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George Orwell was a tireless and lively correspondent. He communicated with family members, friends and newspapers, figures such as Henry Miller, Cyril Connolly, Stephen Spender and Arthur Koestler, and strangers who wrote to him out of the blue. This carefully selected volume of his correspondence provides an eloquent narrative of Orwell's life, from his schooldays to his George Orwell was a tireless and lively correspondent. He communicated with family members, friends and newspapers, figures such as Henry Miller, Cyril Connolly, Stephen Spender and Arthur Koestler, and strangers who wrote to him out of the blue. This carefully selected volume of his correspondence provides an eloquent narrative of Orwell's life, from his schooldays to his final illness. Orwell's letters afford a unique and fascinating view of his thoughts on matters both personal, political and much in between, from poltergeists, to girls' school songs and the art of playing croquet. In a note home to his mother from school, he reports having 'aufel fun after tea'; much later he writes of choosing a pseudonym and smuggling a copy of Ulysses into the country. We catch illuminating glimpses of his family life: his son Richard's developing teeth, the death of his wife Eileen and his own illness. His talent as a political writer comes to the fore in his descriptions of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, his opinions on bayonets, and on the chaining of German prisoners. And of course, letters to friends and his publisher chart the development and publication of some of the most famous novels in the English language, providing unparalleled insight into his views on his own work and that of his contemporaries. A Life in Letters features previously unpublished material, including letters which shed new light on a love that would haunt him for his whole life, as well as revealing the inspiration for some of his most famous characters. Presented for the first time in a dedicated volume, this selection of Orwell's letters is an indispensible companion to his diaries.


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George Orwell was a tireless and lively correspondent. He communicated with family members, friends and newspapers, figures such as Henry Miller, Cyril Connolly, Stephen Spender and Arthur Koestler, and strangers who wrote to him out of the blue. This carefully selected volume of his correspondence provides an eloquent narrative of Orwell's life, from his schooldays to his George Orwell was a tireless and lively correspondent. He communicated with family members, friends and newspapers, figures such as Henry Miller, Cyril Connolly, Stephen Spender and Arthur Koestler, and strangers who wrote to him out of the blue. This carefully selected volume of his correspondence provides an eloquent narrative of Orwell's life, from his schooldays to his final illness. Orwell's letters afford a unique and fascinating view of his thoughts on matters both personal, political and much in between, from poltergeists, to girls' school songs and the art of playing croquet. In a note home to his mother from school, he reports having 'aufel fun after tea'; much later he writes of choosing a pseudonym and smuggling a copy of Ulysses into the country. We catch illuminating glimpses of his family life: his son Richard's developing teeth, the death of his wife Eileen and his own illness. His talent as a political writer comes to the fore in his descriptions of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, his opinions on bayonets, and on the chaining of German prisoners. And of course, letters to friends and his publisher chart the development and publication of some of the most famous novels in the English language, providing unparalleled insight into his views on his own work and that of his contemporaries. A Life in Letters features previously unpublished material, including letters which shed new light on a love that would haunt him for his whole life, as well as revealing the inspiration for some of his most famous characters. Presented for the first time in a dedicated volume, this selection of Orwell's letters is an indispensible companion to his diaries.

30 review for A Life in Letters

  1. 4 out of 5

    Pink

    I love this collection of letters, I just wish I could find my copy to finish it. Found it and finished! That only took 3.5 years in all. Might be a record for a book I’ve been actively reading.

  2. 5 out of 5

    James Murphy

    Orwell led a difficult life after the Spanish Civil War. Wounded in the throat in Barcelona, he was already struggling with the tuberculosis which would kill him in 1950. His first wife died in 1944 leaving him to care for their infant son alone. Four years later he himself was hospitalized. He spent most of his last 2 years in hospital. These letters deal with how Orwell coped with these misfortunes. Bravely, I think, and also hopefully right up to the end. The personal letters describe Orwell led a difficult life after the Spanish Civil War. Wounded in the throat in Barcelona, he was already struggling with the tuberculosis which would kill him in 1950. His first wife died in 1944 leaving him to care for their infant son alone. Four years later he himself was hospitalized. He spent most of his last 2 years in hospital. These letters deal with how Orwell coped with these misfortunes. Bravely, I think, and also hopefully right up to the end. The personal letters describe matter-of-factly and uncomplainingly the difficulties of health and raising a toddler in ration-plagued postwar Britain. He made the best of it. If he never wrote figuratively or poetically, he never wrote angrily or dejectedly, either. What Orwell didn't struggle with was his writing. He wrote quickly and with ease when he was healthy enough to work, and he was lucky in being able to place whatever rolled from his typewriter. Publishers waited eagerly for his novels, but finding someone to print essays and reviews was easy, too. His book deals were good to him; book clubs provided huge print runs and large sales. Partly because of all this his letters reveal little friction with publishers and editors. With peers, either, though there are few letters to fellow writers. Arthur Koestler and Anthony Powell were his closest writer friends. For all these reasons the letters are generally peaceful, contented. The turmoil in Orwell's life was with his health.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paula Bardell-Hedley

