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A Life in Letters Hardcover – 15 Apr 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker (15 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846553555
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846553554
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.5 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 269,997 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

George Orwell is one of England's most famous writers and social commentators. Among his works are the classic political satire Animal Farm and the dystopian nightmare vision Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell was also a prolific essayist, and it is for these works that he was perhaps best known during his lifetime. They include Why I Write and Politics and the English Language. His writing is at once insightful, poignant and entertaining, and continues to be read widely all over the world.

Eric Arthur Blair (George Orwell) was born in 1903 in India, where his father worked for the Civil Service. The family moved to England in 1907 and in 1917 Orwell entered Eton, where he contributed regularly to the various college magazines. From 1922 to 1927 he served with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, an experience that inspired his first novel, Burmese Days (1934). Several years of poverty followed. He lived in Paris for two years before returning to England, where he worked successively as a private tutor, schoolteacher and bookshop assistant, and contributed reviews and articles to a number of periodicals. Down and Out in Paris and London was published in 1933. In 1936 he was commissioned by Victor Gollancz to visit areas of mass unemployment in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) is a powerful description of the poverty he saw there.

At the end of 1936 Orwell went to Spain to fight for the Republicans and was wounded. Homage to Catalonia is his account of the civil war. He was admitted to a sanatorium in 1938 and from then on was never fully fit. He spent six months in Morocco and there wrote Coming Up for Air. During the Second World War he served in the Home Guard and worked for the BBC Eastern Service from 1941 to 1943. As literary editor of the Tribune he contributed a regular page of political and literary commentary, and he also wrote for the Observer and later for the Manchester Evening News. His unique political allegory, Animal Farm was published in 1945, and it was this novel, together with Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), which brought him world-wide fame.

It was around this time that Orwell's unique political allegory Animal Farm (1945) was published. The novel is recognised as a classic of modern political satire and is simultaneously an engaging story and convincing allegory. It was this novel, together with Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), which finally brought him world-wide fame. Nineteen Eighty-Four's ominous depiction of a repressive, totalitarian regime shocked contemporary readers, but ensures that the book remains perhaps the preeminent dystopian novel of modern literature.

Orwell's fiercely moral writing has consistently struck a chord with each passing generation. The intense honesty and insight of his essays and non-fiction made Orwell one of the foremost social commentators of his age. Added to this, his ability to construct elaborately imaginative fictional worlds, which he imbued with this acute sense of morality, has undoubtedly assured his contemporary and future relevance.

George Orwell died in London in January 1950.

Product Description


"It is the portable Orwell, the condensed autobiography that Orwell never wrote, but maybe had his health rallied, he would have. But this collection of letters - a few engaging ones from Eileeen, most written by Orwell to such distinguished correspondents as Arthur Koestler, David Astor, Anthony Powell, Stephen Spender and Cyril Connolly - is probably an improvement on a putative Life written by him... All [the letters] remain fresh, illuminating the complex paradox that was George Orwell." (Daily Telegraph)

"This is the first time Orwell's life told through his letters, including several previously unpublished, has appeared. They have been selected and annotated by Peter Davison, the expert editor of the complete works... He hopes it will serve as a substitute for the autobiography that Orwell never wrote." (Daily Mail)

"Peter Davison's contribution to Orwell studies is not often enough celebrated...A Life in Letters contains nearly everything a reader new to Orwell needs to know about him, and a great deal that diehard fans will be enchanted to have." (DJ Taylor New Statesman)

"Beautifully edited... One of the glories of this volume is that it shows Orwell in the round, complete with all his human idiosyncracies and contradictions. [Peter Davison's] attention to detail is nothing short of heroic... This is the authentic Orwell voice: wonderfully clear and fresh and forthright" (Mail on Sunday)

"The theme of Mr Davison's new edition of the letters is compelling: a version of the life is told through the letters of the man himself...Unlike a conventional biography, the character of the subject comes through undiluted." (Sunday Telegraph)

