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Such, Such Were the Joys (Essay)

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In this bitingly honest autobiographical essay, Orwell recounts his days as a pupil at St Cyprian's preparatory school in Eastbourne, Sussex. He reflects on a 'world of force and fraud and secrecy,' where the actual 'pattern of school life' was played out as a continuous triumph of the strong over the weak. Reflecting on the hypocrisy of Edwardian society, Orwell condemns In this bitingly honest autobiographical essay, Orwell recounts his days as a pupil at St Cyprian's preparatory school in Eastbourne, Sussex. He reflects on a 'world of force and fraud and secrecy,' where the actual 'pattern of school life' was played out as a continuous triumph of the strong over the weak. Reflecting on the hypocrisy of Edwardian society, Orwell condemns the education he received as 'a preparation for a sort of confidence trick,' designed mercinarily to prepare pupils for exams without concern for real knowledge or understanding. This is Orwell as political dissident and supreme chronicler of class conflict.


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In this bitingly honest autobiographical essay, Orwell recounts his days as a pupil at St Cyprian's preparatory school in Eastbourne, Sussex. He reflects on a 'world of force and fraud and secrecy,' where the actual 'pattern of school life' was played out as a continuous triumph of the strong over the weak. Reflecting on the hypocrisy of Edwardian society, Orwell condemns In this bitingly honest autobiographical essay, Orwell recounts his days as a pupil at St Cyprian's preparatory school in Eastbourne, Sussex. He reflects on a 'world of force and fraud and secrecy,' where the actual 'pattern of school life' was played out as a continuous triumph of the strong over the weak. Reflecting on the hypocrisy of Edwardian society, Orwell condemns the education he received as 'a preparation for a sort of confidence trick,' designed mercinarily to prepare pupils for exams without concern for real knowledge or understanding. This is Orwell as political dissident and supreme chronicler of class conflict.

30 review for Such, Such Were the Joys (Essay)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mia (Parentheses Enthusiast)

