Genre: English Novel (Experimental)

Published: 1935 - Read:

A Clergyman's Daughter

George Orwell (1903 - 1950)

Pages: 336


Embarking on a bit of an Orwell binge... read this a few weeks ago. Another bleak offering. The story is of Dorothy Hare, the 'clergyman's daughter', who somehow finds herself (literally) on her uppers and has a real struggle to survive. The description of the suffering (and also the resourcefulness) of those who have sunk to extreme poverty, destitution even, is a real eye-opener. [There's more on this is 'The Road to Wigan Pier' and 'Down and Out in Paris and London' - only the first of which I have read.]

Orwell himself didn't exactly give the book a ring endorsement. He described it as 'tripe' and then, even more disparagingly as 'bollocks'. He said he shouldn't have published it and that he only did so because he needed the money!

It is often described as an 'experimental' novel. The only section Orwell liked was the section which is written entirely in 'play format'. Dorothy Hare wakes up and finds she is in Trafalgar Square and is forced to take up with a odd assortment of tramps and vagrants. One of them is a defrocked vicar, Mr Tallboys, who keeps spouting profanities and subverting the liturgy. He can quote Horace too:

"Absumet haeres Caecuba dignior! To think that there were twenty-one bottles of Clos St Jacques 1911 in my cellar still, that night when the baby was born and I left for London on the milk train!..."

We can only wonder!

The portrayal of Dorothy Hare's clergyman father is painful to read: he is so selfish and carelessly cruel. His lack of concern and skewed priorities are shown here:

'But, Father, I don't seem to be able to get you to see how serious things are! We've simply nothing to live on for the next month. I don't even know where the meat's coming from for today's dinner.'
'Luncheon, Dorothy, luncheon!' said the Rector with a touch of irritation. 'I do wish you would drop that abominable lower-class habit of calling the midday meal dinner!'

The adventures (if that is the right word) of the itinerant poor going down into Kent to pick hops, and undertake other menial labour, are fascinating.

Not a cheerful or uplifting read. It does remind us that there must be a back-story for all those living on the streets, if only we had the courage..