George Orwell’s Beastly Obsession
Orwell’s third rule of writing, as laid out in his famous essay, “Politics and the English Language,” is that “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” Some argue that should include most adverbs. I’d rather say, generally include most adverbs because I like them. So did Orwell. He had a particular obsession with the word ‘beastly.’ It appears multiple times in every book he wrote but Animal Farm (and a whopping thirty-four times in Keep the Aspidistra Flying).
One can (certainly) overuse adverbs and adjectives. And I’m not at all suggesting that one shouldn’t very carefully refine their sentences, and pay close attention to word choice. Our edits should be both fierce and exacting. But I do wonder if an overexertion of these efforts causes us to lose something of ourselves in the process. There’s really nothing wrong with the sentence, “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out,” despite that it contains words (that are) possible to cut (out). When we talk about “voice,” we’re really saying that we want to feel a human being behind that keyboard — and perhaps it is our tics and quirks that makes us relatable and enjoyable as artists, whatever the medium. At what point it becomes excessive, I don’t know. As I look at Orwell and his use of the word ‘beastly,’ I’m struck by how egregious it appears. He sometimes uses the word several times in the same paragraph. He doesn’t seem capable of describing something as merely “cold,” it must be “beastly cold.” He often repeats the same uses several times in a book. And yet the word was so very Orwell, so delightfully miserable. I wouldn’t want him any other way.
So for your consideration, here is every instance of ‘beastly’ in George Orwell’s books.
Part II, Chapter IV
‘A rat. I saw him stick his beastly nose out of the wainscoting. There’s a hole down there. I gave him a good fright, anyway.’
Part II, Chapter VII
‘I expect you were a beastly little swine in those days,’ she said indistinctly. ‘All children are swine.’
Homage to Catalonia
We were 1500 feet above sea-level now. It was beastly cold, with dense mists that came swirling up from nowhere.
Our water, like our food, came on mule-back from Alcubierre, and each man’s share worked out at about a quart a day. It was beastly water, hardly more transparent than milk. I always kept a clip of German or Mexican ammunition in my pocket for use in an emergency. But in practice when the emergency came I seldom fired my rifle; I was too frightened of the beastly thing jamming and too anxious to reserve at any rate one round that would go off.
Apart from guard-duties and patrols there were constant night-alarms and stand-to’s, and in any case you can’t sleep properly in a beastly hole in the ground with your feet aching with the cold.
I have had a big experience of body vermin of various kinds, and for sheer beastliness the louse beats everything I have encountered.
Now that we had finished wrestling with those beastly sand-bags it was not bad fun in a way; the noise, the darkness, the flashes approaching, our own men blazing back at the flashes.
It is so different from the rest of my life that already it has taken on the magic quality which, as a rule, belongs only to memories that are years old. It was beastly while it was happening, but it is a good patch for my mind to browse upon.
My sleep was disturbed, I remember, by the thought of those beastly bombs, which might blow me into the air if I rolled on them too vigorously.
The hospital orderly threaded his way among the corpse-like forms that sprawled everywhere, carrying a large goatskin bottle full of water which he squirted into this mouth or that. It was beastly water; I remember the taste of it still.
The place had the beastly stench that you always get when crowds of people are penned together without proper sanitary arrangements.
Down and Out in Paris and London
What keeps a hotel going is the fact that the employees take a genuine pride in their work, beastly and silly though it is.
The dormitory was dark and close, with fifteen beds in it. There was a horrible hot reek of urine, so beastly that at first one tried to breathe in small, shallow puffs, not filling one’s lungs to the bottom.
The Road to Wigan Pier
Part I, Chapter 1
There were generally four of us in the bedroom, and a beastly place it was, with that denied impermanent look of rooms that are not serving their rightful purpose.
Part I, Chapter 4
Sheffield, too, is being torn down and rebuilt pretty fast, though perhaps, considering the unparalleled beastliness of its slums, not quite fast enough.
Part II, Chapter 12
No doubt it would be very noble to harden ourselves and do without aspirins and central heating and so forth. But the point is, you see, that nobody seriously wants it. It would mean going back to an agricultural way of life, which means beastly hard work and isn’t at all the same thing as playing at gardening. It is usual to speak of the Fascist objective as the ‘beehive state’, which does a grave injustice to bees. A world of rabbits ruled by stoats would be nearer the mark. It is against this beastly possibility that we have got to combine.
“… There’s an everlasting sense of being a sneak and a liar that torments us and drives us to justify ourselves night and day. It’s at the bottom of half our beastliness to the natives. …”
How his bottom did stick out in those tight khaki shorts. Like one of those beastly middle-aged scoutmasters, homosexuals almost to a man, that you see photographs of in the illustrated papers. And they smell of honey, almost overpoweringly. That’s about the only merit of this beastly country, it’s good for flowers.
