The urban imagery of George Orwell

20 April 2006
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George Orwell's descriptions of cities are an important part of his overall analysis of politics and class. The Barcelona of Homage to Catalonia is revolutionary, vital, and very different from the "deep, deep sleep" of England. But increasingly Orwell turned to a dystopic view of the city, where it became the place of poverty, inequality, and oppression. Vittore Collina follows the transition from the "city of men" to the "city of stone" in Orwell's urban imagery.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, artists and architects belonging to the futurist movement developed an idea of the city that united urban order with movement, speed, and machines. But the general feeling is different and European culture after the First World War accentuates an awareness of loss of the city as a unifying system: the modern metropolis seems increasingly represented by its tensions, its disharmony, and its destructive forces.

“From the panorama of the city we can only learn that incoherence is a collection of false appearances in which the gigantism of new technological buildings (steel bridges, gas tanks, smoke stacks) lay next to the antique habitat on a human scale.”1 Represented by moments of suffocating crowds or desolate emptiness, urban space has been the object of many narrations that underline this uneasiness and alienation, the loss of historical meaning and the insensibility and absurdity of clashing elements. To new groups of intellectuals and architects, reason and geometric forms seem to be a remedy for the illness plaguing the metropolis. New stable reference points are sought after. The surrealistic approach links roaming around the city to the surfacing of the subconscious. These visionary reconstructions are in conflict with rational programming. In short, “order and chaos have become the complementing and interactive forces of the big city scene”.2

The urban imagery of George Orwell falls within this framework. Even if it isn’t the main theme in his writings, it is present, shares the diffused critical spirit and is characterized by very particular slants. This presence is highlighted in Nineteen Eighty-four, where the dramatic representation of London obtains great symbolic weight.

1

Published in 1938, Homage to Catalonia contains a passionate account of Orwell’s experiences during the Spanish Civil War and is one of his most noteworthy novels. In the opening pages, we find a colourful description of Barcelona that is experiencing the exceptional conditions of a revolutionary city in the hands of the workers; in the end he returns to England and recounts his arrival in London. Two cities, one at its beginning and one at its end: two good places to start our study.

The final part, in addition to other aspects, deals with the territory of southern England, (“probably the most developed land in the world”3), while Orwell crosses by train; then we have what is already a literary topos, the arrival in the big city: 4 “the huge peaceful wilderness of outer London, the barges on the miry river, the familiar streets, the posters telling of cricket matches and Royal weddings, the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, the red buses, the blue policemen”.5 Orwell compares the tragedy perpetrated in Spain to his country that has remained unchanged, where everyone sleeps “the deep, deep sleep of England”.6

These sentences reiterate the idea of stability, of time slowly passing, of a past that distances itself imperceptibly. London is a pure image, just to represent something else. We are in tune to the images of sleep, even if, in this tranquil portrait of the metropolis, there is a word that stirs up a somewhat unsettling echo: the desert. There is, in addition, an attraction for the rural landscape, together with a refusal of the industrialized city.

Instead, at the beginning, Barcelona is very alive and on the move: its image is described as “startling and overwhelming”.

It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties […] Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workmen. Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivised; even the bootblacks had been collectivised and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared […] almost my first experience was receiving a lecture from a hotel manager for trying to tip a lift-boy. There were no private motor-cars, they had all been commandeered, and all the trams and taxis and much of the other transport were painted red and black […] Down the Ramblas, the wide central artery of the town where crowds of people streamed constantly to and fro […] And it was the aspect of the crowds that was the queerest thing of all. In outward appearance it was a town in which the wealthy classes had practically ceased to exist. Except for a small number of women and foreigners there were no “well-dressed” people at all. Practically everyone wore rough working-class clothes, or blue overalls, or some variant of the militia uniform.”7

In this case, we have a description that, together with the external aspects, splendidly represents (not without irony) the sentiments and emotions of the moment. From a point of view of urban imagery, two very important aspects need to be underlined: the symbolism that changes the face of the city, and the quick passage from the streets and buildings of the city to the people, their relationships and their behaviour.

