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4.1 out of 5 stars
37
A Clergyman's Daughter
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on 1 September 2015
A tale of a middle class runaway daughter struggling to survive during economic hard times.
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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.
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on 29 December 2000
I personally like and enjoy this book though Orwell disowned it in later life. He felt that it was comprised by editing. This is a lot like like 'Keep the Aspidistra Flying' in feeling and I think of them both as similar.
It is an enjoyable read with several sections of descriptive prose like that found in Down and Out. One of my favourite sections is when Dorothy is working at the school. The fate of the 3D map is a warning to all of us who innervate.
Another phase which has always stuck with me is the hop-pickers giving away food which otherwise would just go to waste.
This is a good book to sit down with when you want to read a work that is well written clever and thought provoking without been difficult or obtuse.
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on 20 August 2008
George Orwell was a great English writer whose reputation has suffered from the tendency in English culture to regard the novel (and the poem) as the supreme test of a writer's worth. Orwell was clearly at his most stimulated and inspired as a writer when he had something urgent to say, but having something urgent to say is not always the best attitude to have when you are trying to write a novel. It certainly wasn't the best attitude for Orwell to have when he wrote this one, considering that when he wrote it he was really beginning to find his vocation as a political writer and that he was also (at the time) impressed and intimidated by the example of Joyce's 'Ulysses', which he'd just read. 'Ulysses' has a political dimension, but it is the work of a very different kind of writer. The result is a fascinating and disjointed mish-mash of a novel, and Orwell knew it; even while he was writing it, he was writing to friends to say that he was making a mess of it.

In spite of this, any fan of Orwell will have a soft spot for 'A Clergyman's Daughter', if only because it's this writer's most conspicuous failure. Some of it, the depiction of the heroine's awful and cramped life as the daughter of a snobbish and mean-minded clergyman, plus the vivid accounts of hop-picking and teaching in a cheap and nasty school, are unforgettable. Against that, you have to cope with the fairly implausible story (why and how does Dorothy lose her memory?), the shallow characterisation and the fairly woeful 'experimental' chapter in which Dorothy attempts to spend a night among the homeless in Trafalgar Square, the whole thing rendered as a clunky pastiche of a chapter in 'Ulysses'.

Orwell tried to digest his own personal experiences into fictional form, and in this case he failed. But it's an honourable failure; the book may not hang together as a fully realised work of art, but not many novels of the period were able to back up their mood of societal disillusionment with such excruciating and convincing detail. If you have never read Orwell, don't start here; try the essays, '1984' and 'Animal Farm', the finest products of his moral and political imagination. If you have read them already, this is a fascinating sidetrack. Orwell was right to think the book not good, but I for one am glad that his wish that it not be reprinted after his death has been disregarded. Dodgy as it is, it's still very interesting.
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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.
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VINE VOICEon 18 May 2010
A very funny, heartwarming, sad novel about the tribulations of the title character. This has much to say about the mores and attitudes of 1930s small town life. Brilliant stuff
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on 8 July 2007
I am a great fan of Orwell, but this novel lacks both the biting satire and the compassionate human understanding of his other works. It is of course characteristically well written, but it remains, essentially, a very bleak novel.

Dorothy's life is porteyed as monotonous and unfulfilling in the opening part of the novel, and although the middle sections see dramatic changes, the fact that she chooses to return to it at the end is a real anti-climax. Moreover, she does so having lost her faith, thus adding a new hypocricy to her situation.

The moral of the story here seems to be that if we keep ourselves busy we can forget how meaningless our lives are. Whether true or not, it is not something that I enjoyed reading about. I am no fan of Hollywood style happy endings, but this book left me with a feeling of emptiness, and many hours of my time spent on it. Perhaps Orwell's biting irony here is that he managed to keep me busy for many hours, thus helping to countdown the clock on my supposedly pointless life. Hurrah!
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on 28 November 2011
I can see why this book wasn't highly rated. It doesn't involve any interesting or extraordianry character, it doesn't have sad ending (which one half expect from Orwell's book) nor happy ending. It appear to end as it begun. Some might see this as a book of emptiness. But I found this book genuinely inspiring. In this book the character Dorophy, the clergyman's daughter is leading a hopeless life, facing debt and selfish father. As a reader I felt sorry for her and hope things would change, so when she lost memory and found herself turned up in London, I thought here comes the changes, and of course it didn't turn out well, she went begging, hop-picking, teaching, attempting to reform teaching, being fired and then being rescued.... One would thought after all the experience, things would be different, at least she'd try to make a difference for herself. But it didn't happen, she turned down Mr. Warburton (her suitor) and continue to work in the church and continue to head towards the invitable - aging, poor, unmarried, jobless and hopeless, all because she was too busy with the amount of work in front of her. Is it what majority of the people are experiencing? Knowing that if you continue this way there'll be no hope, but you still continue to do so because you are too busy for change, too busy to make a difference for your life, and then hope against hope that things will turn out fine even if you don't do anything about it?

Truely inspiring book.
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on 14 September 2013
This book is very readable, and is in fact a polemic. It depicts the daughter of the rector of a run-down parish in East Anglia who ends uphop-picking, then with the down-and-outs on the streets of London, then in a third-rate school in South London.
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on 15 March 2013
Like a lot of people I was 'given' Orwell to read at school and it was a case of 'OK, yeah, I can see what he's getting at but would I actually want to pick up anything by him to read for pleasure'? Then, a few years later I discovered The Clergyman's Daughter and I was hooked. Now I hasten to add that it wasn't Mr Orwell I got hooked on but just the book itself, so I can understand why this isn't Orwell purists' favourite work of his. The whole idea of a woman going from her cosseted life to an alien world which is basically on her doorstep and becoming politicised stayed with me years after reading it. I had a copy on my bookshelf for ages and kept meaning to take it down for a re-read/reassessment, it wasn't until I read The Rachel Redemption recently and was very much struck by the similarities to TC'sD (Dorothy is now the Princess Diana type wife, of a Tony Blair type PM, who gets radicalised - trust me, it works!)that I was prompted to re-read. And yes, the verdict is a positive one, maybe I was just a little more receptive all those years ago but I still think it's intelligent, inspiring and a good read. Maybe a bit 'girly' for the purists but then if it inspires young girls, why not?
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