Monday, 18 September 2017

Snowshill Manor Gloucestershire Near Broardway In The Costswolds

Snowshill Manor
The property is located in Snowshill. It is a typical Cotswold manor house, made from local stone; the main part of the house dates from the 16th century. It is a Grade II* listed building, having been so designated since 4 July 1960. Also listed are the brewhouse, the dovecote, some of the garden buildings, the wall and gate-piers, and the group of four Manor Cottages.
Snowshill Manor was the property of Winchcombe Abbey from 821 until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539[3] when the Abbey was confiscated by King Henry VIII, who presented it to his last queen, Catherine Parr. Between 1539 and 1919 it had a number of tenants and owners until it was purchased by Charles Paget Wade, an architect, artist-craftsman, collector, poet and heir to the family fortune. He restored the property, living in the small cottage in the garden and using the manor house as a home for his collection of objects. By the time of his death he had amassed over 22,000 objects. He gave the property and the contents of this collection to the National Trust in 1951.
The house contains an eclectic collection of thousands of objects, gathered over the years by Charles Paget Wade, whose motto was "Let nothing perish". The collection includes toys, Samurai armour, musical instruments, and clocks. Today, the main attraction of the house is perhaps the display of Wade's collection. From 1900 until 1951, when he gave the Manor to the National Trust, Wade amassed an enormous and eclectic collection of objects reflecting his interest in craftsmanship. The objects in the collection include 26 suits of Japanese samurai armour dating from the 17th and 19th centuries, bicycles, toys, musical instruments, and more.
Wade was an eccentric man and lived in the Priest's House while housing his collection in the manor. It is said to be haunted by a monk, and by the ghost of a young woman forced in 1604 to marry against her will in one of the upstairs rooms.

The garden at Snowshill was laid out by Wade, in collaboration with Arts and Crafts movement architect, M. H. Baillie Scott, between 1920 and 1923. Their elaborate layout resembles a series of outside rooms seen as an extension to the house. Features include terraces and ponds, and the gardens demonstrate Wade's fascination with colours and scents. As well as formal beds, the gardens include an ancient dovecote, a model village, kitchen garden, orchards and small fields with sheep.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Remembering ... Ten Dukes gathered together.

Ten dukes-a-dining: Gathered together over lunch for a unique picture, the grandees with £2bn and 340,000 acres between them

At first glance, it might resemble the board meeting of a firm of auctioneers or a convention of prep school headmasters.
On closer inspection, it is actually a remarkable portrait of the grandest club in Britain, a super-elite who account for some 340,000 acres, more than £2billion and 4,505 years of aristocratic moving and shaking.
Some owe their fortunes to bravery in battle, others to royal philandering or political chicanery. But they are all distantly related to each other and they are all addressed in exactly the same way: Your Grace.
Outside the Royal Family, dukedoms have only ever been granted to a handful of men of power and influence.
Dukes are just one rung down from royalty in the social pecking order and enjoy a special status way above the rank and file of the aristocracy. As peerages go, it's the jackpot.
Today, there are just 24 non-royal dukes in existence, down from a total of 40 in their Georgian heyday. And it's fair to say that no modern monarch or government is likely to create any more.
So, to celebrate its 300th birthday, Tatler magazine decided to invite this dwindling band of mega-toffs to a ducal lunch. The result was the largest gathering of dukes since the Coronation of 1953.
Some were too frail to attend. Some live abroad. But ten of them gathered for oysters and Dover sole in London's clubland. And the result is this intriguing study of 21st century nobility.
'After 300 years, we wanted to recapture the spirit of the original Tatler, and what better than a room full of dukes,' says Tatler editor Catherine Ostler.
Once, the holders of these titles would have been the A-list celebrities of their time. Today, most people would be pushed to name a single one of them.
With hereditary peers cast out into the political wilderness, dukes might seem little more than a comic anachronism in modern Britain. While they retain their rank and social clout, their only power is financial.
In the case of, say, the Duke of Bedford, this amounts to £500million in art, London property and a large slab of Home Counties commuter belt. As for the Duke of Leinster, whose grandfather ran a teashop, it is next to nothing.
Yet many dukes still play an active part in public life. The Duke of Norfolk, as hereditary Earl Marshal, is still responsible for organising the State Opening of Parliament and any coronations which should occur.
The Duke of Northumberland runs several public bodies across the North East while his wife is the local Lord Lieutenant.
The very first dukedom was a royal affair. In 1337, Edward III created his son, the Black Prince, the Duke of Cornwall. The title derives from the Latin dux - leader - and, throughout history, fewer than 500 British men have held the rank of 'Duke'.
The last non-royal dukedom was created in 1900 for the former Earl of Fife, who was upgraded to Duke following his wedding to Queen Victoria's granddaughter.
There might have been a new one in 1955 when the Queen offered one to Churchill, but he declined, preferring to die a commoner.
The only non-duke at the Tatler gathering was historian Andrew Roberts, invited to chronicle the event.
'They're all related and they all stick up for each other,' he recalls.
But he fears that dukes could become an endangered species. 'Not long ago, two important dukedoms - Newcastle and Portland - became extinct,' says the historian.
'So, my parting plea to the dukes was simple, even if it startled some of them. I simply said: 'Keep procreating!'