On one hand, the city can be thought of as a map (heir of many historic overlays) with its streets, buildings, squares, bridges, churches, parks, stations, neighbourhoods, etc.; on the other hand, the city can be thought of as its inhabitants, with their movements, with their social stratification, with their various social relationships, with all forms of gathering, their local customs, habits, role models and consumptions. Thus, a “city of stone” (urbs) and a “city of men” (civitas) (or, as some say, “the living city”).8 Two concepts that refer to realities that are inevitably inter-related and that imply reciprocal influences: by distinguishing them, we reveal a useful research tool to study the vast quantity of narrative on the city.

As an example, we have only to think of Baudelaire, an author who cannot be ignored in relation to modern urban reality for his precocious and acute vision, who titled one of his most famous works “The Spleen of Paris”, where not even one page refers to the external aspects of the city. We might remember Hyppolite Taine who, though not completely ignoring the “city of stone”, writes about Paris mainly to examine the people, their customs, and their changes. Instead, as an example of rare balance, one could cite Mon vieu Paris, by Edouard Drumont, which starts from the streets, buildings and oldest neighbourhoods to reconstruct a symbolic depth, pieces of history, customs and values, tightly holding the city of stone together with the living city.

2

In 1933, George Orwell had published, first in London and then New York, Down and Out in Paris and London. This early, autobiographical work is dominated by the city of men: as the title indicates, the protagonists are the “down and out”, the penniless, the homeless, or better yet, himself, “down and out” in two cities.9

The book opens with a lively representation of a poor Parisian neighbourhood (the neighbourhood where Orwell himself had lived), with the type of humanity that populates it: the eccentric lives, relationships, friendships, strange stories. The search for employment, the efforts of maintaining a dignified appearance, the pawn shops and the little money earned there, the ways of finding food with little money, night after night in lodging houses with revolting conditions, the strange encounters, the information that circulates, the solidarity of temporary friends, the rare stroke of luck.

The second part of the story takes place in London. Here we find ironic references to the beauty of English architecture and to the splendour of London’s statues,10 but at the centre of the story we have again the lack of money, the pilgrimage across the city, the hunger and exhaustion, the beds at the lodging houses, the encounters with other homeless, their stories, the vicissitudes so as not to die of hunger. London is always compared to Paris in relation to these problems: one of the things that strikes Orwell the most, in the English capital, is that “it costs even to sit down”.11

Among the most interesting chapters are those where he is a dishwasher in a grand Parisian hotel. Along with the fatigue, the inhumane hours (12 hours a day, with a one-hour break at 2 pm), and the deep, tortuous cellars (stinking and dark), Orwell describes in detail not only his day, but the organization of various duties, the psychology of the roles performed by the employee and the caste system of the hotel that seems to have become a metaphor for the entire society. A hierarchy, shown by the respective salaries and curious details, that starts with the manager (who can fire everyone, even the cooks), to the maitre d’hotel (who is to serve only the nobility), the head chef, the head of personnel, and then down to the other cooks, the maids, the laundry personnel and seamstresses, to the maids in training, the dishwashers, the cleaning women and, finally, the ones who prepare coffee.

From a spatial point of view and the associated metaphorical implications, it is not by chance that the lower stratum works in the unhealthy and labyrinth-like cellar: this is the most unpleasant and lowest paid work, reserved for society’s outcasts. They are part of what the city hides both materially and socially. In this work from 1933, essentially we see a city of men in which there is a small part hidden from and by the city.12

This brings out another important pair of concepts that distinguishes between the city that communicates,13 that shows, that exhibits and is exhibited, 14 and the city that is silent, the city that hides and keeps underground (both in a real and metaphorical sense) what is better not to tell or not to show. Henry Fielding revealed this aspect about London in the eighteenth century.15 In the nineteenth century, there is a wave of novels on the “mysteries” of the city, inaugurated by Eugene Sue with Les myst�res de Paris (1843), and along with famous novels like Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (think of the famous chase through the sewers) or Le ventre de Parigi by Emile Zola, the crime novel forms, which in turn moves (at least in part) in a hidden area that the city must not show.

