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George Orwell

Keep the Aspidistra Flying

Publisher: © 1936 Victor Gollancz Ltd., GB, London.

Print run: 3,000.

The First edition

By Daniel J. Leab:

Once again Orwell faced in-house censorship from his publisher, who had serious concerns about some of the novel's targets. At the center of this biting critique of 1930s English society is Gordon Comstock, who gives up a promising career in advertising in order to make his way as a poet (Orwell had the Times Literary Supplement say Comstock once showed “exceptional promise”). Comstock's integrity gives way to middle class gentility (as represented by the aspidistra, once described as “the homely indestructible house plant that stands in every middle-class British window”). In his failed pursuit of the poet's life he has numerous experiences similar to Orwell's (e.g., stints in a bookshop and in a tenth rate lending library) as he searches for time to write. By the novel's end Comstock has thrown his manuscript down a drain, taken up domesticity with his pregnant girlfriend, and returned to the world of advertising. Keep the Aspidistra Flying was published on April 20, 1936. Orwell's agent could not interest any American publisher in the book. It received mixed reviews and did not sell particularly well. Of the 3,000 copies printed, many were lost in the early days of World War II, when the stock was bombed. In March 1942 a cheap edition of 484 copies was issued (made up mainly of copies salvaged from the bombing). The wraparound band contained a fulsome endorsement of Orwell from the then prominent novelist and literary critic Compton Mackenzie.

Visit ‘The Daniel J. Leab Collection Of Books And Manuscripts By And About George Orwell’:
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By Compton Mackenzie:

“It confirms my opinion that Orwell is a real crasher. And I flatter myself on having as quick a nose for the genuine slice of life as anybody. Not a line of this novel suggests anything but the truth, and it is a little masterpiece of construction.”