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Eileen: The Making of George Orwell

By Sylvia Topp

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The never before told story of George Orwell’s first wife, a woman who shaped, supported and even saved the life of one of the 20th century’s greatest writers.

Publication date: March 2020
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About the book

Eileen: The Making of Orwell is the first on this extraordinary woman who has been until now unjustly overlooked. It examines the Blairs' nine year marriage, from a tiny village where they grew vegetables and tended their own goats and chickens, through the dangers of the Spanish Civil War, nursing George in Morocco after a severe bout of tubercular bleeding, narrowly escaping the destruction of their London apartment in World War II, and even adopting a baby boy when it became apparent that they were unable to have their own child. And their partnership produced some of the greatest works in English literature.

“Now,” George told a friend the night he met Eileen O’Shaughnessy, “that’s the kind of girl I would like to marry.” The year before, Eileen had published a futuristic poem called "End of the Century, 1984." Later, George would name his greatest work, 1984, in homage to the memory of Eileen.

When Sylvia Topp fell in love with George Orwell, she became curious about Eileen, and was surprised to find very little information concerning his first forgotten wife. She asked Christopher Hitchens, a fellow Orwell admirer and co-worker at Vanity Fair, if a book on Eileen existed. "I'm pretty sure that field is clear: what an excellent idea," Hitchens said. Sylvia endeavoured to write the book Eileen’s life deserves. This is it.

The book is a vivid picture of bohemianism, poverty, political engagement and sexual freedom in the 30s and 40s, with an undertow of sadness. This touching story offers a completely new perspective on Orwell himself.

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