Sunday, July 15, 2012


Keep the Aspidistra Flying

Excerpts from George Orwell (1903-1950), Keep the Aspidistra Flying.

Chapter 1:
All human relationships must be purchased with money. 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. And how right they are, after all! For, moneyless, you are unlovable. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels. But then, if I haven't money, I don't speak with the tongues of men and of angels.
Chapter 2:
No fat person ever uses the word "fat" if there is any way of avoiding it. "Stout" is the word they use—or, better still, "robust." A fat man is never so happy as when he is describing himself as "robust."
Chapter 3:
What he realized, and more clearly as time went on, was that money-worship has been elevated into a religion. Perhaps it is the only real religion—the only really felt religion—that is left to us. Money is what God used to be. Good and evil have no meaning any longer except failure and success. Hence the profoundly significant phrase, to make good. The decalogue has been reduced to two commandments. One for the employers—the elect, the money-priesthood as it were—"Thou shalt make money"; the other for the employed—the slaves and underlings—"Thou shalt not lose thy job."


There are two ways to live, he decided. You can be rich, or you can deliberately refuse to be rich. You can possess money, or you can despise money; the one fatal thing is to worship money and fail to get it. He took it for granted that he himself would never be able to make money. It hardly even occurred to him that he might have talents which could be turned to account. That was what his schoolmasters had done for him; they had rubbed it into him that he was a seditious little nuisance and not likely to "succeed" in life. He accepted this. Very well, then, he would refuse the whole business of "succeeding"; he would make it his especial purpose not to "succeed." Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven; better to serve in hell than serve in heaven, for that matter. Already, at sixteen, he knew which side he was on. He was against the money-god and all his swinish priesthood.


There was hardly a soul in the firm who was not perfectly well aware that publicity—advertising—is the dirtiest ramp that capitalism has yet produced. In the red lead firm there had still lingered certain notions of commercial honour and usefulness. But such things would have been laughed at in the New Albion. Most of the employees were the hard-boiled, Americanised, go-getting type to whom nothing in the world is sacred, except money. They had their cynical code worked out. The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket.


All over the darkish drawing-room, ageing, discoloured people sat about in couples, discussing symptoms. Their conversation was like the dripping of stalactite to stalagmite. Drip, drip. "How is your lumbago?" says stalactite to stalagmite. "I find my Kruschen Salts are doing me good," says stalagmite to stalactite. Drip, drip, drip.
Chapter 5:
"Hermione, dear, please don't call them the lower classes!"
"Why not? They are the lower classes, aren't they?"
"It's such a hateful expression. Call them the working class, can't you?"
"The working class, if you like, then. But they smell just the same."
"You oughtn't to say that kind of thing," he protested weakly.
"Do you know, Philip, sometimes I think you like the lower classes."
"Of course I like them."
"How disgusting. How absolutely disgusting."
Chapter 11:
Spring, spring! Bytuene Mershe ant Averil, when spray biginneth to spring! When shaws be sheene and swards full fayre, and leaves both large and longe! 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! And so on and so on and so on. See almost any poet between the Bronze Age and 1850.

But how absurd that even now, in the era of central heating and tinned peaches, a thousand so-called poets are still writing in the same strain! For what difference does spring or winter or any other time of year make to the average civilized person nowadays? In a town like London the most striking seasonal change, apart from the mere change of temperature, is in the things you see lying about on the pavement. In late winter it is mainly cabbage leaves. In July you tread on cherry stones, in November on burnt-out fireworks. Towards Christmas the orange peel grows thicker. It was a different matter in the Middle Ages. There was some sense in writing poems about spring when spring meant fresh meat and green vegetables after months of frowsting in some windowless hut on a diet of salt fish and mouldy bread.
Chapter 12:
The Queen of Sheba Toilet Requisites Co. were sweeping the country with a monster campaign for their deodorant, April Dew. They had decided that B.O. and halitosis were worked out, or nearly, and had been racking their brains for a long time past to think of some new way of scaring the public. Then some bright spark suggested, What about smelling feet? That field had never been exploited and had immense possibilities. The Queen of Sheba had turned the idea over to the New Albion. What they asked for was a really telling slogan; something in the class of "Night-starvation"—something that would rankle in the public consciousness like a poisoned arrow. Mr. Warner had thought it over for three days and then emerged with the unforgettable phrase "P.P." "P.P." stood for Pedic Perspiration. It was a real flash of genius, that. It was so simple and so arresting. Once you knew what they stood for, you couldn't possibly see those letters "P.P." without a guilty tremor. Gordon had searched for the word "pedic" in the Oxford Dictionary and found that it did not exist. But Mr. Warner had said, Hell! what did it matter, anyway? It would put the wind up them just the same. The Queen of Sheba had jumped at the idea, of course.

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