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'On a dark night a person searches on the brightly-lit ground under a lamp-post. A passer-by asks - For what are you searching? The person says - For the keys to my house. The passer-by says - Is this where you lost them? The person says - No I lost them in the dark, but this is where the light is.'
A retired academic and writer lies in a New York hospital bed. He has come there from his home in London to appear as a pundit on television, only to be knocked down by a car. Formerly an anthropologist, he is now tired of looking for order and reason where he can see none. His views on human nature and war are provocative and he has begun to find himself in demand. The forced inactivity allows him to reflect on the course of his life - the work he has done, the women he has known - and the characters from it begin to gather him: his first wife Valerie, his new wife Veronica, his son Adam.
He considers his first marriage and the curious version of fidelity they evolved, his days of teaching at Oxford, and the trip to Iran that saw him return with Nadia, a young girl whom he assists in escaping to a different life in England.
Witty, philosophical, and wise, Nicholas Mosley's latest novel is a timely portrait of one man's attempt to bring order to his disordered existence.
Published: 11 Jul 2002
Volume 3 of The Complete Works of George Orwell
No one has ever been as severe as George Orwell himself as to the merits of A Clergyman’s Daughter. He didn’t want this, his second novel, reprinted and he had, he once said, ‘made a muck of it’. Orwell’s disenchantment may in part stem from the way the book was – to use his favourite word for this process – ‘garbled’ during its passage from the typescript to print. Thus A Clergyman’s Daughter became for him a deformed child: others also ‘made a muck of it’.
Although it is generally agreed that Orwell did not effectively reconcile the sections of this novel, the development of the narrative was greatly hindered by the effects of censorship. This arose from the publisher’s understandable fears at the time that the book as submitted would lead to actions for libel, defamation and obscenity. In consequence, many pages were ‘toned down’ (again, Orwell’s words), what was specific was made vague and unlocalised, and Dorothy’s crucial loss of memory left unexplained.
The discovery of details of cuts and changes required – most important of which is Mr Warburton’s attempt to rape Dorothy – make it possible to assess A Clergyman's Daughter afresh. Some passages can be restored precisely; whole areas of change can be identified though not restored. As a result, Dorothy’s ‘little odyssey’, her loss of faith and her subsequent resigned acceptance of her lot, can at last be read with a far clearer understanding of what Orwell intended. No one who reads A Clergyman's Daughter can ever regard the plight of those who exist homeless and adrift in a great city in the same way again, especially in the bitter cold of winter. Here Orwell is unforgettable: nowhere else does he write with quite such poignancy.
Published: 15 Jul 1999