3

The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), written four years after Down and Out in Paris and London and before his experience in Spain, represents an important moment of evolution in the social and political thinking of the author16 and has to be taken in a good consideration also for our study. The book had been commissioned by a leftwing publisher, Victor Gollancz, for a “line of ‘condition of England’ books”.17 In the urban imagery of Orwell close to the hidden city of beggars appears quickly the grey and smoky outline of the industrial towns, quite visible, but generally unknown an sight to the English middle classes.

His travel to the north is by train, and in the book we find some descriptions joined with wider reflections on industry and human life:

The whole of the industrial districts are really one enormous town, of about the same population as Greater London but fortunately, of much a larger area; so that even in the middle of them there is still room for patces of cleanness and decency […] The earth is so vast and still so empty that even in the filthy heart of civilisation you find fields where the grass is green instead of grey […] For quite a long time […] the train was rolling through open country before the villa-civilisation began to close in upon us again and then the outer slums, and then the slag-heaps, belching chimneys, blast-furnaces, canals and gasometers of another industrial town.18

He writes about coalmines and the work and the conditions of miners. He presents some studies and some comparisons on the salaries. He describes the poor houses of the workers and touches the terrible housing problem.19 The “city of stone” is always connected to its inhabitants but its exterior shape is much more present than before: in industrial towns it speaks directly of the social conditions of life. In industrial towns, poverty and hardships are not relegated underground. Under the eye of Orwell its most evident aspects are filth and ugliness.

At the end of the first part we find again urban descriptions and reflections. “A slag-heap is at best a hideous thing […] On the outskirts of the mining towns there are frightful landscapes where your horizon is ringed completely round by jagged grey mountains, and underfoot is mud and ashes and overhead the steel cables where tubs of dirty travel slowly across miles of country”.20 The images of Wigan with “the lunar landscape of slag-heaps”21 around is terrifying, but “even Wigan is beautiful compared with Sheffield. Sheffield, I suppose, could just claim to be called the ugliest town in the Old World […] it has a population of half a million and it contains fewer decent buildings than the average East Anglian village of five hundred […] If at rare moments you stop smelling sulphur it is because you have begun smelling gas. Even the shallow river that runs through the town is usually bright yellow with some chemical or other.”22

The beauty-ugliness dichotomy is strongly present: it plays a role in his exploration of the study of social classes in England. In fact, if we compare these representations to the works discussed above, we can say that the urban imagery of The Road to Wigan Pier reaches a balance between the “city of stone” and the “city of men” and, in the second part, transforms the aesthetic point of view in the moral one. In the sober kind of writing used by Orwell, the ugliness of these towns testifies to an extreme lack of harmony. Orwell asks himself about “a factory or even a gasworks is not obliged of its own nature to be ugly”.23 Finally, he admits that the point is not so “centrally important”: “moreover, even in the worst of the industrial towns one sees a great deal that is not ugly in the narrow aesthetic sense. A belching chimney or a stinking slum is repulsive chiefly because it implies warped lives and ailing children […] The beauty or ugliness of industrialism hardly matters. Its real evil lies far deeper and is quite ineradicable.”24 Between provocation and accusation we can read a hint of a dream of harmony.

4

Cities can be thought of from many points of view and can be used in many ways. Between tradition and modernity the cities are full of different meanings, have a strong expressive power, have been the subject of a very wide series of essays, novels, poems, and works of art.

The novels of Orwell are generally constructed on many levels of narration and meaning; they are characterized by a complex process of reciprocity, reflecting, and overturning. The topic of the city is well suited this framework, and the urban imagery which results from his writings combines with the dynamics of those characters.

The reduction of Paris and London to the wandering of beggars and the homeless is a subtle provocative way to describe poverty, to write a chapter of his autobiography and to speak about the great problem of social justice. In Homage to Catalonia, London is evoked and reduced to the representation of a blind and unchanged reality. More complex the presentation of the restless Barcelona, with the transformation produced by the revolutionary signs, the real destruction of the churches, the feeling of being overwhelmed, and the observations on the crowd (another particular aspect of the “city of men”, more than ever visible in this case).

