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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Keep the Aspidistra Flying

Aspidistras were so widespread among the middle class that they became a music hall joke, appearing in songs such as "Biggest Aspidistra in the World", sung by Gracie Fields.


Aspidistras are hardy, long-living plants that are used as house plants in England, and which can grow to a huge size. They were especially popular in the Victorian era, in large part because they could tolerate not only weak sunlight but also poor indoor air quality.

I remember them well from my childhood and adolescent years in Germany where they stood in the darkest, dustiest corner in every 'Stube' and weren't called 'Eisenpflanze' (iron plant) for nothing.

Only later did I learn their English name - well, Greek, actually - and also read George Orwell's "Keep the Aspidistra Flying", a perfect little book from the first page to the last. Orwell used the aspidistra in its title as a symbol of the stuffiness of middle-class society, in conjunction with the locution "to keep the flag (or colours) flying".

In 1997 a movie adaptation was released under the title "A Merry War", which was far more cheerful than Orwell's world which later became dominated by his most famous book, "Nineteen Eighty-Four".

Do yourself a favour and read the book or watch the movie, or both.