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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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Five of the Best Places in Britain for the Book-Lover to Explore

Literature fans should visit these British places

There are plenty of beautiful and fascinating places in Britain that are teeming with literary associations. But what are the best places to visit if you’re a book lover? We suggest that the literature fan pack their rucksack full of sandwiches, a flask of drink, and a copy of our own indispensable guide, Britain by the Book: A Curious Tour of Our Literary Landscape, and head to the following five places of outstanding literary interest.

Haworth Parsonage, Yorkshire. Despite the deleterious effect Haworth was to have on their health, the Brontë sisters treasured the wildness of the Yorkshire countryside surrounding their home at Haworth, and none more so than Emily, author of Wuthering Heights. ‘Emily loved the moors,’ Charlotte later wrote; ‘they were what she lived in and by as much as the wild birds, their tenants, or the heather, their produce … She found in the bleak solitude many and dear delights; and not the least and best loved was – liberty.’ Visit the Brontë Parsonage to learn about the landscape and upbringing that gave us Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Read the rest of this entry

Reviewing the Future: Will Self’s The Book of Dave

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reviews a dystopian novel about a new religion

Toxic masculinity. Patriarchy. Incel. Words like these are all over the internet of late, describing a perceived rise in misogynistic behaviours and attitudes among young men growing up in Britain, America, and elsewhere. Coupled with this is the worryingly small percentage of people – women as well as men – who self-identify as ‘feminists’ (just 7% of Britons, according to one survey). Could the utopian dream of gender equality, which appeared to be making some headway as the millennium came into sight, be retreating ever further into the distance?

One novelist who has explored such a question is Will Self. The Book of Dave: A Revelation of the Recent Past and the Distant Future (2006) reflects current anxieties surrounding the role of the father in a postmillennial world, issues pertaining to divorce and child custody, and the clash between altruism and self-interest. Religion, too, is a central theme: The Book of Dave projects the present-day fear and anger of the titular father-protagonist, Dave Rudman, into a future vision of London in which Dave’s ‘Book’ – written with the sole purpose of providing moral instruction for his son – has been taken up as a sacred text by Londoners dwelling in a neomedieval postdiluvian world five centuries hence. Read the rest of this entry