The assembled: (from left to right) 1. James Graham, 8th Duke of Montrose; 2. David Manners, 11th Duke of Rutland; 3. John Seymour, 19th Duke of Somerset; 4. Ralph Percy, 12th Duke of Northumberland; 5. Andrew Russell, 15th Duke of Bedford; 6. Edward Fizalan-Howard, 18th Duke of Norfolk; 7. Torquhil Campbell, 18th Duke of Argyll; 8. Maurice FitzGerald, 9th Duke of Leinster; 9. Murray Beauclerk, 14th Duke of St Albans; 10. Arthur Wellesey, 8th Duke of Wellington. See list below for details

A very special edition: The picture appears in the November issue of Tatler magazine

1 James Graham, 8th Duke of Montrose
Age: 72.
Title created: 1707. Other titles include Viscount Dundaff and Lord Aberuthven, Mugdock and Fintrie.
Seat: Auchmar, a modest estate near Loch Lomond.
Wealth: A high-ranking, but lower league landowner with 8,800 acres valued at around £1 million in 2001.
History: The dukedom was awarded for supporting the Act of Union in 1707. The sixth Duke helped to invent the aircraft carrier during World War I. The present Duke spent part of his childhood in a mud hut in Rhodesia (where his father was building a farm). Instead of the usual Eton education, he attended Loretto School in Edinburgh - just like the Chancellor, Alistair Darling.

2 David Manners, 11th Duke of Rutland
Age: 50.
Title created: 1703. Other titles include Marquess of Granby and Baron Roos of Belvoir.
Seat: Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire.
Wealth: Ranked 474th in the latest Rich List, he is valued at £115 million. Estates across Leicestershire (12,000 acres), Derbyshire (10,000 acres), Cambridgeshire (4,000 acres) and Lincolnshire (2,000 acres).
History: While the main seat, Belvoir, is a magnificent 365-room pile with an underground railway and £100 million of art, the family also owns Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, widely recognised as one of Britain's finest medieval and Tudor manor houses. A previous Marquess of Granby (later the third duke) was a popular soldier and helped many of his men with their retirement, hence the number of pubs called the Marquess of Granby.

3 John Seymour, 19th Duke of Somerset
Age: 56. Title created: 1547. His other title is Lord Seymour.
Seat: Maiden Bradley, Somerset.
Wealth: Around 5,000 acres of Somerset, including several villages.
History: He is a descendant of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII's third wife. The first Duke of Somerset, Edward Seymour, was Jane's brother.
The family owns the fourposter oak bed in which Edward VI is said to have been conceived.
Having rented out his main house at £50,000 a year, the Duke runs the estate from a smaller house in Devon.

4 Ralph Percy, 12th Duke of Northumberland
Age: 52.
Title created: 1766. Other titles include Earl Percy, Earl of Beverley, Baron Warkworth.
Seat: Alnwick Castle, Northumberland.
Wealth: With 132,000 acres, Syon Park in West London and a substantial art collection, he is valued at £300 million and ranked No. 178 on the latest Rich List.
History: Part of the original Norman Conquest gang, the Percy family have been dominant in their part of the country for centuries. Alnwick Castle is the authentic knight-in-shining-armour fortress and has featured in Blackadder and the Harry Potter films. The present Duke recently sold a Raphael painting to the nation for £22 million, a deal which attracted controversy because of the use of Lottery funds. The newly-refurbished Alnwick Garden is a major tourist attraction.

5 Andrew Russell, 15th Duke of Bedford
Age: 47.
Title created: 1694. Other titles include Marquess of Tavistock and Baron Howland
Seat: Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire
Wealth: Valued at £489million. Owns 23,000 acres and prime central London real estate.
History: The first Duke fought on both sides in the Civil War and was ennobled after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The family has made Woburn Abbey a major tourist attraction and the present Duke is busy refurbishing much of the London estate (significantly smaller than it once was after much of it became part of London University).
The family were stars of the BBC's Country House series.

