Coming Up for Air


  Coming Up for Air

  He's dead, but he won't lie down.

  Popular Song


  in association with Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd








  Coming Up for Air

  Eric Arthur Blair (George Orwell) was born in 1903 in India, where his father worked for the Civil Service. The family moved to England in 1907 and in 1917 Orwell entered Eton, where he contributed regularly to the various college magazines. From 1922 to 1927 he served with the Indian Imperial Police Force in Burma, an experience that inspired his first novel, Burmese Days (1934). Several years of poverty followed. He lived in Paris for two years before returning to England, where he worked successively as a private tutor, schoolteacher and bookshop assistant, and contributed reviews and articles to a number of periodicals. Down and Out in Paris and London was published in 1933. In 1936 he was commissioned by Victor Gollancz to visit areas of mass unemployment in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and the Road to Wigan Pier (1937) is a powerful description of the poverty he saw there. At the end of 1936 Orwell went to Spain to fight for the Republicans and was wounded. Homage to Catalonia is his account of the civil war. He was admitted to a sanatorium in 1938 and from then on was never fully fit. He spent six months in Morocco and there wrote Coming Up for Air. During the Second World War he served in the Home Guard and worked for the BBC Eastern Service from 1941 to 1943. As literary editor of Tribune he contributed a regular page of political and literary commentary, and he also wrote for me Observer and later for the Manchester Evening News. His unique political allegory, Animal Farm, was published in 1945, and it was this novel, together with Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), which brought him world-wide fame.

  George Orwell died in London in January 1950. A few days before, Desmond MacCarthy had sent him a message of greeting in which he wrote: 'You have made an indelible mark on English literature ... you are among me few memorable writers of your generation.'

  Peter Davison is Research Professor of English at De Montfort University, Leicester. He was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and studied for a London External BA (1954) by correspondence course. He edited an Elizabethan text for a London MA (1957) and then taught at Sydney University, where he gained a Ph.D. He was awarded a D.Litt. and an Hon. D. Arts by De Montfort University in 1999. He has written and edited fifteen books as well as the Facsimile Edition of the manuscript of Nineteen Eighty-Four and the twenty volumes of Orwell's Complete Works (with Ian Angus and Sheik Davison). He is a Past-President of the Bibliographical Society, whose journal he edited for twelve years. He was made an OBE in 1999 for services to literature.

  A Note on the Text

  Coming Up for Air presents few editorial problems though there are one or two textual points of interest. Orwell was seriously ill early in 1938 and had spent some months in a sanatorium at Aylesford, Kent. He was advised to spend the winter in a warm climate. The novelist L. H. Myers anonymously, through Dorothy Plowman, gave PS300 to enable him to go. Although this was a gift, Orwell insisted on regarding it as a loan and when he could afford to repay it in 1946 he still did not know his benefactor's name; Myers had, in fact, died in 1944. Orwell went with his wife to North Africa, staying mainly in Marrakesh, from September 1938 to March 1939. Whilst he was there he wrote Coming Up for Air. The book was published by Gollancz on 12 June 1939 (2,000 copies) and almost immediately another 1,000 copies were called for. It was the first of Orwell's books to be printed in Secker & Warburg's Uniform Edition, 5,000 copies being published on 13 May 1948. Writing to Julian Symons on 10 May 1948, Orwell said:

  I thought it worth reprinting because it was rather killed by the outbreak of war and then blitzed out of existence, so thoroughly that in order to get a copy from which to reset it we had to steal one from a public library.

  The first American edition was published by Harcourt, Brace & Company on 19 January 1950 (8,000 copies), two days before Orwell died. It was proposed in August 1939 to include Coming Up for Air in a series of books in English circulated on the Continent of Europe by the Albatross Press. Certain unfriendly references to Hitler were to be excised (though not all of them) and a passage of about one page in length that suggested war was imminent was to be cut out. These changes were required (and accepted by Orwell) because Albatross books were distributed chiefly in Germany. The project came to nothing because war broke out the following month, though Orwell was still making inquiries about it in December 1939.

