I was delighted to pick up this copy of George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier in an antiquarian bookseller’s today. I’ve never seen this particular edition before, which is published with some of Orwell’s diary entries, letters and journalism. It even has some contextualising black and white photographs, for those who’ve never seen working class people before.
I love The Road to Wigan Pier and read my previous copy until it fell to pieces. I used to live ‘up north’ and so have a familiarity with many of the places mentioned, as well as a residual sense of what it was like to be working class in the 1930s, from my own working class upbringing in the industrial heartland of the West Midlands. My grandmother even lived next door to an old fashioned chimney sweep, who looked like he’d stepped straight from the pages of Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor.
As I now live ‘down south’, I get a sense that the world described by Orwell will be alien to many English people. Few of the people I work with have ever been to Wigan, Manchester or Leeds. Not that these places are now anything like the cities described in this book. However, I would say that this is more of a reason to read it, not less. I feel it is more important than ever to get a sense of what England used to be like, before it is altered beyond all recognition.
My fascination with the British class system is probably evident to anyone who has read this blog before. Although, the class structure, as it was taught in my ‘O’ level Sociology lessons thirty years ago, now seems very different. The Upper, Middle and Working Class system has divided and proliferated to include new terms: the elite, the established middle class, the technical middle class, new affluent workers, emergent service workers, traditional working class and precariat.
Not that I think it’s an exact science – according to this calculator on the BBC Website, I am now a Precariat, which would mean that I have dropped down a rung on the ladder from the Traditional Working Class family I was born into. I would contest this categorisation – I now have a degree and I’m definitely posher than I used to be! Although, I did yesterday buy a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, thinking it would be white, so I have a long way to go before I’m middle class.
Anyway, I’m not sure what the point of this blog post is really. Apart from to encourage everyone to read Orwell. I think we need a modern George Orwell, actually. Is there anyone to inherit his mantle? Unfortunately, I read the Guardian (purely out of habit) and they seem to hate the working classes, while repeating a brainless mantra of ‘diversity’ and ‘equality’ from their metropolitan bubble.
There is a sort of read-a-thon happening next Tuesday, 6th June, 9am until 10pm at Senate House, London WC1E 7HU. Where those who wish to, can read Orwell’s 1984, from beginning to end. Followed by a ‘two minutes hate’ (I made that bit up). It sounds like a wonderful event. See here for further details: 1984 LIVE.