6 Edward Fizalan-Howard, 18th Duke of Norfolk
Age: 53.
Title created: 1483. Other titles include Earl of Surrey and Baron Maltravers.
Seat: Arundel Castle, West Sussex.
Wealth: Half his 30,000 acres are in leafy West Sussex, while the family also owns a ten-acre parcel of London valued at £100 million in 2001.
History: As England's senior duke, Norfolk carries the hereditary title of Earl Marshal. As such, he plays an important role in running state occasions. The family's royal links stretch back centuries and the present Duke's wife, Georgina, stands in for the Queen at rehearsals of the State Opening of Parliament. The Duke's eldest son and heir, Henry, the Earl of Arundel, 21, is a promising Formula Three driver.

7 Torquhil Campbell, 13th Duke of Argyll
Age: 41.
Title created: 1701. Other titles include Marquess of Kintyre and Lorne, Viscount Lochow and Glenilla and Lord Morvern.
Seat: Inveraray Castle, Argyllshire.
Wealth: Family owns 60,000 acres of Scotland, valued at £12.5m in 2001.
History: The dukedom comes with plenty of baggage, including the hereditary posts of Master of HM's Household in Scotland and Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland.
The family suffered serious scandal in the Sixties, when the divorce proceedings of the 11th duke unearthed a famous photograph of his soon-to-be former wife with a mysterious naked man. The present duke, when not working in the whisky trade, is captain of the Scottish elephant polo team.

8 Maurice FitzGerald, 9th Duke of Leinster
Age: 61.
Title created: 1766. Other titles include Marquess of Kildare and Earl of Offaly
Seat: Formerly Carton House, Co. Kildare. Now a farmhouse in Oxfordshire.
Wealth: No landholdings of any note, the Duke works as a landscape gardener.
History: The FitzGeralds assisted Edward I in his battles against the Scots. The family fortunes declined in the 20th century after the 7th Duke sold his interests in the family estates and was then declared bankrupt. His fourth wife, with whom he opened a teashop in Rye in 1965, was the caretaker of the block of flats in which he lived. Educated at Millfield, the present Duke is president of the Oxfordshire Dyslexia Association.

9 Murray Beauclerk, 14th Duke of St Albans
Age: 70. Title created: 1684. Other titles include Earl of Burford, and Baron Heddington.
Seat: A terrace house in Knightsbridge, London.
Wealth: Never a great landowning family, the Beauclerks were said to own 4,000 acres, worth £12m, in 2001.
History: The first Duke was the illegitimate son of Charles II and Nell Gwyn. Though the present Duke is a Tonbridge-educated chartered accountant, an eccentric strain still runs through family.
His heir, the Earl of Burford, has long campaigned to prove his ancestor, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was the true author of the works of Shakespeare. In 1999, the young Earl was forcibly expelled from the House of Lords for jumping on the Woolsack and accusing the Government of treason in its expulsion of hereditary peers.

10 Arthur Wellesley, 8th Duke of Wellington
Age: 94.
Title created: 1814. Other titles include Prince of Waterloo, Duke of Vittoria and Earl of Mornington.
Seat: Stratfield Saye House, Hampshire and Apsley House, London.
Wealth: 7,000-acre Hampshire estate, 20,000 acres of Belgium and Spain. Thought to be worth £50m in 2001.
History: Like the original Iron Duke, the present Duke had a long Army career, winning the Military Cross and reaching the rank of Brigadier. In later life, he has devoted himself to his estates and charities, coming top in Country Life's 'Good Duke Guide' in 1991. His heir, the Marquess of Douro, is a former Tory MEP while his daughter, Lady Jane Wellesley, was once talked of as a bride for the Prince of Wales. More recent beaux include Melvyn Bragg and Loyd Grossman.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Ralph Lauren working on memoir / 50 years anniversary of Polo Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren, one of the giants of modern American fashion,
is working on his autobiography.
Simon & Schuster will release the book in fall 2017,
in conjunction with his company's 50th anniversary. The book is currently
Famed for his company's polo-pony motif, the 76-year-old
Lauren has combined Americana, ruggedness and refinement to create an upscale
look and a lifestyle known worldwide. He has risen from an immigrant household
in New York City to founding an iconic brand that made him one of the world's
richest men.
Lauren stepped down as chief executive in 2015 and was
succeeded by Old Navy President Stefan Larsson.

Simon & Schuster to Publish Ralph Lauren Memoir in Fall of 2017

New York, NY, September 21, 2016— Ralph Lauren, the legendary founder of the company that brought American style to the world, will publish his autobiography with Simon & Schuster in the fall of 2017. The work will be published in hardcover, ebook, and audio editions by Simon & Schuster in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and India.