    PRE-REVIEW, 6/6/16: Don't trust the title: there's no joy here. This essay may well have been called "Such, Such was the Unending Mistreatment and Bleakness." That's not to say that it isn't great, though, because it really is, in a fascinating, grim sort of way. I certainly don't envy Eric Arthur Blair's upbringing, but it makes for interesting reading, and by the end I felt as though I'd journeyed through his childhood with him. Not for the first time, I'm eternally grateful not to have been PRE-REVIEW, 6/6/16: Don't trust the title: there's no joy here. This essay may well have been called "Such, Such was the Unending Mistreatment and Bleakness." That's not to say that it isn't great, though, because it really is, in a fascinating, grim sort of way. I certainly don't envy Eric Arthur Blair's upbringing, but it makes for interesting reading, and by the end I felt as though I'd journeyed through his childhood with him. Not for the first time, I'm eternally grateful not to have been alive in the 1910s, and not to have gone to a boarding school. I doubt they're even remotely as awful nowadays, but something about the idea of it is inextricably tied in my mind to tales of woe, underfeeding, harsh discipline, and malicious snobbery like this one. Hogwarts this is not. *** In this autobiographical essay, Eric Arthur Blair (who will henceforth be referred to by his pen name, George Orwell) relates his childhood from the ages of six through thirteen, and his experiences at St. Cyprian's boarding school. It's a fascinating mix of banality, sadistic headmasters, loneliness, nostalgia, classist snobbishness, and the potent confusion, camaraderie, and competition that comes with young boys growing up. "The good and the possible never seemed to coincide." I'm really struck by how perfectly Orwell is able to describe certain feelings and facets of childhood. Some of the details are vague and forgotten, as is to be expected, but the things he remembers- particular sensations, or words appearing as all capitalised in his mind even decades after because they filled him with such dread- are so well-written that even though I've never been to a boarding school and I have never been beaten with a riding crop, Orwell manages to still make me recall parts of my own childhood during which I felt exactly as he did. "I was crying partly because I felt that this was expected of me, partly from genuine repentance, but partly also because of a deeper grief which is peculiar to childhood and not easy to convey: a sense of desolate loneliness and helplessness, of being locked up not only in a hostile world but in a world of good and evil where the rules were such that it was actually not possible for me to keep them." God, that's true, isn't it? I feel like people will attest to feeling that way at least once during their young years- perplexed and frightened and guilty, in equal measure, by the rules and tempers of grownups, helpless and feeling smaller than a speck of dust. I'm glad that neither of my parents ever use corporal punishment on my brother and I, though their parents used it on them. My mom got hit with a belt or a wooden spoon, and I still remember my dad telling me a story about his brother (my uncle) burning bits of paper at the stove when he was a kid, so as punishment their father took his hand and held it less than an inch away from the flames while the boy screamed. While practises like these are obviously falling out of favour and being rightfully deemed abuse, even long-held traditions of physical punishment like spanking are fading away, let alone being beaten by a riding crop until the handle breaks because you've wet the bed in the night! What makes it worse, though, is that Orwell did nothing wrong- he never intentionally wet the bed, and he was filled with shame and humiliation every time it happened. And I'm sure the punishments he received after each occurrence did nothing to help the problem. Still, despite all of this terrible treatment and all of these dismal memories, I think "Such, Such were the Joys" works best not as a straightforward autobiographical vignette, but as an exercise in memory. "...I accepted the broken riding-crop as my own crime. I can still recall my feeling as I saw the handle lying on the carpet — the feeling of having done an ill-bred clumsy thing, and ruined an expensive object. I had broken it: so Sambo told me, and so I believed. This acceptance of guilt lay unnoticed in my memory for twenty or thirty years." It's so interesting how Orwell probes his memory to study these things, and how such a strong emotion burned into his mind at an impressionable age can lay dormant, accepted, unquestioned, for decades. There are also some very interesting passages where Orwell talks about the phases of sexuality and "sexlessness" he went through as a child and young adult, with the absence of a complete and accurate sex ed program, where most knowledge is gleaned through rudimentary biology and guessing. "At twelve I knew more than I had known as a young child, but I understood less, because I no longer knew the essential fact that there is something pleasant in sexual activity." In this section, he captures perfectly the patchwork of knowledge, guesswork, rumour, curiosity, and disinterest that marks sexuality as a child, escpecially a child in such a repressive environment. "Thus, I knew in principle how the baby gets into the woman, but I did not know how it gets out again, because I had never followed the subject up. I knew all the dirty words, and in my bad moments I would repeat them to myself, but I did not know what the worst of them meant, nor want to know. They were abstractly wicked, a sort of verbal charm." Isn't that a little adorable? It's so innocent! I can just picture little Arthur Blair playing along, laughing a bit too loudly to cover up that fact that he's just pretending to understand dirty jokes and the like. This section also made me laugh, less because of the content and more of how Orwell talked about it, saying that even as a child and young teen he just didn't care very much, and the vague disinterest with which he mentions things like erections made me giggle, because it was so "huh, would you look at that." Case in point: "I had noticed, without feeling much interest, that one's penis sometimes stands up of its own accord (this starts happening to a boy long before he has any conscious sexual desires)..." He shrugs it off in a way I find most endearing and entertaining. There's also the prevailing grouping of boys based on the wealth and class of their parents; simple joys in the form of rare nature walks and food pilfered from the kitchens during late-night raids; the interminable tests and the push for scholarships. The drudgery, the rote memorisation, the tedium of poor education. The contradictions of the adult world, the space between what's expected and what's possible. "The essential conflict was between the tradition of nineteenth-century asceticism and the actually existing luxury and snobbery of the pre-1914 age. On the one side were low-church Bible Christianity, sex puritanism, insistence on hard work, respect for academic distinction, disapproval of self-indulgence: on the other, contempt for ‘braininess’, and worship of games, contempt for foreigners and the working class, an almost neurotic dread of poverty, and, above all, the assumption not only that money and privilege are the things that matter, but that it is better to inherit them than to have to work for them." The only reason I gave this four stars instead of five is because it's very loosely organised, and I think it could have been even better if it were detailed with a bit more chronological coherence. I'm also super stingy with my five stars. I infinitely recommend 'Such, Such were the Joys'- if you can get past the horrors of English boys' boarding schools, which are mainly dealt with in the first half, it's not only well-written, but entertaining, enlightening, and so obviously full of heart and nostalgia. It's the kind of nostalgia that's not saccharine, Orwell wears no rose-tinted glasses... One gets the distinct impression that he's trying to understand his early years and is also inviting us to understand ours. Lastly, good historical pieces- and this is a very good one- should, in addition to highlighting the differences between the setting and modern day, also illuminate the similarities between them. Orwell pulls this off wonderfully, and his philosophies about so many facets of childhood still ring true to me. Good historical pieces should connect the reader to the narrator in spite of the many decades and miles that lie between them, and to say I felt a connection to young Orwell would be an understatement- I sympathised with him, I felt his pain, I understood his confusion and his later assessments with the benefit of hindsight. Our narrator ends the essay with an assertion that I feel is still incredibly true: "Take away God, Latin, the cane, class distinctions and sexual taboos, and the fear, the hatred, the snobbery and the misunderstanding might still all be there." I think it's part and parcel of being a child and an adolescent, and being thrust into an environment (be it public or private school) with a bunch of other kids who are going through the same self-consciousness, discomfort, confusion, and loneliness as you. My childhood wasn't nearly as ghastly as Orwell's, and I faced completely different hardships. Still, I can only hope that when I'm middle-aged, I can look upon my own childhood and adolescence with even a fraction of the lucidity, wit, and eloquence as Mr. Orwell has accomplished here. Find yourself half an hour and read it for free here!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sam Quixote

