Quotes By Keep the Aspidistra Flying

“The mistake you make, don't you see,is in thinking one can live in a corrupt society without being corrupt oneself. After all, what do you achieve by refusing to make money? You're trying to behave as though one could stand right outside our economic system. But one can't. One's got to change the system, or one changes nothing. One can't put things right in a hole-and-corner way, if you take my meaning.”


“He drove his mind into the abyss where poetry is written.”


“[...] you can get anything in this world if you genuinely don't want it.”


“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not
money, I am become as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And
though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries,
and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could
remove mountains, and have not money, I am nothing. And though I
bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to
be burned, and have not money, it profiteth me nothing. Money
suffereth long, and is kind; money envieth not; money vaunteth not
itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave unseemly, seeketh not her
own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in
iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth
all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. . . . And now
abideth faith, hope, money, these three; but the greatest of these
is money.

I Corinthians xiii (adapted) ”


“At night all cats are grey.”


“What he realised, and more clearly as time went on, was that money-worship has been elevated into a religion. Perhaps it is the only real religion-the only felt religion-that is left to us. Money is what God used to be. Good and evil have no meaning any longer except failure and success. Hence the profoundly significant phrase, to make good. The decalogue has been reduced to two commandments. One for the employers-the elect, the money priesthood as it were- 'Thou shalt make money'; the other for the employed- the slaves and underlings'- 'Thou shalt not lose thy job.' It was about this time that he came across The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and read about the starving carpenter who pawns everything but sticks to his aspidistra. The aspidistra became a sort of symbol for Gordon after that. The aspidistra, the flower of England! It ought to be on our coat of arms instead of the lion and the unicorn. There will be no revolution in England while there are aspidistras in the windows.”


“For after all, what is there behind, except money? Money for the right kind of education, money for influential friends, money for leisure and peace of mind, money for trips to Italy. Money writes books, money sells them. Give me not righteousness, O lord, give me money, only money.”


“He wondered about the people in houses like those. They would be, for example, small clerks, shop-assistants, commercial travellers, insurance touts, tram conductors. Did they know that they were only puppets dancing when money pulled the strings? You bet they didn’t. And if they did, what would they care? They were too busy being born, being married, begetting, working, dying. It mightn’t be a bad thing, if you could manage it, to feel yourself one of them, one of the ruck of men. Our civilization is founded on greed and fear, but in the lives of common men the greed and fear are mysteriously transmuted into something nobler. The lower-middle-class people in there, behind their lace curtains, with their children and their scraps of furniture and their aspidistras — they lived by the money-code, sure enough, and yet they contrived to keep their decency. The money-code as they interpreted it was not merely cynical and hoggish. They had their standards, their inviolable points of honour. They ‘kept themselves respectable’— kept the aspidistra flying. Besides, they were alive. They were bound up in the bundle of life. They begot children, which is what the saints and the soul-savers never by any chance do.

The aspidistra is the tree of life, he thought suddenly.”


“He slowed his pace a little. He was thirty and there was grey in his hair, yet he had a queer feeling that he had only just grown up. It occured to him that he was merely repeating the destiny of every human being. Everyone rebels against the money-code, and everyone sooner or later surrenders. He had kept up his rebellion a little longer than most, that was all. And he had made such a wretched failure of it!”


“Gordon eyed them with inert hatred. At this moment he hated all books, and novels most of all. Horrible to think of all that soggy, half-baked trash massed together in one place.”


“For if in careless summer days
In groves of Ashtaroth we whored,
Repentant now, when winds blow cold,
We kneel before our rightful lord;

The lord of all, the money-god,
Who rules us blood and hand and brain,
Who gives the roof that stops the wind,
And, giving, takes away again;

Who spies with jealous, watchful care,
Our thoughts, our dreams, our secret ways,
Who picks our words and cuts our clothes,
And maps the pattern of our days;

Who chills our anger, curbs our hope,
And buys our lives and pays with toys,
Who claims as tribute broken faith,
Accepted insults, muted joys;

Who binds with chains the poet’s wit,
The navvy’s strength, the soldier’s pride,
And lays the sleek, estranging shield
Between the lover and his bride.”


“You're dishonoured, somehow. You've sinned. Sinned against the aspidistra."

"You talk a great deal about aspidistras," said Ravelston.

"They're a dashed important subject," said Gordon.”


“He was alone with seven thousand books...mostly aged and unsaleable.”


“Mrs Weaver nosed among the books, too dim-witted to grasp that they were in alphabetical order.”


