A Clergyman's Daughter
Title: A CLERGYMAN'S DAUGHTER
Author: George Orwell
As the alarm clock on the chest of drawers exploded like a horrid
little bomb of bell metal, Dorothy, wrenched from the depths of
some complex, troubling dream, awoke with a start and lay on her
back looking into the darkness in extreme exhaustion.
The alarm clock continued its nagging, feminine clamour, which
would go on for five minutes or thereabouts if you did not stop it.
Dorothy was aching from head to foot, and an insidious and
contemptible self-pity, which usually seized upon her when it was
time to get up in the morning, caused her to bury her head under
the bedclothes and try to shut the hateful noise out of her ears.
She struggled against her fatigue, however, and, according to her
custom, exhorted herself sharply in the second person plural. Come
on, Dorothy, up you get! No snoozing, please! Proverbs vi, 9.
Then she remembered that if the noise went on any longer it would
wake her father, and with a hurried movement she bounded out of
bed, seized the clock from the chest of drawers, and turned off the
alarm. It was kept on the chest of drawers precisely in order that
she should have to get out of bed to silence it. Still in
darkness, she knelt down at her bedside and repeated the Lord's
Prayer, but rather distractedly, her feet being troubled by the
It was just half past five, and coldish for an August morning.
Dorothy (her name was Dorothy Hare, and she was the only child of
the Reverend Charles Hare, Rector of St Athelstan's, Knype Hill,
Suffolk) put on her aged flannelette dressing-gown and felt her way
downstairs. There was a chill morning smell of dust, damp plaster,
and the fried dabs from yesterday's supper, and from either side of
the passage on the second floor she could hear the antiphonal
snoring of her father and of Ellen, the maid of all work. With
care--for the kitchen table had a nasty trick of reaching out of
the darkness and banging you on the hip-bone--Dorothy felt her way
into the kitchen, lighted the candle on the mantelpiece, and, still
aching with fatigue, knelt down and raked the ashes out of the
The kitchen fire was a 'beast' to light. The chimney was crooked
and therefore perpetually half choked, and the fire, before it
would light, expected to be dosed with a cupful of kerosene, like a
drunkard's morning nip of gin. Having set the kettle to boil for
her father's shaving-water, Dorothy went upstairs and turned on her
bath. Ellen was still snoring, with heavy youthful snores. She
was a good hard-working servant once she was awake, but she was one
of those girls whom the Devil and all his angels cannot get out of
bed before seven in the morning.
Dorothy filled the bath as slowly as possible--the splashing always
woke her father if she turned on the tap too fast--and stood for a
moment regarding the pale, unappetizing pool of water. Her body
had gone goose-flesh all over. She detested cold baths; it was for
that very reason that she made it a rule to take all her baths cold
from April to November. Putting a tentative hand into the water--
and it was horribly cold--she drove herself forward with her usual
exhortations. Come on, Dorothy! In you go! No funking, please!
Then she stepped resolutely into the bath, sat down and let the icy
girdle of water slide up her body and immerse her all except her
hair, which she had twisted up behind her head. The next moment
she came to the surface gasping and wriggling, and had no sooner
got her breath back than she remembered her 'memo list', which she
had brought down in her dressing-gown pocket and intended to read.
She reached out for it, and, leaning over the side of the bath,
waist deep in icy water, read through the 'memo list' by the light
of the candle on the chair.
7 oc. H.C.
Mrs T baby? Must visit.
BREAKFAST. Bacon. MUST ask father money. (P)
Ask Ellen what stuff kitchen father's tonic NB. to ask about stuff
for curtains at Solepipe's.
Visiting call on Mrs P cutting from Daily M angelica tea good for
rheumatism Mrs L's cornplaster.
12 oc. Rehearsal Charles I. NB. to order 1/2 lb glue 1 pot
DINNER (crossed out) LUNCHEON . . . ?
Take round Parish Mag NB. Mrs F owes 3/6d.
4.30 pm Mothers' U tea don't forget 2 1/2 yards casement cloth.
Flowers for church NB. 1 tin Brasso.
SUPPER. Scrambled eggs.
Type Father's sermon what about new ribbon typewriter?
NB. to fork between peas bindweed awful.
Dorothy got out of her bath, and as she dried herself with a towel
hardly bigger than a table napkin--they could never afford decent-
sized towels at the Rectory--her hair came unpinned and fell down
over her collar-bones in two heavy strands. It was thick, fine,
exceedingly pale hair, and it was perhaps as well that her father
had forbidden her to bob it, for it was her only positive beauty.
For the rest, she was a girl of middle height, rather thin, but
strong and shapely, and her face was her weak point. It was a
thin, blonde, unremarkable kind of face, with pale eyes and a nose
just a shade too long; if you looked closely you could see crow's
feet round the eyes, and the mouth, when it was in repose, looked
tired. Not definitely a spinsterish face as yet, but it certainly
would be so in a few years' time. Nevertheless, strangers commonly
took her to be several years younger than her real age (she was not
quite twenty-eight) because of the expression of almost childish
earnestness in her eyes. Her left forearm was spotted with tiny
red marks like insect bites.
