ORWELL'S LIFE IN WALLINGTON
In January 1936 - immediately after finishing Keep the Aspidistra Flying - Orwell quit his job in the London bookshop and headed up north to write a book about unemployed coal miners, for which he'd been given a 500 pound advance by his publisher. When he finished his hands-on research and was ready to write the commissioned book he didn't go back to London or to his parent's home in Southwold but went instead to Wallington, Hertfordshire where he'd leased a cottage, sight-unseen.
At Wallington from April to December 1936 Orwell wrote Road to Wigan Pier, got married to Eileen, continued his journalism career and wrote Shooting An Elephant. They ran a store from the front room of the cottage and kept chickens, geese and goats.
In January 1937 Orwell left Wallington for Spain, with Eileen following him two months later. They returned home to Wallington in July 1937 and he wrote Homage to Catalonia.
In the winter of 1938 Orwell had a tuberculosis attack and spent six months in a sanatorium in Kent. Upon release he and Eileen left for six-months to Morocco near Marrakesh where he wrote Coming Up for Air which he gave to his agent in London on his way back home to Wallington.
Through 1939 Orwell carried on writing journalism but when war broke out in Europe Eileen took a job in London and came home only on weekends. A few months later - after finishing Inside the Whale - Orwell followed Eileen to London and they leased Wallington to friends and relatives.
In London between the autumn of 1943 and April 1944 Orwell wrote Animal Farm with the "Manor Farm" in Wallington as his model, including its farm buildings and big barn which still stand today. All Orwell did was change Willington to "Wallingdon" and the people into animals, keeping many of their names and traits recognizable by the locals.
After Eileen's death in 1945 Orwell couldn't face living in Wallington alone. It held too many happy memories of her. He stayed in London until he moved to Jura from where he gave up the lease to Wallington in 1947. ~ Jackie Jura
The following excerpt from ORWELL, THE TRANSFORMATION, by Peter Stansky and William Abrahams describes Orwell's life in Wallington:
"When Orwell gave up the flat in Lawford Road at the end of January and started on his journey to the industrial North, he had no intention of returning to London to live. He wanted, in a modest sort of way, to be a countryman, with a bit of land, enough for a vegetable garden and flowers, some animals to tend, with great trees, birds to observe and recognize, and a nearby stream to fish. As though to make certain that he would not backslide from his intention, he went ahead in February, while he was still in Lancashire, to rent sight unseen (through friends) a very small house at a very small rent (7/6 weekly) in the very small rural village of Wallington in Hertfordshire, midway between London and Cambridge. The nearest town was Baldock, three miles distant along the narrow, winding road that twice each week was the route for the bus between Baldock and Wallington. There was, along with other emenities in Baldock, a railroad station, and it was there, after more or less an hour train ride from London, that Orwell alighted on the second of April. As it was not a bus day, he walked across the fields to his new home, The Stores, Wallington - his sixth address since the publication of Down and Out in Paris and London. Although he would be away from it for considerable periods-- most dramatically when he went off to fight in Spain -- it would be his for a longer time than any other house (or flat) in his adult life; and when Eileen came to live with him he would be happier there than anywhere else."
"The village was small, unspoiled, dull, remote in feeling if not in actual distance from London, and free of the dangerous quaintness that might attract tourists or stockbrokers. It had a population of less than a hundred, mostly aging -- the school had been closed and converted into a lending library, and the dozen or so children were taken by bus to school in Baldock. The landmark was predictable: the twelfth-century parish church of St Mary's. At the point where Kit's Lane and The Street came together, stood the village pub, The Plough (the other landmark), and next to it a low, two-storied, very small, very narrow -- it was only eleven feet wide -- three-hundred-year-old house of lath and plaster: this was The Stores."
