Monday, 20 August 2018


by Brian Bamford
George Orwell and son Richard Blair

DAVID J. TAYLOR, sheltering from the blazing sun in the patio of The Garden House Studio at the Holt Festival on the 24th, July, addressed the logistics of George Orwell’s love life.  At one point he reminded us that Orwell had once asked a friend if he had ever had a woman in a park?  When the reply that came was ‘No!’; Orwell said ‘I have; no where else to go’.

Malcolm Muggeridge in his essay on Orwell entitled ‘A Knight of the Woeful Countenance’ writes:

Orwell characteristically held forth on the logistic difficulties which dogged the penurious amorist.  Where was he to go if he could not afford a hotel room and had no private accommodation at his disposal?  He himself, he said, had been forced through poverty to avail himself of public parks and recreation grounds.’

In The Garden House Studio

The occasion of this talk in Holt, Norfolk by Orwell’s award winning biographer David Taylor was an exhibition of the hitherto unpublished love letters from George Orwell to Eleanor Jacques in Southwold.  The letters involved a correspondence between them which began in mid-1931, and continued until the 13th, January 1936, after he had married Eileen. According to Taylor their sexual relationship concluded around the end of 1932.

In one earlier letter already published and written in October 1932, Orwell recalled old times:

'It was so nice of you to say that you looked back to your days with me with pleasure. I hope you will let me make love to you again sometime, but if you don't it doesn't matter. I shall always be grateful to your kindness to me.'

Another reminisces about ‘that day in the wood along past Blythbugh Lodge – you remember, where the deep beds of moss were – I shall always remember that, & your nice white body in the dark green moss.’

'The Blyth Estuary-A Creative Haven'

The title of the Holt event in the pictureses patio of the Garden Studio was 'The Blyth Estuary-A Creative Haven' stems from an area called Blythburgh located on the main A12, about 4 miles west of Southwold in Suffolk. It was a place where Orwell and Eleanor used to go bird nesting, and he was later to refer to these trips together in his letters.

Mr. Taylor said 'Orwell's novels reveal a fondness for plein air frolics: they probably had their origin here.' The situation between Eleanor and Orwell was immensely complicated because she was also involved with Dennis Collings, who she later married, and who was a close friend of Orwell. Taylor describes their situation in Southwold as a classic 'Jules et Jim' kind of ménage à trois.

Bernard Crick in his own biography 'George Orwell: A Life' wrote:

'Eric (Blair or George Orwell) was soon to enjoy what may have been his first serious affaire. It is not without its difficulties, geographical and economic as well as the need to avoid hurting his friend Dennis Collings.'

Another aspect of Orwell, not dwelled upon by Taylor, is that he had an obsessive sense of being physically unattractive, and according to Malcolm Muggeridge 'Orwell did not find relations with the opposite sex easy (who, by the way does?)'

In a sense his early life was spent in a matriarchal pit smothered by the women around him.  An isolated passage from a notebook, quoted by Crick (page 55), shows this:

'The conversations he overheard as a small boy, between his Mother, his aunt, his elder sister and their feminist friends. The way in which, without ever hearing any direct statement to that effect, and without more than a very dim idea of the relationship between the sexes, he derived a firm impression that women did not like men, that they looked upon them as a sort of large ugly, smelly and ridiculous animal, who maltreated women in every way, above all by forcing their attentions on them.
Questions of Copyright

Introducing the topic Mr. Taylor pointed to Richard Blair (the adopted son of George Orwell and Eileen Blair) sitting near the back, and members of Eleanor Jacques' family.  It's not clear who will have the copyright to the letters, as Richard is Orwell's beneficiary, but the letters are presently in the possession of the Jacques family.

On July 10th, 2018, The Sunday Times ran a story by D.J. Taylor no less, reporting that:
'Major literary finds rarely come more dramatic than the one uncovered at 23 Station Road, Southwold, Suffolk.  While the relatives of the late owner were clearing the house of her effects, they decided to explore the garden shed.  Here, amid piles of detritus going back half a century, they turned up a stout, buff envelope bearing the pencilled message “Letters to be destroyed EC”. Stuffed inside, and clearly extant, were 19 letters dating from the 1930s, some handwritten, a few carefully typed, each addressed to “Dearest Eleanor” and signed “Eric”.  “Eric”, it instantly became clear, was George Orwell.'

Mr. Taylor concluded his talk by justifying his role as a biographer, the search for details like the love letters. He said biographers have no hesitation in grabbing every morsel of information about their subject.

After the talk by Mr. Taylor, we chatted with Richard Blair about the event and Tameside Trade Union Council's decision to take out corporate affiliation to THE ORWELL SOCIETY. The Tameside Trades Council had had its eyes wide-open when it took the decision to identify with Orwell and common decency at a time when politics is at a low ebb.

A few days before we were in Holt the Daily Mail had reported that students at Manchester University had painted over Rudyard Kipling's venerated poem 'If'.   Bernard Crick claims Orwell drew upon Kipling's work when he wrote '1984'.  We mentioned the relevance of Orwell to the reports about the attacks on Kipling by the Manchester students as we bought a copy of David Taylor's biography.

In the exhibition of Orwell's letters to Eleanor we noted one that was typed that talked about him tutoring 'an imbecile', reading a book on poisonings in the USA which he said was psychologically interesting and Plutarch*, who he recommends to her. Curiously, Plutarch born Greek and later became a Roman citizen was also a biographer, and among his quotes is this one which is vintage Orwell:

Plutarch wrote:  'I don't need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better.'  Which is of course vintage Orwell, and something these politically- correct students in Manchester could do well to consider.

* Plutarch, later named, upon becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus, was a Greek biographer and essayist, known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia. He is classified as a Middle Platonist. 


Les Hurst said...

I think that Kay Ekevall said that she was the girl in the park. She was interviewed for either Orwell Remembered or Remembering Orwell, and was shown in the 5 part documentary in the last week of 1983.

NV Editor said...

Bernard Crick wrote: ‘...he was on much more intimate terms with a girl named Kay Ekevall, whom he met in the [book]shop some time in the autumn of 1934. Eight years younger than Orwell, independent-minded to a degree with which he would not have been familiar (Brenda Salkeld and Eleanor Jacques, by comparison, were nice middle-class girls living in provincial sequestration), she seems to have been fond of him while finding his attitudes faintly ridiculous.'

bammy said...

In ‘George Orwell & the Radical Eccentrics’ [2004] by Kristin Bluewell who wrote suggesting the poetess and novelist, Stevie Smith, may have been the woman in the park: ‘Their relation was close enough that male literary gossip, fostered by Powell and Malcolm Muggeridge, associated Smith with Orwell’s tale about “[having] a woman in a park” (Crick 288-89). Smith encouraged such surmise by obliquely suggesting to her friends Norah Smallwood and Ronald Orr-Ewing that she was having an affair with Orwell (Spalding 153-4. Others who knew Smith well, however, discounted such tales as out of character for both parties (Crick 289).’