...But happily, shortly before ANIMAL FARM was published in 1945,
Orwell and Eileen had adopted a baby boy who filled the void in their marriage.
Tragically Eileen died when the baby was nine months old.
Many friends thought "George" wouldn't be able to cope and
would perhaps give the baby back for adoption.
But Orwell never had any intention of that and became
a doting, competent and loving single parent
(with help from a live-in housekeeper, Susan and later his sister, Avril).
To Orwell Today,
Hope you are well and very best wishes.
Since being in touch with you a while ago, I've been reading and re-reading George Orwell's novels in Penguin's 'The Complete Novels'. I purposely left '1984' & 'Animal Farm' until last and am about half way through the former. I read it for the first time between 35 and 40 years ago (I'm 60 now), and as with the other novels I've found it a moving, inspiring and regenerating experience to "get into" this great writer/man.
I haven't felt the need to pass on any of the insights I've gained (regained?) because I'm sure that you and all Orwell fans would have had more or less the same experience of his incredible honesty and courage in his writing and in the way he lived his life. However, I've just come to a passage in 1984 that I'd like to highlight to you and your readers (I had to share it with someone and who else but you and my own two sons?).
It's the bit where Winston has been seeing Julia for a while but is very disappointed ("violently angry") when she says she won't be able to make their next date. Orwell dwells on Winston's physical need for her and how he had the feeling (jealousy) that she was cheating him.
"But just at this moment the crowd pressed them together and their hands accidentally met. She gave the tips of his fingers a quick squeeze that seemed to invite not desire but affection. It struck him then (as in Orwell's life?) that when one lived with a woman this disappointment must be a normal, recurring event; and a deep tenderness, such as he had not felt for her before, suddenly took hold of him. He wished that they were a married couple of ten years' standing. He wished that he were walking through the streets with her just as they were doing now but openly and without fear, talking of trivialities and buying odds and ends for the household."
How beautiful, in the context of the nightmare world of 1984, is that? It's a simple set from that to Orwell's own, driven world. The picture of him with his stepson is full of that same "deep tenderness". What a dad he would have made if he had lived longer and, possibly an even greater image, what a grandfather! Can't you just picture him shuffling about between three or four grandchildren, catching a lamp he's knocked over before it hits the floor?
I was thinking quite recently about Orwell's inability to have children of his own. God obviously decided that He'd worked hard enough on Orwell himself.
It's a bit godcidental to hear from you on the very day I couldn't get your ORWELL TRIBUTE SONG out of my head, in particular the line, "you can only weep when you hear how Boxer dies" because I was thinking about how I can never read that passage from ANIMAL FARM without crying:
"... And just at this moment, as though he had heard the uproar outside, Boxer's face, with the white stripe down his nose, appeared at the small window at the back of the van. "Boxer!" cried Clover in a terrible voice. "Boxer! Get out! Get out quickly! They're taking you to your death!" All the animals took up the cry of "Get out, Boxer, get out!" But the van was already gathering speed and drawing away from them. It was uncertain whether Boxer had understood what Clover had said. But a moment later his face disappeared from the window and there was the sound of a tremendous drumming of hoofs inside the van. He was trying to kick his way out. The time had been when a few kicks from Boxer's hoofs would have smashed the van to matchwood. But alas! his strength had left him; and in a few moments the sound of drumming hoofs grew fainter and died away..."
Thanks for your insight about the beautiful passage from "1984" where Orwell describes the love between man and woman, husband and wife. Here's another one along the same theme:
"...One never saw a double bed nowadays, except in the homes of the proles. Winston had occasionally slept in one in his boyhood: Julia had never been in one before, so far as she could remember. Presently they fell asleep for a little while. He did not stir, because Julia was sleeping with her head in the crook of his arm. He wondered vaguely whether in the abolished past it had been a normal experience to lie in bed like this, in the cool of a summer evening, a man and a woman with no clothes on, making love when they chose, talking of what they chose, not feeling any compulsion to get up, simply lying there and listening to peaceful sounds outside. Surely there could never have been a time when that seemed ordinary?..."
