THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER is a book by the British writer George Orwell
, first published in 1937. The first half of this work documents his
sociological investigations of the bleak living conditions among the
working class in
According to Orwell biographer Bernard Crick , publisher Victor Gollancz first tried to persuade Orwell's agent to allow the Left Book Club edition to consist solely of the descriptive first half of the book. When this was refused Gollancz wrote an introduction to the book. "Victor could not bear to reject it, even though his suggestion that the 'repugnant' second half should be omitted from the Club edition was turned down. On this occasion Victor, albeit nervously, did overrule Communist Party objections in favour of his publishing instinct. His compromise was to publish the book with full of good criticism, unfair criticism, and half-truths."
The book grapples, "with the social and historical reality of Depression suffering in the north of England, – Orwell does not wish merely to enumerate evils and injustices, but to break through what he regards as middle-class oblivion, – Orwell's corrective to such falsity comes first by immersion of his own body – a supreme measure of truth for Orwell – directly into the experience of misery."
* 1 Background * 2 Structure * 3 Book title * 4 Reviews and criticism * 5 See also * 6 References * 7 Notes * 8 External links
Orwell submitted the typescript of
Keep the Aspidistra Flying
Gollancz was not only a successful publisher but also a dedicated social reformer. "As a social reformer, a socialist, and an idealist, Gollancz had an unquestioning, perhaps overly optimistic, faith in education; if only people could be made to know the nature of poverty, he thought, they would want to eradicate it, remove from power the government that tolerated it, and transform the economic system that brought it into being." As a successful publisher however, he knew that to reach a large audience he needed something more than a collection of facts, statistics, graphs and dogmatic conclusions.
The view that this was a specific commission with a £500
advance—two years' income for Orwell at the time—is based on a
Geoffrey Gorer who was interviewed for
Melvyn Bragg 's
TV programme Omnibus in 1970. He reported that Gollancz had offered
Orwell £500 to underwrite the trip, and but for Gollancz's support
Orwell would never have gone. Recent biographers, however, do not
repeat this account. On 1 April 1936, Orwell rented a cottage in the
remote village of
Wallington, Hertfordshire , where he wrote up The
Wigan Pier. Biographer
Orwell, as well as living off the land, supplemented his income by running the cottage as the village store. Yet, writing to Jack Common in April 1936 about setting up shop, "Orwell sounds hard put to find £20 in order to stock his shelves, rather than a man who had received £500 a couple of months earlier." When it came to marrying, Orwell wrote to Gorer: "I should never be economically justified in marrying, so might as well be unjustified now as later". D. J. Taylor argues that these factors, and the fact that Gollancz was not a person to part with such a sum on speculation, suggest that Gorer was confusing Orwell's eventual earnings from the book with a small contribution for out-of-pocket expenses that Gollancz might have given him.
Orwell set out on the journey on the last day of January 1936, having
given up his job at "Booklovers' Corner" and his flat in Kentish Town
; he would not live in London again until 1940. He made no plans, but
Richard Rees promised to send him names of people in the north
The Adelphi or the Adelphi Summer School who might help
him — Orwell also established a network of contacts through the
National Unemployed Workers\' Movement — and for the next two months
he followed a route from
For three weeks in February 1936 he was in Wigan, the longest single
stop he would make; March was allotted to
The book is divided into two sections. Part One
George Orwell set out to report on working-class life in the bleak
industrial heartlands of the West Midlands ,
Chapter One describes the life of the Brookner Family, a more wealthy example of the northern working class. They have a shop and cheap lodging house in their home. Orwell describes the old people who live in the home and their living conditions.
Chapter Two describes the life of miners and conditions down a coal mine. Orwell describes how he went down a coal mine to observe proceedings and he explains how the coal is distributed. The working conditions are very poor. This is the part of the book most often quoted.
Chapter Three describes the social situation of the average miner. Hygienic and financial conditions are discussed. Orwell explains why most miners do not actually earn as much as they are sometimes believed to.
Chapter Four describes the housing situation in the industrial north. There is a housing shortage in the region and therefore people are more likely to accept substandard housing. The housing conditions are very poor.
Chapter Five explores unemployment and Orwell explains that the unemployment statistics of the time are misleading.
Chapter Six deals with the food of the average miner and how, although they generally have enough money to buy food, most families prefer to buy something tasty to enrich their dull lives. This leads to malnutrition and physical degeneration in many families.
Chapter Seven describes the ugliness of the industrial towns in the north of England. Part Two
In contrast to the straightforward documentary of the first part of the book, in part two Orwell discusses the relevance of socialism to improving living conditions. This section proved controversial.
Orwell sets out his initial premises very simply:
* Are the appalling conditions described in part one tolerable? (No) * Is socialism "wholeheartedly applied as a world system" capable of improving those conditions? (Yes) * Why then are we not all socialists?
The rest of the book consists of Orwell's attempt to answer this difficult question. He points out that most people who argue against socialism do not do so because of straightforward selfish motives, or because they do not believe that the system would work, but for more complex emotional reasons, which (according to Orwell) most socialists misunderstand. He identifies five main problems:
* Class prejudice. This is real and it is visceral. Middle-class socialists do themselves no favours by pretending it does not exist and—by glorifying the manual worker—they tend to alienate the large section of the population that is economically working-class but culturally middle-class. * Machine worship. Orwell finds most socialists guilty of this. Orwell himself is suspicious of technological progress for its own sake and thinks it inevitably leads to softness and decadence . He points out that most fictional technically advanced socialist utopias are deadly dull. H. G. Wells in particular is criticised on these grounds. * Crankiness . Among many other types of people Orwell specifies people who have beards or wear sandals, vegetarians, and nudists as contributing to socialism's negative reputation among many more conventional people. * Turgid language. Those who pepper their sentences with "notwithstandings" and "heretofores" and become over excited when discussing dialectical materialism are unlikely to gain much popular support. * Failure to concentrate on the basics. Socialism should be about common decency and fair shares for all rather than political orthodoxy or philosophical consistency.
