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The adventures of a Vicar's daughter,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Complete Works of George Orwell: Volume 3: A Clergyman's Daughter (Hardcover)
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.