In other of his books as well - as you've no doubt discovered in your recent reading and re-reading - Orwell poignantly describes his thoughts on fatherhood and married life.
I'm thinking of passages from KEEP THE ASPIDISTRA FLYING which Orwell wrote when he was 32 years old, shortly before he got married and before he and his wife Eileen experienced the pain of not conceivng a child of their own. It reveals his innate desire for a child and the contentment of married life:
"... The words "a baby" took on a new significance....They meant a bud of flesh, a bit of himself, down there in her belly, alive and growing. His eyes met hers. They had a strange moment of sympathy such as they had never had before. For a moment he did feel that in some mysterious way they were one flesh. Though they were feet apart, he felt as though they were joined together - as though some invisible living cord stretched from her entrails to his....He came back to Rosemary's chair. He stood behind her, took hold of her small firm shoulders, then slid a hand inside her coat and felt the warmth of her breast. He liked the strong springy feeling of her body; he liked to think that down there, a guarded seed, his baby was growing. She put a hand up and caressed the hand that was on her breast, but did not speak....
"Only Ravelston was at the wedding. The other witness was a poor meek creature with no teeth, a professional witness whom they picked up outside the registry office and tipped half a crown....Rosemary was going to go on working at the studio for another month or two. She had preferred to keep her marriage a secret until it was over, chiefly for the sake of her innumerable brothers and sisters, none of whom could afford wedding presents. Gordon, left to himself, would have done it in a more regular manner. He had even wanted to be married in church. But Rosemary had put her foot down to that idea...
"'To think we're really married! Till death do us part. We've done it now, right enough.' 'Terrifying, isn't it?' 'I expect we'll settle down all right, though. With a house of our own and a pram and an aspidistra.'...
"The flat off the Edgware Road wasn't too bad. It was a dull quarter and rather a slummy street, but it was convenient for the centre of London; also it was quiet, being a blind alley. From the back window (it was a top floor) you could see the roof of Paddington Station. Twenty-one and six a week, unfurnished....They ran up the last flight of stairs in their excitement to get to the flat. It was all ready to inhabit. They had spent their evenings for weeks past getting the stuff in. It seemed to them a tremendous adventure to have this place of their own. Neither of them had ever owned furniture before; they had been living in furnished rooms ever since their childhood. As soon as they got inside they made a careful tour of the flat, checking, examining, and admiring everything as though they did not know by heart already every item that was there...
"Half an hour later they went out to the florist's to order the aspidistra. But when they were half-way down the first flight of stairs Rosemary stopped short and clutched the banister. Her lips parted; she looked very queer for a moment. She pressed a hand against her middle. 'Oh, Gordon!' 'What?' 'I felt it move!' 'Felt what move?' 'The baby. I felt it move inside me.' 'You did?'
"A strange, almost terrible feeling, a sort of warm convulsion, stirred in his entrails. For a moment he felt as though he were sexually joined to her, but joined in some subtle way that he had never imagined. He had paused a step or two below her. He fell on his knees, pressed his ear to her belly, and listened. 'I can't hear anything,' he said at last. 'Of course not, silly! Not for months yet.' 'But I shall be able to hear it later on, shan't I?' 'I think so. YOU can hear it at seven months, _I_ can feel it at four. I think that's how it is.' 'But it really did move? You're sure? You really felt it move?' 'Oh, yes. It moved.' "For a long time he remained kneeling there, his head pressed against the softness of her belly. She clasped her hands behind his head and pulled it closer. He could hear nothing, only the blood drumming in his own ear. But she could not have been mistaken. Somewhere in there, in the safe, warm, cushioned darkness, it was alive and stirring...." [end quoting from Keep The Aspidistra Flying]
I'm also thinking about passages from COMING UP FOR AIR which was written 3 years later, when Orwell was 35 years old and had been married for 2 years, still hopeful of fathering children and imagining family life:
"...The idea really came to me the day I got my new false teeth. I remember the morning well. At about a quarter to eight I'd nipped out of bed and got into the bathroom just in time to shut the kids out. It was a beastly January morning, with a dirty yellowish-grey sky. Down below, out of the little square of bathroom window, I could see the ten yards by five of grass, with a privet hedge round it and a bare patch in the middle, that we call the back garden. There's the same back garden, some privets, and same grass, behind every house in Ellesmere Road. Only difference -- where there are no kids there's no bare patch in the middle.
