Keep the Aspidistra Flying – June 2015

About This Project

Selected by Jared Kopf


“An aspiring professional artist should not expect any consolation from Keep the Aspidistra Flying. What he or she will gain from its pages is George Orwell’s brilliant, satirical insight on the unbreakable connection between art and money.


The author’s own self-imposed bohemian existence as an underpaid bookstore clerk living in a leaky garret serves as the backdrop for his protagonist Gordon Comstock, a poet of considerable talent who, having declared a war on money, exiles himself to live in artistic squalor. He comes to discover, however, that the ‘other world, the world of money and success, is always so strangely near. You don’t escape it merely by taking refuge in dirt and misery.’


Orwell, apparently, was ashamed of the novel. Perhaps it was because the irony was too rich for him. In a letter to George Woodcock, the author admits he was ‘half starved’ and had crunched out the novel quickly for some fleeting financial relief. But I like to think he simply regretted the soggy conclusion in which his fictional counterpart literally shoves art down the drain.”
– Jared Kopf


About the Book
Gordon Comstock is a poor young man who works in a grubby London bookstore and spends his evenings shivering in a rented room, trying to write. He is determined to stay free of the “money world” of lucrative jobs, family responsibilities, and the kind of security symbolized by the homely aspidistra plant that sits in every middle-class British window. In Keep the Aspidistra Flying, George Orwell has created a darkly compassionate satire to which anyone who has ever been oppressed by the lack of brass, or by the need to make it, will all too easily relate. He etches the ugly insanity of what Gordon calls “the money-world” in unflinching detail, but the satire has a second edge, too, and Gordon himself is scarcely heroic. In the course of his misadventures, we become grindingly aware that his radical solution to the problem of the money-world is no solution at all–that in his desperate reaction against a monstrous system, he has become something of a monster himself. Orwell keeps both of his edges sharp to the very end–a “happy” ending that poses tough questions about just how happy it really is.


About the Author
George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair, born on June 25th, 1903. He was an English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic. His work is marked by lucid prose, with themes like awareness of social injustice and opposition to totalitarianism. He was a firm believer in democratic socialism and that was expressed in his work.


He is best known for the his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and the novella Animal Farm. His other non-fiction works, including The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia are widely acclaimed by critics. In 2008, the Times ranked him second on a list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945.”


Till this day, Orwell’s work continues to influence popular and political culture, to a point that the term “Orwellian” entered the language together with several of the neologisms he created, including cold war, Big Brother, Thought Police, Room 101, doublethink, and thoughtcrime.