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The Girl from the Fiction Department: A Portrait of Sonia Orwellby Hilary Spurling
Synopses & Reviews
Here is the real "Julia" from 1984--George Orwell's wife and widow Sonia, in all her sadness, splendor, and ferocity. "A full and fascinating portrait of a complex, strong, and puzzling personality." — Literary Review.
The portrait of George Orwell's second wife drawn by his biographers is a travesty. Determined to set the record straight, her friend, biographer Hilary Spurling, reveals the whole story of Sonia Orwell's sad and splendid life.
Beautiful, intelligent, and idealistic, Sonia was the model for Julia, heroine of Orwell's 1984. Her friends and admirers included W. H. Auden, Lucian Freud, and Francis Bacon. She was Cyril Connolly's indispensable assistant on the influential literary magazine Horizon during the 1940s, and in the '60s she co-edited the groundbreaking four-volume collection of Orwell's nonfiction writings.
But after the failure of her second marriage, Sonia's life began to go wrong, ending in penury and despair due to the burden unwittingly placed on her by George Orwell at his death. Some have since seen her as a mythical heroine; others have depicted her as mean and mercenary. Spurling portrays the real Sonia Orwell in all her generous, spirited, ferocious, and self-doubting complexity.
"Spurling's desire to salvage her friend's reputation also lends a breathless, frenetic, and at times sloppy quality to her prose....Far too ardent, this is nevertheless a needed corrective to the beating Sonia has taken from many of Orwell's biographers." Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic (read the entire Atlantic review)
"Hilary Spurling has brought a good biographer's skills to the defense of a friend whom she is sure was not only unlucky in her life but also wantonly wronged. She understandably avoids much talk of her subject's more extreme behavior, preferring to stress both her high spirits and her fundamental unhappiness. She has done the job well. Sonia Orwell had qualities that gave her a special position at the heart of English culture in her time. Her skills, as she well knew, were not creative, but she dedicated them, with intelligent and unflagging devotion, to the creativity of others; and she deserves this affectionate, just, and occasionally angry portrait." Frank Kermode, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
"...Spurling, a highly regarded biographer, seeks to set the record straight with a portrait that emphasizes Sonia's vitality, generosity, kindness and support of writers like Jean Rhys, who were much in need of it....Spurling's brief, warm biography appears a touching act of friendship; if she perhaps overstates the case for Sonia, she makes clear that Sonia's critics have exaggerated the case against her."Publishers Weekly
"Spurling's memoir not only exonerates 'the widow Orwell' from corruption but brings her back in all her tragicomic contradictions." The Guardian
Book News Annotation:
Sonia Orwell was the second wife of writer George Orwell. Spurling, a prize-winning biographer and a friend of Sonia's, details Sonia's early career as an assistant at England's influential literary magazine Horizon in the 1940s and looks into her friendships with important literary figures of the day including W. H. Auden and Frances Bacon. The biography delves deeply into Sonia's marriage to Orwell and her financial problems upon his death. B&w personal photos are included. There is no subject index. Annotation (c)2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The portrait of George Orwell's second wife drawn by his biographers is a travesty. Determined to set the record straight, her friend, biographer Hilary Spurling, reveals the whole story of Sonia Orwell's sad and splendid life in all her generous, spirited, ferocious, and self-doubting complexity.
About the Author
Hilary Spurling is a prize-winning biographer whose books include Ivy: The Life of Ivy Compton-Burnett, The Unknown Matisse, and La Grande Thérèse. She is a regular book reviewer for the Daily Telegraph and the New York Times, and lives in England.
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