Dorothy, the heroine of this novel, performs good works, cultivates good thoughts, and pricks her arm with a pin when a bad thought arises. She then has a series of unexpected and degrading adventures after becoming a victim of amnesia. Though she regains her life as a clergyman’s daughter, she has lost her faith.
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About the Author
GEORGE ORWELL (1903–1950) was born in India and served with the Imperial Police in Burma before joining the Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War. Orwell was the author of six novels as well as numerous essays and nonfiction works.
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As the alarm clock on the chest of drawers exploded like a horrid little bomb of bell metal, Dorothy, wrenched from the depths of some complex, troubling dream, awoke with a start and lay on her back looking into the darkness in extreme exhaustion.
The alarm clock continued its nagging, feminine clamour, which would go on for five minutes or there abouts if you did not stop it. Dorothy was aching from head to foot, and an insidious and contemptible self-pity, which usually seized upon her when it was time to get up in the morning, caused her to bury her head under the bedclothes and try to shut the hateful noise out of her ears. She struggled against her fatigue, however, and, according to her custom, exhorted herself sharply in the second person plural. Come on, Dorothy, up you get! No snoozing, please! Proverbs vi. 9. Then she remembered that if the noise went on any longer it would wake her father, and with a hurried movement she bounded out of bed, seized the clock from the chest of drawers and turned off the alarm. It was kept on the chest of drawers precisely in order that she should have to get out of bed to silence it. Still in darkness, she knelt down at her bedside and repeated the Lord's Prayer, but rather distractedly, her feet being troubled by the cold.
It was just half past five, and coldish for an August morning. Dorothy (her name was Dorothy Hare, and she was the only child of the Reverend Charles Hare, Rector of St. Athelstan's, Knype Hill, Suffolk) put on her aged flannelette dressing-gown and felt her way downstairs. There was a chill morning smell of dust, damp plaster and the fried dabs from yesterday's supper, and from either side of the passage on the second floor she could hear the antiphonal snoring of her father and of Ellen, the maid of all work. With care — for the kitchen table had a nasty trick of reaching out of the darkness and banging you on the hip-bone — Dorothy felt her way into the kitchen, lighted the candle on the mantelpiece, and, still aching with fatigue, knelt down and raked the ashes out of the range.
The kitchen fire was a "beast" to light. The chimney was crooked and therefore perpetually half choked, and the fire, before it would light, expected to be dosed with a cupful of kerosene, like a drunkard's morning nip of gin. Having set the kettle to boil for her father's shaving-water, Dorothy went upstairs and turned on her bath. Ellen was still snoring, with heavy youthful snores. She was a good hard-working servant once she was awake, but she was one of those girls whom the Devil and all his angels cannot get out of bed before seven in the morning.
Dorothy filled the bath as slowly as possible — the splashing always woke her father if she turned on the tap too fast — and stood for a moment regarding the pale, unappetising pool of water. Her body had gone goose-flesh all over. She detested cold baths; it was for that very reason that she made it a rule to take all her baths cold from April to November. Putting a tentative hand into the water — and it was horribly cold — she drove herself forward with her usual exhortations. Come on, Dorothy! In you go! No funking, please! Then she stepped resolutely into the bath, sat down and let the icy girdle of water slide up her body and immerse her all except her hair, which she had twisted up behind her head. The next moment she came to the surface gasping and wriggling, and had no sooner got her breath back than she remembered her "memo list," which she had brought down in her dressing-gown pocket and intended to read. She reached out for it, and, leaning over the side of the bath, waist deep in icy water, read through the "memo list" by the light of the candle on the chair.
7 oc. H.C.
Dorothy got out of her bath, and as she dried herself with a towel hardly bigger than a table napkin — they could never afford decent-sized towels at the Rectory — her hair came unpinned and fell down over her collar-bones in two heavy strands. It was thick, fine, exceedingly pale hair, and it was perhaps as well that her father had forbidden her to bob it, for it was her only positive beauty. For the rest, she was a girl of middle height, rather thin, but strong and shapely, and her face was her weak point. It was a thin, blonde, unremarkable kind of face, with pale eyes and a nose just a shade too long; if you looked closely you could see crows' feet round the eyes, and the mouth, when it was in repose, looked tired. Not definitely a spinsterish face as yet, but it certainly would be so in a few years' time. Nevertheless, strangers commonly took her to be several years younger than her real age (she was not quite twenty-eight) because of the expression of almost childish earnestness in her eyes. Her left forearm was spotted with tiny red marks like insect bites.
