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Aspects of Orwell

D. J. Taylor, literary critic, novelist and Whitbread Prize-winning author of the definitive Orwell: The Life (2003) and its highly acclaimed sequel The New Life (2023), and Masha Karp, Orwell scholar, former Russian features editor at the BBC World Service and author of George Orwell and Russia, join the Slightly Foxed team at the kitchen table in Hoxton Square to take a fresh and deeply personal look at the life and work of George Orwell.

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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Show Notes

Books Mentioned

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)

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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)

Related Slightly Foxed Articles

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

Pox Britanica, Sue Gee on George Orwell, Burmese Days, Issue 40

All Washed Up, Christopher Robbins on George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London, Issue 21

The Road to Room 101, Gordon Bowker on George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Issue 11

  • The Nightmare of Room 101
    1 March 2021

    The Nightmare of Room 101

    It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen. That first arresting sentence of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four transports us immediately into a world that is real enough (the swirl of gritty dust, the acidic sickly gin, the smell of boiled cabbage) but is also alien and fantastic. Even now, in the age of the 24-hour clock, that number thirteen startles you, for no clock ever does physically strike thirteen, and its undercurrent of unluckiness adds to the sense of unease. It’s one of the best opening sentences I’ve ever read.
  • Betrayals
    1 March 2020


    I have a Russian wife. We work together – articles, talks, translations, books, to keep the wolf from the door. Sometimes, when a bigger than usual energy bill slides through the letterbox, or the car breaks down or the tax-man cometh, one of us will look at the other with a rueful grin and say: ‘The solution as I see it, Comrade, is to work harder.’ It’s a direct quotation from Animal Farm (1945) and the character we are quoting is the big carthorse Boxer, eighteen hands high, and the stalwart representative of the proletariat in George Orwell’s book.
  • An Extraordinary Ordinary Bloke
    1 December 2017

    An Extraordinary Ordinary Bloke

    The Orwell of the essays has a pungent literary personality. He’s dauntingly knowledgeable, decided in his views and trenchant in their expression, a non-sufferer of fools, an enemy of pretension and hypocrisy; yet withal humane, reasonable, decent. He writes as if he’s just an ordinary bloke – yet not an ordinary ordinary bloke, but an exceptionally well-read, politically aware, sensitive and intelligent ordinary bloke with wide-ranging interests and a view on everything.
  • All Washed Up
    1 March 2009

    All Washed Up

    Many years ago, when I was in my early twenties, I lived in Copenhagen where I was registered with the Foreign Ministry as correspondent for The Times. But I made my living washing dishes. The paper paid by the line and used so little of my copy that I was forced to find illegal work as a scullion in one of the city’s less elegant restaurants. And it was during this time, morbidly attracted by the title, that I found a copy of Down and Out in Paris and London.

Other Links

2024 Wall Calendar

Slightly Foxed Readers’ Day 2023

The George Orwell Foundation

Opening music: Preludio from Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major by Bach

Produced by Podcastable

Episode 47: Aspects of Orwell

Comments & Reviews

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  1. Mrs. Ainee C. Beland says:

    I have enjoyed this podcast because it made me learn more about Orwell; I knew that he was a great writer of at least two of my favourite readings when I was a young girl in school; we had to read Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm and I had not read anything like that ever.

    I also did not know of the term ‘dystopian’ literature; I thought of his books as ‘surreal’ and today we have surpassed what he’d predicted in both those books and I must wonder if there’s an author who has captured or championed ‘where we’re going’ heading into with all of our privacy stripped away with cameras, cell phone cameras, recording all of our activities; seemingly at times, voluntary.

    Where are we to go from here is where I am at, after having made to remember of Orwell’s prophecies, literature; and his writings and I am asking who today is that author who has described that futuristic better life than we’ve been living of late.

    Thank you Slightly Foxed for this great thought; it’s been interesting. Take care and Happy New Year!

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