on 15 February 2001
On the surface, 'A Clergyman's daughter' charts the adventures of Dorothy, only child of the Reverend Charles Hare, Vicar of St. Athelstan's, Knype Hill, Suffolk. Yet, the book is typical Orwell: we are told that the Vicar is unable to afford a Curate, so he leaves the dirty work of the parish to her, after the death of his wife, such as distributing parish magazines and rubbing old ladies' legs with Elliman's embrocation. The Vicar lived in the past, in his "golden Oxford days, when such vulgar things as tradesmen's bills didn't exist". Consequently, Dorothy has a constant struggle with money, as a result of her father's "investments", the blight of most clergymen with an inheritance - he is the grandson of a baronet. Dorothy is used to describe the stereotypical characters she comes into contact with.
The story really picks up after her helping in the preparations for the Festival Day with Victor Stone, the schoolmaster with controversial ideas. She has taken home the unfinished jackboots for the children's pageant. Late at night, when heating the glue, something happens to her after inhaling the fumes and succumbing to tiredness. The scene transposes to the New King's Road, London, in stark contrast to the comfortable Rectory.
She has lost her memory and falls in with some people hoping to find employment hop-picking. After a long journey and many failures, they are successful at Cairns's Farm, Clintock. At this point, the narrative lapses into the semi-autobiographical mode inherent in so much of Orwell's fiction, much of it being coloured by experience. The graphic description of hop-picking, and the absence of characters in parts of it is evidence, and a prime example of his characteristic fusion of investigative work and experience of Down and Out in Paris and London (a link to this may be found in the Trafalgar Square scene, where Dorothy ends up with a group of down-and-outs) with the stereotypical portrayal of 'Mondeo Man's' precursor in Coming up for Air. Orwell shunned 'conventional' society in parts of his life in order to 'see how the other half lives'. He championed the ill-educated, untold masses, at a time when socialism, communism and radical politics were at a zenith. A lot of his work is a form of investigative journalism, and The Road to Wigan Pier is the best example of this.
Orwell spent part of his life teaching, and we are treated to vivid descriptions of the conditions prevailing in third- and fourth-rate fee-paying schools. There was more emphasis on profit than actual education. The "Ringwood House Academy, Brough Road, Southbridge," and its proprietress, Mrs. Creevy, represented to profusion of such establishments. For example, Mrs. Creevy lays particular emphasis on handwriting-lessons and skills that the parents will see as "practical", rather than educating them. They are forced to memorise horrid little "readers", containing potted accounts of England's history. Thus, the pupils are ill motivated and hate the teachers. When Dorothy arrives, she sets about buying new books with some of her meagre savings and although lacking in previous experience, sets about teaching them to think for themselves and giving them individual attention.
But the badly educated, prejudiced and interfering parents exacerbate the situation, and the worst point is reached when they do Macbeth. The children go home asking what a womb is, and after a scene, she is forced back to the old, practical method. The children rebel.
Eventually, she is rescued by a friend from Knype Hill, Mr. Warburton, with whom the village scandalmongers had assumed Dorothy to have eloped. Despite attempts to dissuade her from becoming a "derelict parson's daughter, like the ten thousand others", and give him her hand in marriage, she refused, and was soon back into the old routine. She found affairs in the village little-changed in her absence, and what is most ironic is that her Faith, which in the beginning was an integral part of her, and important to her, has now been lost. However much she tries to find it again, it will not return. Faith, assumed constant, has in this instance exchanged places with ever-changing time, and leads to questions about the meaning of life itself, in light of experience.
on 10 January 2010
Written in 1935, two years after the non-fiction "Down and Out in Paris and London", the story draws from personal experience and is obviously the result of meticulous research
Naïve Rector's daughter Dorothy lives a monotonous life, acting as unpaid curate for her father and getting involved with parish life, trying to... manage on a meagre budget and to ignore the poisonous tongue of gossip Mrs Semprill. She accepts her lot without complaint, but one day she wakes up in London with no recollection of who she is, or how she got there. From here, her life becomes bleak and hard as she struggles to survive, but along the way she meets many people in the same situation by her and there is a certain amount of camaraderie and solidarity between them, meaning that although a lot of the book paints a rather bleak picture, it is also uplifting in places.