    When George Orwell was a young boy, he won a scholarship to a prestigious private school called St Cyprians, almost exclusively catering to the children of the upper classes and the occasional bright lower-upper-middle class (as Orwell described his circumstances as) kid, like Orwell was. The title of this 56-page essay, Such, Such Were The Joys, is bitterly ironic as he found the experience to be extremely miserable. He was bullied by an older boy, beaten by the incompetent teachers, fed the When George Orwell was a young boy, he won a scholarship to a prestigious private school called St Cyprian’s, almost exclusively catering to the children of the upper classes and the occasional bright “lower-upper-middle class” (as Orwell described his circumstances as) kid, like Orwell was. The title of this 56-page essay, Such, Such Were The Joys, is bitterly ironic as he found the experience to be extremely miserable. He was bullied by an older boy, beaten by the incompetent teachers, fed the bare minimum to keep him alive, and the little money his parents sent him was withheld by the Headmaster’s wife who doled out the money according to class (meaning that Orwell was allowed to spend the least, even if he was given more pocket money). The essay opens with a young Orwell wetting the bed for the first time in years when he arrives at the school because he’s afraid of his new environs, miles away from his family and friends. He’s warned by the Headmaster’s wife, nicknamed Flip, that if he didn’t stop doing that, she’d get the Sixth Form (the older boys’ grade) to beat him up! When he doesn’t stop (because threatening a child with violence was surely going to work!), he’s sent to the Headmaster, nicknamed Sambo, who beats him with a riding crop in what reads like a semi-comical scene with Orwell writing Sambo’s words in a staccato style as he beat him “you-are – a – ve-ry – nau-ghty- boy!”. It sets the tone for the essay, being a frank and open discussion of his schooldays that were often cruel and unrecognisable in the 1940s when he wrote this, let alone in the 21st century. The conditions he experienced would go on to influence Orwell’s literary career, particularly his two most celebrated novels including Animal Farm. Orwell discusses the class politics at the school with the boys arguing over whose dad has the most modern car and status was measured by who had their own cricket bat and who didn’t. The situation is encouraged by Sambo and Flip who acquiesced to the rich offspring, letting them get away with lackadaisical study but coming down hard on the scholarship students like Orwell who were there to raise the grades of the school. They would also give the rich kids a cake on their birthday but not the less affluent kids. There’s a revealing passage when Orwell recounts going into the town one day to buy sweets with some money he’d stashed in the wall vines and, on the way back, imagining the Headmaster’s power extending out into the community, that there were spies of Sambo ready to rat on Orwell the moment he returned to the school. The episode and the character of Sambo in Orwell’s mind feels like a precursor to his greatest work, Nineteen Eighty-Four. It’s also a part of Orwell’s insightful exploration of how children perceive the adult world. He critiques the teaching system which drilled into children like himself important dates, quotes and names without ever giving them any context – they were told to recite them to rote questions because it would make them seem clever when they were merely parroting back to examiners a script they didn’t understand. Moreover, he finds the whole idea of sending away young children to these private boarding schools a distasteful custom that damages children’s psyches, frightening them with unfamiliar surroundings, strangers, and putting them at the mercy of harsh, unloving people like Sambo and Flip. Orwell’s writing is as powerful and clear as it always is, effortlessly communicating to us through the years and bringing the reader back to an Edwardian school where the cheesy wet towels, unclean sheets, cold rooms and grotty food are vividly drawn to the point where we can feel and smell St Cyprian’s today. The memoirs are infused with an energy and wit that makes for compelling reading, despite the grim subject matter, and Orwell masterfully weaves in emotional moments and enlightening ideas throughout the essay. Reading Such, Such Were The Joys is both a reminder of how accomplished a writer Orwell was and a truly enjoyable experience to be in the hands of a writer so assured in their craft. Of course Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four are the Orwell books everyone should read but these small paperbacks Penguin is publishing as part of their fantastic Great Ideas series are essential reading too, bringing to light George Orwell’s astonishingly good non-fiction essays and journalism. The essay ends humorously with Orwell wishing the rumour he heard that St Cyprian’s burned down was true. Regardless, Orwell provides his old school with a more thorough demolition job than any wrecking ball could in this wonderfully vitriolic essay.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Netta

