George Orwell

Keep The Aspidistra Flying

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Keep The Aspidistra Flying Summary

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Keep The Aspidistra Flying is a 1936 novel by George Orwell. The book is a social critique set in 1930s London. The story revolves around the protagonist, Gordon Comstock, who fantasizes about defying the worship of money and status, and how, in his attempt to escape these vices, he creates a rather dismal life for himself.

Gordon believes that the economy is a scam and wishes to unsubscribe from it completely. At twenty-nine years old, Gordon is well educated and comes from a middle-class background. At the beginning of the novel, he is working as an assistant at a bookstore in London. It is repetitive work and earns him only two pounds an hour, but he still greatly prefers it to his former job at the New Albion Advertising Company. Although he was once a promising copywriter, he decided he wanted no part of it and would rather work a simple job at a bookstore.

Seeing his true calling in poetry, Gordon takes great pride in the volume of poetry he has published. The collection received good reviews but had a limited readership. Gordon has decided he wants to live life by his own values and not solely in pursuit of financial and material gain. He sees mainstream society as being a corrupt, materialistic system that grinds the life and spirit out of people.

After deciding that he doesn’t care about money, however, Gordon soon finds that money is the only thing he can think about. His precarious finances force him into sub-par housing with a nosy landlady, and he starts to believe that people who were once his friends now reject and despise him because of his poverty.

He can no longer relate to his wealthy friend Philip Ravelston on equal terms, refusing even to go to his apartment. Gordon finally manages to scrape together enough money to take his girlfriend, Rosemary, on a trip to the country, but he ends up being humiliated by a waiter at an expensive restaurant. This ruins his plans to seduce Rosemary later in the day, leading him to also blame his poverty for the fact that Rosemary will not sleep with him. Nothing seems to be going right, and he certainly is not getting any happier by living according to his own values.

One day, Gordon receives a check for fifty dollars from an American journal to which he had submitted one of his poems. This changes his life drastically. He promises himself that he will give some money to his sister, Julia, who has often lent him money in the past. With the rest of the money, he plans to take Rosemary and Ravelston out to dinner. Excited to have the opportunity to treat his friends with his latest windfall, Gordon goes over the top and spoils the evening with his needless opulence. He becomes hopelessly drunk and makes crude sexual remarks to Rosemary as they are walking in the street. Reaching her breaking point, Rosemary turns and slaps him in the face before storming off.

Gordon is not dissuaded by the departure of his girlfriend and, instead, decides to keep drinking. He encounters two prostitutes, and he and a reluctant Ravelston take a taxi to a sordid hotel where Gordon attempts, but fails, to have sexual intercourse with one of the women. The next day when he wakes up, he finds himself in a holding cell in jail. He is told he is being charged with being drunk and disorderly, although he can recall nothing of his previous night’s antics.

This event marks a turning point in the novel and the beginning of Gordon’s downward spiral. He loses his job, and although he eventually finds a position at another bookstore, the pay is even lower, only thirty shillings a week. Once again, he is forced to move into even more dilapidated lodgings, but at this point, Gordon no longer cares where he lives. He finds himself romanticizing the world of tramps and beggars, wishing that he could join them in their underworld. He believes that the only cure for his unhappiness is to relinquish all his worldly possessions and have no prospects with which to acquire more things. He begins to relish his own apathy and despair.

The only thing that saves Gordon from losing everything is the steadfast Rosemary. For some unexplained reason, she sticks by Gordon’s side through the entire ordeal and eventually concedes to sleep with him. When she later comes to him and confesses that she is pregnant, he realizes that he must make a choice about taking care of his family or leaving Rosemary forever. He decides to marry Rosemary and reclaim his old job at the ad agency. The couple settles down to enjoy the middle-class existence that Gordon had formerly rejected and despised. He finds that it is what he secretly desired all along.