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Groin Gorbachev
Groin Gorbachev

Keep The Aspidistra Flying Fixed

The aspidistra is a hardy, long-living plant that has been used as a house plant in England, and which can grow to an impressive, even unwieldy size. It was especially popular in the Victorian era, in large part because it could tolerate not only weak sunlight but also the poor indoor air quality that resulted from the use of oil lamps and, later, coal gas lamps. Aspidistras had fallen out of favour by the 20th century, following the advent of electric lighting, but their use had been so widespread among the middle class that they had become a music hall joke,[13] appearing in songs such as "Biggest Aspidistra in the World", of which Gracie Fields made a recording.

Keep the Aspidistra Flying

In the titular phrase Orwell uses the aspidistra, a symbol of the stuffiness of middle-class society, in conjunction with the locution "to keep the flag (or colours) flying."[14] The title can thus be interpreted as a sarcastic exhortation in the sense of "Hooray for the middle class!"

"Keep the aspidistra flying!" is the final line of Nexus by Henry Miller, published in 1959. Orwell owned some of Miller's works while he was working at Booklovers' Corner. The books were banned in the UK at the time.[16]

Gordon chooses Rosemary and respectability, and experiences relief at having abandoned his anti-money principles with such comparative ease. After two years of abject failure and poverty, he throws his poetic work London Pleasures down a drain, marries Rosemary, resumes his advertising career and plunges into a campaign to promote a new product to prevent foot odour. In his lonely walks around mean streets, aspidistras seem to appear in every lower-middle class window. As the book closes, Gordon wins an argument with Rosemary to install an aspidistra in their new small but comfortable flat off the Edgware Road.

"A Merry War" is the insipid and enigmatic new title for a film released in England as "Keep the Aspidistra Flying." That also may not be an inspired title, but at least it is the title of the famous 1936 novel by George Orwell, and a pun on the communist slogan "Keep the Red Flag Flying." In Orwell's England, the aspidistra, a house plant almost impossible to kill through neglect, was a symbol of suburban living rooms. And his hero, Gordon Comstock, seems determined to find out how much neglect he can endure.

Gordon has a talent for shooting himself in the foot; just when it seems that his life is on track, he quits his job. After he is fired from the part time job he takes instead, he is forced into taking an even lesser paid job, moving into a single room in a home with a horrible landlady, and having to borrow money to buy a pint in the pub. Sometimes it seems that he would actually rather like to return to polite society, because his life of self-imposed poverty is wearing a little thin, but his pride prevents him from doing so. That is why his girlfriend's pregnancy is a blessing for him; he is able to return to the workforce under the guise of "doing the right thing" without having to abandon his principles. At the end of the novel, Gordon lives a conventional middlle class life in suburbia, complette with aspidistra plant in the living room window.

Beyond these basics of her life, we don't learn much of her character. She is a paradox in many ways; she seems strong enough to manipulate Gordon, refusing to sleep with him one minute, spending the day with him the next; giving in to him and then disappearing for a month or so without a word. We learn that she is on good terms with his sister and that the two women try to intervene in Gordon's unraveling life. At the end of the novel, Rosemary, who is far more even-keeled than Gordon, is less conventionally middle class than Gordon has become, fighting him every step of the way on the acquisition of the aspidistra.

Very subtle, that. Now leave him to himself. That's the proper way with customers. Don't hustle them; let them browse for twenty minutes or so; then they get ashamed and buy something. Gordon moved to the door, discreetly, keeping out of Nancy's way; yet casually, one hand in his pocket, with the insouciant air proper to a gentleman.

Faces passed, wind-yellowed. A tram boomed across the square, and the clock over the Prince of Wales struck three. A couple of old creatures, a tramp or a beggar and his wife, in long greasy overcoats that reached almost to the ground, were shuffling towards the shop. Book-pinchers, by the look of them. Better keep an eye on the boxes outside. The old man halted on the kerb a few yards away while his wife came to the door. She pushed it open and looked up at Gordon, between grey strings of hair, with a sort of hopeful malevolence.