    Impossible to rate (and measure) child's suffering.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Pink

    This is a short essay, recollecting not so fond memories of Orwell's time at school. An insightful and enjoyable read for all George Orwell fans.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Zan

    only child life is real life boarding school is terrible. i just saved u 56 pages. but actually these 56 pages are great. read this. its fun (if not earth shattering) and costs $2 after feeling extremely bleak for three days and watching nothing but videogame walkthroughs, this was exactly the book i needed to remind me why i should throw away my computer and stop consuming anything that would help me relate to ppl my age CONTENT THOUGHTS - orwell's voice is so polished that it's almost only child life is real life boarding school is terrible. i just saved u 56 pages. but actually these 56 pages are great. read this. its fun (if not earth shattering) and costs $2 after feeling extremely bleak for three days and watching nothing but videogame walkthroughs, this was exactly the book i needed to remind me why i should throw away my computer and stop consuming anything that would help me relate to ppl my age CONTENT THOUGHTS - orwell's voice is so polished that it's almost impossible to tell whether this is the 'earnest but wearied reflection of the frame narrator recalling something from his troubled, cloudy past' in a piece of fiction [i.e. heart of darkness], or if that's just how orwell fucking talked - "the child accepts the codes of behaviour (ugh, that spelling) that are presented to it, even when it breaks them... I did not see that in that case the weak have the right to make a different set of rules for themselves..." = DID U KNOW IM A SOCIALIST?!?!?! this is what they did before the invention of subtweets - the theme of this book is that, in the old bad rigid class-defined society of rich, sin was not an action, but a state of being. for those not born rich, powerful and with a title, it was literally impossible to be good. the other theme is kids say the darndest things, and also they secretly hate you. -one thing i didn't like: when orwell wants to use an indirect pronoun to refer back to the word "child," he uses "it." DUDE THEY'RE NOT ROBOTS - percent apparently used to be spelled "per cent." anyone wanna google if that means u used to get four ha'pennies (or whatever) from the bank for every penny u had - "few faces are at their best when seen fromm below." yes. - if u read only one book that has that "my (unearned, derived only from interest) income is 4,000 (euro pound dollar sign) per year" trope from the importance of being earnest or pride and prejudice, make it this one an adult who does not seem dangerous nearly always seems ridiculous.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth McMahon

