Anthony Lock: The End Not Yet In Sight ... Orwell’s "Road to Wigan Pier" 75 Years On

Roundup: Talking About History

Anthony Lock is an academic and freelance journalist based in Sydney. His current research is concerned with the relationship between the sciences and arts, with a particular focus on applying Orwell's work to memetic study.

March 8th marked the 75th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell’s 1937 landmark The Road to Wigan Pier, a work of extreme candor on pre-war poverty in England. It is a cherished snapshot of the North in the 1930s, and The Observer, among others, have been nostalgic  in printing pictures from the area for the commemoration of Orwell’s journey.
As an Orwell scholar, my interest in Wigan Pier is largely in the role it played in the road to Animal Farm and 1984. But the anniversary of the publication comes at a pertinent time - during what is the worst economic hardship since just after the Second World War. It is now being asked if Wigan Pier can be used to address present anxieties. Would Orwell think his original argument still stands for current poverty in the North of England and beyond?
Wigan Pier is significant because it was the first salient work produced by Orwell during a period where, by his own words, “every serious line” he wrote was intently written “directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism”. Having written previously on imperialism and other economic and social issues, he came to view certain aspects of  supposedly ‘liberal’ capitalism under MacDonald and Baldwin as stops on the road toward the most extreme form of oppression: totalitarian governments. Wigan Pier emerged when Orwell’s editor commissioned him in 1936 to investigate the poverty in the north of England, and it is, in accordance with this larger project, an argument that the causes of 1930s northern poverty themselves constitute a form of totalitarianism...

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