The Road to Wigan Pier

This week’s blog post takes the form of a review of The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell.

The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell

This highly acclaimed and controversial book came into existence as a result of a left-wing publisher by the name of Victor Gollancz commissioning Orwell to make a contribution to what he described as the ‘condition of England’.  Gollancz later decided to include the resulting work in his Left Book Club series.

The first half of the book sees Orwell traveling through industrial Northern Britain, detailing and commenting on the working-class life that he comes across, beginning with his experiences in a squalid boarding house.  In typical Orwellian fashion the prose abounds with vivid descriptions, such as a bedroom smelling like a ferret cage, a full chamber pot under a dining table, the event which finally leads the author to find new lodgings, and a room ‘festooned in grimy blankets’.  A poverty stricken woman struggling to clear a blocked pipe with a stick is one image that is particularly poignant.

Orwell outlines in minutest detail the conditions of the houses that he visits, including the degree of rot, the state of the living rooms, sleeping quarters, sanitation, which is universally outdoors, and even the cooking facilities.  The author’s visits to the coal mines, the cornerstone of industrial England at the time, are not without difficulty as he discovers that his unusually tall frame is ill-suited to the low mine shafts.  Orwell’s fascination with his fellow man is prevalent throughout as he analyses the distance the miners travel each day, their wages, washing facilities and eating habits.  He is very particular and fastidious in this regard, as the detailed tables that are included will testify.  There is even an assortment of photographs inserted in the middle of the book, which capture the essence of working class conditions of the time.

The second half of the book takes the form of a highly critical and opinionated commentary in which Orwell’s Socialist leanings are in evidence throughout, as he argues eloquently about everything from the inevitability of our increased dependence on machinery, to attacking assumptions and prejudices about Socialism and his loathing of Fascism. The author was so opposed to this growing global threat that shortly after writing the book he headed to Catalonia to participate in the Spanish Civil War, in a losing effort against the Fascists.  Despite the assertive and judgmental nature of the text, examples of Orwell’s sense of humor can be found in abundance.

This eloquent commentary, which continues to have political relevance even today, will not be to everyone’s liking, due to the detailed numerical data and relentless opinion.  Those with left wing tendencies, the most ardent Orwell fans and anyone interested to discover more about the working conditions of the day will no doubt embrace this valuable literary contribution wholeheartedly.

There are many more reviews in the Book Review section of this website, including a review of another Orwell book, Down and Out in Paris and London.

5 Comments

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  • Fascinating review. I will be checking out The Road to Wigan Pier on account of it. Of course, Orwell’s attitude to Socialism, or at least its potential for totalitarian abuse, evolved over time, as can be seen in Animal Farm and 1984. 1984 in my opinion is one of the most important books of the twentieth century. We can see aspects of it today in the high degree of surveillance we live under, and specifically in the concept of doublethink – the war on terror, for example, has thrown up so many contradictions and inconsistencies that it could have not lasted so long without the unconscious collusion of the general public.

  • Guy, I enjoyed your blog, as always. I haven’t read this one of Orwells’ books although I have read both 1984 and Animal Farm a long time ago. Orwell was a brilliant writer – he managed to capture and retain the reader’s attention while conveying an important message. I remember when my children were younger – one of them commented how much he had enjoyed reading Animal Farm although he had no idea what it alluded to.
    I guess I’ll be adding “The Road to Wigan Pier” to my ever-growing list of books to be read.

    • Thanks for reading the review Diane. Hope you get round to reading The Road to Wigan Pier one day. Feel free to add my book, Charles Middleworth, to your list as well, LOL.
      Guy

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