A blazing, genre-bending masterpiece from one of the most inventive writers of our time.
Eileen O’Shaunessey was a wife and mother, but more importantly, she was a person in her own right. She was a brilliant woman who studied English literature at Oxford University and later psychology at University College London. In 1937 she fearlessly followed her husband to Spain where she worked at the headquarters of the Independent Liberal Party
repression in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil war. ‘ He is a writer who deals really wonderfully with victims of oppression. He’s always taking the side of the underdog. He’s very good at recognising visible, and apparently invisible tyrannies’, Anna tells me. ‘And so I read my way very happily through Orwell’s journalism, letters and through the biographies.?’
But the reprieve that Anna initially sought from reading Orwell’s works and biographies, was quickly interrupted when she came across (ILP) during the Spanish Civil war and during World War I she worked at the Ministry of Information in London. She was an editor, thinker, and poet – a true intellectual who greatly influenced and contributed to arguably some of the greatest novels from the 20th century. And yet, she is largely unknown, and her contributions seemingly erased.
In the summer of 2017, Anna Funder, internationally bestselling author of critically acclaimed books Stasiland and Al That IAm, found herself in a moment of intense overload: the visible and invisible labours of wifedom had caught up with her. And so,she took refuge in the pages of one of the great literary writers of the 20th century, Eric Blair, more famously known as George Orwell.
‘Simply, a masterpiece. Here, Anna Funder not only re-makes the art of biography, she resurrects a woman in full. And this in a narrative that grips the reader and unfolds through some of the most consequential moments – historical and cultural – of the twentieth century.’ – Geraldine Brooks
‘There’s exhilaration in reading every brilliant word.’ – Chloe Hooper
Looking for wonder and some reprieve from the everyday, Anna Funder slips into the pages of her hero George Orwell. As she watches him create his writing self, she tries to remember her own…
When she uncovers his forgotten wife, it’s a revelation. Eileen O’Shaughnessy’s literary brilliance shaped Orwell’s work and her practical nous saved his life. But why – and how – was she written out of the story?
Using newly discovered letters from Eileen to her best friend, Funder recreates the Orwells’ marriage, through the Spanish Civil War and WW II in London. As she rolls up the screen concealing Orwell’s private life she is led to question what it takes to be a writer – and what it is to be a wife.
Compelling and utterly original, Wifedom speaks to the unsung work of women everywhere today, while offering a breathtakingly intimate view of one of the most important literary marriages of the 20th century. It is a book that speaks to our present moment as much as it illuminates the past.
‘So, she will live writing the letters she did – six to her best friend, and three to her husband. I know where she was when she wrote them. I know that the dishes were frozen in the sink, that she was bleeding, that he was in bed with another woman – and she knew it. . . .I supply only what a film director would, directing an actor on set – the wiping of spectacles, the ash on the carpet, a cat pouring itself off her lap.’