In The Road to Wigan Pier we have the sights of the exterior, the passage from the city of stone to the one of men, the connection of description and interpretation. The industrial towns, between visible and hidden, spread the images of what is not so well known and elaborate these images in the frame of a larger social reflection. A complex and balanced work where the cities play different roles on many levels.

5

In Orwell’s essays, articles and various writings produced in the 1930s and 1940s, aspects of his urban imagery are present in varying degrees of accentuation. We can note, generally, an increasing reference to the city of stone and a recurring presence of aesthetic observations.

In Down and Out in Paris and London, there were ironic observations about the aesthetics of English architecture. In The Road to Wigan Pier, the ugliness of the industrial towns was put in a even too strong evidence. In the 1940s, the aesthetic judgements on architecture lose their social and socialist side. Writing about “The English People” (1944) he criticizes the poor taste of his fellow countrymen. As for urban development, he deplores that “there is, however, not only a low general level of taste, but a widespread unawareness that aesthetic considerations can possibly have any importance. Rehousing and town planning, for instance, are normally discussed without even a mention of beauty and or ugliness.”25 In a brief article of 31 December 1943, Orwell indicates the small Church of St. John’s as a perfect example of Regency style, “but its fa�ade, one of the most charming in London, has been utterly ruined by a hideous war memorial which stands in front of it. That seems to be a fixed rule in London: whenever you do by some chance have a decent vista, block it up with the ugliest statue you can find.”26 In confirmation of this, it is sufficient to quote once again a letter to the “Partisan Review” in January, 1947, when Orwell speaks of London as “as shabby and dirty as ever”.27

The other important aspect to note is the contrast between country and city that returns after the war and implies a deeper and more significant contrast between nature and city. In a piece dedicated to the methods of drawing tourists to England after the war, Orwell sees rural England as particularly attractive: “England is a country that ought to be able to attract tourists. It has much beautiful scenery, an equitable climate, innumerable attractive villages and medieval churches, good beer, and food stuffs of excellent natural taste”. Among the other conditions that could have been appealing, with a meaningful jab he complains about the fact that “speculative builders [have] been allowed to ruin every pleasant view within ten miles of a big town”.28 In an article of April 1946, the theme surfaces from another point of view and with other implications: it is springtime and Orwell maintains provocatively that “the pleasures of spring are available to everybody and cost nothing”.29 And he continues, stating: “even in the most sordid street the coming of spring will register itself by some sign of other, if it is only a brighter blue between the chimney pots or the vivid green of an elder sprouting on a blitzed site. Indeed is remarkable how Nature goes on existing unofficially, as it were, in the very heart of London”. Here, the controversy becomes strong and takes on clearly anti-capitalistic colours: “as for spring, not even the narrow and gloomy streets round the Bank of England are quite able to exclude it”. Aside from other considerations, his conclusion to this article is particularly interesting and precursory: “the atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it”.30

The dichotomy nature-city implies a sweeping contrast because the city is the human work par excellence and in relation to nature opens up a serious opposition. In a religious key, it is between man and God (in the Bible, the city, man’s work, is enveloped by the suspicion of sin and pride); in a secular key, it is between man and Nature in all its interpretations.

6

In his last novel, the famous Nineteen Eighty-four, some aspects of the previous urban imagery return, often with different accentuations or with different functions. The structure of the work is very complex: London and the city in general plays a role of a certain interest. The city of men is still largely present, but the city of stone, repeatedly represented, has taken on importance even in some overall views.

The first view of London is found on the third page of the novel and after a series of very significant details, it supplies, in visual terms, an overall picture of the reality of the regime the protagonist moves in. The centre of the city is dominated by the four large buildings of the Ministries of Truth, Peace, Love and Plenty, which rise over the desolate panorama of an enormous spread of bombardment sites, wooden huts, “rotting nineteenth-century houses, their sides shored up with baulks of timber, their windows patched with cardboard and their roofs with corrugated iron”.31 Through the protagonist’s wanderings, Orwell speaks of the narrow and unhealthy streets, the alleyways of the working-class neighbourhoods,32 the poor houses and the people who live in them, the run-down buildings. In fact, London is at war and the houses in the working-class neighbourhoods are regularly struck by bombs.

