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Bernard Crick

George Orwell: A Life


Firstly I must thank the late Mrs Sonia Orwell who in 1972 granted me unrestricted access to all of George Orwell’s papers. I must also say clearly that the opinions expressed in this book are mine alone and that in no sense is this an official biography, nor is it likely to be the last life of George Orwell that is written (all perspectives change over time), even if the first to have unlimited rights of quotation from all of his published and unpublished work.

Because there were still some restrictions on access to parts of the Orwell Archive at University College, London, I have sometimes quoted at greater length from material not included in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (four volumes. Secker & Warburg, London, 1968) than economy of style might otherwise dictate.

I wish to thank Mr Ian Angus, the Librarian of King’s College, London, who, while Deputy Librarian of University College, London, was in charge of the Orwell Archive. While collecting material for the archive, with admirable energy and skill, he interviewed and corresponded with many people who had known Orwell, some of whom were dead by the time I began work. Ian Angus generously made his own interview notes as well as the Archive’s correspondence available to me, let me use a day-to-day chronology of Orwell’s life that he had compiled, and helped me in numerous other ways. He is working, with Mr lan Willison of the British Library, on a definitive bibliography of George Orwell. It is necessary to say clearly that he is in no way responsible for the use I have made of his help, and again that the opinions expressed in this book are mine alone.

With similar qualifications, I thank Professor Bernard Bergonzi and Mr Julian Symons, who read the manuscript for the publishers, for giving me their detailed criticisms as well as making very helpful general points, as did Mrs Celia Goodman and Professor Barbara Hardy, both of whom read through it all at my earnest request, patiently and helpfully. My good friends, Irene and Roland Brown, also read the manuscript closely and sceptically.

Audrey Coppard has been my Department’s research assistant at Birkbeck College during almost the whole of this work, giving me, by the sufferance of my colleagues, a lion’s share other time. She helped with the research and typed the manuscript in its different stages, but only after reading critically and helping to tighten every chapter. Without her literary experience, common sense and mixture of faith and irony I would have lost my way many times, or could have produced several volumes of unreadable length. My former Department Secretary, Mrs Pat Culshaw, held the fort while I was otherwise engaged, and in temporary retirement helped with some final typing.

Anne Daltrop came to work with us as the first draft was completed and checked all quotations and footnotes with great skill. And she and Audrey Coppard have read the proofs with me efficiently and impersonally. Two former part-time research assistants in my Department at Birkbeck also helped: Deirdre McKellar transcribed notebooks, etc.; Jasmina Ljuhar listed Orwell’s writings which are not included in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, and she searched for and transcribed marginalia in his books (disappointingly few, incidentally). The comments of two members of my seminar proved especially helpful, those of Dr Robert Klitzke on Orwell’s political writings in the period 1936 to 1939 (not fully represented in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters), and of Miguel Berga on Catalonia and Spain, and I want to add that I have found the editorial and production staff at Secker & Warburg most helpful and perceptive.

Mrs Janet Percival, who is in charge of the Orwell Archive at University College, has an extraordinary knowledge of it and an untiring practical helpfulness. Without her help and that other cheerful colleagues in the Manuscripts and Rare Books Department, progress would have been much more difficult and even slower. Some libraries are a pleasure to work in.

Also I must thank Birkbeck College for a term’s leave of absence; and the Nuffleld Foundation for giving me a small grant towards travel and research assistance.

Now must follow a long and necessarily undifferenriated list of those who granted me interviews, wrote me helpful letters, put me on a trail, or allowed me to quote from unpublished letters or documents in their ownership or possession. Their precise help appears in the footnotes.