    Though the situations were entirely different, elements of Orwell's essay on his school days rang true for me too. The practice of memorising certain facts and passages in preparation for exams rather than actually engaging with the subject certainly existed 15-20 years ago in Ireland. I suspect it still does. Orwell does a magnificent job of writing about the complexities of being a child trying to understand the world around him, giving voice to thoughts I'm not sure I ever considered. It was Though the situations were entirely different, elements of Orwell's essay on his school days rang true for me too. The practice of memorising certain facts and passages in preparation for exams rather than actually engaging with the subject certainly existed 15-20 years ago in Ireland. I suspect it still does. Orwell does a magnificent job of writing about the complexities of being a child trying to understand the world around him, giving voice to thoughts I'm not sure I ever considered. It was certainly a timely read personally, as my 5 year old son starts school this week. Thankfully, times have obviously changed for the better, but I do wonder how my son will view this new world.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Well it's essentially about how horrible Orwell's life was when growing up. Maybe not the most interesting thing to read but Orwell has a way with words which still kept me going. Also the fact that it was only about 40 pages or something helped.

  8. 5 out of 5

    QueenShellybean

    Amazing, I love George Orwell's fiction and essays! His life and imagination are a marvel.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Martin Kurniadi

    It must be set clear that, according to Orwell, school life prepares him to be 'a better man', as every school did. Only at the end did he realize that it was nothing but experience that made us what we are, and some laws are meant to be broken. He was digging his memories, extricating his moments at St. Cyprian's in detailed words, why bullies exist, why only the strong and the rich will triumph over the weak, why everything is made that way. He explained it the best he could, in his view, a It must be set clear that, according to Orwell, school life prepares him to be 'a better man', as every school did. Only at the end did he realize that it was nothing but experience that made us what we are, and some laws are meant to be broken. He was digging his memories, extricating his moments at St. Cyprian's in detailed words, why bullies exist, why only the strong and the rich will triumph over the weak, why everything is made that way. He explained it the best he could, in his view, a reflection he has while all of that happens. There are some life guidance in his words, some wisdom can be taken, but I still feel that, education is needed, at least to direct them to the experiences they supposed to have, now, or later in life. I guess you cannot generalize that education system in every school to be the same, or any environment to be the same as harsh as where he attended it. Though he made his point. Some points I agree on, but still, at least to me, the value of education remains.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Leen

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. such a great reading experience . very real and honest . it tapped into a lot of things . i completely agreed with everything he said . "but it is difficult for a child to realize that a school is primarily a commercial venture" page 37 was just amazingly written and completely accurate . a favourite line from it is " since they all depended not only on what you did but on what you were " . " you could still only be an underling , a hanger-on of the people who really counted" . "some boys seemed such a great reading experience . very real and honest . it tapped into a lot of things . i completely agreed with everything he said . "but it is difficult for a child to realize that a school is primarily a commercial venture" page 37 was just amazingly written and completely accurate . a favourite line from it is " since they all depended not only on what you did but on what you were " . " you could still only be an underling , a hanger-on of the people who really counted" . "some boys seemed to drip money from their pores" . page 42 . in the book he asks if a child at school still goes through the same experiences ? . he asked this question in around 1945 while he was in Britain and i can answer a definite yes . even though the circumstances are completely different . he captured childrens emotions perfectly . and he had much of the concerns have now about the future and how someone who isn't of the dominant class of handsome and rich can become anything or achieve anything . and how school headmasters are absolute shit .