Starting from the desolation of these images, the urban imagery of the novel has to be examined at three different levels. At the first, which is the most simple and direct, the city of stones represents the social outline of the regime, with the clear and strong division between the proles (inferior beings, similar to animals and subject to the application of few elementary rules) and party members:33 it gives a rough idea of the relationships inside. The four ministry buildings that rise up more than one hundred meters in the centre of London, with their pyramid form and structures able to resist “thousand rocket bombs”,34 are a precise symbol of power. But they do more because they translate in architectural terms not only the supremacy, but the infallibility of the Party and, in some way, they represent the collective immortality of those who identify with them. The ruins and destruction that spread over the rest of the city translate not the sad sense of the frailty of human things (as could be done from a religious point of view), but reaffirm the centrality and infallibility of the Party itself, the sole source of truth: a truth built and rebuilt with the impressive equipment of mass communication and control. The city takes part in it. In fact, on the street corners or on the fa�ades there are images of Big Brother, the propaganda slogans, the writings against the enemies, the frightening portrayals of their armies. The outer face of the city is used by the regime for enveloping the population with its messages.

In any case, the city is not only a representation of the totalitarian regime of Nineteen
Eighty-four
: London has a part in the protagonist’s story and is involved in the crucial search for an objective point of reference, independent of the official truth. A truth that is continuously recreated on the basis of the dogma of the changeability of the past35 and against which the protagonist’s efforts to objectively remember facts and things are opposed. At the centre of Orwell’s dystopia, in fact, there is the theme of the cancellation of memory. And the city is an organic part of this problem.

With this we reach the second level. The urban dynamics are connected with the research of Winston. Cities are ordinarily taken from the dynamics of conservation and renewal and the renewal often passes through destruction. Even in times of peace. With the arrival of aerial warfare, the destruction of cities becomes a terrible widespread reality. The preservation of the historical and cultural heritage, which the monuments, squares, buildings of a city are imbued with, is then seriously threatened. But it is even more threatened when a totalitarian regime is able not only to change the use of buildings and populate the city’s architecture with a host of uniform and pounding messages and symbols, but when these are nothing but instruments used for erasing the memory. In other words, Orwell well understood the cultural depth identified in the city’s architecture, along with its total historical significance and the importance that all this has for the individual and collective identity. But he understood equally well the internal logic of a self-referential power that is reaffirmed in its absoluteness and can take advantage of mass communication methods for destroying all external objectivity.

Therefore, for Winston the city of stone initially appears as a reference point that can oppose the continuous revisions of the regime: “he tried to squeeze out some childhood memory that should tell him whether London had always been quite like this”.36 At the base is the idea that, “when there were no external records that you could refer to, even the outline of your own life lost its sharpness”.37 In various moments of the story the attempt to remember the London of old is repeated. He is pleased when he finds the Church of St Martin’s walking north in Victory Square. 38 In the painting hanging on the wall of the room above the shop he recognizes the Church of St Clement’s, at that point in ruins, and talks about it with the old man. But the conclusion is disappointing: “one could not learn history from architecture any more than one could learn it from books. Statues, inscriptions, memorial stones, the name of streets – anything that might throw light upon the past had been systematically altered”:39 the effort to remember and, in the final analysis, the effort to oppose the complete mind manipulation, working with constant change in information, with doublethink, with Newspeak. Even the outer presence in the city of stone is no longer sufficient when the powerful apparatus of symbolic production combines with the pounding propaganda and the material destruction.

At this point the last stronghold is nature. And in fact, Winston’s revolt is accompanied by lots of small or large natural events, from the aroma of coffee to the cry of the birds, from springtime to the urge for love. It is not by chance that the first love encounter takes place outside of the city, “under the trees”, where the “ground was misty with bluebells”.40 Moreover, we find some textual references to the “natural order of things”41 and to the laws of nature, which in O’ Brien’s line of thought as well as that of the Inner Party are nothing but “nonsense”.42 This brings to mind the article of 1946 quoted above; the opposition between city and country, included in the broader and more radical contrast between nature and city, between nature and civilization.

