Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Only a poor little budgie

Well, its not quite the race to replace Blair, but Norwich City Football Club are looking for a new manager after recent poor performances mean they have sacked Nigel Worthington. However, while the hapless Worthington is undoubtedly no Jim Magilton (Ipswich's dynamic new manager), it might be noted that a quick glance at the Championship Table reveals that Ipswich are only three points above them (and only just above Colchester) - and yet many Town fans are optimistically hoping for 'automatic promotion' this year...

On the subject of Ipswich, if not quite Ipswich Town Football Club, Paul Anderson has an interesting article on 'George Orwell and Suffolk' which I will republish below:

'The obvious connection between George Orwell and Suffolk is the surname the aspiring author Eric Blair adopted as a pseudonym in 1932: the River Orwell is the tidal estuary that links Ipswich to the sea. But his Suffolk connections go further than that.

As a 17-year-old schoolboy at Eton, he spent much of the Xmas holiday of 1920-21 with cousins of his father in Burstall, a small village just west of Ipswich, where – as we know from a letter written to a friend – he picked up a large cage rat-trap, which several biographers suggest was the prototype for the cage full of rats that finally breaks Winston Smith’s resistance to torture in Orwell’s last novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

A year later, after he left Eton, he and his family – his father Richard, a retired colonial administrator then in his early 60s, his mother Ida, nearly 18 years younger than her husband, and his younger sister Avril – moved from the home counties to the small Suffolk coastal town of Southwold, to a rented house in Stradbroke Road near the lighthouse. (His elder sister Marjorie, five years his senior, had married and left home the previous year.)

The young Eric spent six months at a crammer in the town swotting up for imperial police service exams which he took and passed before going off to Burma as a colonial policeman. Not much is known about this time in Southwold apart from the fact that he got into trouble for sending a dead rat to the borough surveyor as a joke birthday present.

He came back from Burma on leave in 1927 and after a couple of months announced to his parents, who had by this point moved to another rented house, in Queen Street, right in the centre of town and near South Green, that he had decided to quit his job in Burma and become a writer. For the next eight years, Southwold was his main base – though he spent a lot of time away.

In late 1927 he moved to lodgings in London, where he experienced for the first time the poverty of the East End, then the next year went to Paris, where his aunt lived, in an attempt to make it as a freelance. But he ran out of money and turned to working as a washer-up to try to make ends meet – an experience that eventually made its way into Down and Out in Paris and London – before admitting defeat and returning to Southwold just before Xmas 1929. Feeling a failure, he took a job looking after what he called “an imbecile boy” in the nearby village of Walberswick.

The job did not last, but he didn’t leave the town for good until late 1934 – though he often went off in 1930-31, dressed as a tramp, to do the research for what became Down and Out; and in 1932-33 he worked in suburban west London as a teacher, an occupation he was forced to give up by illness. Not only Down and Out (published in 1933) but also the novels Burmese Days (1934) and A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935) were written largely in Southwold. A Clergyman’s Daughter starts and ends in a Suffolk town, Knype Hill, at least partially based on Southwold.

His family had been living in genteel poverty until the early 1930s, but an inheritance and Avril’s success at running a tea room made them comfortably off. They bought a house in the High Street and became pillars of respectable society – Orwell’s father a familiar figure in the posher of the local golf clubs and his mother a doyenne of the ladies’ bridge circuit.

Orwell said he didn’t like Southwold, and the best bits of A Clergyman’s Daughter – a novel he later dismissed as “tripe” – are a vicious satire on the parochialism of provincial small-town life, including tea rooms. The chief protagonist of the novel, Dorothy Hare, is the dutiful daughter of a rector, and her reputation is destroyed by a malicious gossip.

But he had lots of friends there, including one woman, Eleanor Jaques, with whom he had an affair, and another, Brenda Salkeld, the gym mistress at St Felix girl’s school, whom he wooed unsuccessfully for several years and on whom Dorothy Hare was loosely based. And his distaste for the place did not prevent him visiting it regularly after he left, the last time in early 1944 after the death of his mother. (His father died in 1939.)

People apart, there was something about the bleakness of “the low, barely undulating East Anglian landscape” that Orwell liked. Although it was “intolerably dull in summer”, it was “redeemed in winter by the recurring patterns of the elms, naked and fanshaped against leaden skies”. Seventy years later, I feel much the same way. It's just a pity all the elms have died.'



At 9:25 pm, Blogger paddington said...

Sounds like Southwold hasn't changed a bit - its overt displays of privilege still offend, though the town itself isn't so bad.

One interesting thing though - I believe it's true that there is no audio or video footage of Orwell in existence. But when DJ Taylor (you can catch him at Ministry of Sound next Friday) researched his official biography of Orwell, he came across an amateur film of the annual Southwold fete. For a few brief seconds, an awkward, shuffling figure walks towards the camera, and then is gone. Taylor thought - and it must be said that the figure did bear quite a resemblance - that this was Orwell.

At 12:49 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no independent clarification of this story but I once heard that the name Orwell actually came to him while he was standing on the bridge over that river (although by that geographical point it may have become the Gipping) just in front of Ipswich Station. Could be codswallop but I suppose he would have had to have come up with the name sometime.

