‘Outside the circle of one’s own experience’: George Orwell, Kylie Tennant and the politics of poverty during the Yellow Book period

Ella Mudie

Abstract


Never directly associated with nor influenced by one another, the British author George Orwell and the Australian novelist Kylie Tennant are nonetheless two contemporaneous writers for whom the issue of poverty proved an enduring preoccupation in both work and life. Both sought lived experience of Depression era hardship that was, in turn, translated into ambiguous works of fiction and non-fiction. During a formative period in both writers’ careers, Orwell and Tennant were published in England by the influential and progressive left-wing house of Victor Gollancz. This essay examines the representation of poverty in Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) and The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), the latter of which was distributed through Gollancz’s Left Book Club during the peak of the ‘Yellow Book’ period, and in Tennant’s fictional portrait of inner-city working-class life, Foveaux (1939), through the lens of their association with Gollancz.  It argues that the urgent moral imperative to solve the global crisis of poverty represents an important basis for understanding the turn to documentary realism by Orwell and Tennant at that time. While publication by Gollancz helped to establish international reputations for Orwell and Tennant as writers of social conscience, this essay also considers the extent to which the growing scrutiny afforded to the participant-observer mode complicates their contemporary reception.


Keywords


George Orwell, Kylie Tennant, Victor Gollancz, Left Book Club, Poverty, Slumming, Documentary, Great Depression

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References


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