Thereafter her whole code of living was summed up in one belief, and that a simple one. It was that the Good (“lovely” was her name for it) is synonymous with the expensive, the elegant, the aristocratic; and the Bad (“beastly”) is the cheap, the low, the shabby, the laborious. Perhaps it is in order to teach this creed that expensive girls” schools exist. The feeling subtilized itself as Elizabeth grew older, diffused itself through all her thoughts. Everything from a pair of stockings to a human soul was classifiable as “lovely” or “beastly”. And unfortunately — for Mr Lackersteen’s prosperity did not last — it was the “beastly” that had predominated in her life.
The inevitable crash came late in 1919. Elizabeth was taken away from school, to continue her education at a succession of cheap, beastly schools, with gaps of a term or two when her father could not pay the fees. It was a mean, beastly existence. In fact, it reached levels of “beastliness” which Elizabeth had not previously known to exist. It was not unnatural, with the example of her mother before her eyes, that Elizabeth should have a healthy loathing of Art. In fact, any excess of intellect — “braininess” was her word for it — tended to belong, in her eyes, to the “beastly”.
And that extraordinary rambling speech that he had begun, with all those long words — almost, she thought bitterly, as though he were quoting poetry! It was how those beastly artists that you met sometimes in Paris used to talk.
“I don’t know that it’s true. Most Eurasians aren’t very good specimens, and it’s hard to see how they could be, with their upbringing. But our attitude towards them is rather beastly. …”
“This tea looks absolutely beastly. It’s quite green. You’d think they’d have the sense to put milk in it, wouldn’t you?” He did not realize that this constant striving to interest her in Oriental things struck her only as perverse, ungentlemanly, a deliberate seeking after the squalid and the “beastly”. “It’s getting beastly hot, isn’t it?”
“Yes, you do. It’s about that beastly trick I played on you the other week. When Ellis put that notice on the Club board and I signed my name to it. You must have heard about it. I want to try and explain — ” “No, you don’t understand. You couldn’t. You don’t realize just what kind of pressure is put on one to make one do things like that. There was nothing to make me sign the notice. Nothing could have happened if I’d refused. There’s no law telling us to be beastly to Orientals — quite the contrary. But — it’s just that one daren’t be loyal to an Oriental when it means going against the others. It doesn’t do. If I’d stuck out against signing the notice I’d have been in disgrace at the Club for a week or two. So I funked it, as usual.”
“Yes, the old moon does her best in this country. How that tree does stink, doesn’t it? Beastly, tropical thing! I hate a tree that blooms all the year round, don’t you?”
“I’m told that at the very same time as you were pretending to — well, when you were … with me — oh, it’s too beastly! I can’t speak of it.”
Keep the Aspidistra Flying
He paused, took out the miserable little threepenny-bit, and looked at it. Beastly, useless thing! Gordon averted his eyes from a beastly Rackhamesque dust-jacket; elvish children tripping Wendily through a bluebell glade.
It was beastly cold. Gordon thought he would light the oil lamp. He lifted it — it felt very light; the spare oil can also was empty — no oil till Friday. He applied a match; a dull yellow flame crept unwillingly round the wick. It might burn for a couple of hours, with any luck. As Gordon threw away the match his eye fell upon the aspidistra in its grass-green pot. It was a peculiarly mangy specimen. It had only seven leaves and never seemed to put forth any new ones. Gordon had a sort of secret feud with the aspidistra. Many a time he had furtively attempted to kill it — starving it of water, grinding hot cigarette-ends against its stem, even mixing salt with its earth. But the beastly things are practically immortal.
With pain and trouble Gordon had acquired that ‘scholarly’ hand, so different from the beastly copper-plate they had taught him at school.
The oil in the lamp was giving out and it was getting beastly cold.
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.
Writing lies to tickle the money out of fools’ pockets! There was a beastly irony, too, in the fact that he, who wanted to be a ‘writer’, should score his sole success in writing ads for deodorants.
To be disappointed at missing a beastly literary tea-party seemed to him absurd.
’ … Wandering up and down beastly wet streets — that’s what Rosemary associates me with. …’
‘Yes, you do. Pretending you’re poor when you’re not, and living in that poky flat with no servants, and going about with all these beastly people.’
‘What beastly people?’
‘Let me go, now! I’m very angry with you. I very nearly didn’t come after that beastly letter you sent me.’
‘What beastly letter?’
‘But why not give them to me and let me sew them on for you? And, oh, Gordon! You haven’t even shaved today. How absolutely beastly of you. You might at least take the trouble to shave every morning.’
Every man you can see has got some blasted woman hanging round his neck like a mermaid, dragging him down and down — down to some beastly little semi-detached villa in Putney, with hire-purchase furniture and a portable radio and an aspidistra in the window.
‘One never seems to have time for anything. I don’t even leave that beastly office till nearly seven. What do you do with yourself on Sundays, Gordon?’