Dorothy put on her night-dress again and cleaned her teeth — plain water, of course; better not to use toothpaste before H.C. After all, either you are fasting or you aren't. The R.C.s are quite right there — and, even as she did so, suddenly faltered and stopped. She put her toothbrush down. A deadly pang, an actual physical pang, had gone through her viscera.
She had remembered, with the ugly shock with which one remembers something disagreeable for the first time in the morning, the bill at Cargill's, the butcher's, which had been owing for seven months. That dreadful bill — it might be nineteen pounds or even twenty, and there was hardly the remotest hope of paying it — was one of the chief torments of her life. At all hours of the night or day it was waiting just round the corner of her consciousness, ready to spring upon her and agonise her; and with it came the memory of a score of lesser bills, mounting up to a figure of which she dared not even think. Almost involuntarily she began to pray, "Please God, let not Cargill send in his bill again to-day!" But the next moment she decided that this prayer was worldly and blasphemous, and she asked forgiveness for it. Then she put on her dressing-gown and ran down to the kitchen in hopes of putting the bill out of mind.
The fire had gone out, as usual. Dorothy relaid it, dirtying her hands with coal-dust, dosed it afresh with kerosene and hung about anxiously until the kettle boiled. Father expected his shaving-water to be ready at a quarter past six. Just seven minutes late, Dorothy took the can upstairs and knocked at her father's door.
"Come in, come in!" said a muffled, irritable voice.
The room, heavily curtained, was stuffy, with a masculine smell. The Rector had lighted the candle on his bed-table, and was lying on his side, looking at his gold watch, which he had just drawn from beneath his pillow. His hair was as white and thick as thistledown. One dark bright eye glanced irritably over his shoulder at Dorothy.
"Good morning, Father."
"I do wish, Dorothy," said the Rector indistinctly — his voice always sounded muffled and senile until he had put his false teeth in — "you would make some effort to get Ellen out of bed in the mornings. Or else be a little more punctual yourself."
"I'm so sorry, Father. The kitchen fire kept going out."
"Very well! Put it down on the dressing-table. Put it down and draw those curtains."
It was daylight now, but a dull, clouded morning. Dorothy hastened up to her room and dressed herself with the lightning speed which she found necessary six mornings out of seven. There was only a tiny square of mirror in the room, and even that she did not use. She simply hung her gold cross about her neck — plain gold cross; no crucifixes, please! — twisted her hair into a knot behind, stuck a number of hairpins rather sketchily into it, and threw her clothes (grey jersey, threadbare Irish tweed coat and skirt, stockings not quite matching the coat and skirt, and much-worn brown shoes) on to herself in the space of about three minutes. She had got to "do out" the dining-room and her father's study before church, besides saying her prayers in preparation for Holy Communion, which took her not less than twenty minutes.
When she wheeled her bicycle out at the front gate the morning was still overcast, and the grass sodden with heavy dew. Through the mist that wreathed the hillside St. Athelstan's Church loomed dimly, like a leaden sphinx, its single bell tolling funereally boom! boom! boom! Only one of the bells was now in active use; the other seven had been unswung from their cage and had lain silent these three years past, slowly splintering the floor of the belfry beneath their weight. In the distance, from the mists below, you could hear the offensive clatter of the bell in the R.C. church — a nasty, cheap, tinny little thing which the Rector of St. Athelstan's used to compare to a muffin-bell.
Dorothy mounted her bicycle and rode swiftly up the hill, leaning over her handlebars. The bridge of her thin nose was pink in the morning cold. A redshank whistled overhead, invisible against the clouded sky. Early in the morning my song shall rise to Thee! Dorothy propped her bicycle against the lychgate, and, finding her hands still grey with coal-dust, knelt down and scrubbed them clean in the long wet grass between the graves. Then the bell stopped ringing, and she jumped up and hastened into church, just as Proggett, the sexton, in ragged cassock and vast labourer's boots, was clumping up the aisle to take his place at the side altar.
