George Orwell’s "A CLERGYMAN’S DAUGHTER” is set in a small village, Knype Hill, in the county of Suffolk.
The main character of the novel is Dorothy Hare, the only child of the Reverend Charles Hare, Rector of St. Athelstan’s.
The first part of the book is a description of Dorothy’s life as a clergyman’s daughter in rural England in the 1930s.
Her day is filled completely with church work. She has a round of visits to be made every day except Sundays.
"(...) she made from half a dozen to a dozen visits at parishioners’ cottages. She penetrated into cramped interiors and sat on lumpy, dust-diffusing chairs gossiping with overworked, blowsy housewives; she spent hurried half-hours giving a hand with the mending and the ironing, and read chapters from the Gospel (...)." [page 48]
Dorothy is an active member and leader of the Sunday School, the Girl Guides, the Band of Hope and the Companionship of Marriage as well as attending the Mothers’ Union.
"Dorothy was honorary secretary of three (...) leagues, besides being captain of the Girl Guides. The Band of Hope and the Companionship of Marriage languished almost memberless, and the Mothers’ Union only kept going because gossip and unlimited strong tea made the weekly sewing-parties acceptable." [page 49]
The only member of the parish to whom Dorothy enjoys a special relationship is Mr Warburton. Dorothy likes his sarcastic wit and sense of humour, although he is neither a church-goer nor an accepted member of the village community.
Mr Warburton is scandal-ridden, as he "had lived, or rather stayed periodically, in open concubinage with a woman whom he called his housekeeper."
"He was a man of independent income, calling himself a painter (...) and he had come to Knype Hill two years earlier and bought one of the new villas behind the Rectory. (...) People in town said that he was a "proper old rascal"; young girls were afraid of him, not without reason." [page 37]
At the time the story takes place, the woman - the "housekeeper" - had already left him.
One evening, Dorothy visits Mr Warburton after working for the parish play (she is making a pair of jack boots to be worn by the children).
After a vivid conversation, Mr Warburton accompanies her back home. He tries to kiss her goodbye and at that very moment, the town-gossip, a busy-body neighbour, Mrs Semprill, looks out of her window and notices the incident.
This will have an important effect on the rest of her life.
There is a sudden cut in the book.
The reader now finds himself in London and to his great surprise, Dorothy is wandering the streets of London, in tattered clothes, not knowing who she is or where she comes from.
Apparently she suffers from amnesia.
A group of young people pick her up - primarily because she still has some money with her - to go hop-picking.
Dorothy introduces herself as Ellen. This is the name which first comes into her mind, as it is the name of her daily help in the Rectory, in Knype Hill.
Dorothy’s life, which is now Ellen’s life, can be divided into three parts:
Firstly the hop-picking in Kent, together with East Enders and gypsies. Orwell describes the poor life farm labourers lead.
"It was very cold on those September mornings (...). Your breakfast was always the same - bacon, tea and bread fried in the grease of the bacon. While you ate it you cooked another exactly similar meal, to serve for dinner, and then, carrying your dinner-pail, you set out for the fields, a mile-and-a-half walk through the blue, windy dawn, with your nose running so in the cold that you had to stop occasionally and wipe it on your sacking apron. (...)
As the afternoon wore on you grew almost too tired to stand, and the small green hop lice got into your hair and into your ears and worried you, and your hands, from the sulphurous juice, were as black as a Negro’s except that they were bleeding. (...)
When you got back to the camp, at half past six or thereabouts, you squatted down by the stream that that ran past the huts, and washed your face, probably for the first time that day. It took you about twenty minutes or so to get the coalblack filth off your hands. (...) You cooked your supper, which was usually bread and tea and bacon again. (...) Before you had got to eaten your supper you were dropping with sleep. (...) When finally you managed to drag yourself away to your nest of straw, it was none too warm or comfortable. (...) It is not only prickly, but, unlike hay, it lets in the draught from every possible direction. (...)
As to what you earned by hop-picking, it was just enough to keep body and soul together, and no more." [pages 109, 113, 115/116]
The poverty and dirt in which they live, the dependency on the landowner and the poor wages, being paid not adequately at all to what their work requires, all this is described quite realistically.