He gazed out at the graceless street. At this moment it seemed to him that in a street like this, in a town like this, every life that is lived must be meaningless and intolerable. The sense of disintegration, of decay, that is endemic in our time, was strong upon him. Somehow it was mixed up with the ad-posters opposite. He looked now with more seeing eyes at those grinning yard-wide faces. After all, there was more there than mere silliness, greed, and vulgarity. Corner Table grins at you, seemingly optimistic, with a flash of false teeth. But what is behind the grin? Desolation, emptiness, prophecies of doom. For can you not see, if you know how to look, that behind that slick self-satisfaction, that tittering fat-bellied triviality, there is nothing but a frightful emptiness, a secret despair? The great death-wish of the modern world. Suicide pacts. Heads stuck in gas-ovens in lonely maisonettes. French letters and Amen Pills. And the reverberations of future wars. Enemy aeroplanes flying over London; the deep threatening hum of the propellers, the shattering thunder of the bombs. It is all written in Corner Table's face.

On the left of the hall was the never-used parlour, then came the staircase, and beyond that the passage ran down to the kitchen and to the unapproachable lair inhabited by Mrs Wisbeach herself. As Gordon came in, the door at the end of the passage opened a foot or so. Mrs Wisbeach's face emerged, inspected him briefly but suspiciously, and disappeared again. It was quite impossible to get in or out of the house, at any time before eleven at night, without being scrutinized in this manner. Just what Mrs Wisbeach suspected you of it was hard to say; smuggling women into the house, possibly. She was one of those malignant respectable women who keep lodging-houses. Age about forty-five, stout but active, with a pink, fine-featured, horribly observant face, beautifully grey hair, and a permanent grievance.

In the familiar darkness of his room, Gordon felt for the gas-jet and lighted it. The room was medium-sized, not big enough to be curtained into two, but too big to be sufficiently warmed by one defective oil lamp. It had the sort of furniture you expect in a top floor back. White-quilted single-bed; brown lino floor-covering; wash-hand-stand with jug and basin of that cheap white ware which you can never see without thinking of chamberpots. On the window-sill there was a sickly aspidistra in a green-glazed pot.

He took up his pen again. It was a quite futile gesture. She hadn't written after all! The little beast! He had not the smallest intention of doing any more work. Indeed, he could not. The disappointment had taken all the heart out of him. Only five minutes ago his poem had still seemed to him a living thing; now he knew it unmistakably for the worthless tripe that it was. With a kind of nervous disgust he bundled the scattered sheets together, stacked them in an untidy heap, and dumped them on the other side of the table, under the aspidistra. He could not even bear to look at them any longer.

The clock struck twelve. Gordon had stretched his legs out straight. The bed had grown warm and comfortable. The upturned beam of a car, somewhere in the street parallel to Willowbed Road, penetrated the blind and threw into silhouette a leaf of the aspidistra, shaped like Agamemnon's sword.

Gordon kicked his heel against the pavement. He wished that London Pleasures had not been mentioned. It brought back to him the memory of his mean, cold bedroom and the grimy papers littered under the aspidistra. He said abruptly:

But with Gordon it was different. Gordon's income was two pounds a week. Therefore the hatred of modern life, the desire to see our money-civilization blown to hell by bombs, was a thing he genuinely felt. They were walking southward, down a darkish, meanly decent residential street with a few shuttered shops. From a hoarding on the blank end of a house the yard-wide face of Corner Table simpered, pallid in the lamplight. Gordon caught a glimpse of a withering aspidistra in a lower window. London! Mile after mile of mean lonely houses, let off in flats and single rooms; not homes, not communities, just clusters of meaningless lives drifting in a sort of drowsy chaos to the grave! He saw men as corpses walking. The thought that he was merely objectifying his own inner misery hardly troubled him. His mind went back to Wednesday afternoon, when he had desired to hear the enemy aeroplanes zooming over London. He caught Ravelston's arm and paused to gesticulate at the Corner Table poster.

He had started now. They were never together long without Gordon beginning to talk in this strain. It was the vilest manners. It embarrassed Ravelston horribly. And yet somehow Gordon could not help it. He had got to retail his troubles to somebody, and Ravelston was the only person who understood. Poverty, like every other dirty wound, has got to be exposed occasionally. He began to talk in obscene detail of his life in Willowbed Road. He dilated on the smell of slops and cabbage, the clotted sauce-bottles in the dining-room, the vile food, the aspidistras. He described his furtive cups of tea and his trick of throwing used tea-leaves down the w.c. Ravelston, guilty and miserable, sat staring at his glass and revolving it slowly between his hands. 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. How awful these details of poverty are! Not that what Gordon was describing was real poverty. It was at worst the fringe of poverty. But what of the real poor? What of the unemployed in Middlesbrough, seven in a room on twenty-five bob a week? When there are people living like that, how dare one walk the world with pound notes and cheque-books in one's pocket? 041b061a72




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