    Born at the start of the 20th century, George Orwell was a complex character who lived through tumultuous times. He was foremost among the great intellectual writers and thinkers of his day, renowned for tackling issues like poverty, totalitarianism and the surveillance state, and is today most widely remembered for his novels: Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Throughout his life Orwell was a great letter writer. Fortunately for us, many recipients saved his correspondence, thus enabling Born at the start of the 20th century, George Orwell was a complex character who lived through tumultuous times. He was foremost among the great intellectual writers and thinkers of his day, renowned for tackling issues like poverty, totalitarianism and the surveillance state, and is today most widely remembered for his novels: Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Throughout his life Orwell was a great letter writer. Fortunately for us, many recipients saved his correspondence, thus enabling Professor Peter Davison, an ex-president of the Bibliographical Society, to select and annotate an extensive assortment from private collections. Orwell didn't write an autobiography, and he wasn't at all keen on the thought of a biographer poking around in his life, so this volume from Penguin Modern Classics, along with The Orwell Diaries (published in 2009), has been of great significance to Orwellian scholars and historians of the period. As a correspondent he was inclined to be formal, even when writing to friends, and he went to great trouble always to reply to everyone, even during times of ill health - often composing complicated missives to people he barely knew. Some of his comments seem eerily pertinent to modern anxieties, such as those over fake news and unprincipled media magnates:“...the most elementary respect for truthfulness is breaking down, not merely in the Communist and Fascist press, but in the bourgeois liberal press which still pays lip-service to the old traditions of journalism. It gives one the feeling that our civilization is going down into a sort of mist of lies where it will be impossible ever to find out the truth about anything.” Letter to Charles Doran, 26th November 1938While this collection is undoubtedly compelling to Orwell enthusiasts (myself included), it will perhaps be less fascinating to those with only a passing interest in the man and his works. If you count yourself among the latter, I would suggest you read Jeffrey Meyers' authoritative 2001 biography, Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation, which is both readable and well-researched. After which, you may well decide to move on to the Letters and Diaries. Orwell lost his long-running battle with tuberculosis on 21st January 1950. However, his insightful essays, polemical journalism and often controversial fiction has continued to stimulate debate and enthral each fresh generation up to the present day. This collection of his letters offers an absorbing insight into the thoughts of an intensely private man.“I always disagree […] when people end by saying that we can only combat Communism, Fascism or what-not if we develop an equal fanaticism. It appears to me that one defeats the fanatic precisely by not being a fanatic oneself, but on the contrary by using one's intelligence.” Letter to Sir Richard Rees, 3rd March 1949You can read more of my reviews at Book Jotter >>

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jo Walton

    There's not much here that isn't in the Collected Letters, Essays and Journalism, but enough that I'm glad I read it. Dear Orwell, always a joy to spend some time with him.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Steve Shilstone

    Letters are so great. Too bad that for the most part they are a thing of the past.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sam Schulman

    Am I a member of the youngest generation still to think of Orwell as the ideal person to be? I don't hear it from anyone younger. And now this wonderful gives me more reason to idealize him - he's so much what I just miss being. He is the the man who could write to a girl who was engaged to a friend: "Dear Eleanor, it was so nice of you to say that you looked back to your days with me with pleasure. I hope you will let me make love to you again some time, but if you don't it doesn't matter." Am I a member of the youngest generation still to think of Orwell as the ideal person to be? I don't hear it from anyone younger. And now this wonderful gives me more reason to idealize him - he's so much what I just miss being. He is the the man who could write to a girl who was engaged to a friend: "Dear Eleanor, it was so nice of you to say that you looked back to your days with me with pleasure. I hope you will let me make love to you again some time, but if you don't it doesn't matter." That's so me! And his first wife, who is explaining to a girlfriend her relationship with Orwell's C.O. in Spain, "Georges," who had had an awfully big crush on her. It was really awkward: "The last time I saw him he was in jail waiting, as we were both confident, to be shot [by the Commmies], and I simply couldn't explain to him again as a kind of farewell that he could never be a rival to George. So he has rotted in a filthy prison for more than six months with nothing to do but remember me in my most pliant moments." That's so Elizabeth! And has anyone ever said this so clearly: "What sickens me about left-wing people, especially the intellectuals, is their utter ignorance of the way things actually happen." This is the kind of book I have to slow myself down in reading - I know it will be over all too soon.