“I tell you I can't be bothered with things like that. I've got a
soul above buttons.”


“The interesting thing about the New Albion was that it was so
completely modern in spirit. There was hardly a soul in the firm
who was not perfectly well aware that publicity - advertising - is
the dirtiest ramp that capitalism has yet produced. In the red
lead firm there had still lingered certain notions of commercial
honour and usefulness. But such things would have been laughed at
in the New Albion. Most of the employees were the hard-boiled,
Americanized, go-getting type to whom nothing in the world is
sacred, except money. They had their cynical code worked out. The
public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a
swill-bucket. And yet beneath their cynicism there was the final
naivete, the blind worship of the money-god.”


“He seemed to be lying on the bed. He could not see very well. Her youthful, rapacious face, with blackened eyebrows, leaned over him as he sprawled there.

“‘How about my present?’ she demanded, half wheedling, half menacing.

“Never mind that now. To work! Come here. Not a bad mouth. Come here. Come closer. Ah!

“No. No use. Impossible. The will but not the way. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Try again. No. The booze, it must be. See Macbeth. One last try. No, no use. Not this evening, I’m afraid.

“All right, Dora, don’t you worry. You’ll get your two quid all right. We aren’t paying by results.

“He made a clumsy gesture. ‘Here, give us that bottle. That bottle off the dressing-table.’

“Dora brought it. Ah, that’s better. That at least doesn’t fail.”


“Spring, spring! Bytuene Mershe ant Averil, when spray biginneth to spring! When shaws be sheene and swards full fayre, and leaves both large and longe! When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces, in the spring time, the only pretty ring time, when the birds do sing, hey-ding-a-ding ding, cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-wee, ta-witta-woo! And so on and so on and so on. See almost any poet between the Bronze Age and 1805.”


“The woman at the desk was a university graduate, young, colourless, spectacled, and intensely disagreeable. She had a fixed suspicion that no one — at least, no male person — ever consulted works of reference except in search of pornography. As soon as you approached she pierced you through and through with a flash of her pince-nez and let you know that your dirty secret was no secret from HER. After all, all works of reference are pornographical, except perhaps Whitaker’s Almanack. You can put even the Oxford Dictionary to evil purposes by looking up words like —— and ——.”


“He had reached the age when the future ceases to be a rosy blur and becomes actual and menacing.”


“Poverty is spiritual halitosis.”


“Page after page, advert after advert. Lipsticks, undies, tinned food, patent medicines, slimming cures, face-creams. A sort of cross-section of the money world. A panorama of ignorance, greed, vulgarity, snobbishness, whoredom and disease.”


“He found the original sheet of paper and scored the couplet out with thick lines. And in doing this there was a sense of achievement, of time not wasted, as though the destruction of much labour were in some way an act of creation.”


“Vicisti, O Aspidistra!”


“There is nothing more dreadful in the world than to live in somebody else's house, eating his bread and doing nothing in return for it.”


“The violation of the inner person is the greatest territorial crime of all.”


“But still, it was not the desire to ‘write’ that was his real motive. To get out of the money-world—that was what he wanted. Vaguely he looked forward to some kind of moneyless, anchorite existence. He had a feeling that if you genuinely despise money you can keep going somehow, like the birds of the air. He forgot that the birds of the air don’t pay room-rent. The poet starving in a garret—but starving, somehow, not uncomfortably—that was his vision of himself.

The next seven months were devastating. They scared him and almost broke his spirit. He learned what it means to live for weeks on end on bread and margarine, to try to ‘write’ when you are half starved, to pawn your clothes, to sneak trembling up the stairs when you owe three weeks’ rent and your landlady is listening for you. Moreover, in those seven months he wrote practically nothing. The first effect of poverty is that it kills thought. He grasped, as though it were a new discovery, that you do not escape from money merely by being moneyless. On the contrary, you are the hopeless slave of money until you have enough of it to live on—a ‘competence’, as the beastly middle-class phrase goes.”


“To settle down, to Make Good, to sell your soul for a villa and an aspidistra! To turn into the typical little bowler-hatted sneak—Strube’s “little man”—the little docile cit who slips home by the six-fifteen to a supper of cottage pie and stewed tinned pears, half an hour’s listening-in to the B.B.C. Symphony Concert, and then perhaps a spot of licit sexual intercourse if his wife “feels in the mood!” What a fate! No, it isn’t like that that one was meant to live.”


“They were one of those depressing families, so common among the middle-middle class, in which nothing ever happens”