End of an Era

Orwell’s protagonist ponders the end of the Victorian era as seen – or not seen – by his parents:

Father was failing, and he didn’t know it. It was merely that times were very bad, trade seemed to dwindle and dwindle, his bills were harder and harder to meet. Thank God, he never even knew that he was ruined, never actually went bankrupt, because he died very suddenly […] at the beginning of 1915. To the end he believed that with thrift, hard work and fair dealing a man can’t go wrong. There must have been plenty of small shopkeepers who carried that belief not merely on to bankrupt deathbeds but even into the workhouse. Even Lovegrove the saddler, with cars and motor-vans staring him in the face, didn’t realise that he was as out of date as the rhinoceros. And Mother too – Mother never lived to know that the life she’d been brought up to, the life of a decent God-fearing shopkeeper’s daughter and a decent shopkeeper’s wife in the reign of good Queen Vic, was finished forever.  […] Father was worried and this and that was “aggravating,” but you carried on much the same as usual. The old English order of life couldn’t change. For ever and ever decent God-fearing women would cook Yorkshire pudding and apple dumplings on enormous coal ranges, wear woolen underclothes and sleep on feathers, make plum jam in July and pickles in October, and read Hilda’s Home Companion in the afternoons, with the flies buzzing round, in a sort of cosy little underworld of stewed tea, bad legs and happy endings. They were a bit shaken and sometimes a bit dispirited. But at least they never lived to know that everything they’d believed in was just so much junk.

From Coming Up for Air, by George Orwell (published 1950).

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Published in: on July 5, 2010 at 9:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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