We are on the third level. The theoretical horizon is broadened and London is divided: on one side the city of the past that memory tries to recall to maintain its own identity and independence, on the other, the city transformed at the hand of totalitarian power. In this second guise, the one that we are following now, London witnesses the most tragic of abysses. If in the face of nature the city is imaginable as the human artefact par excellence, the London of Nineteen Eighty-four, crumbling, bombarded, in ruins, dominated by the four buildings of power, represents the most complete set-back of civilization, the final check of the history of humanity, which, in other times, was optimistically considered as marching towards indefinite improvement. In the background is possible to sense the other term of the pair: “Nature”.

The contrast between city and nature has a weak spot particularly in the second term: the idea of nature Orwell uses is that which belongs to common sense. On a philosophical level, during the nineteenth century, “Nature” had already lost the privileged status that had distinguished it previously and it had become the object of very different interpretations and even of heated criticism. Nature, strictly speaking, is no longer able to be a theoretically strong term of comparison to contrast the artificial construction of the city and, on a more historical point of view, the intervention of man on the nature is clearer and clearer.

On the other hand, in the last few decades of the nineteenth century, recourse to nature on the level of political thought is widely used by conservatives in an anti-modern key, and in this use also the modern city is radically attacked. Thus, we can see a vein of conservatism in Orwell, too. Perhaps, more than conservatism, his reflections are populated by a desire to regress to simpler and more genuine forms of life, if modernity, technological equipment, mass means of communications, metropolises are destined to reach the apocalyptical scenarios of Nineteen Eighty-four.

The thread of urban imagery seems therefore to bring us to these synthetic conclusions: the London of the novel as the emblematic figure of a total power and of the complete failure of the ambitions of human civilisation; Nature as a weak element to oppose to the tragic trend of modernity. In this, a sign of regressive nostalgia like other signs in other works.

However the architecture of the novel is deep and elaborate and the urban imagery, even if more present than in other novels, is not so dominant and resolved. Nineteen Eighty-four is “a text which multiplies endlessly and questions its contents in the moment in which affirms them and reproduces them in its interior, in a complex jeu de miroir, which is considered by Baczko like one of the specific aspects of the dystopic genre”.43

So it’s better to conclude that the urban imagery is only a part of a wide game, developed in different directions and full of “reversals, inversions, anticipations, returns”.44 It contributes to admonish the readers and to suggest moral attitudes, but it has not to be considered as the expression of a desperate pessimism. Moreover, the irony of the author is too strong to attribute to these elements a general conclusion and, in particular, to give to his nostalgia the weight of a theoretical and political position.