"I was trying to shave with a bluntish razor-blade while the water ran into the bath....Making a mental note to buy razor-blades, I got into the bath and started soaping....After I'd soaped myself all over I felt better and lay down in the bath to think about my seventeen quid and what to spend it on....I'd just turned on some more hot water and was thinking about women and cigars when there was a noise like a herd of buffaloes coming down the two steps that lead to the bathroom. It was the kids, of course. Two kids in a house the size of ours is like a quart of beer in a pint mug. There was a frantic stamping outside and then a yell of agony. 'Dadda! I wanna come in!' 'Well, you can't. Clear out!''But dadda! I wanna go somewhere!' 'Go somewhere else, then. Hop it. I'm having my bath.' 'Dad-DA! I wanna GO SOME--WHERE!'
"No use! I knew the danger signal. The W.C. is in the bathroom -- it would be, of course, in a house like ours. I hooked the plug out of the bath and got partially dry as quickly as I could. As I opened the door, little Billy -- my youngest, aged seven -- shot past me, dodging the smack which I aimed at his head. It was only when I was nearly dressed and looking for a tie that I discovered that my neck was still soapy....
"The kids were downstairs already, having washed and dressed at lightning speed, as they always do when there's no chance to keep anyone else out of the bathroom. When I got to the breakfast table they were having an argument which went to the tune of 'Yes, you did!' 'No, I didn't!' 'Yes, you did!' 'No, I didn't!' and looked like going on for the rest of the morning, until I told them to cheese it. There are only the two of them, Billy, aged seven, and Lorna, aged eleven. It's a peculiar feeling that I have towards the kids. A great deal of the time I can hardly stick the sight of them. As for their conversation, it's just unbearable. They're at that dreary bread-and-butter age when a kid's mind revolves round things like rulers, pencil-boxes, and who got top marks in French. At other times, especially when they're asleep, I have quite a different feeling. Sometimes I've stood over their cots, on summer evenings when it's light, and watched them sleeping, with their round faces and their tow-coloured hair, several shades lighter than mine, and it's given me that feeling you read about in the Bible when it says your bowels yearn...." [end quoting from Coming Up For Air]
By the time Orwell wrote "1984" in 1948, he was 45 and had accepted long ago that he would never father a child of his own. He explains his feelings in one of the most poignant passages ever written on the subject of infertility:
"...He held Julia's supple waist easily encircled by his arm. From the hip to the knee her flank was against his. Out of their bodies no child would ever come. That was the one thing they could never do. Only by word of mouth, from mind to mind, could they pass on the secret...".
But happily, shortly before ANIMAL FARM was published in 1945, Orwell and Eileen had adopted a baby boy who filled the void in their marriage. Tragically Eileen died when the baby was nine months old. Many friends thought "George" wouldn't be able to cope and would perhaps give the baby back for adoption. But Orwell never had any intention of that and became a doting, competent and loving single parent (with help from a live-in housekeeper, Susan and later his sister, Avril).
The photos at the top of the page are of Orwell and his adopted son, Richard. They were taken in 1946 and compiled in the book GEORGE ORWELL AT HOME which was published in 1998.
When I was in England in July 2003 I went to that flat in North London (Islington) where Orwell and his wife had moved shortly after adopting the baby, and where Orwell remained living until 1947 when he moved to the island of Jura in Scotland to write "1984". See 27B CANONBURY SQUARE and CANONBURY SQUARE PHOTOS
That photo of Orwell pushing the stroller is taken from the back of Canonbury Square where the entrance to his flat is through the back yard behind that high brick wall. The photo of Orwell outside holding Richard was taken in the back yard and I've stood in the very same spot, pointing my camera up at the back windows to Orwell's top-floor flat.
The photo's not very good (too dark and scaffolding blocks the view) but you can see the windows with geraniums in the window boxes.
