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George Orwell

The Road to Wigan Pier

Publisher: © 1937 Victor Gollancz Ltd., GB, London.

The First (trade) edition

By Daniel J. Leab:

In January 1936, the socially conscious Gollancz commissioned Orwell to write about working class life in England's depressed industrial north. He visited various communities, including Manchester and Liverpool, but spent most of his two month visit in Wigan — an older industrial community marked by despair, squalor, and environmental decay. “Wigan Pier” as Orwell later pointed out “was a tumbledown wooden jetty: and by way of a joke someone nicknamed this Wigan Pier.” Orwell biographer Michael Shelden reports that it “had become the butt of music hall jokes for many years In December 1936 Orwell turned over his manuscript to Gollancz. It would be published in March 1937. The book was in two parts. The slightly longer Part I was as Gollancz had envisaged reportage (and quite brilliant and moving) on working class life in the industrial north. Part I was a prime example of what contemporaries referred to as “dole literature.” But in the second half of the book the tenor changes dramatically. Part II was an idiosyncratic, quixotic, argumentative partly autobiographical polemical critique of various brands of English Socialism and the shortcomings of many of its adherents. He attacked the “astute young social-literary climbers who are Communists now, as they will be Fascists five years hence, because it is all the go”.

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