The church was very cold, with a scent of candle-wax and ancient dust. It was a large church, much too large for its congregation, and ruinous and more than half empty. The three narrow islands of pews stretched barely halfway down the nave, and beyond them were great wastes of bare stone floor in which a few worn inscriptions marked the sites of ancient graves. The roof over the chancel was sagging visibly; beside the Church Expenses box two fragments of riddled beam explained mutely that this was due to that mortal foe of Christendom, the death-watch beetle. The light filtered, pale-coloured, through windows of anaemic glass. Through the open south door you could see a ragged cypress and the boughs of a lime-tree, greyish in the sunless air and swaying faintly.
As usual, there was only one other communicant — old Miss Mayfill, of The Grange. The attendance at Holy Communion was so bad that the Rector could not even get any boys to serve him, except on Sunday mornings, when the boys like showing off in front of the congregation in their cassocks and surplices. Dorothy went into the pew behind Miss Mayfill, and, in penance for some sin of yesterday, pushed away the hassock and knelt on the bare stones. The service was beginning. The Rector, in cassock and short linen surplice, was reciting the prayers in a swift practised voice, clear enough now that his teeth were in, and curiously ungenial. In his fastidious, aged face, pale as a silvercoin, there was an expression of aloofness, almost of contempt. "This is a valid sacrament," he seemed to be saying, "and it is my duty to administer it to you. But remember that I am only your priest, not your friend. As a human being I dislike you and despise you." Proggett, the sexton, a man of forty with curly grey hair and a red, harassed face, stood patiently by, uncomprehending but reverent, fiddling with the little communion bell which was lost in his huge red hands.
Dorothy pressed her fingers against her eyes. She had not yet succeeded in concentrating her thoughts — indeed, the memory of Cargill's bill was still worrying her intermittently. The prayers, which she knew by heart, were flowing through her head unheeded. She raised her eyes for a moment, and they began immediately to stray. First upwards, to the headless roof-angels on whose necks you could still see the saw-cuts of the Puritan soldiers, then back again, to Miss Mayfill's black, quasi-pork-pie hat and tremulous jet earrings. Miss Mayfill wore a long musty black overcoat, with a little collar of greasy-looking astrakhan, which had been the same ever since Dorothy could remember. It was of some very peculiar stuff, like watered silk but coarser, with rivulets of black piping wandering all over it in no discoverable pattern. It might even have been that legendary and proverbial substance, black bombazine. Miss Mayfill was very old, so old that no one remembered her as anything but an old woman. A faint scent radiated from her — an ethereal scent, analysable as eau-de-Cologne, mothballs and a sub-flavour of gin.
Dorothy drew a long glass-headed pin from the lapel of her coat, and furtively, under cover of Miss Mayfill's back, pressed the point against her forearm. Her flesh tingled apprehensively. She made it a rule, whenever she caught herself not attending to her prayers, to prick her arm hard enough to make blood come. It was her chosen form of self-discipline, her guard against irreverence and sacrilegious thoughts.
With the pin poised in readiness she managed for several moments to pray more collectedly. Her father had turned one dark eye disapprovingly upon Miss Mayfill, who was crossing herself at intervals, a practice he disliked. A starling chattered outside. With a shock Dorothy discovered that she was looking vaingloriously at the pleats of her father's surplice, which she herself had sewn two years ago. She set her teeth and drove the pin an eighth of an inch into her arm.
They were kneeling again. It was the General Confession. Dorothy recalled her eyes — wandering, alas! yet again, this time to the stained-glass window on her right, designed by Sir Warde Tooke, A.R.A., in 1851, and representing St. Athelstan's welcome at the gate of Heaven by Gabriel and a legion of angels all remarkably like one another and the Prince Consort — and pressed the pinpoint against a different part of her arm. She began to meditate conscientiously upon the meaning of each phrase of the prayer, and so brought her mind back to a more attentive state. But even so she was all but obliged to use the pin again when Proggett tinkled the bell in the middle of "Therefore with Angels and Archangels"— being visited, as always, by a dreadful temptation to begin laughing at that passage. It was because of a story her father had told her once, of how when he was a little boy, and serving the priest at the altar, the communion bell had had a screw-on clapper, which had come loose; and so the priest had said: "Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of Heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious name; evermore praising Thee, and saying, Screw it up, you little fat-head screw it up!"
As the Rector finished the consecration Miss Mayfill began to struggle to her feet with extreme difficulty and slowness, like some disjointed wooden creature picking itself up by sections, and disengaging at each movement a powerful whiff of mothballs. There was an extraordinary creaking sound — from her stays, presumably, but it was a noise as of bones grating against one another. You could have imagined that there was only a dry skeleton inside the black overcoat.