“Ralph Lauren is a true American original who has built one of the world’s greatest, most iconic fashion brands and lifestyle empires,” said Carolyn Reidy, CEO of Simon & Schuster. “His style is instantly recognizable to even the most casual observer, a triumph of business savvy and aesthetic sensibility that is unmatched anywhere.  We are delighted to have the opportunity to bring his fascinating story to readers worldwide.”

Jonathan Karp, Simon & Schuster’s publisher, said: “How Ralph Lauren’s business became the epitome of American style is one of the great cultural stories of our time.  We are honored that he has chosen Simon & Schuster as his publisher.  We expect this to be one of the most avidly read books of the year.”

World rights were acquired by Priscilla Painton, Vice President and Executive Editor at Simon & Schuster, through Lauren’s outside counsel, Robert B. Barnett of Williams & Connolly. Lauren began conversations with Painton four years ago about telling his story of rising from the Bronx to become one of the world’s most admired and well-known businessmen with a brand that is enduring and recognized everywhere. Lauren has given few in-depth interviews in his long career and decided to open up about his extraordinary life in time to celebrate his company’s 50th anniversary next year.

Simon & Schuster, part of CBS Corporation, is a global leader in the field of general interest publishing, dedicated to providing the best in fiction and nonfiction for consumers of all ages, across all printed, electronic, and audio formats. It has been the publisher of books by Bruce Springsteen, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David McCullough. Its divisions include Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, Simon & Schuster Audio, Simon & Schuster Digital, and international companies in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. For more information, visit our website at


Cary Goldstein, VP/Executive Director of Publicity, 212-698-1122

​The book will be released next year to celebrate the brand's 50th anniversary
By Ella Alexander
22 September 2016

Ralph Lauren is writing a memoir that will chronicle how his business became the "epitome of American style".

The book, published by Simon & Schuster, will be released in autumn next year to coincide with the brand's 50th anniversary.

"His style is instantly recognisable to even the most casual observer, a triumph of business savvy and aesthetic sensibility that is unmatched anywhere," the Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy said.

Many designers have an interesting story to tell, but Lauren's life is more colourful than most. He was born in the Bronx in New York to Jewish immigrants and his first job was in the US Army. He left to become a sales assistant for Brooks Brothers and eventually ended up setting up his own brand from a drawer in the Empire State Building, taking rags and turning them into ties.

Soon after, Neiman Marcus bought 1,200 of Lauren's ties and the rest, as they say, is history. He resigned as chief executive of his hugely successful brand in 2015.

“Seeing as Ralph Lauren’s empire is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, we’re promised at least four books about the brand (including Ralph’s autobiography in 2018) on the horizon. Rizzoli has got a couple planned, including the Ralph Lauren: 50 Years of Fashion retrospective in association with WWD and a third version of the 2007 monograph, which will be expanded with more imagery and coverage of the last ten years.”

Monday, 11 September 2017

Judi Dench and Maggie Smith to reflect on lives in new BBC arts output / MAGGIE SMITH & JUDI DENCH INTERVIEW Part 1

Judi Dench and Maggie Smith to reflect on lives in new BBC arts output
Two actors will spend a weekend retreat together with fellow dames Eileen Atkins and Joan Plowright for new programme
Dames Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Eileen Atkins and Joan Plowright will reflect on their lives and careers in a new programme for BBC2.

Press Association
Sunday 10 September 2017 17.42 BST

The old friends will spend a weekend together reminiscing at a retreat once shared by Plowright and Laurence Olivier for a one-off programme directed by the Notting Hill filmmaker Roger Mitchell.

The film, which has the working title Nothing Like A Dame, is one of the new arts programmes the BBC has announced.

The broadcaster will also celebrate the 20th anniversary of the publication of the first Harry Potter book with Harry Potter: A History of Magic, which will follow the run-up to the opening of an exhibition about the books at the British Library.

Also a one-off for BBC2, the programme will unveil rare books, manuscripts and magical objects from the exhibition, which includes original drafts and drawings lent by JK Rowling and the Harry Potter illustrator Jim Kay from their personal archives, on display for the first time.

It will explore the world of Hogwarts, and will include an interview with Rowling in which she talks about some of the personal items she has donated to the exhibition. Readings from famous fans will recreate some of the best loved spells, potions and magical moments from the series.

Joe Orton Laid Bare, which uses the playwright’s own words from his personal memoirs, stage and TV plays to examine his life and work, is also planned for BBC2. The programme will celebrate his unique and ambitious voice 50 years on from his death.

