George's Reviews > A Clergyman's Daughter

A Clergyman's Daughter by George Orwell
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May 30, 11


I have read this book. I express here my opinion about each part(of the five) of the book. The first part which describes the everyday life of the vicar's daughter and through her the personalities of her circle, is a very able portrayal of the society in which she lives, while through the characters impressions of the mental climate and prevalent opinions on the big issues of social life are aired. I found this part of the book old-fashioned and charming although I read it in a Greek translation and the issues that it describes can be partially transferred to Greece, where the process of secularization has progressed in a much slower pace than in England and questions of faith do not seem outdated yet. Some passages about roses and their connection about God's majesty and role of nature in worshiping Him are of exquisite literary merit. I also like the emphasis on simple things and duties while big questions lurk in the background, because the instistence on the treatment of big questions solely, as 1984 is reputed to do for example, is a preoccupation that most people abandon after thirty as Orwell himself implied in his essay "Why I write": "The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they abandon individual ambition-in many cases, indeed they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all-and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery."
The second part of the book is equally good with the first, with the difference that while the first describes genteel poverty, this one is about the lives of the working poor and even petty thiefs and hints to the life of the underworld. The transition from the first part is rather abrupt and partially unexplained but the descriptions are sound, based obviously on Orwell's tramping days. The style of writing is similar with that of his essays that deal with questions of poverty and working-class conditions of life. Some of the characters are also inspired by real persons he has encountered in his adventures as an amateur tramp.
The controversial third part, is better than one expects if aware of prevalent opinion. It is a change, compared with the first two, but I found it OK and I was able to follow to thread of the action although with greater difficulty than before. The sayings of the former priest, that spoke in terms of ecclesiastical hymns were a joy to read. When I was younger I had found it very difficult to follow written dialogue, but with the process of maturity it becomes easier and even interesting.
The fourth part describes the career of the heroine in a private school, run by mean person, whose sole interest and target is how to obtain more money from the parents of the pupils through the fees. The description of the character of the school and of the woman who owns and directs it, has few surprises for those who know enough of Orwell's work to have read his essay "Such, such were the Joys", where he describes his experience in St Cyprian's, a private preparatory school for boys. The only difference is that Dorothy, the heroine, works in a school for girls. Otherwise the dicta of his essay about education at such schools such as:"At St Cyprian's the whole process was frankly a preparation for a sort of confidence trick. Your job was to learn exactly those things that would give an examiner the impression that you knew more than you did know, and as far as possible to avoid burdening your brain with anything else." or that such schools were primarily a commercial venture, can be applied verbatim in the situation he describes in the novel. A Clergyman's Daughter was published before "Such, such were the Joys", so it is clear that those ideas and conceptions were in the mind of Orwell and the only question remaining is whether one prefers to read about them in the form of a novel or in the form of an essay. The evil schoolmistress must have been inspired by Mrs Wilkes, the owner and head teacher of St Cyprian's.
The final chapter is both conventional and introspective. It has dialogue among two important characters and considers the musings of the heroine on the questions of faith and unbelief and the meaning of life.
In conclusion, I found this novel fine. The descriptions of characters and everyday life are very good, the ideological climate of the era is well presented and I did not mind the tendency of Orwell to slip towards forms of writing like the essay or reportage. Even the experimental part three, consisting mainly of dialogue, in the manner of James Joyce's Ulysses, was successful. I have not read 1984 but I found in this novel more to empathise with, than in his equally good but more irrelevant from my point of view "Burmese Days". I found his interest in simple things and humble duties very endearing.
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Quotes George Liked

George Orwell
“And in every detail of your life, if no ultimate purpose redeemed it, there was a quality of greyness, of desolation, that could never be described, but which you could feel like a physical pang at your heart. Life, if the grave really ends it, is monstrous and dreadful. No use trying to argue it away. Think of life as it really is, think of the details of life; and then think that there is no meaning in it, no purpose, no goal except the grave. Surely only fools or self-deceivers, or those whose lives are exceptionally fortunate, can face that thought without flinching?”
George Orwell, A Clergyman's Daughter


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