Dorothy remained on her feet a moment longer. Miss Mayfill was creeping towards the altar with slow, tottering steps. She could barely walk, but she took bitter offence if you offered to help her. In her ancient, bloodless face her mouth was surprisingly large, loose and wet. The under lip, pendulous with age, slobbered forward, exposing a strip of gum and a row of false teeth as yellow as the keys of an old piano. On the upper lip was a fringe of dark, dewy moustache. It was not an appetising mouth; not the kind of mouth that you would like to see drinking out of your cup. Suddenly, spontaneously, as though the Devil himself had put it there, the prayer slipped from Dorothy's lips: "O God, let me not have to take the chalice after Miss Mayfill!"
Excerpted from "A Clergyman's Daughter"
Copyright © 1936 the Estate of Sonia B. Orwell.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is about the hardships of 1930s British life and what happens to someone who loses their faith and can not reclaim it. All of Orwell's books that I have read help me to put my life in perspective. I suggest you not read this book on an empty stomach.
I give it four stars because I like all of Orwell's writing but this book pales in comparison to Orwell's other works. Burmese Days, 1984, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, and Coming Up For Air are all better choices in my opinion. A Clergyman's Daughter seems choppy and the story itself is pretty unbelievable. Still a reccomended read however.
I loved this book. You have to hand it to George Orwell to do it again! If you buy only one book in your life again, make it this book.
almost fifty years ago
George Orwell's second Novel The Clergyman's Daughter is set on a small town in England where attendance at mass is dwindling and the church is falling into disrepair. The Clergyman is a crotchety old fellow who relied on his daughter for every need-tending to three meals a day, paying the bills, assisting the church schoolchildren with their play, and other things that pit incredible demands on her time. She struggles to convince her father to help her by selling off some trinkets so as to pay off certain debts, but he steadfastly refuses. And she faces other worries from a local playboy who tried to seduce her. Soon enough she falls asleep late at night stressed and overdue with work. Before she knows it she is lying on a street in dirty clothes without any memory of where she is or how she got there. From here the tale takes a different direction entirely, with Dorothy struggling to survive as a migrant worker and then as an abused schoolmistress. She suffers the pangs of poverty, and sees what it is truly like for the first time. She learns to pick herself up and adapt to the circumstances, and benefits from her middle class accent and connections to distant but rich relatives. All of this changes Dorothy, who was an obedient but prudent young woman just trying to do right by her father. She learns how hard life is for some, and what it takes to truly survive. In the end she loses her religion, which disconcerts her. But she feels no connection to God after this experience, and struggles to say a meaningful prayer. Dorothy is finally rescued by Mr. Warburton, the local playboy who finds her in hiding and asks her hand in marriage. She returns to her father and to the town where she lived, and falls back in to the daily rhythms of life. The bills start to pile up again, and demands on Dorothy's time begin again to grow. She doesn't avoid this life; she fully accepts it, despite the demands on her and the incredible challenges she has just been through. But Dorothy wants normalcy and predictability in her life, which is what we all want. She forgets the poverty she saw, but then again this makes her life easier.This third effort by George Orwell is an improvement over his previous novel, Burmese Days, which tried too hard to tell a story. A Clergyman's Daughter again focuses on a single character who struggles with the society around her. It is through her eyes that we see the struggles of poverty, of getting a good education, of social class, of religion, and of a woman's role. Many of these experiences reflect George Orwells's view of how the world operates and reflect his own personal experiences.I liked this book for its simplicity, although Dorothy was not someone I closely identified with. I felt sorry for her, but disappointed that she didn't change her lifestyle after all she had been through. She was an interesting character, but not one too cheer for in the end.
Very interesting, well written story of a daughter "caught" in the role of caring for her father and his church congregation following his wife's death. That in and of itself would make a wonderful sad story .. but then G. Orwell adds in a "loss of memory" period where she experiences another side of life .. and then eventually returns to continue her former life. That made for a good read also .. but his explanation of why it happened didn't sit well with me.
Orwell uses the travails of Dorothy, amnesia sufferer,to deliver his caustic social commentary on early Twentieth Century England. Despite some inexplicable gaps in the story Orwell's masterly writing trumps all.