The Road to Wigan Pier

The Road to Wigan Pier

I remember a winter afternoon in the dreadful environs of Wigan. All round was the lunar landscape of slag-heaps, and to the north, through the passes, as it were, between the mountains of slag, you could see the factory chimneys sending out their plumes of smoke. The canal path was a mixture of cinders and frozen mud, criss-crossed by the imprints of innumerable clogs, and all round, as far as the slag-heaps in the distance, stretched the ‘flashes’ – pools of stagnant water that had seeped into the hollows caused by the subsidence of ancient pits. It was horribly cold. The ‘flashes’ were covered with ice the colour of raw umber, the bargemen were muffled to the eyes in sacks, the lock gates wore beards of ice. It seemed a world from which vegetation had been banished; nothing existed except smoke, shale, ice, mud, ashes, and foul water. But even Wigan is beautiful compared with Sheffield.

Orwell journeyed to Wigan between January and March 1936, and the finished book – first part social reportage, second part socialist polemic – was published in 1937, while the author was in Spain. The book was selected for the Left Book Club, which Orwell’s publisher, Victor Gollancz, had helped found – though not without Gollancz inserting a preface against his absent author’s wishes.

Between 31st January and 25th March 2011, the Orwell Prize will be blogging Orwell’s Wigan Pier diary, with each diary entry being posted seventy-five years to the day since it was written. You can find the blog at http://theroadtowiganpier.wordpress.com.

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