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...
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