Orwell - Aspidistra (1)

Crushed in the Here and Now

George Orwell: Keep the Aspidistra Flying (Harcourt, Harvest Books, 1956)

Such a superbly Schopenhauerian sentiment should Orwell express by having Woman – not an individual with any real thoughts and desires, but a pure Eryineic force, a sort of organic .dll file – snare and coerce poor Comstock into the bland swamp of job and fatherhood. Unlike Roquentin, who, if allowed, would have leapt into the abyss of Annie’s bosom (and he was not allowed because Annie was a free individual and not Woman), Comstock never consciously or unconsciously desired his fate. Rather, he was undone by hunger, incompetence and (This is where evil requires as much courage as good) an unfortunate sense of duty.

Comstock was free to avoid that last flickering image of himself as a helpless fish, wriggling in the paws of the social blob, before the fade to black and the eternal night of the family. But he did not possess the talents or imagination to free himself from want without surrendering his freedom from others. He could have sold drugs or committed larcenies or even persisted, absent mindedly and uncaring, in his agency work for the paycheck alone (as long as he did not allow any of these activities to become the time-consuming center of his life). Even if he were to be caught in the pursuit of either of the former two activities he would have free meals and lots of free time (but no sex – There are compromises everywhere). Had he rejected Rosemary at the moment of her pregnancy (He might have saved some face by insisting on an abortion, but, Woman - and Orwell - would not hear of it), he would have been spit out by the blob as incorrigibly evil. But he did not partly because the blob was already part of him (For the call of duty came from nowhere but within) and partly because, like a torturee, weakened by hunger, he was ready to confess to anything.

A sequel to Keep the Aspidistra Flying, would have had the utterly blobbed Comstock presiding over the family table of boiled cabbage and Bovril toast, expressing his disdain, motivated obviously by regret and rancor, for some recent bit of avant garderie before settling down to his slippers and the Mirror (or the Sun, depending on whichever utterly irrelevant political persona he might have chosen). This sequel would have formed an admirable antiphone to The Way of All Flesh, for the artificial (no less artificial for being primitive) and evil concoction called the family is if anything harder on the father than on the son.