It will feature contributions from Kenneth Cranham, Sir Michael Codron, Christopher Hampton, Dame Patricia Routledge and Joe Orton’s sister Leonie.

BBC4 will tell the story of the mountaineer, explorer and linguist Gertrude Bell in Letters From Baghdad. The programme has been given unique access to more than 1,600 letters, and will follow her journey into the uncharted Arabian desert and the inner sanctum of British male colonial power at the turn of the 20th century. It will also explore the complex history of Iraq, with recorded reminiscences from those who knew her and Bell’s own words voiced by Tilda Swinton.

BBC1 has confirmed that the Strictly Come Dancing star the Rev Richard Coles and Mariella Frostrup will return to host The Big Painting Challenge when it comes back in 2018. Ten new amateur artists will compete in six weeks of challenges.

The channel will also bring back Fake Or Fortune? for a seventh series, presented by the art dealer Philip Mould and journalist Fiona Bruce, who search for lost masterpieces.

Mark Bell, the head of commissioning for BBC Arts, said: “We hope our arts programming will cast a spell over audiences with an in-depth look at the real-life inspirations for JK Rowling’s magical world.

“We can also offer BBC2 viewers the privilege of spending time with four great dames as they reflect on their incredible lives and careers on stage and screen, and alongside a fantastic season of programmes exploring Mexican art and life we will also examine the lives of British icons including Gertrude Bell and Joe Orton using their own writings.

“And The Big Painting Challenge will hopefully again inspire people to pick up a paintbrush and have a go.”


Saturday, 9 September 2017

A Merry War Film / Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell / A Merry War Trailer 1998

A Merry War
Reviewed by Sandra Contreras

This intermittently amusing but always thoughtful adaptation of George Orwell's autobiographical novel, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, features Richard E. Grant as Gordon Comstock, a would-be poet who supports himself as a copywriter in 1930s
London. When Comstock's first book of poetry receives a good review in the Times Literary Supplement, he decides to cast off the trappings of what he considers to be his demeaning and predictable life (job, marriage etc.) to become a full-time poet and free man. Comstock's subsequent
free-fall into penury and degradation (remember that Orwell's nonfiction works include the terrifying Down and Out in Paris and London ) is, fortunately, leavened with humor. Comstock isn't the most sympathetic of protagonists: He leaches money from his hardworking spinster sister Julia
(Harriet Walter), and treats both his upper-class publisher Ravelston (Julian Wadham) and his devoted girlfriend Rosemary (Helena Bonham Carter) exceedingly badly, spurning them viciously whenever they try to pull him back into the safety of the middle-class fold. But Comstock's rants and whines
about the bitter pills life forces one to swallow will resonate with anyone who's ever done work they considered morally reprehensible or without integrity. Less convincing, however faithful to the novel, is the ending: Spurred by Rosemary's unplanned pregnancy, Comstock happily decides to take
back his old job and settle into the very life of middle-class mediocrity against which he railed so vigorously, going so far as to embrace that emblem of bourgeois conformity and staple of overstuffed English parlors, the humble aspidistra plant.

Director: Robert Bierman
Writers: George Orwell (novel), Alan Plater (screenplay)
Stars: Richard E. Grant, Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Wadham
Produced by
Robert Bierman                ...            executive producer
Sara Giles            ...            associate producer
Joyce Herlihy     ...            associate producer
Peter Shaw        ...            producer
John Wolstenholme       ...            executive

Keep the Aspidistra Flying, first published in 1936, is a socially critical novel by George Orwell. It is set in 1930s London. The main theme is Gordon Comstock's romantic ambition to defy worship of the money-god and status, and the dismal life that results.

Two aspidistra plants – "The types he saw all round him, especially the older men, made him squirm. That was what it meant to worship the money-god! To settle down, to Make Good, to sell your soul for a villa and an aspidistra! To turn into the typical bowler-hatted sneak – Strube's 'little man' [-] What a fate!" (Ch III)
Orwell wrote the book in 1934 and 1935 when he was living at various locations near Hampstead in London, and drew on his experiences in these and the preceding few years. At the beginning of 1928 he lived in lodgings in Portobello Road from where he started his tramping expeditions, sleeping rough and roaming in the poorer parts of London. At this time he wrote a fragment of a play in which the protagonist Stone needs money for his child's life-saving operation. Stone would prefer to prostitute his wife rather than prostitute his artistic integrity by writing advertising copy.