One day, Ellen (Dorothy) sees a newspaper article on "the mystery of the clergyman’s daughter".
"She heard the others talking desultorily, first about hop-picking, then about some story in the newspapers of a girl who had disappeared from home. (...) The missing girl, in whose fate they seemed to be rather interested, was spoken of as "The Rector’s Daughter"." [page 103]
" Dorothy took Pippin’s Weekly and laid it across her knees, feeling herself far too sleepy to read. A huge headline stared her in the face: "PASSION DRAMA IN COUNTRY RECTORY". (...) For the space of five seconds or thereabouts Dorothy was actually gazing at a blackish, smudgy but quite recognisable portrait of herself." [page 123]
Her memory slowly comes back to her. She writes to her father and asks him for money to come home. As she gets no reply to any of her three letters and it’s the end of the hop-picking season, she finds herself destitute in London.
Now, in this second part of Ellen’s (Dorothy’s) life, Orwell describes the down-and-out life of the poorest of the poor in London.
People looking for work, like Ellen (Dorothy) in the beginning.
However, she can’t find a job, just by ringing at doorbells and asking to be a kitchen maid.
She seeks shelter in the library during the day and sleeps on the streets at night.
"(Scene: Trafalgar Square. Dimly visible through the mist, a dozen people, Dorothy among them, are grouped about one of the benches near the north parapet.)
Dorothy (starting up): "Oh, this cold, this cold! I don’t know whether it’s worse when you’re sitting down or when you’re standing up. Oh, how can you all stand it? Surely you don’t have to do this every night of your lives?"
Charlie (singing): "Cheer up, cully, you’ll soon be dead! Brrh! Perishing Jesus! Ain’t my fish-hooks blue!" (...)
For the rest, she grew used to the life that she was leading - used to the enormous sleepless nights, the cold, the dirt, the boredom and the horrible communism of the Square." [page 172, 185]
Eventually, when Dorothy is in prison for sleeping on the streets, a rich uncle finds her and, on her father’s request, takes her in.
He then finds her a job as a teacher in a small private school.
The third part of Ellen’s life is a description of her life as a teacher who suffers the moods and greediness of the owner of the school, Mrs Creevy, who practically lets her starve.
Ellen (Dorothy) has no other alternative but to stay on.
She tries to improve the teaching conditions and succeeds in arousing the children’s interests in school subjects but she is brought down again by Mrs Creevy and the parents, who only want the children to learn how to read, write and do simple arithmetic and nothing more intellectually.
They don’t want their children to develop independent minds.
"But one day a brilliant idea struck her. She bought a roll of cheap plain wallpaper at an upholsterer’s shop, and set the children to making a historical chart. (...) The children always, Dorothy had found, showed more intelligence when it was a question of making something instead of merely learning."
"But of course, it could not last."
"It’s the fees I’m after, not developing the children’s minds. The parents don’t want it" (the modern kind of teaching) "and there’s an end of it. Well, there’s just two subjects, that they do want their children taught, and that’s handwriting and arithmetic." [page 235-236]
The novel comes to a close when Mrs Creevy dismisses Ellen, who at that very moment receives a telegram from Mr Warburton.
He arrives, rescues her and brings her back to the village of Knype Hill, proposing marriage to her on the journey home.
However, Ellen, now being Dorothy again, declines the offer. She feels no sexual affinity towards Mr Warburton.
She returns to the life of a clergyman’s daughter, looking after her father and doing parish work.
Although she left the village under mysterious circumstances she is accepted again by the parish as the gossip, Mrs Semprill, had to leave the village after being libelled.
The villagers feel guilty of having thought badly of Dorothy and are now particularly nice towards her.
She resumes her way of life like before and the circle closes.
Dorothy Hare is the main character in the novel. She is the clergyman’s daughter the story is about.
She is the only child of the Reverend Charles Hare, Rector of the small village of Knype Hill.
And this is practically all I am going to say here.
It may seem a little strange, not giving a characterisation of the main character, but I don’t think it wise to do so.
In the part Contents I described Dorothy as a person, the sudden change in her personality, caused by her amnesia and her life.