  No typescript survives of Coming Up for Air but there is a corrected proof of the Uniform Edition which has been claimed to be Orwell's though it more probably emanates from the publishing house. The references to 'Boars'/'Boers' on page 45 caused the printers problems. In the first edition, Lady Astor was included in the list of 'soul-savers and Nosey Parkers' on page 183, line 4, but was omitted from the Uniform Edition. For reasons explained in the Textual Note to the Complete Works edition, VII, pages 250-51 (Secker & Warburg, 1986), it is probable that this cut was made by Orwell and her name is not included in this edition.

  There is one minor but curious aspect about the composition of Coming Up for Air. When Orwell returned his set of proofs from Jura on 22 October 1947, he told Roger Senhouse, a Director of Secker & Warburg:

  Did you know by the way that this book hasn't got a semicolon in it? I had decided about that time that the semicolon is an unnecessary stop and that I would write my next book without one.

  In fact, the surviving set of proofs and the Uniform Edition include three semicolons: after 'streamlined', page 22, line 20; after 'Maybrick', page 23, line 15; and after 'Hashbadana', page 30, line 24-incorrectly given as 'Hashbadada' in 1939 and 1948. It is impossible to tell whether Orwell missed this inclusion of the semicolons, or whether he marked their omission on another set of proofs no longer extant and his instructions were ignored. Orwell did not always pick up mistakes in proof so, despite his concern about semicolons, it is quite possible he missed these rather than that Senhouse went against Orwell's wishes-for Senhouse did accept Orwell's use of 'onto' as a single word despite the former's 'archaic horror' of it being so printed. Because Orwell was so specific about the omission of semicolons, they have been left out of this edition.

  Although Orwell checked the proofs for the Uniform Edition there is evidence to show that his preferences in spelling, followed in the first edition (e.g., 'further' rather than 'farther' and 'today' without a hyphen) were disregarded and that a house style of punctuation was imposed. In making such changes in 1948, Secker & Warburg were inconsistent. Thus, for example, 'streamlined' appears both as one word and hyphenated. This edition is based on that of 1939, which is, in general, closer to Orwell's styling, but it takes into account the few changes deemed to be Orwell's and his expressed wishes in the matter of semicolons and capitalisation.


  Albany, London

  Part I


  THE IDEA REALLY came to me the day I got my new false teeth.

  I remember the morning well. At about a quarter to eight I'd nipped out of bed and got into the bathroom just in time to shut the kids out. It was a beastly January morning, with a dirty yellowish-grey sky. Down below, out of the little square of bathroom window, I could see the ten yards by five of grass, with a privet hedge round it and a bare patch in the middle, that we call the back garden. There's the same back garden, same privets and same grass, behind every house in Ellesmere Road. Only difference-where there are no kids there's no bare patch in the middle.

  I was trying to shave with a bluntish razor-blade
while the water ran into the bath. My face looked back at me out of the mirror, and underneath, in a tumbler of water on the little shelf over the washbasin, the teeth that belonged in the face. It was the temporary set that Warner, my dentist, had given me to wear while the new ones were being made. I haven't such a bad face, really. It's one of those bricky-red faces that go with butter-coloured hair and pale-blue eyes. I've never gone grey or bald, thank God, and when I've got my teeth in I probably don't look my age, which is forty-five.

  Making a mental note to buy razor-blades, I got into the bath and started soaping. I soaped my arms (I've got those kind of pudgy arms that are freckled up to the elbow) and then took the back-brush and soaped my shoulder-blades, which in the ordinary way I can't reach. It's a nuisance, but there are several parts of my body that I can't reach nowadays. The truth is that I'm inclined to be a little bit on the fat side. I don't mean that I'm like something in a sideshow at a fair. My weight isn't much over fourteen stone, and last time I measured round my waist it was either forty-eight or forty-nine, I forget which. And I'm not what they call 'disgustingly' fat, I haven't got one of those bellies that sag half-way down to the knees. It's merely that I'm a little bit broad in the beam, with a tendency to be barrel-shaped. Do you know the active, hearty kind of fat man, the athletic bouncing type that's nicknamed Fatty or Tubby and is always the life and soul of the party? I'm that type. 'Fatty', they mostly call me. Fatty Bowling. George Bowling is my real name.