"There was what passed for a little garden in front, and a somewhat larger one in the back, both, when Orwell took possession, in a state of ruination. Entering the house, you come directly into the main room -- also very small -- with low ceiling and heavy oak beams, which the previous tenant had fitted out with counter and shelves to serve as the village store, and which Orwell intended to revive. Adjoining it was a slightly smaller room, a sitting-dining room, whose connecting door had a row of peepholes cut out along the top so that one could look through to see if there were customers in the shop, and a minute kitchen with a sink and little oil stove. Upstairs were two small bedrooms and a bathroom (there was only a cold-water tap, and in the winter the toilet frequently froze over). Of course there was no electricity; heat was provided by Calor gas, and a fireplace that smoked and was unmanageable. But these defects, such as they were, hardly were defects in Orwell's eyes; the house answered to his practical and imaginative needs -- his own place, in the country, with a little shop that would bring in (perhaps) money enough to cover the cost of the rent, and a garden that would in time produce a harvest of vegetables for the table, etc., etc., a good and quiet place to write, a spare room to put up friends who might come for a weekend; and if living was admittedly a bit primitive, he would eventually (say in a year or two) put in the conveniences."
"Fortunately, Eileen, when he brought her to see it the next week, shared his enthusiasm for it as well as his indifference to its defects: they were neither of them "mod-con" addicts. She was as drawn as he to the notion of reviving the store, undaunted at the prospect of reclaiming the garden, and delighted at the idea of their keeping animals -- hens, of course, in a yard of their own, which would supply eggs; and goats, which would supply milk and be stabled in the shed behind the house, but put to graze in the common land, a fairly large area of rough grass and bushes and brambles, some distance from the cottage. Very likely the tininess of The Stores, its being little more than an oversized "playhouse," appealed to her fantasy side. For if Eileen was ironic, witty, practical, and immensely rational -- always ready to bring Eric down to earth from one of his wilder flights -- she was also deeply imaginative, and enjoyed "inventing" another world, populated with farmyard animals, whose traits of personality she developed with the skill of a psychologist or a novelist, bestowing names upon them -- Kate and Mabel were the goats at The Stores -- and creating for them an ever more complex, interminable series of adventures. For a time she thought of incorporating them into a children's story that would be set in a farmyard, whose animal characters, in that ancient tradition going back to Aesop, would reproduce the traits of their human prototypes. But when the war came the project was gradually abandoned (like The Stores itself), and it survived only in the conversations she and Eric would have in bed at night, amusing themselves as the bombs fell over London, and they invented new adventures: foibles and follies for the animals of their imaginary farm."
"But there was one significant flaw in The Stores -- evident immediately to Eileen's closest friends and to her brother Laurence -- that she either did not or chose not to recognize. It was an ideal place for a dedicated writer eager to get on with his writing, and to be at a safe distance from the encroachments of the London literary and political world. But for a child psychologist about to embark on a career, living there would have insuperable disadvantages. The awkwardness of reaching London from Wallington virtually ruled it out; and Cambridge, the other logical alternative for a starting point, was equally difficult to reach. But when Eric brought her to the village and showed her the house with such unbounded enthusiasm, it did not occur to her to raise objections. She seemed to fall into wholehearted agreement with his plans, quite as though she had no plans of her own."
"That spring was dedicated to settling in, with Mrs Anderson, a neighbour, coming in to "do" for him -- rarely was an English gentleman so poverty-stricken that he could not afford a char -- and the shop gradually being stocked with a heterogeneity of things -- penny candy, biscuits, tea, string, rice, flour -- that the villagers might possibly want, and the struggle with the garden under way (he told Rees that he expected within a year to make it 'really nice') and a certain amount of planting around the house: rambler roses (from Woolworth's), three polyantha roses, two bush roses, six fruit trees, two gooseberry bushes, and he had hopes of planting walnut, quince, and mulberry trees. (According to a later occupant of the house, which is now known as Monk's Fitchett, the survival rate was not high, and there is nothing left to show of Orwell's tenancy but a few of the roses in front of the house.)"
