no doubt; it had happened several times before. She ran towards him, pulled his face down, and kissed his cold cheek. In a wet field on a Sunday afternoon — and in mid-winter at that! My golden locks time hath to silver turned, he thought. There was a film of dust on everything. Gordon looked with disgust at the muddled papers on the table. He stayed on at the flat, and allowed Ravelston to go round to Willowbed Road and pay his rent and recover his two cardboard suitcases; he even allowed Ravelston to ‘lend’ him a further two pounds for current expenses. How could you blame them? A Note on the Text Keep the Aspidistra Flying was published by Gollancz on 20 April 1936. People were leaping aside to avoid the jet of beer. There was something in the atmosphere of the flat that upset him and made him feel mean, dirty, and out of place. She said good-bye and then suddenly turned to him and laid her hand on his arm. With difficulty mastering his voice, he managed to say: ‘It's extraordinarily warm. Ravelston was waving to a taxi-driver without managing to catch his eye. The flat off the Edgware Road wasn't too bad. And the mere fact that he had rebelled against the money code and wouldn't settle down in the prison of a ‘good’ job — a thing no woman will ever understand — had brought a quality of impermanence, of deception, into all his affairs with women. But she had wriggled herself beneath him; they were breast to breast. Gordon averted his eyes from a beastly Rackhamesque dust-jacket; elvish children tripping Wendily through a bluebell glade. It was pouring all over him, a tidal wave of beer. Gordon could not stand it. He was falling — he flung out a hand and stopped himself against the wall. ‘We'd better get hold of a taxi,’ he said, looking up and down the street. Money, money! And she knows a thing or two, that girlie does. More like a gondola than a car. His heart sickened while he did it. With a seeming-careless gesture he thrust his hand into his pocket. He put a strong arm round Gordon's waist and hoisted him to his feet. They went in, resolved to be firm. After that, for several minutes, he was in agonizing pain. He liked particularly the hat she was wearing — one of those flat felt hats which were then coming into fashion and which caricatured a clergyman's shovel hat. Meanwhile, that cup of tea. He was slipping, sliding, falling off the bed. They began to talk more easily and in louder voices. What could he do? It seemed to them a tremendous adventure to have this place of their own. All very well in its way, of course. That girl's face! He began to shepherd Gordon towards the door, one arm round his shoulder, the other holding the Chianti bottle, which he had taken from him earlier. A few whiskies in dull bars, a visit or two to the Empire promenade, a little whoring on the Q. T.; the sort of dingy, drabby fornications that you can imagine happening between Egyptian mummies after the museum is closed for the night. ‘May I just bwowse? He meditated for a long time, and at last wrote, exactly in the middle of the sheet: No address, no signature. I told them I was ill.’, ‘You don't look well. There is always something that drags one upwards. Also, it was very dirty. Tell me when you'll write, so that I can have your letter to look forward to.’, ‘I'll write tomorrow night and post it on Tuesday. ‘I b'lieve I'll jest 'ave The Way of an Eagle over again,’ said Mrs Weaver finally. Money again, always money! Ravelston sighed. There was a conversation of unspeakable obscenity about the lack of women there. Against his right breast he could feel, a square accusing shape, the pocket-book in which, as he knew, eight pound notes and two ten-bob notes nestled against his fat green cheque-book. What the devil have you been doing?’. Oh, God! There was her work at the shop, her ‘sewing’ at nights in her Earl's Court bed-sitting-room (second floor, back, nine bob a week unfurnished), her occasional forgatherings with spinster friends as lonely as herself. The hours were long, the pay was wretched — two pounds a week — and there was no chance of advancement. ‘Dirty little tyke,’ he muttered, and turned away. Gordon pushed the hair out of his eyes and sat down on the foot of Ravelston's bed. He ordered the grilled rumpsteak he had been thinking of, and half a bottle of Beaujolais. ‘How's life with you?’. She was an assistant at a chemist's shop. ‘Not what I should call the intelligentsia. But in half an hour Gordon and Rosemary had not passed a human being. The distinction between a job and a ‘good’ job did not have to be explained to him; nor did he point out to Gordon the folly of what he was doing. But no one would ever have described Rosemary as a spinster of nearly thirty, which in fact she was. Well groomed, and all that.’, ‘Thanks ever so, Gordon dear. From Gordon, whom she adored, she put up with almost anything. To sink! He knew now that he could finish it when he chose. For without money, you can't pick and choose, you've got to take what women you can get; and then, necessarily, you've got to break free of them. ‘You want a Guinness to buck you up, that's what you want. There was a sharp pain in his breast. Circumcise ye your foreskins, saith the Lord. Truweet Breakfast Crisps. It's turning my hair grey.’, ‘My books don't go forward. There were no women there; only the barmaid with her lewd smile which seemed to promise everything and promised nothing. He crossed the road. You had to duck under the darts as you crossed the room, there was a moment's hush and people glanced inquisitively at Ravelston. 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