Do We Cancel? Reviewing ‘Wifedom: Mrs. Orwell's Invisible Life’ by Anna Funder
It brings to mind, once again, something that Montaigne said, "I write to keep from going mad from the contradictions I find among mankind - and to work some of those contradictions out for myself."
I, for one, don't need to look at humanity to see a myriad of contradictions. A mirror does the trick just as well.
While I agree that a book or any work of art or achievement is separate from the artist, it certainly is easier for me to admire the art when I can admire the artist.
A writer like Orwell, living an unbalanced and thus morally questionable life, reminds me of politicians who do the same. There's an entitlement there that is ugly.
A thought provoking essay that goes beyond the specific case of Orwell and gets to larger questions of balance in life. Thank you.
Great piece, Joel.
This book was serialised by the UK’s BBC Radio 4 and is well worth a listen. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001pmbl
I read an almost parallel essay about Edward Hopper and his wife Josephine in "Rembreant is in the Wind". This is beginning to sound like a story as old as time. As I was reading, I was hearing the phrase "I must decrease so that he must increase" and smiled when I saw it at the end. Of course Orwell is no Jesus. Also, I have heard great things about Claire Dederer's book Monster and hope to start listening to it this week. Thanks Joel for another interesting and illuminating piece.
Thanks for the background on Orwell. While I’m not about canceling anyone, I do prefer an author I could respect as a person. Orwell isn’t in that category.
This reminds me of two books we have talked about. The Gambler's Wife, about Dostoyevsky and Fair Play. Of course, this is because it's a common theme. There's even a borderline cliche, "behind every succesful man________" fill in the blank as you wish. Bill Burr has a stand up routine about how Steve Jobs never really did anything but tell a bunch of scientists what to do. All of that gets to the kick off point, we don't create on our own really. Great work as always, man. You are really knocking them out of the park.
Interesting. Ive seen good and bad reviews of this book. Some say Funder projects herself into it too much. I have it on my to read pile and am looking forward to seeing how I feel about it.
Great reflection, Joel. Orwell’s inexcusable entitlement aside, I feel there’s often an unsettling cost to the production of profound art which bizarrely surfaces in counterpoint ugliness.
Good reading. Thank you for the review. This piece reminds me strongly of Ruth Franklin's riveting biography of Shirley Jackson. The bitter irony is that the excuse is that the wife is being sacrificed to (the husband's) Art, when in fact the wife was (in the case of Jackson) or may well have been (in the case of Blair) the greater talent, capable of a higher art. But as you/Ms. Funder point out, the problem isnt just Orwell (or Hyman), but his editors, his biographers, the whole societal view of the sexes and marriage, and probably of Art and of paid work and homemaking too.
Great post. Thanks for sharing!
I wonder how different Orwell's conduct was from a lot of other men of his generation. Not to make excuses for his caddishness, but I read a book about Orwell and the broader literary circle that he was on the margins of, and it seemed like between postwar disillusionment and a lack of so many other things to do that different characters were always getting together for "a walk in the woods" and so forth. Grisly wars often make participants more macho/callous than they might otherwise have been, might have been partially a generational thing that's hard for us moderns to understand.
Wow! Powerful and thought-provoking read. Thank you for sharing this.
This sheds a lot of light on an interesting aspect of Orwell’s life. Great essay.
Never knew this although we studied Animal Farm back then for Lit. To be honest, it takes two to clap. But perhaps things were different in their time and there were less options to leave a marriage or stop being the everything spouse. Personally, I think it's sad the way their marriage turned out. To gain the world but lose ..... Though in the end, only Eileen and Orwell could judge their own marriage. Thanks for the post.