George Orwell And His Vanishing Wife

Robyn Smith says George Orwell was a twentieth century literary marvel, perhaps the greatest English writer of that century.
But how did his wife, Eileen O’Shaunessy, help him? Would he have been as great without her?

Anna Funder pulls no punches in her book, “Wifedom”, an intriguing and disturbing study of Orwell’s
marginalisation and disregard for his wife.
When they first married, Orwell wanted to get away from London. Eileen wanted to be a writer, but there was no time.
Instead, they lived in a desolate cottage in Southwold, Suffolk, with no running water or electricity. Eileen did all the work, managing animals, housework, cooking and running a shop. while Orwell wrote upstairs.

At one point the lavatory backed up, disgustingly so, but Orwell couldn’t cope with it. Eileen spent hours
cleaning up the shitty mess, while George poked his head out of his “writing” room upstairs and
suggested they have tea. Eileen made the tea.


However, Eileen ran the ILP office efficiently… “Being a ‘secretary’…means running the supply,
communications and banking operation for the entire contingent”. (p 116).

After the ILP office was raided and Orwell hid, Eileen calmly dealt with her hotel room being raided by
the fascist police while she stayed in bed.

They didn’t think of looking under the bed where she’d stored the passports and documents.
Orwell didn’t mention Eileen in his book “Homage to Catalonia”, although she’d transcribed his messagesfrom the front, intending them to be the basis of his book.

So did Orwell marry Eileen because of her secretarial skills?
Not entirely: he loved her in his own way but slept with dozens of other women during his marriage,
including Eileen’s best friend, telling people that he andEileen had an ‘open’ marriage.

An ‘open’ marriage?

ileen had no other partners, despite one of the ILP men falling deeply in love with her.
However, they had fun when Orwell was writing “Animal Farm”, he writing during the day and reading to her at night.

With a lot of giggling and chortling, they invented the characters together.

Unfortunately, Eileen became dreadfully ill. She’d been ill for sometime, with agonizing stomach cramps
and heavy bleeding. When she finally had an operation, she was so anaemic, her body couldn’t stand the strain of it.

Eileen O’Shaunessy died at the age of forty, with her own dreams of becoming a writer shattered and
having had only a year to enjoy the baby she and George had adopted the year before.

The forgotten woman, written out of history because her own husband and his biographers treated her as invisible..

Australian author Anna Funder,whoe “Wifedom, Mrs Orwell’s

Invisible Life” has become an international best seller.

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