‘Gordon, dearest! Why do you have to be so beastly to me?’
The room was beastly cold — no fire had been lighted in it this evening.
‘It looks a beastly place. I vote we go on.’
‘But we’ve got to get some food. It’s our last chance. We shan’t find another pub.’
‘The food’s always so disgusting in these places. Beastly cold beef that tastes as if it had been saved up from last year. And they charge you the earth for it.’
It was strange that that beastly business of the hotel bill could have upset him so completely.
It was getting beastly cold, too, but they had walked four miles and the exercise had warmed them. It was impossible to go on being unsociable any longer. They began to talk more easily and by degrees they edged closer together. Rosemary took Gordon’s arm. Presently she stopped him and swung him round to face her.
‘Gordon, why are you so beastly to me?’
‘How am I beastly to you?’
‘I’ve got a beastly thing to say to you. It’s been worrying me all the way along.’
‘What is it?’
‘It’s this. Can you lend me some money? I’m absolutely cleaned out. I had just enough money for today, but that beastly hotel bill upset everything. I’ve only eightpence left.’
‘I didn’t mean to be beastly to you. It was the money. It’s always the money.’
Ravelston began to speak in praise of those jolly little Soho restaurants where you get such a wonderful dinner for half a crown. But the Soho restaurants sounded beastly as soon as Ravelston mentioned them.
The rest of that day was very beastly. Beastly was the ride in the Black Maria, which, inside, was like nothing so much as a miniature public lavatory, with tiny cubicles down each side, into which you were locked and in which you had barely room to sit down. Beastlier yet was the long wait in one of the cells adjoining the magistrate’s court. This cell was an exact replica of the cell at the police station, even to having precisely the same number of porcelain bricks. But it differed from the police station cell in being repulsively dirty. It was cold, but the air was so fetid as to be almost unbreathable. Prisoners were coming and going all the time. They would be thrust into the cell, taken out after an hour or two to go up to the court, and then perhaps brought back again to wait while the magistrate decided upon their sentence or fresh witnesses were sent for. There were always five or six men in the cell, and there was nothing to sit on except the plank bed. And the worst was that nearly all of them used the w.c. — there, publicly, in the tiny cell. They could not help it. There was nowhere else to go. And the plug of the beastly thing did not even pull properly.
He allowed Ravelston to pack him into a taxi and take him back to the flat in Regent’s Park. As soon as they got there Gordon had a hot bath; he needed one, after the beastly contaminating grime of the last twelve hours.
The memory of that stupid dull debauch rolled back upon him with beastly vividness.
‘Absolutely. It’s been weeks now. If you knew the time I’ve had! I kept hoping and hoping — I took some pills — oh, it was too beastly!’
‘I’d never thought of it like that. I came here meaning to be fair. And now it sounds as if I was trying to bully you into it — trying to play on your feelings by threatening to get rid of the baby. A sort of beastly blackmail.’
But of course it was an American paper. The Americans always go one better on any kinds of beastliness, whether it is ice-cream soda, racketeering, or theosophy.
A Clergyman’s Daughter
And what’s ruined the Church is that instead of jolly well answering them and showing them up for the fools and liars they are, we just sit tight and let them spread their beastly atheist propaganda wherever they choose.
‘Trousers? No. But I tell you what I have got, though. I’ve got a copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress and another of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs that I’ve been wanting to get rid of for years. Beastly Protestant trash! …’
So for the time being, in the interest of her work, she disregarded the beastliness of living in Mrs Creevy’s house, and quite forgot her strange, anomalous position and the uncertainty of her future.
Dorothy was fully awake, now, to the beastliness of living in Mrs Creevy’s house.
She had started off by being decent, and now she had turned out to be just a beastly old teacher like the rest of them–a nasty old beast who kept on and on with those awful handwriting lessons and snapped your head off if you so much as made a blot on your book.
‘Oh, beastly! Sometimes too beastly for words. Do you know that sometimes–’
‘Oh, well, it’s beastly while it’s happening, of course; but it doesn’t make any real difference; it’s the things that happen inside you that matter.’
Coming up For Air
Part I, Chapter 1
It was a beastly January morning, with a dirty yellowish-grey sky.
She hadn’t lighted the gas-fire, and though the windows were shut it was beastly cold.
It was a beastly raw morning.
Part I, Chapter 2
The long rows of wooden huts like chicken-houses stuck right on top of those beastly icy downs–the ‘south coast’, people used to call it, which made me wonder what the north coast could be like–where the wind seems to blow at you from all directions at once.
Part III, Chapter 2
For days past we’d been having the kind of beastly weather that people call ‘bright’ weather, when the sky’s a cold hard blue and the wind scrapes you like a blunt razor-blade.
Part IV, Chapter 1
All these people flooding in from Lancashire and the London suburbs, planting themselves down in this beastly chaos, not even bothering to know the chief landmarks of the town by name.