Homage to East Anglia

[This article is a companion piece for The Aidan Project Podcast episode, George Orwell Versus Alternative Facts, which is available at the footer of this page or by clicking here]

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He who controls the past controls the future.

He who controls the present controls the past.

Nineteen Eighty-Four

The River Orwell is a small river which runs through East Anglia. The Atlantic Ocean is a foreboding sea which separates Albion from America. Across the latter, a surprise election result led to the inauguration on 20 January 2017 of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Eric Blair was born far from either of these waters in Motihari, India in 1903, but his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, released in 1949, has once again dashed to the top of the literary bestsellers. The novel has been widely cited for uncanny comparisons with the new order across the Atlantic. Blair, who took the pen name ‘George Orwell’, was not right about everything, but he was right about all too much.

The question as to why Blair chose his famous nom de plume has never been settled to complete satisfaction. It has been speculated that the choice of forename was inspired by the patron Saint of England, St. George, but perhaps too much is made of this. Orwell, although often regarded as a quintessential Englishman, was a man of many contradictions, including those of national identity. Too many contradictions, indeed, to be certain of this link. Moreover, Orwell, though he distrusted intellectuals, was one himself, and would have known that St. George was no Englishman.

Much less spurious is the surname. To understand this, we need not venture out of Suffolk. Orwell’s connections to East Anglia were an important part of his private life, and it is all but certain that his famous surname flowed from the River Orwell. To explore the alias further, considering how combative Orwell was in his attacks on totalitarianism, one could regard ‘George Orwell’ less as a pseudonym, more of a nom de guerre.

When Orwell’s father retired from colonial service in India in 1921, Richard and Ida Mabel Blair settled in Southwold, Suffolk. Their son followed in Richard’s footsteps to serve the Empire abroad, having passed a training course in the town. But Orwell returned to Suffolk five years later; disillusioned, despairing Imperialism, and seeking a new direction.

Through his many challenges, not least the poor health that ultimately led to his death in 1950, he would often return to Southwold. With fish and chips, sea air and no fear of Big Brother, Orwell could take a gentle stroll along the pier, or a quick dip into the sea, and consider his next move. A Clergyman’s Daughter, published in 1935, was kindled by his time in Southwold, which is substituted for the invented Suffolk proxy of Knype Hill.

Orwell cared little for the novel and rather disowned Knype Hill, but never did he disown Southwold. Likewise, Southwold embraced Orwell. A tribute to a man so passionate about defending what he believed in (he even took a fascist bullet to the throat in Spain) takes pride of place on Southwold’s pier wall. And quite right, too. For Orwell, perhaps all English coastal towns were equal, but some English coastal towns were more equal than others.

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