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Posts Tagged ‘Animal Farm’

Today is the 70th anniversary of the death of George Orwell, on 21 January 1950. One of the greatest writers of the 20th Century passed away just after midnight in Room 65 of University College Hospital, London. He was just 46 years old.

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At the time, Orwell, diagnosed with tuberculosis since 1947, was hoping to travel to a clinic in Switzerland to help improve his chronically weak lungs. His medical team were also considering treating him with penicillin, then a new wonder-drug, but still in short supply.

Orwell knew he was dying. Working with his doctor, Dr Morland, it was hoped that he could extend his life for a few more years at least. Morland had previously treated D.H. Lawrence for TB, but ultimately without success.

The writer had been checked into hospital in September 1949. He had a private room costing £17 per week (good socialist!). In this room, on 13 October, he was married for the second time, to Sonia Brownell (1918 – 1980) whom he’d met at Horizon, the literary magazine run by Cyril Connolly, his school friend from Eton. For the ceremony, he was too ill even to leave his bed, but nonetheless exceptionally happy. Brownell took care of all his affairs from then on and indeed years after his death, sometimes controversially.

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The old University College Hospital building, now Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research. Pic: M Paterson.

In his final days, one of Orwell’s main concerns was his son Richard, whom he’d adopted with his first wife Eileen. Fear of infection prevented the boy from coming close to his father which caused terrible frustration. After the writer’s death Richard Blair was brought up by Orwell’s sister Avril. In retirement, he is very supportive of Orwell-related events and activities. Interview.

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When Orwell checked in at UCH, Nineteen Eighty-Four had been published just three months. While Animal Farm (1945) had turned him into a widely known writer, it was his masterpiece that secured his finances, reputation and legacy. Indeed, fame.

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George Orwell’s grave, Sutton Courtenay, near Oxford. Pic: M Paterson.


George Orwell in Wikipedia.

Biographies.
Orwell The Authorised Biography by Michael Shelden.
George Orwell: A Life by Bernard Crick.
Orwell: The Life by D.J. Taylor.

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This MS has been blitzed which accounts for my delay in delivering it and its slightly crumpled condition, but it is not damaged in any way.

So wrote George Orwell in a letter dated 28 June 1944 to T.S. Eliot. The manuscript in question was Animal Farm. The house in which Orwell, his wife Eileen and adopted baby Richard lived was 10a Mortimer Crescent, NW6. It, along with neighbouring homes, was destroyed by a V-1 flying bomb some days previous. Fortunately, the family was not at home. Armed with a wheelbarrow and a shovel Orwell returned to the bomb site to dig his manuscript out of the ruins.

The Orwells had lived in Mortimer Crescent for two years, a significant period of the author’s time in London. Yet there was no plaque to commemorate this fact. Until last week. On Tuesday 11th of September a green plaque was unveiled by Richard Blair himself, Orwell’s adopted son. The sign was commissioned by The Historic Kilburn  Plaque Scheme – led by local historian Ed Fordham.

George Orwell in Kilburn

George Orwell in Kilburn

Richard Blair addresses an enthusiastic group of local residents, journalists, photographers and Orwell fans.

George Orwell in Kilburn

Richard Blair and Ed Fordham

George Orwell in Kilburn

Highlight of my day. Richard signed this picture in one of my Orwell biographies (the Michael Shelden one, for you Orwell aficionados)

The plaque is attached to Kington House in Mortimer Crescent, a block of 1950s flats which were built directly above the original bomb site.

You can read about another pilgrimage and Orwell plaque here: George Orwell in Hayes.

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