Several times during my reading of Thomas Geoghegan’s powerful and clear books this summer, full of well written and well chosen research, I noted mentions and comparisons by reviewers of George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier, published in 1937.
So once I had finished swimming and wrestling my way through those books, I asked our excellent library for a copy of Orwell’s book. I had of course read Nineteen Eighty Four and Animal Farm, and knew Orwell for a powerful, smart, clear and clever writer.
This book was researched by the usual means, and by traveling and living with the coal miners of Wigan Pier and others on the edges of life. The truth is awful. Whether our ancestors were part of making these evils happen, or were those living, barely, through them, these were awful times. To quote the author of the Foreword, Victor Gollancz, “It is a terrible record of evil conditions, foul housing, wretched pay, hopeless unemployment and the villainies of the Means Test (evidently their version of our Jobs and Family Services, carried to the nth degree).
The second part of the book is Orwell’s exploring his own British class roots, and therefore his contribution to what he had seen, lived and studied. He also talks extensively about socialism, from the points of view of the late 1930s.
To sum up – if you are ever depressed by the state of affairs in our country and on the planet in general, this will cheer you up. We have gotten better. Not necessarily by that much, but definitely better.
I’ve actually always had a hankering for the days of the Goddess myself, before the patriarchy came roaring down out of the mountains with horses and spears. But today is better than the previous two or three centuries, and my optomistic self believes we are still improving.