April 29, 2022

England Your England

I made 57 highlights while reading England Your England by George Orwell. The book will give you insights into the character of the English people.
  • One cannot see the modern world as it is unless one recognises the overwhelming strength of patriotism, national loyalty.

  • Till recently, it was thought proper to pretend that all human beings are very much alike. But in fact, anyone able to use his eyes knows that the average of human behaviour differs enormously from country to country.

  • Few Europeans can endure living in England, and even Americans feel more at home in Europe.

  • When you come back to England from any foreign country, you have the sensation of breathing a different air immediately.

  • There is something distinctive and recognisable in English civilisation. It is a culture as individual as that of Spain. It is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar-boxes. It has a flavour of its own.

  • However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time.

  • A seed may grow or not grow, but at any rate, a turnip seed never grows into a parsnip. It is, therefore, of the deepest importance to try and determine what England is before guessing what part England can play in the huge events that are happening.

  • National characteristics are not easy to pin down. When pinned down, they often turn out to be trivialities or seem to have no connection with one another.

  • It is worth noting a minor English trait that is extremely well marked though not often commented on, which is a love of flowers.

  • What it does link up with is another English characteristic that is so much a part of us that we barely notice it. That is the addiction to hobbies and spare-time occupations, the privateness of English life. We are a nation of flower-lovers, stamp-collectors, pigeon-fanciers, amateur carpenters, coupon-snippers, darts-players, and crossword-puzzle fans.

  • The liberty of the individual is still believed in, almost as in the nineteenth century.

  • The most hateful of all names in an English ear is Nosey Parker. It is obvious, of course, that even this purely private liberty is a lost cause.

  • One thing one notices if one looks directly at the common people, especially in the big towns, is that they are not puritanical. They are inveterate gamblers, drink as much beer as their wages will permit, are devoted to bawdy jokes, and use probably the foulest language in the world.

  • The power-worship, which is the new religion of Europe, and which has infected the English intelligentsia, has never touched the common people.

  • The gentleness of the English civilisation is perhaps its most marked characteristic.

  • No politician could rise to power by promising them conquests or military glory, no Hymn of Hate has ever made any appeal to them.

  • In England, all the boasting and flag-wagging, the 'Rule Britannia' stuff, is done by small minorities. The patriotism of the common people is not vocal or even conscious.

  • English literature, like other literatures, is full of battle-poems. But, it is worth noticing that the ones that have won for themselves a kind of popularity are always a tale of disasters and retreats.

  • The reason why the English anti-militarism disgusts foreign observers is that it ignores the existence of the British Empire. It looks like sheer hypocrisy. After all, the English have absorbed a quarter of the earth and held on to it through the navy.

  • A navy employs comparatively few people, and it is an external weapon that cannot directly affect home politics. Military dictatorships exist everywhere, but there is no such thing as a naval dictatorship.

  • A military parade is a kind of ritual dance, something like a ballet, expressing a certain philosophy of life.

  • Beyond a certain point, military display is only possible in countries where the common people dare not laugh at the army.

  • Here one comes upon an all-important English trait: the respect for constitutionalism and legality, the belief in 'the law' as something above the State and above the individual, something which is cruel and stupid, of course, but at any rate incorruptible.

  • Everyone knows that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. But no one accepts the implications of this. Everyone takes it for granted that the law, such as it is, will be respected, and feels a sense of outrage when it is not.

  • In England, such concepts as justice, liberty and objective truth are still believed. They may be illusions, but they are powerful illusions. The belief in them influences conduct. National life is different because of them.

  • The English electoral system, for instance, is an all but open fraud. In a dozen obvious ways, it is gerrymandered in the interest of the moneyed class. But until some deep change has occurred in the public mind, it cannot become completely corrupt.

  • It is rare to meet a foreigner, other than an American, who can distinguish between English and Scots or even English and Irish.

  • There is no question about the inequality of wealth in England. It is grosser than in any European country, and you have only to look down the nearest street to see it.

  • Patriotism is usually stronger than class hatred and always stronger than any kind of internationalism.

  • In England, patriotism takes different forms in different classes. But, it runs like a connecting thread through nearly all of them.

  • In the working class, patriotism is profound, but it is unconscious. The working man's heart does not leap when he sees a Union Jack.