  11. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    Having read "Animal Farm" and "1984", "Such, such were the joys" seems like a different kind of writing which Orwell usually adopts. Reminiscing his childhood years, the author introduces the tyranny in which a child is prone to. I picked the book randomly and wondered what could Orwell prevail in a non-scientific way about his early experiences. Maybe there's not much to talk about regarding the plot but it is one of the best autobiographical essays I have ever read. It seems authentic and Having read "Animal Farm" and "1984", "Such, such were the joys" seems like a different kind of writing which Orwell usually adopts. Reminiscing his childhood years, the author introduces the tyranny in which a child is prone to. I picked the book randomly and wondered what could Orwell prevail in a non-scientific way about his early experiences. Maybe there's not much to talk about regarding the plot but it is one of the best autobiographical essays I have ever read. It seems authentic and straight to the point.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Moira McPartlin

    Orwell's essays are always entertaining and this is no exception. The ironic title 'Such, such were the joys' lets you know what is in store in this essay about his life as one of the poorer kids at a public school - beatings, near starvation, humiliation, just what you would expect. But it is his take on how he, and children as a whole, view adults that is most interesting. It also explains about the society in England just before the first world war. I love Orwell's witty and relaxed style. He Orwell's essays are always entertaining and this is no exception. The ironic title 'Such, such were the joys' lets you know what is in store in this essay about his life as one of the poorer kids at a public school - beatings, near starvation, humiliation, just what you would expect. But it is his take on how he, and children as a whole, view adults that is most interesting. It also explains about the society in England just before the first world war. I love Orwell's witty and relaxed style. He really lets his personality shine here.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Aly Cooper

    Such an interesting story about the childhood of the author. Although the events have passed in a different epoch, the situation remains similar, sadly. Social differences still have the utmost value in the society, and the pressure which is placed on the shoulders of kids, in order to succeed is enormous.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Johara Almogbel

    I'm not a fan of non-fiction, but somehow I forget that when I read George Orwell's retellings. First it was Decline of the English Murder, then it was Down and Out in Paris and London, and now this. Maybe because his non-fiction still reads like a story? Dunno. I just like it. I liked this too, it was a short interesting read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    Brilliant essay by Orwell on his time at a prep school. It starts off as a candid memoir on life at the school, which was particularly harsh for those, like Orwell, who were there on a scholarship and not from a monied background. Towards the end it evolves into a more general attack on such schools where children as young as seven are sent away to board.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Simon

    The title, naturally, is ironic. A more accurate one would be "God, prep school was awful". It starts as a childhood misery memoir but by the end it's turned into something deeper and more interesting, moving on from the cruelties of life in the public school system to an exploration of how children perceive the adult world.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Andreas

    George Orwell's bitingly honest commentary on the corrupted British education system of the early 1910s combined with his very personal approach as to how the story was presented made for one of the best essays I've read so far.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    This teeny tiny essay about Orwell's experience with boarding school in pre-war England addresses class, poverty, true education and the nature of childhood. An easy and quick read, it's always a joy to jump into Orwell's head for a little while.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Zuchra Pipin

    satir yg tebalnya cuma 50 halaman,tapi cukup membuat kita membayangkan jelas gaya pendidikan keras,tidak manusiawi,jorok, dan membunuh karakter anak selama-lamanya,di sekolah Inggris pada masa kecil penulisnya.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Elena

    This is not a book per say, but rather a short essay of Orwell's recollection of his experience in a boy's prep school. It's funny and well done. Reminds me of Shirley Jackson's LOTTERY story. Very nice very nice.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mariona

    Algo muy especial lo de leer a Orwell en inglés.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mejix

    More like a 2.5.

  23. 4 out of 5

    cardulelia carduelis

    I'm really glad I wasn't at school in 1910. Charting the horrors of everyday life as a child at the start of the last century. Engrossing and cruel.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Marconi SF

    Very deep and accurate perception of what we thought as children. Very useful for someone who wants to understand class struggles in Britain, even these days.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Andy Mckinney

    This is one of the best books I have read about school days in a long time. Orwell really had it tough and not only were his teachers cruel they taught badly.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Reem

    A pound's worth of wisdom well spent. To answer your question Mr. Orwell, in today's world we have different ways of terrorizing children.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Hanguin

    expected nothing but greatness and got exactly what I expected..

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mariana Acquaviva

  29. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  30. 4 out of 5

    Helena

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