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The Road to Wigan Pier
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Group Reads Archive > September 2012 - The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell

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Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
Welcome to the September non-fiction group read of...

The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell


Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
I'm a quarter of the way into this book. I have absolutely no experience of the scenes depicted in the first chapter. The idea of the boarding house is not familiar to me but the characters are so 'alive' - has anyone tasted tripe? - the descriptions of the filth and the smells were stomach turning.

The next few chapters are much more familiar to me. I live in a small former mining village in the North of England - not like the big industrialised towns in Sheffield and Wigan, more self-contained where everyone lived and worked around the pit and there was very little else going on. The descriptions of the rows of miner's terraced houses and 'back-to-back' houses are wonderful. I live in one of those now ('s half rennovated so no-where near as grim as described here! - it's funny how life moves on and working mens lodgings become desirable homes). It has the two up, two down layout, the big front 'parlor' with a big old fireplace that one housed a range and a back 'scullary', now my kitchen/diner. The back yard is still a feature although it used to have an outdoor toilet and a coalhouse built into it which is now knocked down. My village wouldn't have had any pit baths, it's simply not big enough, so there would have been miners getting bathed in my living room many moons ago!

I'm just getting into the chapter about the money and how the wages worked, what 'extras' the miners had to pay out of their wages and how little the mining company actually paid out in the way of miners welfare, pensions and compensation for accidents - when someone died their widow got a 'collection' donations having been deducted from the other miners wages!!!

We don't appreciate how good we've got it!

message 3: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments My kindle copy has some kind of forward or introduction that seems to go on forever. I'm 5% into the book and I haven't even got to the book yet. And, of course, there is no table of contents. That's what I get for picking a cheap version.

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
Part one & part two have completely different identities. - Part two is making me question a few things which I had held as truths. For example, I equate increased mechanisation with Capitalism...getting more for less & driving down wages for greater profits etc. But here Orwell talks about socialism is being the benefactor of mechinisation which actually makes sense for his time period.

message 5: by Amy (new) - rated it 1 star

Amy | 38 comments I can't finish it. Orwell is a talented writer so I was able to get through part one, but then I guess I am too far removed both physically and historically to keep up an interest. And it doesn't help that when he says 7 shillings rent, that has no value to me (Canadian dollars and prairie landscapes combined with the fortune of not having experienced poverty = unfinished Wigan Pier).

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
Yes - I was wondering about the money too. Pounds Shilling and pence aren't really fathomable here in England either now! - There are some online currency converters though, which helps!

The second part is mostly a political tract aimed at convincing the middle classes that socialism wasn't the enemy but was actually the most logical plan for humans to live by. Financial wellbeing at a countrywide level - national economies - tend to move in cycles. Unfortunately we may be spiralling back down towards unacceptable and very sharp differences between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'. We may not be dirty, smelly and living in hovels but poverty is relative and the times are at least comparable even with their vast differences.

Nigeyb Orwell appears to be unfailingly honest - both about what he encounters amongst the poor families of the north of England (his description of the Brookers' boarding house is powerful and evocative) and his own prejudices.

A word on his prejudices, he refers to homosexuals as "pansies" and discusses the "cranks" that gravitate towards Socialism which include - in his words - fruit-juice drinkers, nudists, sandal wearers, sex maniacs, Quakers, nature-cure quacks, feminists and vegetarians. He is honest enough, elsewhere in the book, to acknowledge the difficulty anyone encounters trying to escape their social background - these prejudices suggest to me he was, in some respects, a very traditional person. I think this self awareness makes him more endearing and probably more clear-sighted whilst also jarring with me, as I fall into at least two of his crank categories.

A lot of his thoughts and observations still resonated with me as a reader in 2012. Specifically his ideas on class prejudice and language. That said, I think he was also fairly naive when he wrote this book. His political education would continue in Spain, as documented in Homage to Catalonia, when he would fight a real war against Fascism, and where he encountered Russian propaganda and the rivalries between the various Republican factions. I would recommend reading the two books back-to-back.

I preferred the first half of the book, with its clear eyed depictions of poverty, which is more interesting than his political musings in the second half. The second half is interesting, but his tendency to repeat himself, his personal prejudices and his political naivety, undermine this half of the book. That said, it's well worth reading for anyone interested in the era, or in Orwell's writing - I find both fascinating.

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
Nigeyb wrote: "as I fall into at least two of his crank categories...."

Don't we all!

I think thats part of the trouble with the second half - he's trying to get middle class readers behind his cause (Socialism) but he's being quite mean to them about their widely held opinions!

I agree about the first half being better. I liked the descriptions and his views after having been living among us poor folk! - I often wonder if we could get our politicians to live on benefits or do a low paid job for a year before we allow them to be an MP!

message 9: by Sarah (Presto agitato) (last edited Sep 14, 2012 04:30PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sarah (Presto agitato) (mg2001) | 12 comments The structure of this book is interesting, with the first section being fairly straightforward reportage and the second commentary/ranting that lacks the focus of Orwell's later work. I always kind of giggle at the poor fruit-juice drinkers - who were they and what on earth did they do that bugged him so much? - but his negative depiction of certain socialist stereotypes was no joke to his audience, since Wigan Pier was published as a Left Book Club selection. I think it's not always clear if he is refuting the stereotypes or supporting them. Maybe a little of both.

I'm not sure what editions of this people are reading, but there is a foreword by the publisher Victor Gollancz in some of them that was printed in the original. Gollancz was not keen on the second part of the book, and in the foreword he basically apologizes for it. (Peter Davison took out the foreword in the Penguin edition).

@Nigeyb - Good point about reading this and Homage to Catalonia back-to-back. They were written close in time to each other, and I think you can see a lot of Orwell's political ideas start to take shape in that period of a year and a half or so when he was in Wigan and Spain. He evolved from vague socialist ideas (often quite conflicted in Wigan Pier) to much more clear opinions after his idealism was challenged in Spain. (I also happen to think Catalonia is a better book, and absolutely worth reading for anyone interested in Orwell).

message 10: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments I am reading the Left Book Club edition and that introduction just goes on forever and really does badmouth the book. I haven't gotten to the book yet -or still dragging through the introduction.

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