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The Intimate Orwell

And in his famous “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad,” he added:

If a man cannot enjoy the return of spring, why should he be happy in a labour-saving Utopia?… I think that by retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and…toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable.

His endearing and quirky tastes, his inexhaustible and loving attention to all aspects of the natural world, crop up constantly in his correspondence. The Letters are full of disarming non sequiturs: for instance, he interrupts some reflections on the Spanish Inquisition to note the daily visit that a hedgehog pays to his bathroom. While away from home in 1939, he writes to the friend who looks after his cottage: his apprehensions regarding the looming war give way without transition to concerns for the growth of his vegetables and for the mating of his goat:

I hope Muriel’s mating went through. It is a most unedifying spectacle, by the way, if you happened to watch it…. Did my rhubarb come up, I wonder? I had a lot, & then last year the frost buggered it up.

To an anarchist friend (who became a professor of English in a Canadian university) he writes an entire page from his Scottish retreat, describing in minute detail all aspects of the life and work of local crofters: again the constant and inexhaustible interest for “men who do things” in the real world.

The End

While already lying in hospital, he married Sonia Brownell2 three months before his death. At that time he entertained the illusion that he might still have a couple of years to live and he was planning for the following year a book of essays that would have included a long essay on Joseph Conrad (if it was ever written, it is now lost). He also said that he still had two books on his mind—besides the “stunning idea for a very short novel” mentioned earlier.

He began drawing plans to have a pig, or preferably a sow, in his Scottish hermitage of the Hebrides. As he instructed his sister who was in charge of the place:

The only difficulty is about getting her to a hog once a year. I suppose one could buy a gravid sow in the Autumn to litter about March, but one would have to make very sure that she really was in pig the first time.

In his hospital room, at the time of his death, he kept in front of him, against the wall, a good new fishing rod, a luxury he had indulged himself with on receiving the first royalties from Nineteen Eighty-Four. He never had the chance to use it.

His first love—dating back to his adolescence and youth—who was now a middle-aged woman, wrote to him in hospital out of the blue, after an estrangement and silence of some twenty-seven years. He was surprised and overjoyed, and resumed correspondence with her. In his last letter to her, he concluded that, though he could only entertain a vague belief in some sort of afterlife, he had one certainty: “Nothing ever dies.”


Orwell & the Anarchists September 29, 2011

  1. 2

    A young and beautiful woman—though somewhat harebrained, she managed to edit (with the collaboration of I. Angus) the excellent Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (Secker and Warburg, 1969). These four volumes still remain invaluable: not every reader can afford the twenty volumes of Davison’s editions of the Complete Works

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