Roses, pleasure, and politics: a fresh take on Orwell as an avid gardener, whose political writing was grounded in his passion for the natural world.
'Outside my work the thing I care most about is gardening' wrote George Orwell in 1940. Inspired by her encounter with the surviving roses that Orwell planted in his cottage in Hertfordshire, Rebecca Solnit explores how his involvement with plants, particularly flowers, illuminates his other commitments as a writer and antifascist, and the intertwined politics of nature and power.
Following his journey from the coal mines of England to taking up arms in the Spanish Civil War; from his prescient critique of Stalin to his analysis of the relationship between lies and authoritarianism, Solnit encounters a more hopeful Orwell, whose love of nature pulses through his work and actions. And in her dialogue with the author, she makes fascinating forays into colonial legacies in the flower garden, discovers photographer Tina Modotti's roses, reveals Stalin's obsession with growing lemons in impossibly cold conditions, and exposes the brutal rose industry in Colombia.
A fresh reading of a towering figure of the 20th century which finds solace and solutions for the political and environmental challenges we face today, Orwell's Roses is a remarkable reflection on pleasure, beauty and joy as acts of resistance.
'This book is brilliant because it is true, and because it rescues Orwell from a kind of dourness and seriousness, and gives him back his humanity and yes, his Englishness' James Rebanks
’This an enchanting book, as powerful in its arguments as it is enjoyable to read. From a surprising close-up of George Orwell planting three Woolworth roses, Solnit pans to a bracing new vista of the man and his fierce political aesthetic, taking in the injustices of the rose industry and lying Soviet science as she goes. Brilliant’ Lisa Appignanesi
‘This elegant rambling rose of a book muses on Orwell with all Rebecca Solnit’s luminous intelligence and trademark optimism. If “Orwellian” has become synonymous with darkness and oppression, she opens up his life affirming love of gardening, of wild nature and life’s physical pleasure, his antidote to the grim puritanism of ideologues’ Polly Toynbee
‘I so loved this book. It unfolds like the petals of a rose — the political rose, the personal rose — and enacts its subject in the ethics of its beauty and the grace of its resistance’ Jay Griffiths, author of Why Rebel
'There is nothing more political than a garden, and Rebecca Solnit brings Orwell’s life and writing vividly alive through his quiet determination to love the surface of the earth. Orwell’s Roses shows how intimately aesthetics is intertwined with ethics, and in doing so, Solnit has given us a truly beautiful book' Alex Christofi, author of Dostoevsky in Love
'We all know what Orwell hated but Solnit pays attention to what he loved. Orwell’s Roses is an ingeniously fresh and unpredictable take on his life and times, and the values he held dear' Dorian Lynskey