The Girl from the Fiction Department: A Portrait of Sonia Orwell by Hilary Spurling - review by Francis Wyndham

Francis Wyndham

Sweet And Selfless

The Girl from the Fiction Department: A Portrait of Sonia Orwell


Hamish Hamilton 208pp £9.99 order from our bookshop

This absorbing biography gallantly sets out to right a wrong and to solve a mystery, triumphantly succeeding in both objectives. It also, despite its brevity, gives a full and fascinating portrait of a complex, strong and puzzling personality – an attractive woman whose selfless nature and bountiful generosity were shadowed and sometimes soured by a tragic lack of self-esteem. As Hilary Spurling writes in her opening paragraph, ‘Sonia Orwell baffled people in her lifetime and afterwards’, and this account of the great wrong that was posthumously done to her reputation ‘is a story about how story-tellers themselves – gossips, fantasists, mythmakers, biographers – can twist and distort the pattern of a life’.

The received version of the life went like this: Sonia Brownell was a voluptuously beautiful blonde of thirty-one when she married George Orwell in 1949. He was fifteen years older and on his deathbed. When he did die a few months later she inherited his entire estate – including the

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