George Orwell: A Life in Letters

Liveright: Norton. Aug. 2013. 560p. ed. by Peter Davison. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780871404626. $35. LIT
OrangeReviewStarFollowing the publication of his comprehensive diaries and 63 years after his death, this generous selection of English writer Orwell's (1903–50; Homage to Catalonia; Down and Out in Paris and London) letters was compiled by the indefatigable Orwell scholar Davison. Over 1,700 of Orwell's letters appear in The Complete Works (co-edited by Davison, 1998), from which this volume draws heavily. An earlier selection appeared in the four-volume Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (1968). Newly discovered letters are included here, as well as affectionate and witty correspondence written by Orwell's first wife, Eileen. Davison's chronological arrangement and accompanied introductory notes contextualize his subject's writing periods. Dating from 1911, the earliest letter is a short note that Eric Blair (Orwell) sent to his mother from St. Cyprian's School. Only two letters represent the 1920s when the author spent five years in Burma as a policeman and then worked at a series of menial jobs in England and Paris. Starting in 1932, though, his correspondence grew steadily. Davison describes Orwell's letter writing to friends, colleagues, and strangers alike as "businesslike." The many letters to his literary agent Leonard Moore offer fascinating details about writing projects, planned books, setbacks, and wrangling with publishers. The book supplies useful biographical notes on Orwell's correspondents, a time line, and an extensive index.
VERDICT Orwell the man truly emerges in these revealing letters; this essential companion volume to the Diaries will be devoured by legions of Orwell fans and scholars.
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