On another theme, it may strike readers of this blog who do not come from the environs of Ipswich that the rivalry between the town and the city of Norwich, a good forty miles to the north is a little pointless and excessive. However, on the occasion of the departure of Nigel Worthington, I would like to restart the rumour that there is a picture of Delia Smith (Norwich's head honcho and part time chef) attending the 1978 FA Cup final wearing an Ipswich scarf......again, probably not true but worth repeating.

At 11:27 am, Blogger Snowball said...

I have looked for the aforementioned image on Google but I am afraid I can't find it. I did think about putting up the famous picture of Delia roaring 'Let's be having you!' but then I thought better of it (this blog tries to maintain at least some standards when it comes to images).

Earlier this year, I was doing a petition on a Socialist Worker sale saying 'Troops Out - Blair Out' or some such demand, and these Norwich fans came up to me and said 'Have you got one saying "Worthington Out"?' I told them I was an Ipswich fan (a brave move, I thought, on my part) and we shook hands. I like being in the same division as Norwich and Colchester. As long as we don't lose when we play them of course...

On the question of Orwell - is it possible he might have been an Ipswich Town fan? Does anyone know (a 2 minute google search has not revealed anything)? What were Ipswich Town FC like in the 1910s-1930s?

At 9:57 pm, Blogger paddington said...

In "The Sporting Spirit," Orwell wrote: "Sport is an unfailing cause of ill-will." He describes recent football matches as variously violent, anarchic and nationalistic.

He goes on:

"I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn't know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles."

Orwell locates the rabid passions aroused by sport in the rises of nationalism and commerce. He also notes that sports are most popular in the cities, where people have less of an opportunity to participate in sports and to be creative.

Given all this, I suspect his allegiances didn't go much beyond the Southwold First XI.

At 11:35 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always thought that the name George Orwell was coined in order to sound heartily English but enclosed within it is a pun (at least there is if you speak posh English and don't voice the letter 'r'. Thus George Orwell = jaw-jaw well. And you'll remember that jaw-jaw was a pukkah way of talking about talking back then as in Churchill's jaw-jaw not war-war and the form is mocked with calling William Joyce Lord Haw-Haw.

Yes, I'm sticking to my Jaw-jaw well, story.

At 1:23 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Remember people - read Histomat - first with exclusive comment about the whys and wherefores of Eric Blair deciding upon his pseudonym...

Paddington - I'm sticking to the idea that Orwell was like John Motson or John Peel - a quiet admirer of Ipswich Town.

At 12:42 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I much prefer the jaw jaw explanation to my own rather tedious idea of Eric idling away outside Ipswich station.

As Paddington's excerpt demonstrates, I don't think that the excitement generated by Ipswich Town turning professional in 1938 would have fired his imagination. Anyway, with his sense of social injustice and admiration for the underdog, he'd have probably ended up being a bloody Colchester fan anyway......

At 11:28 am, Blogger Snowball said...

Lets not talk any more about bloody Colchester...grr

At 12:18 am, Blogger Eden Wylie said...

i agree with you, but i think "Jaw-Jaw-Well" goes much deeper than simply playing with the parlance of his times. i see the phrase "Jaw-Jaw" in this context as signifying herbivores and carnivores, prey and predators: the first Jaw eats the plants, the second Jaw eats the first Jaw. when in the wild, this dynamic is balanced and the resultant suffering is minimal (though the phenomenon was effectively the driver of suffering and especially of fear in the evolution of life), however within humanity it took a much darker turn. the evidence suggests (though no one else seems to be willing to say it out loud) that this dynamic exists within the human species: there is a vast majority of human prey (neurotypical and autistic, the first/passive Jaw) and a small minority of human predators (psychopaths, the second, dominant Jaw). this predator/prey dynamic developed with complex communication (and thus the expanded role of empathy) such that those genetically predisposed to deception and predation would prey not on the bodies of the honest, expressive majority, but on their minds, which they exploited using their empathy and their attachment to being accepted by the majority. what resulted from this was a society built around the phenomenon of the majority being kept in ignorance and denied recognition of the truth of their existence; while a tiny minority held all the knowledge and doled it out to a corrupted small portion of the prey to be used as gatekeepers of the natural order. the majority of people, especially since civilisation, are raised into a programmed existence whereby the underlying reality of their situation is buried deep in their minds under social lock-and-key (i.e. metaphorically pushed into the earth down a Well, or a Rabbit Hole as C.S. Lewis put it). hence: the Jaw-Jaw-Well. if you really think about it, it fits in to the running themes of Orwell's final two books perfectly, as his mission seemed to be to highlight the lies that our societies feed us in order to maintain top-down control. it fits in with the concept of "2+2=5" (i.e. it's a fair game of chess even when you don't have thumbs, and a fair game of poker even when you don't have a head) that Winston Smith is forced to accept when he finally realises that he is alone in his understanding and can not undo the natural order. don't let this get you down though, 1984 was just a very dark exaggeration representing the world that the psychopaths Want, in reality the tide is turning and people are waking up fast.


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