Orwell's early publications appeared in The Adelphi, a left-wing literary journal edited by Sir Richard Rees, a wealthy and idealistic baronet who made Orwell one of his protégés. The character of Ravelston the wealthy publisher in Keep the Aspidistra Flying has much in common with Rees. Ravelston is acutely self-conscious of his upper-class status and defensive about his unearned income. Comstock speculates that Ravelston receives nearly two thousand pounds a year after tax—a very comfortable sum in those days—and Rees, in a volume of autobiography published in 1963 wrote: "... I have never had the spending of much less than £1,000 a year of unearned income, and sometimes considerably more ... Before the war, this was wealth, especially for an unmarried man. Many of my socialist and intellectual friends were paupers compared to me..." In quoting this, Orwell's biographer Michael Shelden commented "One of these 'paupers'—at least in 1935—was Orwell, who was lucky if he made £200 that year ... He appreciated Rees's editorial support at the Adelphi and sincerely enjoyed having him as a friend, but he could not have avoided feeling some degree of resentment toward a man who had no real job but who enjoyed an income four or five times greater than his."

In 1932 Orwell took a job as a teacher in a small school in West London. From there he would take journeys into the country at places like Burnham Beeches. There are allusions to Burnham Beeches and walks in the country in Orwell's correspondence at this time with Brenda Salkeld and Eleanor Jacques.

In October 1934, after nine months at his home in Southwold, Orwell's aunt Nellie Limouzin found him a job as a part-time assistant in Booklovers' Corner, a second-hand bookshop in Hampstead run by Francis and Myfanwy Westrope. The Westropes, who were friends of Nellie in the Esperanto movement, had an easy-going outlook and provided him with comfortable accommodation at Warwick Mansions, Pond Street. He was job sharing with Jon Kimche who also lived with the Westropes. Orwell worked at the shop in the afternoons, having the mornings free to write and the evenings to socialise. He was at Booklovers' Corner for fifteen months. His essay "Bookshop Memories", published in November 1936, recalled aspects of his time at the bookshop, and in Keep the Aspidistra Flying, "he described it, or revenged himself upon it, with acerbity and wit and spleen." In their study of Orwell the writers Stansky & Abrahams remarked upon the improvement on the "stumbling attempts at female portraiture in his first two novels: the stereotyped Elizabeth Lackersteen in Burmese Days and the hapless Dorothy in A Clergyman's Daughter" and contended that, in contrast, "Rosemary is a credible female portrait." Through his work in the bookshop Orwell was in a position to become acquainted with women, "first as a clerk, then as a friend ... and with whom, if circumstances were favourable, he might eventually embark upon a 'relationship' ... This for Orwell the author and Blair the man, was the chief reward of working at Booklovers' Corner." In particular, Orwell met Sally Jerome, at this time working for an advertising agency (like Rosemary in Keep the Aspidistra Flying), and Kay Ekevall, who ran a small typing and secretarial service which did work for Adelphi magazine.

By the end of February 1935 he had moved into a flat in Parliament Hill; his landlady, Rosalind Obermeyer, was studying at the University of London. It was through a joint party with his landlady here that Orwell met his future wife Eileen O'Shaughnessy. In August Orwell moved into a flat in Kentish Town, which he shared with Michael Sayers and Rayner Heppenstall. Over this period he was working on Keep the Aspidistra Flying and had two novels, Burmese Days and A Clergyman's Daughter, published. At the beginning of 1936 Orwell was dealing with pre-publication issues for Keep the Aspidistra Flying while on his tour in the North of England collecting material for The Road to Wigan Pier. The novel was published by Victor Gollancz Ltd on 20 April 1936.

Gordon Comstock has 'declared war' on what he sees as an 'overarching dependence' on money by leaving a promising job as a copywriter for an advertising company called 'New Albion'—at which he shows great dexterity—and taking a low-paying job instead, ostensibly so he can write poetry. Coming from a respectable family background in which the inherited wealth has now become dissipated, Gordon resents having to work for a living. The 'war' (and the poetry), however, aren't going particularly well and, under the stress of his 'self-imposed exile' from affluence, Gordon has become absurd, petty and deeply neurotic.

Comstock lives without luxuries in a bedsit in London, which he affords by working in a small bookshop owned by a Scot, McKechnie. He works intermittently at a magnum opus he plans to call 'London Pleasures', describing a day in London; meanwhile, his only published work, a slim volume of poetry entitled Mice, collects dust on the remainder shelf. He is simultaneously content with his meagre existence and also disdainful of it. He lives without financial ambition and the need for a 'good job,' but his living conditions are uncomfortable and his job is boring.