"But he enjoyed it all -- it was the country life that he had not so much idealized as yearned for -- and he enjoyed playing the role of storekeeper, though in the end, as a venture, it had far less staying power than the rambler roses from Woolworth's. Cyril Connolly, when he saw the shop, was imediately reminded, in a rather haunting, Proustian way, of Blair and himself at St Cyprian's, and the long, long walks they had taken over the Downs, stopping at the little shops of Eastdean, Westdean, and Jevington for penny sweets. It was that sort of long-ago shop Blair had opened in Wallington, and Connolly had the impression that he saw himself as a kind of Edwardian shopkeeper out of a novel by H.G. Wells. Such a shop might have just done in 1910, but it was 1936, and what Eric and Eileen had failed to take properly into account was that the people of the village enjoyed their twice-weekly shopping expeditions into Baldock, which they combined with a visit to the cinema there. So that the most assiduous customers of The Stores were the village children, coming in to buy sweets. Eileen, either to amuse herself or to teach the children arithmetic, had priced the sweets thus: four for a ha'penny, seven for a penny. Obviously one did better coming by the shop twice and buying a ha'penny's worth each time, so that there was rather more bustle in the shop than the day's receipts reflected."
"...There was nothing to be gained by postponing any longer his marriage to Eileen. ...Indeed, his existence exactly as it was then, in the late-arriving spring of 1936, simple, austere, rural, seemingly timeless -- living at The Stores, at work already on another book -- only needed Eileen as his wife to fulfill an ideal of settled happiness he had never before allowed himself. (And it was an ideal that would be borne out by the reality. As his friend Geoffrey Gorer was later to say, 'I think the only year that I ever knew him really happy was that first year with Eileen.')"
"It had been understood between them for some time that eventually they would be married. The sensible September argument had been that they should wait until Eileen had finished her course and found a job. It was doubtful whether on his own earnings he could afford to support them both. But in the spring, when he returned from the North and moved into The Stores, these scruples evaporated on both sides. They agreed they might be able to eke out an existence with the vegetables, livestock, sale of eggs from the hens, the shillings and pence the shop might bring them, and Eric's chancy literary income. (In fact it was rather larger than usual at the moment, thanks to the advance for the book on the North, of which he'd used up very little.)"
"For Eric the decision to marry Eileen was so logical and inevitable that it was more in the nature of a culmination than a decision. For Eileen, however, the decision involved a very conscious choice: either to marry Eric or to go on with her course, take her degree, and embark upon a career as a clinical psychologist. The two alternatives were irreconcilable, no doubt had been so from the beginning, and became so unquestionably from the time he settled on The Stores as the place where they would live. But as against the possibility of a career in which she might have done as well as her friends expected (or might not), there was the reality of marriage, and that is what she chose. To be Eric's wife was what she wanted. As for the course, she never bothered to finish it. Ahead of her was a marriage that would occupy her life fully, excitedly, necessitously, and in the years of the Second World War exhaustingly, until her death in 1945."
"They decided to marry in the traditional month of June, but with a minimum of traditional fuss. Orwell, though a non-practicing member of the Church of England, was sufficiently a traditionalist to wish to be married in it -- besides, St. Mary's in Wallington was more convenient than the registry office in Baldock. ..."
"Mr. and Mrs. Blair and Avril, bearing some of the family silver as a wedding gift for the young Blairs, drove over from Southwold, and Laurence and Gwen and Mrs O'Shaugnessy came up from London to attend the service in the church, which was performed by the vicar of nearby Galston, with Eric's father and Eileen's mother acting as witnesses. They had a little party in The Stores afterwards - more than enough with the eight of them to crowd the tiny house - and at some point Avril and her mother took Eileen upstairs, as she later told her friend the novelist Lettice Cooper, to warn her of the burden she was taking on. (What must Eric have thought? But perhaps the private little chat occurred when he, his father, and the O'Shaughnessy's had already stepped next door to The Plough for a celebratory drink.)"
"Actually, what Eileen was taking on was not so much a burden as a burdensome role: the writer's wife. She proved to be very good at it, because she was intelligent, sympathetic, humorous, and appreciative of what Eric wrote; and because she recognized and did not struggle against the quite special way his being a writer would shape the course of their lives together."
