Notes on A Clergyman’s Daughter by George Orwell

I started off rather liking A Clergyman’s Daughter with all the wicked Dickensian characters, so bad as to be funny: the self-centered rector who feels way above all of his parishioners, the old scandalmonger Mrs Semprill, and even the main protagonist, Dorothy, pricking herself with a pin whenever she has a sinful thought.

But the second chapter opened with a clumsy plot twist that threw me off balance [spoiler alert]: Dorothy looses her memory and finds herself transported to London. The memory loss is never explained; it’s there in order to place the protagonist where the author needed her to be. A cheap, crude gimmick, makes me cringe even now remembering it.

What follows are chapters of social critique, images of hopeless poverty and moral depression. First Dorothy looks for work in the hop fields, and this part is like a shorter, less gut-wrenching version of The Grapes of Wrath. Then she lives on the streets of London, and this part for some reason is written all as dramatic dialogue which makes is hard to read (I confess I skipped large parts of it). Finally Dorothy ends up working for the amazingly wicked Mrs. Creevy at a fourth-rate school for girls, and we’re back to the sarcastic Dickensian tale.

In the end Orwell serves us another deus ex machina and Dorothy is miraculously rescued. She goes back to her dull life as her father’s housekeeper, alas minus the self-mortification practices as she has lost her faith along the way.

It’s one of those books that are supposed to serve a purpose higher than plain entertainment. I like to be entertained. Lately I tend to agree with Goldwyn’s advice: If you’ve got a message, send a telegram.

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