The Road to Wigan Pier (Penguin Modern Classics)
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Here was the Jarrow Crusade in vivid detail, with the most extraordinary of photographs. But this quote jumped out at me — something about the condition of working-class English people in this period resonated with me. While I may be more circumspect about some of his writing now, at the time I was utterly dazzled by it.
I have re-read the book several times since, but have not now read it for many years. If by writing we cannot affect change, then what are we, as historians, social commentators, or even bloggers writing for, exactly? And one might ask, what use reading, if not to have a similar effect? Perhaps most astutely observed by Hoggart is this the introduction was written in :.
Above all, it is a study of poverty and, underlying that, of the strength of class divisions. Orwell notes with contempt how in it was fashionable to say that class divisions were fading in Britain.
Twenty years later I published a book which made similar points, and was told by some reviewers that I was grievously mistaken, that class feeling was virtually dead. Thirty more years on and the same things are being said. Class distinction do not die; they merely learn new ways of expressing themselves.
The Road to Wigan Pier
Each decade we shiftily declare we have buried class; each decade the coffin stays empty. Take this for instance:. Rent and clothes and school-bills are an unending nightmare, and every luxury, even a glass of beer, is an unwarrantable extravagance… In such circumstances you have got to cling to your gentility because it is the only thing you have; and meanwhile you are hated for your stuck-up-ness and for the accent and manners which stamp you as one of the boss class.
Here we have Orwell discussing what in many ways has been and continues to be a defining feature of class formation in the post-industrial age: what Pierre Bourdieu identified as social and cultural capital. It is not just an antagonistic working-class who make themselves distinct from other classes but also the downwardly mobile middle-class a growing constituency today who make sharp distinctions between themselves as people with superior social and cultural capital.
This is especially the case when their actual monetary situation is no better, and perhaps even worse, than working-class counterparts.
The Road to Wigan Pier - Penguin Classics
Consider this passage on the real impact of unemployment:. When you see the unemployment figures quoted at two millions, it is fatally easy to take this as meaning that two million people are out of work and the rest of the population is comparatively comfortable… This is an enormous underestimate, because, in the first place, the only people shown on unemployment figures are those actually drawing the dole — that is, in general, the heads of families.
Not only was Orwell able to distinguish the difference between an individual living on a means tested dole, but the impact this would have on their dependants, in a passage that followed immediately after, he was able to pinpoint the reality of being underpaid — in contemporary discourse, precarity:. View more editions. Buy from.
Above all, it is a study of poverty and, behind that, of the strength of class-divisions' Richard Hoggart Read more. Share at.
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The Road To Wigan Pier by George Orwell - Penguin Books Australia
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