"Orwell belonged to the category of writers who write. For him a day without writing was not a good one. There were, effectively, no pauses in the process: if not a novel, then a review, or an essay, a letter, a diary, a shopping list. For such a writer, as Eileen once said, not reprovingly, 'his work comes before anybody' -- even his wife! -- and alas for the wife who cannot accept this. Indeed, Orwell's relation to writing was oddly like a marriage: in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, till death do them part, it would go on."
"In May he was writing the first chapter of Road To Wigan Pier."
"On the afternoon of June 9, he was married."
"On the morning of June 10 he was back at the typewriter as usual. ..."
"Very early, and without difficulty, they settled into the pattern of working writer and devoted wife. At 6:30 a.m. the alarm clock pealed through the house, and George got up to feed the chickens. By the time he was done, Eileen had come downstairs to the kitchen and was preparing breakfast: eggs (from the hens), bread (which she would have baked the day before), bacon (bought from neighbours who kept pigs), a pot of steaming coffee with chicory in the mix -- a blend in the French manner Eric had grown fond of in Paris. Then they went their separate ways: he to the typewriter or to work in the garden; she, to wash up the dishes, take care of household chores, think about the next meal. (She once told Patricia Donohue, in a half-joking way, that 'she reckoned there were only 25 minutes between the clearing up of one meal and the start of preparations for another.') But she enjoyed cooking and was very good at it - her apple meringue pie was delicious and memorable. ..."
"There was, it seems, more than enough for each of them to do to fill their days at The Stores. Eric was racing ahead with The Road to Wigan Pier, or reading books sent to him for review by the New English Weekly, Time and Tide, and the Fortnightly. Eileen tended the shop, whenever it needed tending, which was not very often. As we have already said, the most assiduous customers were the village children in search of penny candy. ...Late in the afternoon, smoking furiously, Eileen would walk Mabel and Kate, the goats, along the verges of the common...and 'Marx' the dirty white poodle. Then there were the hens to be taken care of; she gathered the warm eggs to sell in the shop or for their own use; or to exchange with neighbors for bacon and sausage, or for fruits and vegetables they weren't growing themselves...Even though, when a friend came to visit and one tried to describe what one did in Wallington, it seemed that one did nothing -- nothing of importance. And yet the day was full. Before one knew where the hours had gone, it was time to prepare dinner. And after dinner, a stroll in the summer night; then homeward across the fields to bed...."
~ end of quoting from Orwell The Transformation, by Stansky/Abrahams ~
excerpt from INSIDE GEORGE ORWELL, by Gordon Bowker, pag 210:
...The Road to Wigan Pier was finally published on 7 March....With the book's future settled, Eileen set out for Barcelona. McNair had advertised for a secretary in the New Leader and she was taken on. She left Aunt Nellie in charge of the store. She took along the things she knew George missed most - Typhoo tea, chocolates and some cigars as well as the tobacco he liked. Charles Orr, at the ILP [Independent Labour Party) office editing the English edition of the POUM paper, The Spanish Revolution, for whom she also worked, found the Blairs an impressive if incongruous couple. 'Eileen was a round-faced Irish girl, prim and pretty, with black hair and dark eyes. Eric was tall, lean and gangling, to the point of being awkward . . . He was tongue-tied, stammered and seemed to be afraid of people. Eileen was friendly, gregarious and unpretentious.' Among those working for the POUM her superiority was evident. 'She just could not resist talking about Eric - her hero husband, whom she obviously loved and admired . . . He was still just an unknown writer . . . but . . . as I came to know Eric better - through Eileen - my respect grew . . . A man who could win a woman of such quality must have some value.' Jack Branthwaite also saw George and Eileen as soul-mates: 'She worshippped the ground he walked on. She'd do anything for him. Anything Eric did, he was the greatest.' And Paddy Donovan remembered how she had caught certain of his mannerisms and habits - including smoking the same unsavoury black tobacco...
5. VISITING ORWELL'S WALLINGTON HOUSE and ORWELL'S PERSONA
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