I gave a short description of what her life as a clergyman’s daughter in the village was like, her parish work, her work as leader of various church groups (Mother’s Union, etc.).
In the second part I showed what her life was like, living under the most horrible poverty and in the third part what life she led as a school teacher.
I, too, gave a summary of Dorothy’s thoughts, of her own philosophy of life and what it is all about. What more can you say about a person if you know his (her ) opinion on life as a whole?
I think you and I and everybody who read the book knows Dorothy and can - at least in parts - identify with her.
To say more would be repeating myself.
The Reverend Charles Hare (Dorothy’s father)
The Reverend Charles Hare is a very typical clergyman of England in the 1930s.
He is said to be a very difficult and moody man.
"Probably no one who had ever spoken to the Rector for as long as ten minutes would have denied that he was a "difficult" kind of man." [page 16]
He is ill humoured and behaves very nastily towards Dorothy most of the time.
"It was clear, that the Rector was in what Dorothy called, euphemistically, his "uncomfortable mood". He had one of those weary, cultivated voices which are never definitely angry and never anywhere near good humour. (...) The impression he gave was of suffering perpetually from other people’s stupidity and tiresomeness." [page 15]
Charles Hare "had been born in 1871, the younger son of the younger son of a baronet, and had gone into the Church for the out-moded reason that the Church is the traditional profession for younger sons." [page 17]
However, he hates the profession, not so much being a rector but especially coping with the parish work.
His first parish was a parish in East London, where the vicar received no respect from the villagers at all.
His second station was a parish in Kent, which was a little better.
Charles Hare marries, but his marriage is an unhappy one and moreover so, as clergyman aren’t allowed "to quarrel with their wives its unhappiness had been secret and therefore ten times worse." [page 17]
Dorothy was born in Kent.
When his wife dies, in 1921, he leaves all the parish work to Dorothy.
He himself concentrates on being a priest and in "his purely clerical duties he was scrupulously correct - perhaps a little too correct for a Low Church East Anglican parish. He conducted his services with perfect taste, preached admirable sermons and got up at uncomfortable hours of the morning to celebrate Holy Communion every Wednesday and Friday. But that a clergyman has any duties outside the four walls of the church was a thing that had never seriously occurred to him." [page 18]
However conservative and old-fashioned, Charles Hare has his own thoughts of justice. When Dorothy appeals to him for help and money, when she is still with the hop-pickers or later from London, he wants to help her, and Dorothy wrongs him in assuming he doesn’t want to know anything about her, but he just doesn’t know how to help her and so lets too much time pass by.
In the end, he gets his cousin, Sir Thomas, to do something about Dorothy’s situation!
Mr Warburton is practically the only member of the village of Knype Hill whom Dorothy likes. He can be regarded as her friend, although their relationship is of a curious kind.
Mr Warburton "was a man of independent income, calling himself a painter - he produced about half a dozen mediocre landscapes every year - and he had come to Knype Hill two years earlier and bought one of the new villas behind the Rectory. There he had lived, or rather stayed periodically, in open concubinage with a woman whom he called his housekeeper." [page 37]
However, by the time the novel is set the woman has left him.
Mr Warburton is "a fine, imposing-looking man, though entirely bald (he was at great pain to conceal this) and he carried himself with such a rakish air as to give the impression that his fairly sizeable belly was merely a kind of annexe to his chest. His age was forty-eight, and he owned to forty-four. People in town said that he was a "proper old rascal"; young girls were afraid of him, not without reason." [page 38]
Dorothy likes him although she knows of his bad reputation.
She visits him in the evenings and enjoys indulging in philosophical debates with him.
When Mr Warburton comes and takes her away from Mrs Creevy and back home again, he proposes marriage to Dorothy, but she declines. Mr Warburton is more fascinated by Dorothy - especially in the beginning, when he can’t understand her religious belief at all - than he is in love with her. But both show great respect for the other and although Dorothy declines his proposal, she very sincerely thinks it over.
