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Writer’s Study: George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reviews Orwell’s early novel about the struggles of the writer

Depending on your tastes, you can blame or congratulate George Orwell for Wetherspoons. When Tim Martin founded his chain of British pubs in the late 1970s, he took as his inspiration – a sort of unofficial literary blueprint, if you will – an essay of Orwell’s, ‘The Moon under Water’, published in the London Evening Standard in 1946. To this day, a number of Wetherspoon pubs are named The Moon under Water in honour of Orwell’s think piece, including the one in my hometown, Milton Keynes.

Although principally known for his last two novels about totalitarianism, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, and for his political essays about big questions surrounding nationalism, fascism, and Communism, George Orwell also wrote well about petty poverty, the writer’s life (see his ‘Confessions of a Book Reviewer’, also from 1946), and the English obsession with money, usually with having too little of it. Read the rest of this entry

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‘She Walks in Beauty’: A Poem by Lord Byron

Perhaps Lord Byron’s best-loved and most widely anthologised lyric poem, ‘She Walks in Beauty’ is quoted in Dead Poets Society as an attempt to seduce a young woman, and it epitomises a particular kind of Romantic poem: that is, a poem idolising (and idealising) a woman’s beauty.

She Walks in Beauty

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies. Read the rest of this entry

‘Ring Out, Wild Bells’: A Poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Taken from his long elegy In Memoriam, published in 1850, this poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92) virtually concludes the cycle of poems as a whole. In Memoriam A. H. H. is an elegy, comprising a whopping 133 cantos, for Tennyson’s friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who had died suddenly in 1833. ‘Ring Out, Wild Bells’ shows Tennyson regaining his faith and overcoming his grief when hearing the bells ringing in Christmas Day.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true. Read the rest of this entry