Comstock is 'obsessed' by what he sees as a pervasion of money (the 'Money God', as he calls it) behind social relationships, feeling sure that women would find him more attractive if he were better off. At the beginning of the novel, he senses that his girlfriend Rosemary Waterlow, whom he met at New Albion and who continues to work there, is dissatisfied with him because of his poverty. An example of his financial embarrassment is when he is desperate for a pint of beer at his local pub, but has run out of pocket money and is ashamed to cadge a drink off his fellow lodger, Flaxman.

One of Comstock's last remaining friends, Philip Ravelston, a Marxist who publishes a magazine called Anti-Christ, agrees with Comstock in principle, but is comfortably well-off himself and this causes strains when the practical miseries of Comstock's life become apparent. He does, however, endeavour to publish some of Comstock's work and his efforts, unbeknownst to Comstock, had resulted in Mice being published via one of his publisher contacts.

Gordon and Rosemary have little time together—she works late and lives in a hostel, and his 'bitch of a landlady' forbids female visitors to her tenants. Then one evening, having headed southward and having been thinking about women—this women business in general, and Rosemary in particular—he happens to see Rosemary in a street market. Rosemary won't have sex with him but she wants to spend a Sunday with him, right out in the country, near Burnham Beeches. At their parting, as he takes the tram from Tottenham Court Road back to his bedsit, he is happy and feels that somehow it is agreed between them that Rosemary is going to be his mistress. However, what was intended as a pleasant day out away from London's grime turns into a disaster when, though hungry, they opt to pass by a 'rather low-looking' pub, and then, not able to find another pub, are forced to eat an unappetising lunch at a fancy, overpriced hotel. Gordon has to pay the bill with all the money he had set aside for their jaunt and worries about having to borrow money from Rosemary. Out in the countryside again, they are about to have sex for the first time when she violently pushes him back—he wasn't going to use contraception. He rails at her; "Money again, you see! ... You say you 'can't' have a baby. ... You mean you daren't; because you'd lose your job and I've got no money and all of us would starve."

Having sent a poem to an American publication, Gordon suddenly receives from them a cheque worth ten pounds — a considerable sum for him at the time. He intends to set aside half for his sister Julia, who has always been there to lend him money and support. He treats Rosemary and Ravelston to dinner, which begins well, but the evening deteriorates as it proceeds. Gordon, drunk, tries to force himself upon Rosemary but she angrily rebukes him and leaves. Gordon continues drinking, drags Ravelston with him to visit a pair of prostitutes, and ends up broke and in a police cell the next morning. He is guilt-ridden over the thought of being unable to pay his sister back the money he owes her, because his £5 note is gone, given to, or stolen by, one of the tarts.

Ravelston pays Gordon's fine after a brief appearance before the magistrate, but a reporter hears about the case, and writes about it in the local paper. The ensuing publicity results in Gordon losing his job at the bookshop, and, consequently, his relatively 'comfortable' lifestyle. As Gordon searches for another job, his life deteriorates, and his poetry stagnates. After living with his friend Ravelston and, during his time of employment, with his girlfriend Hermione, Gordon ends up working, this time in Lambeth, at another book shop and cheap two-penny lending library owned by the sinister Mr. Cheeseman, where he's paid an even smaller wage of 30 shillings a week. This is 10 shillings less than he was earning before, but Gordon is satisfied; "The job would do. There was no trouble about a job like this; no room for ambition, no effort, no hope." Determined to sink to the lowest level of society Gordon takes a furnished bed-sitting-room in a filthy alley parallel to Lambeth Cut. Both Julia and Rosemary, "in feminine league against him," seek to get Gordon to go back to his 'good' job at the New Albion advertising agency.

Rosemary, having avoided Gordon for some time, suddenly comes to visit him one day at his dismal lodgings. Despite his terrible poverty and shabbiness, they have sex but it is without any emotion or passion. Later, Rosemary drops in one day unexpectedly at the library, having not been in touch with Gordon for some time, and tells him that she is pregnant. Gordon is presented with the choice between leaving Rosemary to a life of social shame at the hands of her family—since both of them reject the idea of an abortion—or marrying her and returning to a life of respectability by taking back the job he once so deplored at the New Albion with its £4 weekly salary.

He chooses Rosemary and respectability and then experiences a feeling of relief at having abandoned his anti-money principles with such comparative ease. After two years of abject failure and poverty, he throws his poetic work 'London Pleasures' down a drain, marries Rosemary, resumes his advertising career, and plunges into a campaign to promote a new product to prevent foot odour. In his lonely walks around mean streets, aspidistras seem to appear in every lower-middle class window. As the book closes, Gordon wins an argument with Rosemary to install an aspidistra in their new small but comfortable flat off the Edgware Road.

