Orwell’s England

Thursday 27 September 2012

Last week the Orwell Prize took a panel to the George Orwell Festival at Letchworth near Wallington where Orwell lived for a time after his 1936 journey to Wigan. We were there to talk about The Road to Wigan Pier; the poverty Orwell saw there in comparison to what we see now. Orwell’s journeys around England and beyond have created many timeless pilgrimages for his readers. In Ben Pimlott’s introductory essay to an essay collection entitled Orwell’s England he looks at the connections Orwell forged with the places he wrote about and from.

“On the one hand, Orwell is quintessentially an English writer, carrying into his work many English qualities (suspicion of theory, for example), and his work will always be cited for its representative Englishness. On the other hand – like Boswell’s Samuel Johnson, another firmly based Englishman, whom in some ways he resembles – Orwell is the reverse of parochial. Indeed, by one reading, Orwell’s England is not a place at all. It is a state of mind.”

Pimlott says that The Road to Wigan Pier is about the English not industry or economy; “It is about contrasts, hypocrisy, and convenient amnesia.” And this book presents a great model for many of Orwell’s strongest beliefs. The England of Orwell’s Wigan Pier, rooted in London but based in Wigan, is an England that endures. Perhaps it was Orwell’s talent for participating with his reportage in literary form – tramping in London and fighting in Catalonia – that ensconced him in the places he wrote about, maybe it was more that he captured a particular moment in time and his Englishness was acutely identifiable. At our panel discussion we heard that Orwell’s name resonates still today across in England and in Pimlott’s words, “the writer became the property of everybody.” You can read Ben Pimlott’s essay ‘Ben Pimlott: Introduction to Orwell’s England’ on our website.

Letchworth video

If you weren’t able to make it to our debate at Letchworth last week, you can watch the discussion Poverty then and now: Orwell and his successors newly uploaded to our website and on our youtube channel today.

From the archive

When we think about Orwell’s England there are lots of essays the subject might inspire you to read. There’s ‘The Day in the Life of a Tramp’, ‘The Moon Under Water’ and ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’. From the novels and longer works of reportage as well as The Road to Wigan Pier you might also like to read Down and out in Paris and London or Keep the Aspidistra Flying.

From elsewhere

  • Last week 2012 Orwell Prize judge for journalism Brian Cathcart launched his new book Everybody’s Hacked Off
  • Winner of the Orwell Prize for Journalism in 1997 Ian Bell’s new book Once Upon a Time: the Lives of Bob Dylan was reviewed in So much older then for The Financial Times
  • Our Letchworth debate had a write up by The Orwell Society in the piece The Orwell Society visits the Orwell Weekend at Letchworth
  • The wartime diaries

    This week’s entry was published on 28th September 1942. Next week’s entry will be published on 5th October 1942. Don’t forget our other Orwell Diary blogs: his Hop-Picking Diary and The Road to Wigan Pier Diary. You can sign up to our newsletter If you’ve got any suggestions about our website(s), we’d love to hear from you – email us on katriona.lewis@mediastandardstrust.org. You can also follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.