Coming Up For Air
"That's the way we're going nowadays. Everything slick and streamlined, everything made out of something else."
"Sentimental, you say? Anti-social? Oughtn't to prefer trees to men? I say it depends what trees and what men."
― George Orwell, Coming Up for Air
Coming Up for Air is the seventh book by English writer George Orwell, published in June 1939 by Victor Gollancz. It was written between 1938 and 1939 while Orwell spent time recuperating from illness in French Morocco, mainly in Marrakesh. He delivered the completed manuscript to Victor Gollancz upon his return to London in March 1939. The story follows George Bowling, a 45-year old husband, father, and insurance salesman, who foresees World War II and attempts to recapture idyllic childhood innocence and escape his dreary life by returning to Lower Binfield, his birthplace. The novel is comical and pessimistic, with its view that speculative builders, commercialism, and capitalism are killing the best of rural England and the existence of new, external threats.
As a child, Orwell lived at Shiplake and Henley in the Thames Valley. His father, Richard Walmesley Blair, was a civil servant in British India, and he lived a genteel life with his mother and two sisters, though spending much of the year at boarding school at Eastbourne and later at Eton in Britain. He particularly enjoyed fishing and shooting rabbits with a neighbouring family. In 1937 Orwell spent some months fighting in the Spanish Civil War. He was wounded in the throat in May 1937, by a Fascist sniper at Huesca.
Orwell was severely ill in 1938 and was advised to spend the winter in a warm climate. The novelist L. H. Myers anonymously gave £300 to enable this and Orwell went with his wife to North Africa where he stayed, in French Morocco, mainly in Marrakesh, from September 1938 to March 1939. (Orwell never learned the source of the money and he accepted it only on condition that it be considered a loan. He repaid the loan, eight years later, when he began making money from the success of Animal Farm.) Orwell wrote Coming Up for Air while he was in North Africa and left the manuscript at his agent's office within a few hours of arriving back in England on March 30, 1939. It was submitted to Victor Gollancz, who had an option on Orwell's next three novels, in spite of the 'cold treatment which [Orwell] had been given when Homage to Catalonia was rejected.' In fact Orwell heard in April 1939 that Gollancz had reservations about the book, and was delaying a decision to accept it. The descriptions in the novel of a character who lectures at a meeting of Gollancz's Left Book Club, and of the meeting itself, were such that Gollancz 'could not have helped being offended by them.' Nevertheless, the publisher did bring out the novel without demanding major changes and it was published on June 12, 1939. It was the last Orwell novel to bear the Gollancz imprint.
The themes of the book are nostalgia, the folly of trying to go back and recapture past glories and the easy way the dreams and aspirations of one's youth can be smothered by the humdrum routine of work, marriage and getting old. It is written in the first person, with George Bowling, the forty-five-year-old protagonist, who reveals his life and experiences while undertaking a trip back to his boyhood home as an adult.
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