Keep the Aspidistra Flying Characters

George Orwell

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

There is a strong autobiographical strain in George Orwell’s portrayal of Gordon Comstock. Like Gordon, Orwell had a middle-class upbringing, which he resented, and was sent to a school where all the boys were richer than he. This experience shaped his later political attitudes. Like Gordon, Orwell had deliberately allowed himself to sink into a life of poverty (his Down and Out in Paris and London, published in 1933, is a record of his own experiences), and also like Gordon, Orwell had worked part-time at a bookstore (in Hampstead, London, in 1934 and 1935). The parallels, however, have a strict limit. Gordon is a far lesser figure than the real-life Orwell. Resentful, badly adjusted, and immature, Gordon soon alienates the reader, who can hardly be expected to sympathize with a man who so willingly embraces a job in which there is “no room for ambition, no effort, no hope.” In fact, Gordon is so mentally disturbed that he often hopes for a war in which the whole of London will be destroyed by bombs. Yet, in spite of this, he is blessed with two friends who go to extreme lengths to help him, although he does nothing to deserve or encourage them.

The first of these is Ravelston, the easygoing, charming aristocrat who edits a left-wing magazine. He is based on Orwell’s close friend Sir Richard Rees, who was in the 1930’s the editor of the Adelphi magazine in London. Ravelston moves easily through the world because of his...

(The entire section is 527 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Gordon Comstock

Gordon Comstock, a poet, bookseller, and writer of advertising copy who turns thirty in the course of the novel. A pale, thin man with mouse-colored, unkempt hair, he is the last male of the Comstock line, and as such he is obsessed with poverty, sterility, and decline. As a revolt against the “money-god,” Gordon refuses to work for an advertising agency and instead works in bookshops, where the pay is low. His friendship with Ravelston suffers because Ravelston has more money than Gordon, and his relationship with Rosemary is hindered by Gordon’s agitation concerning his poverty. He has published a short volume of poems titled Mice but is frustrated in his attempt to complete London Pleasures, the manuscript of which he finally tosses into the sewer.

Rosemary Waterlow

Rosemary Waterlow, Gordon’s girlfriend, a commercial artist who works for the New Albion advertising agency. She cares for Gordon and is kind to him, even though he mostly complains. When he pressures her to sleep with him, she agrees. When she becomes pregnant, Gordon must give up his revolt, marry Rosemary, and work for New Albion.

Philip W. H. Ravelston

Philip W. H. Ravelston, the editor of the Marxist journal Antichrist, a friend of Gordon. He occasionally gets Gordon books to review and prints Gordon’s poems in his journal. Ravelston frequently offers to loan money...

(The entire section is 535 words.)