*** DEBUG END ***

Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit

17 December 2021

Alexander Faludy on Orwell’s love of nature

IN THE good old days when nothing in Woolworth’s cost over sixpence, one of their best lines was their rose bushes,” Orwell mused in the Tribune in January 1944. A minor classic of nature writing, the article drew an indignant response from one reader, who complained that “flowers are bourgeois.”

Orwell retorted: “Is it wicked to take pleasure in Spring . . . to point out that life is frequently more worth living because of a blackbird’s song, a yellow elm tree in October, or some other natural phenomenon which does not cost money?”

In Why I Write (1946), he privileged an urge to communicate “the perception of beauty in the external world” in explaining his own creativity, affirming defiantly: “So long as I remain alive . . . I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects.”

Socialism, he observed, while good at diagnosing ills which humanity needed to be liberated from, struggled to articulate what it was to be liberated for. The Left’s visions of sustained static happiness in a perfected society (set forth in Utopian literature such as William Morris’s News from Nowhere), were pale, uninspiring, and, frankly, dull.

The cry of the American suffragette Helen Todd, “Bread for all, and roses, too!”, became Orwell’s rule of life.

Nature, with its capacity for surprise, and pure sensory delight, offered at least part of the vision of what humanity was to be liberated to enjoy. Amid battles with unbelief, Orwell found in nature’s faculty to connect us to past and future generations through the longevity of trees — even rose bushes — a serviceable substitute for Christianity’s communio sanctorum.

Solnit recovers Orwell’s literary naturalism brilliantly. She also unearths for us how, biographically speaking, Orwell’s strenuous politico-literary engagement relied on gritty communion with nature, be it at his cottage in Wallington, Hertfordshire, where he cultivated (Woolworth’s) roses, or the remote Isle of Jura, where he managed a smallholding and wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four. Newspapers told him what he was fighting against; Wallington and Jura what he was fighting for.

Some of Solnit’s mid-text digressions, especially into political economy, might be better as an afterword. Church Times readers will, though, find much to enjoy, including Orwell’s characterisation of the Common Toad emerging from hibernation as having “a very spiritual look, like a strict Anglo-Catholic towards the end of Lent”.

The Revd Alexander Faludy is a freelance journalist.


Orwell’s Roses
Rebecca Solnit
Granta £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.29

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)