Eileen Aird, the late Evelyn Anderson, Lord Ardwick, David Astor, His Excellency Maung Hrin Aung, Sir Alfred Ayer, Noreen Bagnall, the late Roger Beadon, Anne Olivier Bell, Miguel Berga, Lucy Bestley, Richard Blair, Francis Boyle, Melvyn Bragg, Lord Brockway, James Brodie, Jonathan Brown, Jacintha Buddicom, Amy and Jerry Byme, Professor John Cohen, F. J. R. Coleridge, Dennis Ceilings, the late Cyril Connolly, Lettice Cooper, Stafford Cottman, Constance Cruik-shank. Henry Dakin, Donald Darroch, Kate Darroch, Mary Deiner, Kay Dick, Rodney Dobson, Patricia Donoghue, the late Avril Dunn, William Dunn, Christopher Eastwood, Bob Edwards, MP, Kay Ekevall, Valeric Eliot, Sir William Empson, David Fairer, Tony Farringdon, Mabel Fierz, Michael Foot, MP., Frank Frankford, Tosco Fyvel, Frank M. Gardner, Percy Girling, Livia Gollancz, Jose Gomes, Celia Goodman, Geoffrey Gorer, the late Andrew Gow, Ruth E. Graves, Sir John Grotrian, Jim Hammond, Rosalind Henschel, the late Rayner Heppenstall, David Holbrook, the late Inez Holden, Lydia Jackson, M. D. Jacobs, Tom Jones, G. D. Kennan, Jon Kimche, Denys King-Farlow, who also kindly gave permission for two of his photographs of Orwell to be used, Colin Kirkpatrick, Helmut Klause, Arthur Koesder, Joan Lancaster, Baroness Lee of Asheridge, David McAvoy, James MacGibbon, Sally Magill, the late Philip Mairet, L. W. Marrison, Carlton Melling, Edward Mendelson, the late Henry Miller, Jane Morgan, Frank Morley, Malcolm Muggeridge, Joan Mullock, Michael Meyer, Sir Roger Mynors, Margaret Nelson, Rosalind Obermeyer, David Owen, MP, Harry Pearce, Henry Pelling, Captain Maurice Peters, Professor Richard Peters, Ruth Fitter, Paul Potts, Anthony Powell, the late Sir Herbert Read, Vernon Richards, Alan Rimmer, Tony and Betty Rozga, Sir Steven Rundman, Brenda Salkeld, Professor John Saville, George Scharrat, L. J. Bahadur Singh, Stephen Spender, Victor Stacey, Corin Hughes Stanton, H. S. K. Stapley, Geoffrey Stevens, George Strauss, Professor Gleb Strove, Henry Swanzy, Julian Symons, Dr Lola S. Szladits, Fred Urquhart, Sir Anthony Wagner, Nicolas Walter, George Wansbrough, the late Fredric Warburg, Susan Watson, Dame Veronica Wedgwood, Dame Rebecca West, the late Myfanwy Westrope, Baroness White of Rhymney, B. T. White, lan Willison, and George Woodcock.

Also I thank the following for giving permission to quote from published materials in copyright:
George Alien & Unwin (Publishers) Ltd, extract from Truth About a Publisher by Sir Stanley Unwin; Campbell, Thomson & McLaughlin Ltd, extract from The House of Elrig by Gavin Maxwell; Jonathan Cape Ltd, extracts from Jonathan Cape, Publisher by Michael S. Howard; Cassell Ltd, extracts from My Life and Soft Times by Henry Long-hurst; Collins Publishers, extracts from Part of My Life by A. J. Ayer and Chronicles of Wasted Time by Malcolm Muggeridge; Commentary; Constable Publishers, extract from The Unknown Orwell by Peter Stansky and William Abrahams; Letrice Cooper, extract from Black Bethlehem; Curris Brown Ltd, extract from ‘Some Are More Equal than Others’ (New Writing), by John Morris; Peter Davies Ltd, extracts from Almost a Gentleman by Mark Benney; William Dunn, extracts from an essay and broadcast of the late Avril Dunn; Valeric Eliot, extract from letter by T. S. Eliot to George Orwell; Encounter; Faber & Faber, extract from ‘Spain’ by W. H. Auden; Freedom Press, extract from Freedom; John Freeman, extract from Editor by Kingsley Martin; Tosco Fyvel, extracts from essays; Victor Gollancz Ltd, extracts from The Left News, readers’ reports and Victor Gollancz’s writings; David Higham Associates Ltd, extracts from More Memoirs of an Aesthete by Sir Harold Acton, I Am My Brother by John Lehmann, The Whispering Gallery by John Lehmann, and Infants of the Spring by Anthony Powell; James MacGibbon, extracts from The Holiday and letters by Stevie Smith; Macmillan London and Basing-stoke, extracts from The Republic and the Civil War in Spain by B. Bolloten, and poems by Rudyard Kipling, ‘The Road to Mandalay’, ‘MacDonaugh’s Song’ and ‘Take Up the White Man’s Burden’; Sally Magill, extracts from a manuscript ‘Orwell at Wallington’ by the late Jack Common; Morning Star, extract from Daily Worker; New Statesman; A. D. Peters & Co Ltd, extracts from Fugitive from the Camp of Victory and A Theory of My Time by Richard Rees; Deborah Rogers Ltd, extracts from Enemies of Promise, © 1938 and 1948 by Cyril Connolly, and The Evening Colonnade, © 1973 by Cyril Connolly, and Previous Convictions, © 1963 by Cyril Connolly; Anthony Sheil Associates Ltd, extracts from The Crystal Spirit by George Woodcock, and Dante Called You Beatrice by Paul Potts; Neville Spearman Ltd, extract from My Friend Henry Miller by Alfred Perles; Julian Symons, extract from ‘An Appreciation’; Weidenfeld (Publishers) Ltd, extracts from Grace and Favour by Loelia, Duchess of Westminster, and The World of George Orwell, edited by Miriam Gross; George Woodcock, extract from The Writer and Politics.