"Nobby was twenty-six years old and was a widower, and had been successively a seller of newspapers, a petty thief, a Borstal boy, a soldier, a burglar and a tramp."[page 100]
"He had that happy temperament that is incapable of taking its own reverses very seriously. He was always debonair, always singing in a lusty baritone voice ." [page 100]
"Nobby counted it as a sin to pass a potato field without getting at least a pocketful. It was Nobby who did most of the stealing, while the others kept guard. He was a bold thief." [page 96]
This is how Nobby is described in the book. His description isn’t in one part but short little notes on his character can be found everywhere in the part where Nobby is around (in the hop-picking scene).
Nobby was the only one of the group of youths who could stand the life and the poverty. "He could sleep as peacefully in a nest of sodden grass as in a bed, and his coarse, simian face, with barely a dozen red-gold hairs glittering on the chin like snippings of copper wire, never lost its warm, pink colour. He was one of those red-haired people who seem to glow with an inner radiance that warms not only themselves but the surrounding air." [page 100].
Everything Dorothy knew about life in poverty and how to make the best out of little or nothing she learnt from Nobby.
He was a friend, a teacher and a companion but not her lover.
"Mrs Creevy was a woman somewhere in her forties, lean, hard and angular, with abrupt decided movements that indicated a strong will and probably a vicious temper." [page 199]
This is Dorothy’s first impression of the head-mistress. And it is going to be proved right.
Mrs Creevy is introduced further: "Though she was not in the least dirty or untidy there was something discoloured about her whole appearance, as though she lived all her life in a bad light; and the expression of her mouth, sullen and ill-shaped with the lower lip turned down, recalled that of a toad. She spoke in a sharp, commanding voice, with a bad accent and occasional vulgar turns of speech. You could tell her at a glance for a person who knew exactly what she wanted, and would grasp it as ruthlessly as any machine; nor a bully exactly - you could somehow infer from her appearance that she would not take enough interest in you to want to bully you - but a person who would make use of you and then throw you aside with no more compunction than if you had been a worn-out scrubbing-brush." [page 199]
This very precise description of Mrs Creevy right in the beginning of the part in Dorothy’s life as a school teacher with Mrs Creevy tells the reader exactly what to think of the schoolmistress and what to expect of Dorothy’s life with her. Even the last prediction (that Mrs Creevy would throw you away if she didn’t need you any more just like a scrubbing-brush) is proved correct when she fires Ellen (Dorothy).
Actually, there is nothing more to add to Orwell’s description of Mrs Creevy. Everything said in this introductory description is proved right by Mrs Creevy’s actions and behaviour towards Dorothy from her first to her last day and from the shared breakfast to late at night.
Sir Thomas is Charles Hare’s cousin. He lives in London. He is "a widower, a good-hearted, chuckle-headed man of about sixty-five, with an obtuse rosy face and curling moustaches. He dressed by preference in checked overcoats and curly-brimmed bowler hats that were at once dashingly smart and four decades out of date." [page 191]
"His chief characteristic was an abysmal mental vagueness. He was one of those people who say "Don’t you know?" and "What! What!" and lose themselves in the middle of their sentences." [page 191]
Sir Thomas has three children, "the youngest being the same age as Dorothy" [page 192].
He is anxious to solve the problem of Dorothy’s situation as he is fed up of hearing his relatives discussed in the papers.
" As far as his own inclinations went Sir Thomas was not in the least anxious to help his cousins, for Dorothy herself he had never seen, and the Rector he looked on as a cadging poor relation of the worst possible type. But the fact was that he had had just about as much of this "Rector’s Daughter" business as he could stand. The accursed chance that Dorothy’s surname was the same as his own had made his life a misery for the past fortnight, and he foresaw further and worse scandals if she were left at large any longer." [page 191]
He gives orders that a job should be arranged for Dorothy, so "in the end everything was arranged, and with surprising ease; not by Sir Thomas, who was incapable of arranging anything, but by his solicitor, whom he had suddenly thought of consulting." [page 196]
Orwell criticises the life-style of Sir Thomas and his incapability of actually doing something, he shows the way of life the aristocrats lived, going to their clubs at night and being bored, but at the same time, Sir Thomas is shown as quite tender-hearted who in the end gets the problem of what to do with Dorothy solved.