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George Orwell

Wifedom is both an immovable and an irresistible book, an object and a force. Anna Funder, the author some years back of the bestselling Stasiland (2003), has written another great and important narrative of oppression and covert suppression, in this case of the first Mrs George Orwell, Eileen O’Shaughnessy (1905–45). The oppression and suppression are or were the work of her liberal and emancipatory husband – the nearest thing we have these days to a lay saint – and of his six (male) biographers. While nowhere a nasty book (what the Americans would call ‘mean’), it’s a kind of St George and the six dwarves. What’s strange is the persistence of the old bromides. In a recent Guardian review of D.J. Taylor’s Orwell: The new life (2023) – the biographer’s second go-around – Blake Morrison refers to ‘the practical Orwell’ and ‘the complaisant Eileen’. He wouldn’t have said either thing if he’d been able to read Funder’s new book.

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Animal Farm 

Black Swan State Theatre Company
11 October 2021

The birds are twittering and tweeting (all puns intended) on Manor Farm. Industrial scaffolding leads up to a platform that cuts the minimalist set in two. The same metal barriers that are used to corral the crowds waiting for Covid-19 vaccinations criss-cross the floor of the stage. ‘Breaking News’ flashes across the cinema-sized screen that looms over what will soon be renamed ‘Animal Farm’.

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George Orwell, born in 1903, was the child of a British Empire civil service family with long Burmese connections, which belonged, as he put it with characteristic precision and drollery, to the lower upper middle class. By the time he went to fight against fascism in Spain in 1936, he had already quit his job in the Burmese colonial police, attempted to drop out of the English class system, and become a writer and a socialist of a notably independent, indeed idiosyncratic, kind.

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