If I have accidentially omitted to acknowledge any copyright material, I apologize profusely.

Numerous BBC programmes, based on interviews with old friends, have been made about Orwell since his death, notably those produced by Rayner Heppenstall, Malcolm Muggeridge, and Melvyn Bragg. This material has been extremely valuable, but questions of copyright of great complexity arise. I thank the BBC for their permission to consult transcripts of the broadcasts, and apologize if in using some extracts I have accidentally infringed any copyright of some of those recorded or of their heirs whom I have been unable to trace.

Bernard Crick
Birkbeck College
University of London

  1. Ida Mabel Blair (née Limouzin), 1897 (Dakin family) [Photo]
  2. Eric Blair, six weeks old (Dakin family) [Photo]
  3. Ida Blair, Marjorie and Eric, in the garden of 'The Nutshell', Henley-on-Thames, 1906 (Dakin family) [Photo]
  4. Three years old (Dakin family) [Photo]
  5. Mr Blair on leave, 1916 (Parents - Ida Mabel and Richard Walmesley Blair with children Marjorie and Eric) (Dakin family) [Photo]
  6. Eric Blair, Guinever and Prosper Buddicom, at Church Stretton, Shropshire, September 1917 (Guinever Buddicom) [Photo]
  7. At 'Athens' after swimming, summer 1919 (Denys King-Farlow) [Photo]
  8. Asking for trouble, 1919 (Denys King-Farlow) [Photo]
  9. Before an Eton Wall Game, 1921 (Orwell Archive) [Photo]
  10. Burma Provincial Police Training School, Mandalay, 1923 (Eric Blair standing third from left) (Orwell Archive) [Photo]
  11. Montague House, Southwold (Orwell Archive) [Photo]
  12. Mrs Blair with dog and friend, Southwold High Street, mid-1930s (Dakin family) [Photo]
  13. Teaching at the Hawthorns, 1933 (Geoffrey Stevens) [Photo]
  14. Southwold beach, 1934 (Dennis Collings) [Photo]
  15. The P.O.U.M. centuria leaving Lenin barracks, Barcelona, January 1937 (Senora Rovira) [Photo]
  16. Eileen Blair visits Eric and the ILP contingent at the front near Huesca, March 1937 (Orwell Archive) [Photo]
  17. Spanish comrades meet again, I.L.P. Summer School at Letchworth, 1937. (Left to right) John MacNair, Douglas Moyle, Stafford Cottman, George Orwell, Jock Braithwaite (Orwell Archive) [Photo]
  18. Identity papers at Marrakesh, September 1938 (Orwell Archive) [Photo]
  19. Feeding Muriel at Wallington, summer 1939 (Dennis Collings) [Photo]
  20. Eileen Blair, circa 1941 (Dakin family) [Photo]
  21. Union card, dated 29 December 1943 (Orwell Archive) [Photo]
  22. 'VOICE' - the monthly radio magazine programme in the Eastern Service of the B.B.C. (Left to right, sitting) Venu Chitale, J. M. Tambimuttu, T. S. Eliot, Una Marson, Mulk Raj Anand, C. Pemberton, Narayana Menon; (standing) George Orwell, Nancy Barrat, William Empson (Copyright BBC) [Photo]
  23. Orwell with Richard, Islington, winter 1945 (Vernon Richards) [Photo]
  24. Eileen and baby Richard, 1944 (Vernon Richards) [Photo]
  25. Orwell and baby Richard, 1944 (Dakin family) [Photo]
  26. Orwell talking in his flat in Islington, winter 1945 (Vernon Richards) [Photo]
  27. Sonia Blair (née Brownell), October 1949 (Orwell Archive) [Photo]
  28. Orwell taking a break from writing, winter 1945 (Vernon Richards) [Photo]
  29. Orwell typing in his flat in Islington, winter 1945 (Vernon Richards) [Photo]
  30. Barnhill, 1948 (Dakin family) [Photo]

Bernard Crick: ‘George Orwell: A Life’
Published: book ‘Penguin Books Ltd’. — 27 Wrights Lane, London w8 5TZ, England, 1992.

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Last modified on: 2019-12-29

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Bernard Crick
George Orwell: A Life
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