George Orwell

Keep the Aspidistra Flying

‘Cinema is the right drug for friendless people’ according to poet manqué Gordon Comstock in George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying first published in 1936. Comstock loathes middle-class respectability – as symbolised by the aspidistra of the title – and gives up a ‘good job’ in advertising to work part-time in a bookshop to give him more time to write. Early in the novel he pines for ‘something cheap and easy, a seat in the pictures, cigarettes, beer.

In the extract below, Gordon Comstock walks north from Charing Cross Road, killing time before going back to his lonely room in Willowbed Road North West London. He pauses outside a cinema where The Painted Veil (1934 directed by Richard Boleslawski and staring Greta Garbo) is playing.

First published 1936 by Victor Gollancz. Extract from Penguin 1989 edition.

Read an excerpt from Keep the Aspidistra Flying