  7. 5 out of 5

    World Literature Today

    "In distilling the 1,700 letters written by Orwell, Davison set himself two goals: the letters should illustrate his life and hopes, and “each should be of interest in its own right.” This volume admirably fulfills this twofold mission; it is a tribute to Davison’s decades-long scholarship on Orwell’s life." - Daniel P. King, Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin This book was reviewed in the March 2014 issue of World Literature Today. Read the full review by visiting our website: http://bit.ly/1npip3G

  8. 4 out of 5

    Erwin Maack

    "Quanto a comer em restaurantes, é o hábito mais bárbaro e só tolerável, muito ocasionalmente, quando se bebe o suficiente para apreciar a barbárie. E não consigo beber cerveja suficiente". (Página 272)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tatyana

    "I have very little physical jealousy. I don’t much care who sleeps with whom, it seems to me what matters is being faithful in an emotional and intellectual sense." -- George Orwell (1903 - 1950), in a letter to Anne Popham 18 April 1946 "I wonder who your young man is now ? I have thought of you so often—have you thought about me, I wonder ? I know it’s indiscreet to write such things in letters, but you’ll be clever & burn this, won’t you ?" -- George Orwell (1903 - 1950), in a letter to "I have very little physical jealousy. I don’t much care who sleeps with whom, it seems to me what matters is being faithful in an emotional and intellectual sense." -- George Orwell (1903 - 1950), in a letter to Anne Popham 18 April 1946 "I wonder who your young man is now ? I have thought of you so often—have you thought about me, I wonder ? I know it’s indiscreet to write such things in letters, but you’ll be clever & burn this, won’t you ?" -- George Orwell (1903 - 1950), in a letter to Lydia Jackson 1 March 1939 "You asked me what attracted me to you in the first place. You are very beautiful, as no doubt you well know, but that wasn’t quite all. I do so want someone who will share what is left of my life, and my work. It isn’t so much a question of someone to sleep with, though of course I want that too, sometimes " -- George Orwell (1903 - 1950), in a letter to Anne Popham 18 April 1946

  10. 4 out of 5

    Eduardo

    George Orwell fora um p*ta escritor! E Vida em Cartas só comprova isto; já que mesmo as suas pequenas cartas, conseguem mostrar um domínio da escrita e da literatura, que não é qualquer escritor que possui. Além de acompanhar uma grande parte da vida de Orwell, e ver cada problema pelo quais passara durante a vida, também vemos como ele era a representação de uma pessoa boa, e olhe que não compartilho de quase nenhuma visão dele. Este livro é recomendado à todos pelo conjunto de fatores que o George Orwell fora um p*ta escritor! E Vida em Cartas só comprova isto; já que mesmo as suas pequenas cartas, conseguem mostrar um domínio da escrita e da literatura, que não é qualquer escritor que possui. Além de acompanhar uma grande parte da vida de Orwell, e ver cada problema pelo quais passara durante a vida, também vemos como ele era a representação de uma pessoa boa, e olhe que não compartilho de quase nenhuma visão dele. Este livro é recomendado à todos pelo conjunto de fatores que o abrange!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tian

    A strange book to read in many ways because it is so different from the Orwell we know. It's really a life in letters of Eric Blair.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Michael Arnold