  • There is one art in which they have shown plenty of talent, namely literature. But this is also the only art that cannot cross frontiers.

  • Except for Shakespeare, the best English poets are barely known in Europe, even as names. The only widely read poets are Byron, admired for the wrong reasons, and Oscar Wilde. Oscar Wilde is pitied as a victim of English hypocrisy.

  • An observer sees only the huge wealth inequality, the unfair electoral system, the governing-class control over the press and concludes that democracy is a polite name for dictatorship. But this ignores the considerable agreement that does, unfortunately, exist between the leaders and the led.

  • England is the most class-ridden country under the sun. It is a land of snobbery and privilege, ruled largely by the old and silly. But in any calculation about it, one had to consider its emotional unity, the tendency of nearly all its inhabitants to feel alike and act together in moments of supreme crisis. It is the only great country in Europe that is not obliged to drive hundreds of thousands of nationals into exile or the concentration camp.

  • Is the English press honest or dishonest? At normal times it is deeply dishonest. All the papers that matter live off their advertisements. Advertisers exercise an indirect censorship over news. Yet, I suppose no paper in England can be straightforwardly bribed with hard cash.

  • England is not the jewelled isle of Shakespeare's much-quoted message, nor is it the inferno depicted by Dr Goebbels. More than either, it resembles a family, a rather stuffy Victorian family, with not many black sheep in it but with all its cupboards bursting with skeletons. It has rich relations who have to be kowtowed to and poor relations who are horribly sat upon - and there is a deep conspiracy of silence about the source of the family income. It is a family in which the young are generally thwarted - and most of the power is in the hands of irresponsible uncles and bedridden aunts. Still, it is a family.

  • A family with the wrong members in control that, perhaps, is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase.

  • After 1832, the old land-owning aristocracy steadily lost power. But, instead of disappearing or becoming a fossil, they intermarried with the merchants, manufacturers and financiers who had replaced them and soon turned them into accurate copies of themselves.

  • The wealthy shipowner or cotton-miller set up for himself an alibi as a country gentleman. At the same time, his sons learned the proper mannerisms at public schools, designed for just that purpose.

  • It was fair to say that life within the British Empire was in many ways better than life outside it. Still, the Empire was underdeveloped, India slept in the Middle Ages, the Dominions lay empty, with foreigners jealously barred out, and even England was full of slums and unemployment.

  • Since the fifties, every war England has engaged in has started with a series of disasters. After which, the situation has been saved by people comparatively low on the social scale.

  • This vein of political ignorance runs right through English official life.

  • The instinct of men like Simon, Hoare, Chamberlain etc., was to come to an agreement with Hitler. But, and here the peculiar feature of English life that I have spoken of, the deep sense of national solidarity comes in. They could only do so by breaking up the Empire and selling their people into semi-slavery.

  • One thing that has always shown that the English ruling class is morally fairly sound is that they are ready to get killed in times of war.

  • If you had the kind of brain that could understand the poems of T. S. Eliot or the theories of Karl Marx, the higher-ups would see to it that you were kept out of any important job.

  • In intention, at any rate, the English intelligentsia are Europeanised.

  • England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their nationality.

  • It is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during 'God save the King' than of stealing from a poor box.

  • Patriotism and intelligence will have to come together again.

  • England is a country in which property and financial power are concentrated in very few hands.

  • The peasantry have long since disappeared, the independent shopkeeper is being destroyed, the small businessman is diminishing in numbers. At the same time, modern industry is so complicated it can't get along without great numbers of managers, salesmen, engineers and technicians of all kinds, drawing large salaries. And these, in turn, call into being a professional class of doctors, lawyers, teachers, artists, etc.

  • The tendency of advanced capitalism has therefore been to enlarge the middle class and not wipe it out as it once seemed likely to do.

  • The British working class are now better off in almost all ways than they were thirty years ago. That is partly due to the efforts of the trade unions. But partly to the mere advance of physical science.

  • It is not always realised that within rather narrow limits, the standard of life of a country can rise without a corresponding rise in real wages.

  • Public education in England has been meanly starved of money. But, it has nevertheless improved, largely owing to the devoted efforts of the teachers, and the habit of reading has become enormously more widespread.

  • To an increasing extent, the rich and the poor read the same books, and they also see the same films and listen to the same radio programmes.