Saving George Orwell’s Wife from “Wifedom”

One of the books that have been gaining attention is Wifedom by Anna Funder. This unique book by the author behind the successful Non-Fiction book, Stasiland is an attempt to bring Eileen Blair out of the shadows and give her the due credit. According to Guardian, Wifedom: Mrs Orwell’s Invisible Life is a brilliant, creative hybrid of life writing, feminist polemic and literary criticism, which upends the way we read.

The Australian author, Anna Funder brings out facts to suggest that Eileen was much more than a homemaker and perhaps the creative force behind her famous husband George Orwell.

The Beginning of Wifedom

Anna Funder, who says had wanted to free herself from the “motherload of wifedom I had taken on”.  had taken solace in revisiting essays and works of George Orwell when she stumbled upon those in a second-hand book shop. It was months after that she learned about a collection of letters that was recently discovered which Eileen had written to her friend Norah Symes Myles in 2005 made Funder delve deep into the life of Eileen O’Shaughnessy Blair– George Orwell’s first wife. it was these letters that gave way to the book- Wifedom

Eileen O’Shaughnessy Blair – The Wife

According to her research, Funder tells us that Eileen was an educated woman and was pursuing her master’s degree in psychology with a scholarship at Oxford when she was made to drop out of the course to move with her husband “to a cold, unplumbed country cottage so her new husband could write”.  At this new cottage, not only she had taken on the role of the farm manager, but also a nurse to their adopted son and editor, typing her husband’s manuscripts. Eileen had died by the age of 39. What Funder report on the scene of her death is even more disturbing

Eileen O’Shaughnessy Blair did not survive. She died at the age of 39, under the knife for a total hysterectomy after years of excruciating pelvic pain and bleeding. Her infant son was with relatives, and her husband off in Paris visiting Ernest Hemingway. Letters sent to her spouse — on the cost of the surgery, whether or not her life “was worth the money” — went unanswered. While her family begged her to wait for a more experienced surgeon, she went with a cheaper doctor and died alone. She is buried under the epitaph “Wife of Eric Arthur Blair.” Eric Arthur Blair — better known as George Orwell.

(LA Times)

Eileen O’Shaughnessy Blair – The Political Activist

Funder Points out that Eileen was politically motivated as “She worked for the British Independent Labor Party while Orwell was soaking up the action at the front during the Spanish Civil War.”  In her book paying attention to the essay “Homage to Catalonia, says that Orwell conveniently forgets to mention the role of Eileen in helping him, and putting herself in dangerous situations to save her husband. Funder also points out that while Orwell was wounded, his wife too was wounded along with him.

“Orwell spends over 2,500 words telling us of his hospital treatment without mentioning that Eileen was there. I wonder what she felt, later, as she typed them.”

Details of Eileen’s life are documented in a detailed 2020 crowdfunded biography, Eileen: The Making of George Orwell by Sylvia Topp

George Orwell – The husband

In shocking revelations, Funder also says that Eric Blair who went by his pen name, George Orwell, was a sexual predator and hid the fact that he was sterile from his wife and also that he has tuberculosis, which could have saved his family including their adopted son. Funder also in her book points out instances where her husband would be conveniently absent, leading an ill Eileen to play on her health.

On the scheduled date of their adoption court hearing, Orwell was in France. “Eileen has to drag herself, bleeding, in pain and alone, into court to appear before the judge,” 

The Book- Wifedom

Reviewing the work LA Times says that

“With the precision of a historian, Funder cobbles together scant details to reconstruct a life. And with the imaginative force of a novelist, she speculates in clearly sign-posted moments on what that life was like. Some of the horrors she uncovers are known in vague outlines, but much has been willfully evaded by Orwell’s biographers or explained away in compounding acts of misogyny. Eileen’s letters to her friend Norah Symes Myles were discovered in 2005. For the first time, in this book, Eileen is given a voice — her voice.”

LA Times

Taking on the same tone, Guardian says about the book

Funder’s narrative is a stylistic mosaic, which draws on skills developed in her previous books: the nonfiction bestseller, Stasiland, about East Germany’s surveillance of its citizens, and her Miles Franklin award winner, All That I Am, a novel about German pacifists fleeing nazism. Orwell’s work has been a beacon for hers.


How much of a shock was it for you to learn Orwell whose work and ideologies are idealized and discussed even centuries after his death has led a duplicitous life? or do you think it may be just a perspective opinion of the author?

News Source : Guardian, LA Times , Scroll

Disclaimer : Images used in the article are not our own but picked up from different sources for representational purposes.

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