    For a long time while I read this I was considering saying in my inevitable detailed review that it should have been named 'George Orwell: How Nineteen Eighty-Four was Inspired' and honestly - while I do still think that's true, it is a little unfair, and I can admit that. This is a very interesting book, especially for a big Orwell fan. Which is good, because only a big Orwell fan would bother reading this at all. I mean, honestly, what casual reader reads a collection of letters? On the Amazon For a long time while I read this I was considering saying in my inevitable detailed review that it should have been named 'George Orwell: How Nineteen Eighty-Four was Inspired' and honestly - while I do still think that's true, it is a little unfair, and I can admit that. This is a very interesting book, especially for a big Orwell fan. Which is good, because only a big Orwell fan would bother reading this at all. I mean, honestly, what casual reader reads a collection of letters? On the Amazon page for this book there is the quote "In distilling the 1,700 letters written by Orwell, Davison set himself two goals: the letters should illustrate his life and hopes, and “each should be of interest in its own right.” This volume admirably fulfills this twofold mission; ..." - Daniel P. King. I don't know who Daniel P King is, so I don't exactly mind disagreeing with him that this book 'admirably fufills' being both illustrative of his life and hopes and should be interesting. Some letters on this book are not interesting, and I really wonder why they were included. Especially toward the end of Orwell's life, the potato patch at his house in Jura, and then his illness as he was dying at the sanatorium, and that Richard (Orwell's son) was 'backward' in speech are gone over in letter after letter in some bits of the book. Honestly, they are quite boring, and I found myself skimming the letters written to Orwell, or about Orwell written by other people. Maybe because Orwell himself and his political and literary comments were the reason I picked it up, but I couldn't find much patience for letters from friends to other friends saying 'Oh, saw Orwell today and he looked sick' - I know. Orwell himself has already said that, the point did not need to be illustrated more. I'm honestly not even sure why some of those letters are even there. Saying that though, some of them help along the 'narrative' of Orwell's life. Others are also very interesting. I paid very close attention to the last letter Eileen Blair wrote as she was dying. That was heart breaking, and showed both her and Orwell's turbulent but also loving relationship as it is in rather uncompromising terms. It was hard to read at times. Also hard to read are some of the letters in which Orwell lays his faults as a human being bare. Including the confession (shocking to me I must admit) that he cheated on his wife and that there were times they were 'bad' as a couple. There is also the revelation that Orwell attempted to sexually impose himself on one of his childhood friends, Jacintha. Also these letters make it very clear how much of a ... bloody weirdo Orwell actually was. I mean, the story about when he slept in a farmer's field because he got off a bus not knowing how he'd go the rest of the way with the money he had? What the heck was that!? But those are just side things. The Orwell fan isn't going to learn a lot from this book about Orwell's novels (other than Nineteen Eighty-Four) they didn't know already. The writing of most of his books before Coming Up for Air are basically just glossed over, while Orwell seemed quite fond of Burmese Days later in life. The writing of A Clergyman's Daughter gets only a page or two, and it and Keep the Aspidistra Flying (a novel I actually really like) Orwell trashes. The focus of this book is on Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, and I suppose that makes sense since they are the really famous ones. About those books, this book is practically indispensable. I feel like an idiot for not connecting the pigs taking the apple reserves with the strikes at Kronstadt - it makes perfect sense now, but before this book I just did not think of it. I'm an idiot. Also interesting are details about what inspired the borders of the Superstates in Nineteen Eighty-Four, and the April I think inspired the first line of that most famous novel. If you want a deeper understanding of Nineteen Eighty-Four, this is the book for you. Orwell said in one of his essays that you should never trust an autobiography if it does not reveal something shocking or scandalous. This book certainly did. And for a man so interested and passionate about defending free expression and free thought, Orwell compiled a list of people who he thought were sympathetic to the Soviet Union - that and his thoughts on pacifism which I personally agree with are more than a little combative. I know why he did and said both these things, and it reveals he was a much more complex person than some of his fans and enemies would like to think he was. If you are interested in Nineteen Eighty-Four you should buy this book immediately. If you are interested in Orwell you should get this book. If you are interested in neither, why are you reading this review?

  13. 5 out of 5

    Denis

    A remarkable book that sits alongside Ray Monk's "Wittgenstein" as one of the best biographical books I've ever read, even though this isn't a biography, but an edited anthology of letters. Perhaps it's indicative of Orwell, the writer, that his letters are able to express so much about himself and his period and it's not just him, there are plenty of letters written by others, most remarkable perhaps those of his first wife Eileen O'Shaughnessy. I guess a good deal of credit should go to the A remarkable book that sits alongside Ray Monk's "Wittgenstein" as one of the best biographical books I've ever read, even though this isn't a biography, but an edited anthology of letters. Perhaps it's indicative of Orwell, the writer, that his letters are able to express so much about himself and his period and it's not just him, there are plenty of letters written by others, most remarkable perhaps those of his first wife Eileen O'Shaughnessy. I guess a good deal of credit should go to the editor, Peter Davison, for establishing the narrative through his choice of letters and his descriptive notes.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    This is an absolutely absorbing book. The selection of letters is wonderful, giving a vivid picture of Orwell's life, in his own words. In certain ways, this is the complete autobiography of Mr. Blair we never got. This is an important book for any fan of Orwell's life and work.

  15. 5 out of 5

    S.D. Curran

    An excellent and intimate look at one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century. This diary chronicles Orwell's letters from his earlier years all the way on up to when he revealed to his estranged family that he was George Orwell (Eric never revealed to his family this until later).

  16. 4 out of 5

    JR

    a wonderful book

  17. 4 out of 5

    Elsie Harbaugh

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jason

  19. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  20. 4 out of 5

    Philip Zyg

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nirvanafish

  22. 4 out of 5

    James Nethercote

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kauane

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Davison

  25. 5 out of 5

    Peter Williams

  26. 5 out of 5

    Abdullahi Yunus

  27. 5 out of 5

    Izabel Arruda

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dave

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mirjana Radmilović

  30. 4 out of 5

    Laura

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