George Orwell: A Life in Letters

George Orwell, Author, Peter Davison, Editor
Edited by Peter Davison. Norton/Liveright, $35 (560p) ISBN 978-0-87140-462-6
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Orwell’s keen insight and acerbic wit reverberate throughout these selected letters, culled from more than 10 volumes to offer a comprehensive view of his life and personality. Ranging from 1911, during Orwell’s school days, until his death in 1950, the letters focus on his professional life in the 1920s and ’30s—years he spent in Burma and Paris—especially his time as a journalist in Spain and North Africa, his BBC employment during WWII, his productive years in Jura writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, and his struggle with tuberculosis. While there are touching personal letters—for example to his first wife, Eileen—many in the collection dwell on European politics, British colonialism, WWII, as well as on literature and Orwell’s own novels. He comes across as unsentimental, his realism growing both out of profound compassion and, as he confesses in a letter to Henry Miller, a “sort of belly to earth attitude” that made him “feel uneasy when I get away from the ordinary world where grass is green.” Editor Davison furthermore includes many letters to or about Orwell, providing useful perspective on the character of the man whom one admirer described as “less imperfect than anyone else I had ever met.” These insights, plus extensive footnotes and contextual information, make the book an unusually gratifying read for Orwell enthusiasts and casual readers alike. 28 illus. Agent: Bill Hamilton, A.M. Heath. (Aug.)
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