- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Secker (15 July 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0436231417
- ISBN-13: 978-0436231414
- Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 2.7 x 24.3 cm
- Customer Reviews: 432 customer ratings
Road To Wigan Pier Hardcover – 15 July 1999
|Hardcover, 15 July 1999||
Mass Market Paperback
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The second half is an interesting, often funny account of why people are turned off the socialist cause. I had many a moment where I laughed out loud, particularly at these kind of quotes:
"It would help enormously, for instance, if the smell of crankishness which still clings to the Socialist movement could be dispelled. If only the sandals and the pistachio-coloured shirts could be put in a pile and burnt, and every vegetarian, teetotaller, and creeping Jesus sent home to Welwyn Garden City to do his yoga exercises quietly! But that, I am afraid, is not going to happen."
"The truth is that, to many people calling themselves Socialists, revolution does not mean a movement of the masses with which they hope to associate themselves; it means a set of reforms which 'we', the clever ones, are going to impose upon 'them', the Lower Orders."
Whether you agree or not, you have to admit at times Orwell had a point and that point persists today.
As I indicated, the structure of the book feels a bit clunky though. My advice is not to read the forward before reading the book but to read it afterwards. It gives away a lot of the structure and how it was received which I preferred to think about after the event. The reason for the lack of an editing eye was Orwell had left for the Spanish Civil War just before publication.
One thing I would say is you don't have to be hard left to read Orwell, in fact he's as critical of the hard left as he is of capitalism. Also Orwell is really easy to read and you feel like you've read something of note every time you read one of his books.
By modern standards the structure is probably rather shambolic, and it is stronger on personal experience than evidence, but as a writer, Orwell has the ability to just vanish and let the lives of those he is describing come fully alive before you.
The second half was not originally published, and it is easy to see why. It is part debate, part rant, about his desire for the rise of socialism. He takes swipes at all and sundry, from nouveau Catholics, to sandal wearing lefties and Quakers in their garden cities. He debates the attractiveness of the English physique and whether the working class smell. Despite this, he comes across as sincere, well intentioned, and uncannily astute on a great many things.
After this, Orwell headed off to fight in the Spanish civil war, and he is surely one of the most impressive Britons of the twentieth century.
Orwell is brutally honest and admits his prejudice towards the working class, then immerses himself in his search to find out how class divides us!
His bewilderment at Socialist "food cranks" and "sandal wearers" is often amusing from our modern perspective.
All the same this is essential reading, still thought provoking, and throws up questions and problems which we still haven't fully solved.
Overall, very highly recommended.
Glad he's not still around to see how so many governments are using his work as blueprints for running their countries!
The second part of the book consists of a call to arms in favour of socialism. This was the great depression, and capitalism looked rather beat. Europe also faced the threat of fascism. Here the interest is historical, specifically in Orwell's own path but also in the contemporary ideological context. Orwell's pamphlet shows how an intellectual of great lucidity, honesty, and intelligence could have believed in the superiority of socialism. Inevitably Orwell makes false predictions ('The Socialists are right, therefore, when they claim that the rate of mechanical progress will be much more rapid once Socialism is established.' (page 192)). But he has many interesting observations on technical progress, human psychology, and culture, amid rich private reflexions on the meaning of class. The point in the choice of Wigan pier for a title is that the pier has become derelict and been destroyed. Yet Orwell would continue on his political journey. Next in line was Homage to Catalonia, also an Orwell must-read, describing his experience in Spain and concomitant disillusionment with the communist camp. It seems Orwell was subsequently impressed with the Conservative government's stand on the right side of WWII, completing his ideological conversion. At the same time, his affections remained with the British working class. The Road to Wigan Pier makes clear why.
The Road to Wigan Pier is very different to 1984 or the Animal Farm. It has helped me to understand and appreciate more the society and means of living in the North of England through the description of community and life in the early 20th century. Orwell, having spent time and effort to learn these communities, provides a very thorough description of the situation of the North. The second part of the book is all about English socialism - comparatively heavier read to the first part of the book including plenty of autobiographic references and bitter criticism of the society of the era.
Despite this he is also well aware that capitalism as practised in the UK and the west is equally damnable.
A must read for anyone under the age of sixty who will find it hard to believe the poverty, disease , and hardship which were part of life for the majority of Britons in the 1930s and 1940s , not that long ago.
An interesting but rather unexpectedly cerebral read.
Part 2 is less so, since it's about socialism in the 1930's which is difficult to understand these days. Also, his characterisation of "Socialists" being fruit-juice drinkers, nancy-boys and so on is a bit shocking these days.