Getting on in the literary world, circa 1937 – George Orwell

ST ALBANS, April 17 – It is always easier to read a good book, a real book, than waste time blasting out spam on Twitter and Facebook about the radiance of one’s own literary efforts. Spamming is demeaning to anyone with any sense of decorum.

And so I found myself re-reading George Orwell’s THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER this week. And enjoying every page of it because of the sheer clarity of his writing, his acute insights into how things were in 1930s Britain, and his common sense political analysis.


And then I came across this passage in a chapter on the effects of the British class system with its self-reinforcing status quo:

‘For it is not easy to crash your way into the literary intelligentsia if you happen to be a decent human being. The modern English literary world, at any rate the highbrow section of it, is a sort of poisonous jungle where only weeds can flourish. It is just possible to be a literary gent and to keep you decency if you are a definitely popular writer – a writer of detective stories, for instance; but to be a highbrow, with a footing in the snootier magazines, means delivering yourself over to horrible campaigns of wire-pulling and backstairs-crawling. In the highbrow world you “get on”, if you “get on” at all, not so much by your literary ability as by being the life and soul of cocktail parties and kissing the bums of verminous little lions.’


No change there then. These days, of course, it is is more the potency of your ‘author’s brand’ and the sheer vigour and volume of your tweeting and the analytical cunning of your metadata that really matter. And your ability to muster an army of drones to ‘like’ your Facebook pages to death.

Of course, this is all merely sour grapes as my ‘wire-pulling’ skills are limited to slicing the odd lump of cheddar cheese on a board. As for my ‘backstairs-crawling’, well, what can I say? I don’t know the name of a single commissioning editor in London. So I would not know which stairs to crawl up, were I inclined to. That said, there is probably a list to be had somehow, somewhere – names, emails, mobile numbers – at a price.

You can be absolutely sure that a great many wannabe writers would pay handsomely for such a list. As to the quality of their writing… Best not ask. And what does it matter anyway? With the right plugging campaign any old tut can be catapulted into some listing or other. Then all the ‘best selling’ writer has to do is watch that algorithm go bro!

Not that I am jealous, mind.

By R J Askew – 



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