Orwell, "The Road to Wigan Pier" (1937)

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Belle
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Orwell, "The Road to Wigan Pier" (1937)

Post by Belle » Sun Jun 03, 2018 11:45 pm

I've finally finished this easy read from Orwell, despite many interruptions with other books and research. The book was recommended by Dr. Jordan Peterson in many of his lectures, so I felt I had to give it a go. Firstly, its style and insight are so very reminiscent of Dickens; and I soon discovered Orwell had written about Dickens.

"The Road to Wigan Pier" is in two halves; the first covers the period that Orwell lived and worked amongst the coal-mining families of northern England, eating what they ate and socializing with them as he documented their daily lives. From squalid boarding-house digs Orwell closely observes and interacts with the hapless single man of Depression-era England and his married counterpart. Orwell had been commissioned to investigate these living and working conditions during the 1930s by the Left Book Club. They were to be more than disappointed by their author's ultimate assessment of the motivations of the educated working class and bourgeois society and his rejection of them in helping the working people of England. It became apparent to Orwell that this project wasn't going to fit an a priori agenda from the Left but he went ahead and published it anyway. The stinging criticism of Orwell which ensued is in the Forward of this book. I didn't read it.

Apart from mining communities there was also "a floating clientele of commercial travellers of the poorer sort, travelling actors and newspaper-canvassers" (whatever they are!). The characters jump off the pages in simultaneous cariacture and universal humanity. For example, the landlady - Mrs. Brooker - is shrill and has few teeth (these can only ever be a bother!). Her character is right out of Dickens...."Mrs. Brooker used to lament by the hour, lying on her sofa, a soft mound of fat and self-pity, saying the same things over and over again. 'We don't seem to get no customers nowadays. I don't know 'ow it is. The tripe's just a-layin there day after day - such beautiful tripe it is, too'". All Mrs. Brooker's laments ended with 'It does seem 'ard, don't it now'". Orwell has a kind of modulated dislike of her because, like everybody else, she's trying to eek out an existence. The author's use of the vernacular imbues the daily lives of grind and privation mostly with an arresting kind of dignity; there's much of courage and stoicism in just surviving on bread and dripping in the bitter cold. The scenes of miners crawling on all fours for up to 2 hours each day to the coal seam where they will then spend the day shovelling coal whilst on their knees was extremely confronting. And they were NOT PAID for the journey to work. "The Road to Wigan Pier" reminded me of some of the visceral scenes of poverty in "Our Mutual Friend".

The book also covers mining unions, the wages of miners (charts documenting cost of living, etc.) and the fact that married miners were better off than single miners - because of social security payments (minimal though they were) and the fact that having family support during times of unemployment and responsibility for somebody other than yourself meant that a miner couldn't focus on himself for too long. There's a depressing scene of families who couldn't afford coal going out and picking through the mine tailings for little pieces of coal so that they could survive the winter. And the housing where they were all constructed back to back and the journey to the toilet was up to a 200 yard walk in any and all conditions.

And I came across a passage which intensely aroused my interest. It was about the long-term unemployed and, as I said earlier, these men could often be financially better off than single people who worked. The married man often went years without work, but he had his peers and they belonged to a strong community. Their women continued with the hard daily chores of housekeeping and child-rearing. Orwell commented on this - and I think it's key; the men sat at home while the women continued doing all the work in the home. They wanted to do this because women didn't want their unemployed men further emasculated by turning them into domesticated "Mary Annes"!!! I couldn't help thinking about our modern all-about-me feminists. And our educated 'snowflakes' who don't have the faintest idea about history, abject suffering or privation.

Orwell's stinging criticism is reserved for himself and the class he belongs to in fomenting much of the antipathy directed towards the working class by the other classes in British society. Finally, he deduced that the bourgeois and educated working class disliked the real working classes and hated the rich.

And the final tragedy; these long-term unemployed men would ultimaty get full time work and a restoration of their pride and dignity only when they went into uniform in 1939 - a great number of them being slaughtered in the process. So much for 'white privilege'.

And this is where we are today:

http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/ar ... xTbrEiFOUk

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