How not to succeed
An introduction to Orwell's Keep the Aspidistra Flying, the first modern classic title for our new Observer Book Group

Sunder Katwala
Sunday 6 July 2003 03.16 BST First published on Sunday 6 July 2003 03.16 BST

Keep the Aspidistra Flying, George Orwell's third novel published in 1936, is a savagely satirical portrait of the literary life. Orwell chronicles the struggles of Gordon Comstock, who gives up a successful job in an advertising - "the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket" - to become an unsuccessful poet, taking refuge by day in a failing bookshop as he descends into genteel poverty.

Having vowed to "make it his especial purpose not to 'succeed'" Comstock rails against how "The Money God" dominates all aspects of life. "Don't you see that a man's whole personality is bound up with his income? His personality is his income. How can you be attractive to a girl when you've got no money?", he asks his somewhat disaffected girlfriend Rosemary. The aspidistra of the book's title comes from the pot plants to be found on every window sill which, for Comstock, symbolise all that is wrong with the "mingy, lower-class decency" he is desperate to escape.

D.J. Taylor, in his recently published biography, writes that "of all the fiction that Orwell produced in the 1930s, Keep the Aspidistra Flying is the one most closely associated with him as a writer". Orwell was himself a struggling writer working part-time in a Hampstead bookshop. His journeys around England and beyond - chronicled in Down and Out in London and Paris - do often resemble Comstock's circumstances and attitude. But the facts of Orwell's own life were rather different - considerably more sociable and quickly becoming more successful - to Comstock's.

The novel is perhaps a better guide to Orwell's intellectual development than it is autobiographical. It is the novel in which Orwell is most directly influenced by one of his heroes George Gissing, the late Victorian novelist whose New Grub Street remains the seminal description of literary failure. In his later essay on Gissing, Orwell describes the quintessential flavour of Gissing's world - "the grime, the stupidity, the ugliness, the sex-starvation, the furtive debauchery, the vulgarity, the bad manners, the censoriousness" - which sums up the world Orwell sought to capture and to criticise in Keep the Aspidistra Flying.

Comstock can also be seen as something of a predecessor of the Angry Young Men of the 1950s - though Comstock was, if anything, angrier still. Christopher Hitchens' recent book Orwell's Victory offers an illuminating comparison of of the many parallels between Orwell's novel and Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim, which did much to define postwar British fiction, although the two books are markedly different in tone and it is Orwell's comic essay 'Confessions of a Book Reviewer' which resembles the comic spirit of the Amis novel.

The publication of Keep the Aspidistra Flying was not a particularly happy one for Orwell. He had numerous run-ins with his publishers, who insisted on changes to the book late in the process because of the fear that many of the real advertising slogans which it contained were too risky to print. Orwell therefore had to produce new, fictitious slogans which would take up exactly the same amount of space because of the inflexibility of lead typesetting - and complained that the book had been "ruined". Peter Davison's Complete Orwell in 1998 finally reversed these changes which meant, for example, restoring the genuine 'New Hope for the Ruptured' instead of Orwell's substitution 'The Truth about Bad Legs'.

The book received mixed reviews. Cyril Connolly complained that the book's obsession with money prevented it being considered a work of art. The Daily Mail praised the novel's vigour but was unconvinced by its demolition of middle England: "among the aspidistra, Mr Orwell seems to lose the plot". The misfortunes did not end there. Many of the first print run of 3,000 were lost in a bombing raid in the early years of world war two.

Whether Orwell would have been impressed with the film adaptation, released in 1999, is another moot point. Much of the grimness of the novel has been replaced by a warm period gloss. Richard E Grant's Comstock is a considerably more comical figure - particularly well-suited to the disastrous Soho binge when some money does come in - while Helena Bonham-Carter's Rosemary has become considerably more sexually confident. This is definitely a case where anybody employing the ruse of relying on the film to take part in our book group discussion may be found out rather quickly.

Orwell refused to allow either Keep the Aspidistra Flying or his first novel, the considerably weaker A Clergyman's Daughter, to be reprinted in his lifetime. His dislike of his early novels arose from his incredibly strong sense that he would always be a literary failure, which enabled him to empathise so strongly with his creations like Comstock.

Orwell's six novels make just a small part of his nearly two million published words. Many critics, including biographer Bernard Crick, see Orwell's claim to literary greatness resting much more upon his talents as an essayist - on everything from Politics and the English Language to the perfect cup of tea - than on his novels. Yet while Orwell's first four novels are not nearly so completely realised as their more famous successors Animal Farm and 1984, they offer many important insights into the development of the most important English novelist of ideas of the last century.