The novel is interspersed with comments about education and class that are clearly Orwell's voice/opinion and not really connected to the actual story. Although Orwell disliked this book, I really enjoyed it! I do like his writing about poverty in the 1930s, whether fact or fiction, (I don't know what that says about me!), and I think "Keep the Aspidistra Flying" is of a similar nature so I am looking forward to reading this at some stage.
on 10 July 1999
Dorothy Hare of Knype Hill, the clergyman's daughter who did not lead an appealing life, and has spent some time under the poorest living conditions, is given a choice about her future. The contemporary reader sees Dorothy as a caged bird whose cage-door flung open, and now would be free to fly away. Seen metaphorical by, the cage in which she is trapped is not her religion, for without it, she still seems to be handicapped. The barriers that keep her from emerging out of her situation as an enlightened human are based on her structure of character, they are mental restraints. Although Dorothy's emotions are described as striving for rescue from the cold Church life, her traumatical fear of marriage and a man who approaches her emotionally, force her to bar such thoughts. The positive aspect for her decisive step back to K H is that she can still see sense in the parish work she does, therefore only her pretext changes. The most entertaining passages are the conversations between Dorothy and Mr Warburton who deal with Dorothy's restricted outlook on the world. Finally this can't be Orwell's best novel, but it is still quality writing.
on 9 January 2013
Another uplifting instalment from the pen of jolly George. This novel is rather like Orwell's version of 'Bridget Jones's Diary'.
The victim here is the hapless Dorothy Hare, only child of the Rector of St. Athelstan's church. She is a mousy, frigid woman of twenty-eight and terra incognito beyond empty church ceremony and unrelenting dawn to dusk drudgery, both for her mean-spirited father and the dwindling band of elderly parishioners. Like others who believe the meek shall inherit the earth, uncomplaining and selfless Dorothy is used and abused as a doormat throughout the novel. The trajectory of Dorothy, the meek and mild, is all one way ... down.
Particularly interesting is the account of Dorothy's experience as a school teacher, revealing much about Orwell's own perspective on teaching and how 'modern' Dorothy's approach is. Teaching standards are not subject to regulation and the only subjects the girls learn in their mixed-age class are learning a neat copper-plate, rudimentary arithmetic and French phrases learnt parrot-fashion from 19th century phrase books. Beyond that the girls are totally ignorant about the world. They know nothing about history, science, geography, literature or the arts. Dorothy devises creative ways, familiar to teachers today, to engage the girls in groups and broaden their impoverished minds - expanding her own in the process. Needless to say her efforts are wasted by the cynical Mrs. Creedy. She agrees with the largely non-conformist parents that Mr. Shakespeare's immortal verse is inappropriate as the word 'womb' occurs, piquing the girls' 'unhealthy' interest. What's a womb?
Orwell writes that there are only three types of school - 2nd rate, 3rd rate and 4th rate, of which Ringwood school is in the last category. Clearly Orwell didn't rate his own schools, Wellington and Eton College, as worthy of a first-class appellation, which made me chuckle.
Publication of this book, like 'Keep the Aspidistra Flying', was regretted by Orwell. Even today it is viewed as second-rate material. I don't agree. While it lacks the intellectual coherence and political message of Nineteen-Eighty-Four, the narration is superb. There are vivid depictions of appalling squalor, gross ignorance and petty meanness. Lives are either hard or desperately hard. The text abounds (particularly in the 'destitute in Trafalgar Square' chapter) with the colloquial speech of Irish and cockneys, replete with phonetic spelling - the same patterns of speech used by the 'proles' in Nineteen-Eighty-Four.
By any standards this is a thoroughly depressing book. Dorothy ends up as a cauterised empty shell. However, I must have a sort of perverse interest in people whose lives are far, far worse than my own. Perhaps it's the contrast that makes me count my blessings.