  1. G. Lista, "La ville inqui�te", in La ville. Art et architecture en Europe. 1870-1993, Paris: Ed. du Centre Pompidou 1994, 227.
  2. A. D'Elia, "La ville selon les artistes. 1919-1945. Introduction", in La ville, 202.
  3. The description is mixed with memories: "the industrial towns were far away, a smudge of smoke and misery hidden by the curve of earth's surface. Down here it was still the England I had known in my childhood: the railway-cuttings smothered in wild flowers, the deep meadows where the great shining horses browse and meditate, the slow-moving streams bordered by willows, the green bosoms of the elms." G. Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, London: Penguin Books 2003, 196.
  4. In reference to the celebrated description by Heinrich Heine that narrates his arrival in London in 1828 and the novel by Hippolyte Taine, Etienne Mayran, where the young protagonist from the provinces arrives in Paris.
  5. G. Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, 196.
  6. Ibid. The piece ends with an almost prophetic fear that we awaken from such a sleep only when "we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs".
  7. G. Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, 3. Orwell adds: "There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.
  8. This is a consolidated distinction in literature about the city: see the "Introduction" by Ovidio Capitani to H. Pirenne's, Le citt� del Medioevo, Bari: Laterza 2001, XLV.
  9. In 1931, the English author had written about the summer weeks he had lived among the homeless of London and its surroundings in a brief piece, Hop-Picking. Later, in the second part of The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), he explains his approach to Socialism and describes, at the first step, the decision to live the life of tramps and beggars in order to have a direct experience of poverty and to know in its extreme shapes the conditions of working classes.
  10. During his travels, Orwell speaks with a Romanian couple, assuring them that English architecture is much more beautiful than French even "when the train was crawling into London through the eastern slums". G. Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London, London: Penguin Books 1997, 128.
  11. Ibid. 156.
  12. The hidden city of homeless is, therefore, a recurring theme in the writing of Orwell, but is part of the general problem of man's dominion over man and of the social justice in front of the exploitation of work in the industrial society.
  13. Gorge Bataille, for example, shows how power is demonstrated through all the symbology incorporated in monuments, squares and buildings. See "Architecture", in Dictionnaire critique 2, Paris 1929.
  14. The city shows with its shop windows, its Parisian passages, in its first department stores and in the historic World Fairs or, in our times, in the pedestrian zones of the city centre and in its supermarkets.
  15. See H. Fielding, Inquiry into the cause of the late increase of robbers, London 1751.
  16. The Road to Wigan Pier has its point of reference in a travel done by Orwell in 1936 in the industrial districts of Lancashire and of Yorkshire.
  17. Davidson, "Introduction", in G. Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, London: Penguin Books 1989, V.
  18. G. Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, 16.
  19. He writes, for example: "as you walk through the industrial towns you lose yourself in labyrinths of little brick houses blackened by smoke, festering in planless chaos round miry alleys and little cindered yards where there are stinking dustbins and lines of grimy washing and half-ruinous WCs. The interiors of these houses are always very much the same, though the number of rooms varies between two and five." G. Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, 46.
  20. Ibid. 97.
  21. Ibid. 98.
  22. Ibid. Orwell remembers "a frightful patch of waste ground [...] To the right an isolated row of gaunt four-roomed houses [...] blackened by smoke. To the left an interminable vista of factory chimneys, chimney beyond chimney, fading away into a dim blackish haze. Behind me a railway embankment made of the slag from furnaces". The Road to Wigan Pier, 98-99.
  23. Ibid. 100.
  24. Ibid. 100-101. The sentence finishes in this way: "it is important to remember this, because there is always a temptation to think that industrialism is harmless so long as it is clean and orderly".
  25. G. Orwell, The Collected Essays op cit. vol. III, 53.
  26. Ibid. vol. III, 86. Orwell continues the piece attacking the Greenwich Observatory that he judges as the ugliest building in existence in the world. And he concludes these assessments with rather heavy sarcasm, exclaiming: "how simple-minded of the Germans to imagine that we British could be cowed by the destruction of our ancient monuments!"
  27. G. Orwell, The Collected Essays op cit. vol. IV, 225.
  28. Ibid. vol. III, 243.
  29. Ibid. vol. IV, 173.
  30. Ibid. vol. IV, 175.
  31. Ibid. 5.
  32. See 86.
  33. See G. Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-four, Milan, London, Penguin Books, 1990, 74. We note that within there is a hidden city, a criminal society made of thieves, prostitutes, pushers, tolerated by the regime. The Party is divided in Inner Party, the summit, and Outer Party, composed of bureaucrats and functionaries.
  34. Ibid, 29.
  35. "The mutability of the past is the central tenet of Ingsoc. Past events, it is argued, have no objective existence, but survive only in written records and in human memories. The past is whatever the records and the memories agree upon. And since the Party is in full control of all records and in equally full control of the minds of his members, it follows that the past is whatever the Party chooses to make it." G. Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-four, 222.
  36. Ibid. 5.
  37. Ibid. 34.
  38. Ibid. 120.
  39. Ibid. 102.
  40. Ibid. 123.
  41. Ibid. 63.
  42. Ibid. 136.
  43. A. Arciero, George Orwell, Milano: Franco Angeli 2005, 416.
  44. Ibid. 410.

Published 20 April 2006

Original in English
First published in Critique & Humanism 20 (1/2005) (Bulgarian version)

Contributed by Critique & Humanism
© Vittore Collina/Critique & Humanism Eurozine

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