In presenting these arguments Orwell takes on the role of devil\'s advocate . He states very plainly that he himself is in favour of socialism but feels it necessary to point out reasons why many people, who would benefit from socialism, and should logically support it, are in practice likely to be strong opponents.
Orwell’s publisher, Victor Gollancz , was so concerned that these passages would be misinterpreted, and that the (mostly middle-class) members of the Left Book Club would be offended, that he added a foreword in which he raises some caveats about Orwell's claims in Part Two. He suggests, for instance, that Orwell may exaggerate the visceral contempt that the English middle classes hold for the working class, adding, however, that, "I may be a bad judge of the question, for I am a Jew, and passed the years of my early boyhood in a fairly close Jewish community; and, among Jews of this type, class distinctions do not exist."
Other concerns Gollancz raises are that Orwell should so
instinctively dismiss movements such as pacifism or feminism as
incompatible with or counter-productive to the Socialist cause, and
that Orwell relies too much upon a poorly defined, emotional concept
of Socialism. Gollancz's claim that Orwell "does not once define what
he means by Socialism" in The Road to
At a later date Gollancz published part one on its own, against
Orwell's wishes, and he refused to publish
Homage to Catalonia
Orwell was asked about
Although a pier is a structure built out into the water from the shore, in Britain the term has the connotation of a seaside holiday. In the broadcast radio interview of 1943 Orwell elaborated on the name Wigan Pier: " Wigan is in the middle of the mining areas. The landscape is mostly slag-heaps Wigan has always been picked on as a symbol of the ugliness of the industrial areas. At one time, on one of the muddy little canals that run round the town, there used to be a tumble-down wooden jetty; and by way of a joke some nicknamed this Wigan Pier. The joke caught on locally, and then the music-hall comedians got hold of it, and they are the ones who have succeeded in keeping Wigan Pier alive as a byword."
REVIEWS AND CRITICISM
In general, early reviewers of The Road to
This sentiment is shared in a review by Hamish Miles in New Statesman
and Nation on 1 May 1937. Miles writes that The Road to
H. J. Laski , a co-founder of the Left Book Club, wrote a review in March 1937 in Left News which repeats the main arguments of Gollancz's preface. Laski claims that Part I is "admirable propaganda for our ideas" but that Part II falls short: “But having, very ably, depicted a disease, Mr Orwell does what so many well-meaning people do: needing a remedy (he knows it is socialism), he offers an incantation instead. He thinks that an appeal to 'liberty' and 'justice' will, on the basis of facts such as he has described, bring people tumbling over one another into the Socialist Party. ... This view is based on fallacies so elementary that I should doubt the necessity of explaining them as fallacies were it not that there are so many people who share Mr Orwell's view. Its basic error is the belief that we all mean the same things by liberty and justice. Most emphatically we do not."
In the April 1937 number of the Left News Gollancz reported that the book had produced "both more, and more interesting, letters than any other Club Choice. The book has done, perhaps in a greater degree than any previous book, what the Club is meant to do – it has provoked thought, and discussion of the keenest kind. While members with a training in scientific socialism have been surprised at the naïveté of the second part, they have found it valuable, as showing how much education they still have to do." Orwell biographers Stansky and Abrahams noted: "But Gollancz and Laski, believing in a scientific rather than an emotional socialism, believing (in 1937) that it was still possible to equip people to fight against war and Fascism, were caught in a time warp: history was leaving them behind. Orwell in Spain was continuing his education – in a real war against Fascism – and it was very different from anything envisioned by the selectors of the Left Book Club. What he was learning had less to do with scientific socialism than with the morality of politics, and it would change his life."
* George Orwell, a Life by Bernard Crick – Penguin 1980
* ^ Orwell, Facing Unpleasant Facts, Secker quoted in A Kind of
Compulsion: 1903 – 1936 (The Complete Works of George Orwell), p.
* ^ Margery Sabin, "The truths of experience: Orwell’s nonfiction
of the 1930s", in John Rodden (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to George
Orwell, 2007, p. 45.
* ^ Bernard Crick, "Blair, Eric Arthur (1903–1950)", Oxford
Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004).
* ^ Orwell: The Transformation, Peter Stansky and William Abrahams,
Constable, 1979, p. 134.
* ^ A B D. J. Taylor, Orwell: The Life, Chatto & Windus, 2003, p.
* ^ Michael Shelden, Orwell:The Authorised Biography, Heinemann,
* ^ A Kind Of Compulsion, p. 531.
* ^ The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell,
Vol. 1, p. 222 (Penguin).
* ^ Stansky and Abrahams, pp. 137–138.
* ^ Peter Davison, "Notes on the Text – The Road to
in Orwell's England, Penguin, 2001.
* ^ BBC General Overseas Broadcast on 2 December 1943 – quoted in
the Complete Works (Item 2384).
* ^ "
Wigan Pier". Pennine Waterways.
* ^ The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell,
Vol. 1, p. 96.
* ^ The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell,
Vol. 1, p. 297.
* ^ Stansky and Abrahams, p. 166.
* ^ Calder-Marshall, Arthur. Untitled review. George Orwell: The
Critical Heritage. Ed. Jeffrey Meyers. New York:
Routledge , 1975.
Taylor & Francis