Dorothy put on her nightdress again and cleaned her teeth--plain
water, of course; better not to use toothpaste before H.C. After
all, either you are fasting or you aren't. The R.C.s are quite
right there--and, even as she did so, suddenly faltered and
stopped. She put her toothbrush down. A deadly pang, an actual
physical pang, had gone through her viscera.
She had remembered, with the ugly shock with which one remembers
something disagreeable for the first time in the morning, the bill
at Cargill's, the butcher's, which had been owing for seven months.
That dreadful bill--it might be nineteen pounds or even twenty, and
there was hardly the remotest hope of paying it--was one of the
chief torments of her life. At all hours of the night or day it
was waiting just round the corner of her consciousness, ready to
spring upon her and agonize her; and with it came the memory of a
score of lesser bills, mounting up to a figure of which she dared
not even think. Almost
God, let not Cargill send in his bill again today!' but the next
moment she decided that this prayer was worldly and blasphemous,
and she asked forgiveness for it. Then she put on her dressing-
gown and ran down to the kitchen in hopes of putting the bill out
The fire had gone out, as usual. Dorothy relaid it, dirtying her
hands with coal-dust, dosed it afresh with kerosene and hung about
anxiously until the kettle boiled. Father expected his shaving-
water to be ready at a quarter past six. Just seven minutes late,
Dorothy took the can upstairs and knocked at her father's door.
'Come in, come in!' said a muffled, irritable voice.
The room, heavily curtained, was stuffy, with a masculine smell.
The Rector had lighted the candle on his bed-table, and was lying
on his side, looking at his gold watch, which he had just drawn
from beneath his pillow. His hair was as white and thick as
thistledown. One dark bright eye glanced irritably over his
shoulder at Dorothy.
'Good morning, father.'
'I do wish, Dorothy,' said the Rector indistinctly--his voice
always sounded muffled and senile until he put his false teeth in--
'you would make some effort to get Ellen out of bed in the
mornings. Or else be a little more punctual yourself.'
'I'm so sorry, Father. The kitchen fire kept going out.'
'Very well! Put it down on the dressing-table. Put it down and
draw those curtains.'
It was daylight now, but a dull, clouded morning. Dorothy hastened
up to her room and dressed herself with the lightning speed which
she found necessary six mornings out of seven. There was only a
tiny square of mirror in the room, and even that she did not use.
She simply hung her gold cross about her neck--plain gold cross; no
crucifixes, please!--twisted her hair into a knot behind, stuck a
number of hairpins rather sketchily into it, and threw her clothes
(grey jersey, threadbare Irish tweed coat and skirt, stockings not
quite matching the coat and skirt, and much-worn brown shoes) on to
herself in the space of about three minutes. She had got to 'do
out' the dining-room and her father's study before church, besides
saying her prayers in preparation for Holy Communion, which took
her not less than twenty minutes.
When she wheeled her bicycle out of the front gate the morning was
still overcast, and the grass sodden with heavy dew. Through the
mist that wreathed the hillside St Athelstan's Church loomed dimly,
like a leaden sphinx, its single bell tolling funereally boom!
boom! boom! Only one of the bells was now in active use; the other
seven had been unswung from their cage and had lain silent these
three years past, slowly splintering the floor of the belfry
beneath their weight. In the distance, from the mists below, you
could hear the offensive clatter of the bell in the R.C. church--a
nasty, cheap, tinny little thing which the Rector of St Athelstan's
used to compare with a muffin-bell.
Dorothy mounted her bicycle and rode swiftly up the hill, leaning
over her handlebars. The bridge of her thin nose was pink in the
morning cold. A redshank whistled overhead, invisible against the
clouded sky. Early in the morning my song shall rise to Thee!
Dorothy propped her bicycle against the lychgate, and, finding her
hands still grey with coal-dust, knelt down and scrubbed them clean
in the long wet grass between the graves. Then the bell stopped
ringing, and she jumped up and hastened into church, just as
Proggett, the sexton, in ragged cassock and vast labourer's boots,
was clumping up the aisle to take his place at the side altar.
The church was very cold, with a scent of candle-wax and ancient
dust. It was a large church, much too large for its congregation,
and ruinous and more than half empty. The three narrow islands of
pews stretched barely half-way down the nave, and beyond them were
great wastes of bare stone floor in which a few worn inscriptions
marked the sites of ancient graves. The roof over the chancel was
sagging visibly; beside the Church Expenses box two fragments of
riddled beam explained mutely that this was due to that mortal foe
of Christendom, the death-watch beetle. The light filtered, pale-
coloured, through windows of anaemic glass. Through the open south
door you could see a ragged cypress and the boughs of a lime-tree,
greyish in the sunless air and swaying faintly.
As usual, there was only one other communicant--old Miss Mayfill,
of The Grange. The attendance at Holy Communion was so bad that
the Rector could not even get any boys to serve him, except on
Sunday mornings, when the boys liked showing off in front of the
congregation in their cassocks and surplices. Dorothy went into
the pew behind Miss Mayfill, and, in penance for some sin of
yesterday, pushed away the hassock and knelt on the bare stones.