Another photo I took another time (another place), standing in the same spot as Orwell, is at the church where he was married to Eileen on June 9, 1936, almost 13 years to the day before "1984" was published on June 8, 1949. She had understood him completely about his writing and the loss of her to death was one of the hardest blows Orwell suffered in his life. They had been married for ten years. In a way his books are their combined progeny, just like he said in "1984", "by word of mouth, from mind to mind, they'd pass on the secret".
All the best,
...conversation continues at ORWELL STATUE & SONG
Big Brother’s living legacy....on George Orwell’s adopted son SAINT GEORGE ORWELL DAY (59th anniversary of publication of "1984"). June 8, 1949 - 2008 VISITING ORWELL'S WEDDING CHURCH ORWELL ASPIDISTRA AGAINST ABORTION and ORWELL & TRESSELL ASPIDISTRAS and THE BIGGEST ASPIDISTRA IN THE WORLD COMING UP FOR AIR 30.Love Instinct & Family and 31.Love Nest and 37.We Are The Dead ORWELL'S OTHER BOOKS Jackie Jura email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hebridean island that inspired Nineteen Eighty-Four exerts a pull as strong as ever
Allan Brown, Sunday Times, Nov 23, 2008
Give or take the slippage occasioned by the vagaries of Hebridean Mean Time, it was 60 years ago this fortnight that, in a freezing, half-derelict attic room at the northern tip of Jura, George Orwell typed the closing sentence — “He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother” — of the novel that has colonised the contemporary imagination like no other....The last living link with the composition of history’s most unlikely blockbuster, fashioned in the least plausible of settings, is Richard Horatio Blair, the son Orwell adopted as a baby in 1944. Blair is the inheritor of Orwell’s estate, a thriving concern benefiting from its subject’s immortal renown as the laureate of austere fretfulness; annually, the estate earns Blair a six-figure sum, he says, “though I wouldn’t like to specify whether it’s at the high or low end of that spectrum”....Though based in Warwickshire and retired after a career in farm machinery, Blair retains a cottage funded by his father’s royalties at Ardfern, and visits Jura several times a year. The island, he says, has become his “spiritual home”....Even today, the ceiling above his work desk is stained with the yellow residue of his mammoth Black Shag habit. His claw-footed bathtub remains, too. There is a framed photograph of Orwell on the mantelpiece and the rusting hulk of his hay rick lies at the bottom of the garden, separated by a pebbly strand from the lapping Sound of Jura. Otherwise, the house’s interior has been rejigged and remodelled several times since Orwell’s day, a consequence of its current role as a holiday home, for rent at £500 a week....The sole document of his father’s that Blair retains is his own adoption certificate. Orwell was desperate, perhaps manically so, to emphasise his connection with his longed-for son. He burnt out the section of the certificate containing the name of Richard's birth parents, Robinson, with a lit cigarette end. It was his symbolic confirmation that the boy was his — a literal baptism of fire. Orwell refused to countenance that Richard was not fully, biologically, his own; so the sojourn on Jura (Orwell had mentioned to friends the possibility of staying permanently) was to be a crucible of their luckless, sporadic relationship. It didn’t work out that way in the long run, of course. In the longer run, we can’t help wondering what Orwell would make of the news that Blair has recently been researching his birth parents, partly from curiosity, partly to keep his sons informed about any latent health issues. We can almost hear the furious, ghostly clacking of Orwell’s trusty Remington, the indignation of the genius who prized fatherhood above all. “Orwell isn’t my father,” says Blair. “Eric Blair was my father. But Mr Orwell has been good to us. He gave me the fascinating privilege of managing his estate. He gave my sons their inheritance. He gave my family Jura. The difference is that when we see the place now, it’s usually from the boat, with a gin and tonic.”
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~
SAINT GEORGE ORWELL DAY (59th anniversary of publication of "1984"). June 8, 1949 - 2008
VISITING ORWELL'S WEDDING CHURCH
ORWELL ASPIDISTRA AGAINST ABORTION and ORWELL & TRESSELL ASPIDISTRAS and THE BIGGEST ASPIDISTRA IN THE WORLD
COMING UP FOR AIR
30.Love Instinct & Family and 31.Love Nest and 37.We Are The Dead
ORWELL'S OTHER BOOKS