  But at that moment I didn't feel like the life and soul of the party. And it struck me that nowadays I nearly always do have a morose kind of feeling in the early mornings, although I sleep well and my digestion's good. I knew what it was, of course-it was those bloody false teeth. The things were magnified by the water in the tumbler, and they were grinning at me like the teeth in a skull. It gives you a rotten feeling to have your gums meet, a sort of pinched-up, withered feeling like when you've bitten into a sour apple. Besides, say what you will, false teeth are a landmark. When your last natural tooth goes, the time when you can kid yourself that you're a Hollywood sheik is definitely at an end. And I was fat as well as forty-five. As I stood up to soap my crutch I had a look at my figure. It's all rot about fat men being unable to see their feet, but it's a fact that when I stand upright I can only see the front halves of mine. No woman, I thought as I worked the soap round my belly, will ever look twice at me again, unless she's paid to. Not that at that moment I particularly wanted any woman to look twice at me.

  But it struck me that this morning there were reasons why I ought to have been in a better mood. To begin with I wasn't working today. The old car, in which I 'cover' my district (I ought to tell you that I'm in the insurance business. The Flying Salamander. Life, fire, burglary, twins, shipwreck-everything) was temporarily in dock, and though I'd got to look in at the London office to drop some papers, I was really taking the day off to go and fetch my new false teeth. And besides, there was another business that had been in and out of my mind for some time past. This was that I had seventeen quid which nobody else had heard about-nobody in the family, that is. It had happened this way. A chap in our firm, Mellors by name, had got hold of a book called Astrology applied to Horse-racing which proved that it's all a question of the influence of the planets on the colours the jockey is wearing. Well, in some race or other there was a mare called Corsair's Bride, a complete outsider, but her jockey's colour was green, which it seemed was just the colour for the planets that happened to be in the ascendant. Mellors, who was deeply bitten with this astrology business, was putting several quid on the horse and went down on his knees to me to do the same. In the end, chiefly to shut him up, I risked ten bob, though I don't bet as a general rule. Sure enough Corsair's Bride came home in a walk. I forget the exact odds, but my share worked out at seventeen quid. By a kind of instinct-rather queer, and probably indicating another landmark in my life-I just quietly put the money in the bank and said nothing to anybody. I'd never done anything of this kind before. A good husband and father would have spent it on a dress for Hilda (that's my wife) and boots for the kids. But I'd been a good husband and father for fifteen years and I was beginning to get fed up with it.

  After I'd soaped myself all over I felt better and lay down in the bath to think about my seventeen quid and what to spend it on. The alternatives, it seemed to me, were either a week-end with a woman or dribbling it quietly away on odds and ends such as cigars and double whiskies. I'd just turned on some more hot water and was thinking about women and cigars when there was a noise like a herd of buffaloes coming down the two steps that lead to the bathroom. It was the kids, of course. Two kids in a house the size of ours is like a quart of beer in a pint mug. There was a frantic stamping outside and then a yell of agony.

  'Dadda! I wanna come in!'

  'Well, you can't. Clear out!'

  'But dadda! I wanna go somewhere!'

  'Go somewhere else, then. Hop it. I'm having my bath.'

  'Dad-da! I wanna go somewhere!'

  No use! I knew the danger signal. The WC is in the bathroom-it would be, of course, in a house like ours. I hooked the plug out of the bath and got partially dry as quickly as I could. As I opened the door, little Billy-my youngest, aged seven-shot past me, dodging the smack which I aimed at his head. It was only when I was nearly dressed and looking for a tie that I discovered that my neck was still soapy.

  It's a rotten thing to have a soapy neck. It gives you a disgusting sticky feeling, and the queer thing is that, however carefully you sponge it away, when you've once discovered that your neck is soapy you feel sticky for the rest of the day. I went downstairs in a bad temper and ready to make myself disagreeable.

