Keep the Aspidistra Flying

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Keep the Aspidistra Flying, first published 1936, is a socially critical novel by George Orwell. It is set in 1930s London. The main theme is the protagonist's romantic ambition to give up money and status, and the dismal life that results.



Orwell wrote the book in 1934 and 1935 when he was living at various locations near Hampstead in London, but drew on his experiences over the preceding few years. At the beginning of 1928 he lived in lodgings in Portobello Road from where he started his tramping expeditions, sleeping rough and roaming in the poorer parts of London.[1] At this time he wrote a fragment of a play in which the protagonist Stone needs money for his child's life-saving operation. Stone would prefer to prostitute his wife than to prostitute his artistic integrity by writing advertising copy.[2] Orwell's early publications appeared in The Adelphi, a left-wing literary journal edited by Sir Richard Rees, a wealthy and idealistic baronet who made Orwell one of his protégés.[3]

At the end of 1931 Orwell attempted to get himself put in prison over Christmas. He was picked up for being drunk and disorderly but was released after a weekend in a police cell and a fine. The incident was described in the article "Clink".[4] In 1932 he took a job as a teacher in a small school in West London. From there he would take journeys into the country at places like Burnham Beeches. There are allusions to Burnham Beeches and walks in the country in Orwell's correspondence at this time with Brenda Salkeld and Eleanor Jacques.[5]

In October 1934, after nine months at his home in Southwold, Orwell's Aunt Nellie Limouzin found him a job as a part-time assistant in "Booklover's Corner", a second-hand bookshop in Hampstead run by Francis and Myfanwy Westrope. The Westropes, who were friends of Nellie in the Esperanto movement, had an easy-going outlook and provided him with comfortable accommodation at Warwick Mansions, Pond Street. He was job sharing with Jon Kimche who also lived with the Westropes. Orwell worked at the shop in the afternoons, having the mornings free to write and the evenings to socialise.[6] His essay "Bookshop Memories", published in November 1936, recalled aspects of his time at the bookshop.

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