ORWELL (GEORGE) Keep the Aspidistra Flying, FIRST EDITION, AUTHOR'S PRESENTATION COPY, INSCRIBED "To, F.G. Westrope, with very best wishes, from, 'George Orwell'" on the front free endpaper, Victor Gollancz, 1936
Lot 131
ORWELL (GEORGE)
Keep the Aspidistra Flying, FIRST EDITION, AUTHOR'S PRESENTATION COPY, INSCRIBED "To, F.G. Westrope, with very best wishes, from, 'George Orwell'" on the front free endpaper, Victor Gollancz, 1936
Sold for £22,500 (US$ 28,892) inc. premium

Lot Details
ORWELL (GEORGE)
Keep the Aspidistra Flying, FIRST EDITION, AUTHOR'S PRESENTATION COPY, INSCRIBED "To, F.G. Westrope, with very best wishes, from, 'George Orwell'" on the front free endpaper, publisher's cloth, spine slightly bumped, extremities rubbed [Fenwick A4a], 8vo, Victor Gollancz, 1936

Footnotes

  • PRESENTED TO ORWELL'S FORMER EMPLOYER F.G. WESTROPE, THE BOOKSELLER WHOSE SHOP INSPIRIED KEEP THE ASPIDISTRA FLYING: an important association copy of the author's third novel.

    In October 1934, after several years of menial work and various stints as a teacher, Orwell was beginning to feel drained by the growing intellectual isolation he felt in his home town of Southwold and he longed to return to London where he could mix with the literati and other aspiring writers. Struggling to find employment on his own, Orwell's aunt, Nellie Limouzin, wrote to her friends Francis and Myfanwy Westrope from the Esperanto Movement, in the hope that they might be able to find Orwell some work at their Hampstead bookshop, Booklovers' Corner. The Westropes replied offering Orwell lodgings with them above the bookshop in exchange for working for them part-time. Within a few weeks of moving to Hampstead, Orwell had settled in to a steady rhythm of writing and bookselling, noting in a letter to Brenda Salkeld that his "landlady was the non-interfering sort" and that he had "got more work done in the last few days than during weeks before... I want [Keep the Aspidistra Flying] to be a work of art, & that can't be done without much bloody sweat" (Orwell, letter to Brenda Salkeld, 16 February 1935). Although Orwell showed aptitude as a bookseller, and "in spite of [his] employer's kindness to [him], and some happy days [he] spent in the shop", he seems to have struggled with the Booklovers' Corner clientele, adding that "in a town like London there are always plenty of not quite certifiable lunatics walking the streets, and they tend to gravitate towards bookshops" (Orwell, Bookshop Memories). An attitude not dissimilar to the protagonist of the novel: "Dull-eyed, he gazed at the wall of books. He hated the whole lot of them, old and new, highbrow and lowbrow, snooty and chirpy. The mere sight of them brought home to him his own sterility. For here was he, supposedly a 'writer', and he couldn't even 'write'!" (Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Chapter 1).

    However, the most tangible legacy of the Westropes in Orwell's development as a writer was their political beliefs, as "it was through [them] and their acquaintances that Orwell was introduced to the form of socialism that would shape his political views for the rest of his life" (Thomas Cushman and John Rodden, George Orwell: Into the Twenty-First Century, p. 103). In the 1890's, Francis had become disenchanted with the sedentary policies of the established Labour Party, finding their views increasingly out of line with his own. In response, he had helped to found a disaffiliated party built on the principles of left-wing egalitarianism and non-Communist Marxism: The Independent Labour Party (ILP). Although Orwell was not particularly politically minded when he met the Westropes, he soon became a prominent member of the ILP, attending several summer schools and lecturing occasionally.

    Although Orwell came to share the Westropes' political views, he continued to be unsettled by their passion and dedication to the Esperanto Movement, in part because the organisation's more radical devotees believed that it would be the language of the impending proletarian revolution. However, it's also thought that this political element of Esperanto disturbed Orwell because its attempts to actively control language (and by extension, the mode of expressing complex independent thought) was akin to totalitarianism. This, in conjunction with their deliberate word limitation and grammatical similarities, has led to the supposition that Esperanto inspired the language of 'Newspeak' in Nineteen Eighty-Four: "Indeed, it does not take a great leap of imagination to see Esperanto transmute, in Orwell's mind, into Newspeak... designed not to liberate humankind, but to constrain its capacity for independent thought by removing words from the lexicon" (Paul Richards, Beyond Newspeak).
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