  Our dining-room, like the other dining-rooms in Ellesmere Road, is a poky little place, fourteen feet by twelve, or maybe it's twelve by ten, and the Japanese oak sideboard, with the two empty decanters and the silver egg-stand that Hilda's mother gave us for a wedding present, doesn't leave much room. Old Hilda was glooming behind the teapot, in her usual state of alarm and dismay because the News Chronicle had announced that the price of butter was going up, or something. She hadn't lighted the gas-fire, and though the windows were shut it was beastly cold. I bent down and put a match to the fire, breathing rather loudly through my nose (bending always makes me puff and blow) as a kind of hint to Hilda. She gave me the little sidelong glance that she always gives me when she thinks I'm doing something extravagant.

  Hilda is thirty-nine, and when I first knew her she looked just like a hare. So she does still, but she's got very thin and rather wizened, with a perpetual brooding, worried look in her eyes, and when she's more upset than usual she's got a trick of humping her shoulders and folding her arms across her breast, like an old gypsy woman over her fire. She's one of those people who get their main kick in life out of foreseeing disasters. Only petty disasters, of course. As for wars, earthquakes, plagues, famines and revolutions, she pays no attention to them. Butter is going up, and the gas-bill is enormous, and the kids' boots are wearing out and there's another instalment due on the radio-that's Hilda's litany. She gets what I've finally decided is a definite pleasure out of rocking herself to and fro with her arms across her breast, and glooming at me, 'But, George, it's very serious! I don't know what we're going to do! I don't know where the money's coming from! You don't seem to realise how serious it is!' and so on and so forth. It's fixed firmly in her head that we shall end up in the workhouse. The funny thing is that if we ever do get to the workhouse Hilda won't mind it a quarter as much as I shall, in fact she'll probably rather enjoy the feeling of security.

  The kids were downstairs already, having washed and dressed at lightning speed, as they always do when there's no chance to keep anyone else out of the bathroom. When I got to the breakfast table they were having an argument which went to the tune of 'Yes, you did!' 'No, I didn't!' 'Yes, you did!' 'No, I didn't!' and looked like going on for the rest of the morning, until I told them to cheese it. There are only the two of
them, Billy, aged seven, and Lorna, aged eleven. It's a peculiar feeling that I have towards the kids. A great deal of the time I can hardly stick the sight of them. As for their conversation, it's just unbearable. They're at that dreary bread-and-buttery age when a kid's mind revolves round things like rulers, pencil-boxes and who got top marks in French. At other times, especially when they're asleep, I have quite a different feeling. Sometimes I've stood over their cots, on summer evenings when it's light, and watched them sleeping, with their round faces and their tow-coloured hair, several shades lighter than mine, and it's given me that feeling you read about in the Bible when it says your bowels yearn. At such times I feel that I'm just a kind of dried-up seed-pod that doesn't matter two pence and that my sole importance has been to bring these creatures into the world and feed them while they're growing. But that's only at moments. Most of the time my separate existence looks pretty important to me, I feel that there's life in the old dog yet and plenty of good times ahead, and the notion of myself as a kind of tame dairy-cow for a lot of women and kids to chase up and down doesn't appeal to me.

  We didn't talk much at breakfast. Hilda was in her 'I don't know what we're going to do!' mood, partly owing to the price of butter and partly because the Christmas holidays were nearly over and there was still five pounds owing on the school fees for last term. I ate my boiled egg and spread a piece of bread with Golden Crown marmalade. Hilda will persist in buying the stuff. It's fivepence-halfpenny a pound, and the label tells you in the smallest print the law allows that it contains 'a certain proportion of neutral fruit-juice'. This started me off, in the rather irritating way I have sometimes, talking about neutral fruit-trees, wondering what they looked like and what countries they grew in, until finally Hilda got angry. It's not that she minds me chipping her, it's only that in some obscure way she thinks it's wicked to make jokes about anything you save money on.

No Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via OnlineBooks