The man who wrote Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four defies categorization. In this quarter’s literary podcast David and Masha sift through newly discovered stashes of letters written by Orwell in the 1930s, and share personal recollections from his adopted son Richard and other living members of his inner circle to tease out fact from fiction and explore the legacy of Orwell’s life and work.
We start with the chance discovery by a Bonham’s auctioneer of nineteen letters from Orwell to a girlfriend, found in a tatty old handbag on the floor of a mouse-ridden woodshed (thrillingly packaged in a nondescript envelope labelled ‘Burn after my death’). Then we’re off on a journey through the many-faceted romantic, literary, social and political aspects of Orwell’s short life, from the years when he was flitting between jobs and relationships in the small coastal town of Southwold and living down and out in Paris, to his death from tuberculosis in 1950 via his life-altering experience in Spain as a Republican volunteer against Franco. David and Masha draw us deep into Orwell’s world – a place of gangsters with gramophones, banned books, vanishing documents, encounters with KGB spies and yet more old girlfriends appearing out of the shadows with revelatory letters – and discuss the long reach of his influence on contemporary literature and political thinking.
For our book-lovers’ day out we stop off at the Art Workers’ Guild in Bloomsbury to introduce this year’s Readers’ Day line-up, including Olivia Potts on the glories of butter, Richard Hawking on the works of Adrian Bell, Sara Wheeler on her travelling life, D. J. Taylor on his new biography of Orwell, and Stig Abel in conversation with Suzi Feay about his first crime novel Death Under a Little Sky.
To finish, there’s our usual round-up of reading recommendations: a wildlife photographer’s magical quest to document a family of goshawks in the New Forest in My Goshawk Summer; a wander through the shady corridors of the V&A with its custodian of fashion in Patch Work; and not one but two trips into the dark underbelly of Paris, with a young Englishman’s adventures on the gastronomic scene in A Waiter in Paris, and Émile Zola’s novel of life in its working-class neighbourhoods, racked with alcoholism, poverty and violence, The Drinking Den.
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Please find links to books, articles, and further reading listed below. The digits in brackets following each listing refer to the minute and second they are mentioned. (Episode duration: 58 minutes; 27 seconds)
D. J. Taylor, Orwell: The New Life (0:30)
George Orwell, A Homage to Catalonia (7:27)
Masha Karp, George Orwell and Russia (15:10)
George Orwell, Burmese Days (31:46)
George Orwell, Animal Farm (31:47)
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (31:48)
George Orwell, A Clergyman’s Daughter (34:04)
George Orwell, Why I Write (38:22)
George Orwell, ‘Confessions of a Book Reviewer’, Essays (39:56)
George Orwell, ‘Dickens’, Essays (43:45)
George Orwell, ‘Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool’, Essays (44:28)
Nicholas Fisk, Pig Ignorant (45:25)
Joanna Rakoff, My Salinger Year (45:42)
James Aldred, Goshawk Summer (49:10)
Edward Chisholm, A Waiter in Paris (51:38)
George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London (51:50)
Emilé Zola, The Drinking Den (53:18)
Claire Wilcox, Patch Work (55:11)
– The Nightmare of Room 101, Christopher Rush on George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Issue 69
– Betrayals, Christopher Rush on George Orwell, Animal Farm, Issue 65
– An Extraordinary Ordinary Bloke, Brandon Robshaw on George Orwell, Essays, Issue 56
– All Washed Up, Christopher Robbins on George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London, Issue 21
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