Orwell's fear and loathing in Southwold

A LITERARY giant who "loathed" the small-town conservatism of a seaside town in north Suffolk is being remembered in the centenary year of his birth.George Orwell, famous for "Animal Farm" and "Nineteen Eighty Four", spent part of his fledgling career in Southwold after his parents retired to a handsome house in the High Street.

A LITERARY giant who "loathed" the small-town conservatism of a seaside town in north Suffolk is being remembered in the centenary year of his birth.

George Orwell, famous for "Animal Farm" and "Nineteen Eighty Four", spent part of his fledgling career in Southwold after his parents retired to a handsome house in the High Street.

He wrote "The Clergyman's Daughter", published in 1934, in the town, basing the fictional town of Knype Hill partly on Southwold, and received the first copies of his first published book, "Down and Out in Paris and London", while living there.

But according to his sister Avril Blair, who owned the Copper Kettle teashop in Queen Street, he "loathed" the town.


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Southwold Museum is holding an exhibition which gathers together many of Southwold's memories of the man.

Orwell, whose real name was Eric Blair, hated the name and called himself Orwell after the river, and had a love-hate relationship with the town.

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He is remembered as a rather dishevelled unshaven figure, dressed in suits handmade by a local tailor that needed a good iron, a long scarf, and no hat - which in the 1930s was considered under-dressed.

Southwold resident and graphic artist Susie Bailey, who has worked on children's animated features for television, has put together the exhibition of pictures, letters and other memorabilia.

She said: "Local people saw his behaviour as game-playing. It was fashionable then for the middle classes to have socialist leanings, but I think local people felt rather sorry for his parents who were a cut above. There were poor people in Southwold at the time, but he didn't seem to notice them."

Torrid love scenes that feature in two of his books, "Keep the Aspidistra Flying" and "Nineteen Eighty Four", appear to have been based on a real brief summer love affair with a local woman named Eleanor.

In June of 1932, he wrote to her: "I think it would perhaps be best for me to go to some quiet place in France, where I can live cheaply and have less temptation from the World, the Flesh and the Devil than at Southwold (You can decide which of these categories you belong to.)"

A few months later he wrote again recalling "the day in the wood" which seems to have inspired the woodland love scenes in the two novels.

According to Brenda Salkeld, a teacher at St Felix School for girls to whom he proposed, he didn't much like women and others recall he was much happier in the company of animals and children.

In June a new biography entitled Orwell: The Life by David Taylor will be published, and on June 29 ITV's The South Bank Show will run a programme on the author, some of which has been filmed in Southwold.

The museum is open during afternoons, and is free, although donations are appreciated as it is self-financing.

For more information visit the website on www.southwoldmuseum.org.

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