The service was beginning. The Rector, in cassock and short linen
surplice, was reciting the prayers in a swift practised voice,
clear enough now that his teeth were in, and curiously ungenial.
In his fastidious, aged face, pale as a silver coin, there was an
expression of aloofness, almost of contempt. 'This is a valid
sacrament,' he seemed to be saying, 'and it is my duty to
administer it to you. But remember that I am only your priest, not
your friend. As a human being I dislike you and despise you.'
Proggett, the sexton, a man of forty with curly grey hair and a
red, harassed face, stood patiently by, uncomprehending but
reverent, fiddling with the little communion bell which was lost in
his huge red hands.
Dorothy pressed her fingers against her eyes. She had not yet
succeeded in concentrating her thoughts--indeed, the memory of
Cargill's bill was still worrying her intermittently. The prayers,
which she knew by heart, were flowing through her head unheeded.
She raised her eyes for a moment, and they began immediately to
stray. First upwards, to the headless roof-angels on whose necks
you could still see the sawcuts of the Puritan soldiers, then back
again, to Miss Mayfill's black, quasi-pork-pie hat and tremulous
jet ear-rings. Miss Mayfill wore a long musty black overcoat, with
a little collar of greasy-looking astrakhan, which had been the
same ever since Dorothy could remember. It was of some very
peculiar stuff, like watered silk but coarser, with rivulets of
black piping wandering all over it in no discoverable pattern. It
might even have been that legendary and proverbial substance, black
bombazine. Miss Mayfill was very old, so old that no one
remembered her as anything but an old woman. A faint scent
radiated from her--an ethereal scent, analysable as eau-de-Cologne,
mothballs, and a sub-flavour of gin.
Dorothy drew a long glass-headed pin from the lapel of her coat,
and furtively, under cover of Miss Mayfill's back, pressed the
point against her forearm. Her flesh tingled
made it a rule, whenever she caught herself not attending to her
prayers, to prick her arm hard enough to make blood come. It was
her chosen form of self-discipline, her guard against irreverence
and sacrilegious thoughts.
With the pin poised in readiness she managed for several moments
to pray more collectedly. Her father had turned one dark eye
disapprovingly upon Miss Mayfill, who was crossing herself at
intervals, a practice he disliked. A starling chattered outside.
With a shock Dorothy discovered that she was looking vaingloriously
at the pleats of her father's surplice, which she herself had sewn
two years ago. She set her teeth and drove the pin an eighth of an
inch into her arm.
They were kneeling again. It was the General Confession. Dorothy
recalled her eyes--wandering, alas! yet again, this time to the
stained-glass window on her right, designed by Sir Warde Tooke,
A.R.A., in 1851 and representing St Athelstan's welcome at the gate
of heaven by Gabriel and a legion of angels all remarkably like one
another and the Prince Consort--and pressed the pinpoint against a
different part of her arm. She began to meditate conscientiously
upon the meaning of each phrase of the prayer, and so brought her
mind back to a more attentive state. But even so she was all but
obliged to use the pin again when Proggett tinkled the bell in the
middle of 'Therefore with Angels and Archangels'--being visited, as
always, by a dreadful temptation to begin laughing at that passage.
It was because of a story her father had told her once, of how when
he was a little boy, and serving the priest at the altar, the
communion bell had a screw-on clapper, which had come loose; and so
the priest had said: 'Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and
with all the company of Heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious
name; evermore praising Thee, and saying, Screw it up, you little
fat-head, screw it up!'
As the Rector finished the consecration Miss Mayfill began to
struggle to her feet with extreme difficulty and slowness, like
some disjointed wooden creature picking itself up by sections, and
disengaging at each movement a powerful whiff of mothballs. There
was an extraordinary creaking sound--from her stays, presumably,
but it was a noise as of bones grating against one another. You
could have imagined that there was only a dry skeleton inside that
Dorothy remained on her feet a moment longer. Miss Mayfill was
creeping towards the altar with slow, tottering steps. She could
barely walk, but she took bitter offence if you offered to help
her. In her ancient, bloodless face her mouth was surprisingly
large, loose, and wet. The underlip, pendulous with age, slobbered
forward, exposing a strip of gum and a row of false teeth as yellow
as the keys of an old piano. On the upper lip was a fringe of
dark, dewy moustache. It was not an appetizing mouth; not the kind
of mouth that you would like to see drinking out of your cup.
Suddenly, spontaneously, as though the Devil himself had put it
there, the prayer slipped from Dorothy'Beasts of England's lips: O God, let me not
have to take the chalice after Miss Mayfill!
The next moment, in self-horror, she grasped the meaning of what
she had said, and wished that she had bitten her tongue in two
rather than utter that deadly blasphemy upon the altar steps. She
drew the pin again from her lapel and drove it into her arm so hard
that it was all she could do to suppress a cry of pain. Then she
stepped to the altar and knelt down meekly on Miss Mayfill's left,
so as to make quite sure of taking the chalice after her.
Kneeling, with head bent and hands clasped against her knees, she
set herself swiftly to pray for forgiveness before her father
should reach her with the wafer. But the current of her thoughts
had been broken. Suddenly it was quite useless attempting to pray;