It must have been the roses

Posted by on April 11, 2022 in Blog, Book review, Dame designate, Europe, feminism, Gardening, Literature, Women's equality issues | 0 comments

Orwell’s Roses/damesnet

Today I planted some little marigolds in the garden. I’ve uprooted a few hopeful yet doomed shoots of ground elder that had the temerity to survive the winter and were clearly preparing a fresh assault for 2022. They didn’t stand a chance. Some scarlet tulips are just beginning to lean over, but they’re fine for the time being. The exochorda racemosa which my darling friend Jon gave me a couple of years ago is now well established and starting to produce beautiful white delicate blooms. And yes, I’d never heard of one either.  Jon is always the best person to consult when it comes to gardening.

Now it’s time to settle back and carry on with my book: Orwell’s Roses, published in 2021 by Rebecca Solnit.  It was a birthday present from my son-in-law, so I knew I was going to like it.

Rebecca Solnit is a remarkable person and writer. She is the author of seventeen books as well as essays in numerous museum catalogues and anthologies. Her subjects include feminism, women’s rights, human rights, the environment, politics, place and art. She is also a US columnist for The Guardian.

In 2014 Solnit published a collection of essays entitled: ‘Men Explain Things to Me’ and has been credited with paving the way for the coining of the word ‘mansplaining’.

She wrote a feminist version of Cinderella, where she reclaims the young woman from the cinders and gives both her and the prince new futures that involve thinking for themselves, acting out free will, starting businesses, and becoming friends, rather than dependent lovers.

A New Yorker article about her that I read stated: ‘To read Solnit is to brush up against emotions and intuitions you almost don’t recognize, because language is so seldom considered the best way to approach them.’

Back to Orwell’s Roses.  In 1940 George Orwell wrote: ‘Outside my work the thing I care most about is gardening.’ He wrote about the trees, roses and fruit bushes he planted, and recorded in great detail the facts about the plants he nurtured and the animals he cared for.  A few years ago Solnit visited the cottage that Orwell moved to in 1936; it is in the village of Wallington in Hertfordshire.  The current owner welcomed her in and showed her round the cottage and garden. It is possible that some of the roses there were descendants of those planted by Orwell.

In her book Solnit explores how Orwell’s involvement with plants, particularly flowers, illuminates his work as a writer and antifascist, and the intertwined politics of nature and power. She follows his life journey from prep and public school to Burma, Paris, Spanish Civil War and back to the UK, his prescient critique of Stalin and his analysis of the relationship between lies and authoritarianism.

Her style and delivery are powerful yet humane, forceful yet dignified. In my opinion she is a champion of linguistic flexibility and expression.

In the light of current events, this book is a treasure – offering solace and solutions for the political and environmental challenges we face today. It gives me hope against the despair I feel at the crises engulfing the world. Never forget Candide: ‘Il faut cultiver notre jardin’.

And yes, my roses aren’t doing badly either.

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