"The best single-volume selection we could hope for" (Edmund Gordon Sunday Times)

"These letters offer a useful and enjoyable means of tracing the trajectory of his life, his changing cast of mind, his terrors, passions and yearnings" (Times Literary Supplement)

"An utterly fascinating volume" (Simon Leys New York Review)

Book Description

The first one-volume edition devoted to Orwell's letters, including never-before-published Orwell correspondence

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By ASwol83 on 7 Aug 2010
Format: Hardcover
Only two stars indeed. It's worth more than that, I rather think. I've read Crick's biography, but I found these letters to be much more intimate than a standard biography, and they did add quite a bit more to what I knew about Orwell's life. I actually also found Davison's annotations to be very helpful, providing, as they did, detail on many of the people that Orwell was either addressing or referring to in his letters.

Orwell's honesty and passion for the truth, particularly evidenced in his quarrels with the Communist ghouls and the 'New Statesman's' pathetic pusillanimity over the Spanish Civil War, along with his generosity of spirit, very much shine through in these missives. He may only have made it to 46, but he lived a very full and interesting life. His first wife, Eileen, was also a clearly quite remarkable woman. I look forward to reading the companion volume to this book, the 'Diaries'.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By J. Patterson on 10 May 2010
Format: Hardcover
For a more measured review, please refer to Simon Heffer in the Daily Telegraph. Two stars is ridiculous.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By T. Bently VINE VOICE on 9 May 2010
Format: Hardcover
I usually enjoy reading volumes of writers' letters but I was disappointed by this tome. I think this is partly because Orwell wrote so much autobiography and non-fiction and editions of his letters and diaries have already been published - there is little new to reveal.

Also, I found the choice of letters here and Peter Davison's editing a little strange. The cover blurb draws attention to a missive written by Orwell whilst at school but there is only one such letter included in the collection, with a nine year gap until the next one, when Orwell is a grown man!

Davison is pedantic. His note states the school letter is 'handwritten with original spelling and errors' when this is immediately obvious to the reader. Similarly, another note tells us, 'See textual note to "Coming Up For Air" VII pp249-50' as if everyone will have that particular volume immediately to hand.

Davison has been awarded the Gold Medal of the Bibliographical Society but I would have prefered a less fussy presentation of the letters with a clarity which Orwell's writing itself exemplified.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 1 review
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Orwell in the Mail 27 Aug 2012
By Philip Brantingham - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Over more than half a century after his death in 1950, Orwell's miscellaneous writings are appearing in authoritative editions: the diaries, the unpublished articles, and now the letters. Of course, many of these writings were printed in the four-volume edition "The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell" edited by his wife Sonia and Ian Angus. Then there is the "Complete Works" of over twenty volumes--but these books are strictly for university libraries and Orwell accumulators. The current selection of Orwell's letters includes previously published, as well as new, letters. As in any such collection its value lies in the editor's choice of items, not necessarily in the quality of the letters themselves. In this, editor Peter Davison has succeeded extremely well. "Orwell: A Life in Letters" is well worth reading both for insights on Orwell's character, as well as that of other correspondents, among whom are his first wife Eileen, some of whose letters are included. Davison has decided that the opinions and viewpoints of others is worth having alongside those of others--and he's quite right.
The title "A Life in Letters" is accurate, for there is much Of Orwell's life--and opinions--to be discovered. One thing to be learned is that how very ill Orwell was in the final decade of his life. He suffered lifelong from lung disease, but in the mid-Forties it became tuberulosis. In 1938 and 1939 he lived in Marrakech, Morocco, for his health, joined of course by Eileen. The letters from this period are very interesting and describe bluntly the world around them, and the grinding poverty of the average Moroccans.
As a letter writer, Orwell is no Horace Walpole or Virginia Woolf. But he is frank, open, and at times rather cranky. In short, the book is an excellent adjunct to the Orwell literary legacy. Certainly to be recommended.
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