This is the story of the marriage behind some of the most famous literary works of the 20th century —and a probing consideration of what it means to be a wife and a writer in the modern world
At the end of summer 2017, Anna Funder found herself at a moment of peak overload. Family obligations and household responsibilities were crushing her soul and taking her away from her writing deadlines. She needed help, and George Orwell came to her rescue.
"I’ve always loved Orwell," Funder writes, "his self-deprecating humour, his laser vision about how power works, and who it works on." So after rereading and savoring books Orwell had written, she devoured six major biographies tracing his life and work. But then she read about his forgotten wife, and it was a revelation.
Eileen O’Shaughnessy married Orwell in 1936. O’Shaughnessy was a writer herself, and her literary brilliance not only shaped Orwell’s work, but her practical common sense saved his life. But why and how, Funder wondered, was she written out of their story? Using newly discovered letters from Eileen to her best friend, Funder re-creates the Orwells’ marriage, through the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War in London. As she peeks behind the curtain of Orwell’s private life she is led to question what it takes to be a writer—and what it is to be a wife.
A breathtakingly intimate view of one of the most important literary marriages of the twentieth century, Wifedom speaks to our present moment as much as it illuminates the past. Genre-bending and utterly original, it is an ode to the unsung work of women everywhere.
About the Author
ANNA FUNDER is the author of Stasiland and All That I Am, and the novella The Girl with the Dogs. Stasiland, hailed as a ‘classic’, tells true stories of ordinary people who heroically resisted the communist dictatorship of East Germany, and of others who worked for the Stasi. In 2004 Stasiland won the UK’s premier award for non-fiction, the Samuel Johnson Prize, and was a finalist for many other awards. Anna’s novel All That I Am is an homage to four German anti-Hitler activists living bravely but precariously in exile in London in the 1930s. All That I Am won many literary awards including Australia’s most prestigious, the Miles Franklin Prize, and was a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize. It spent over a year on the bestseller lists, was BBC Book of the Week and Book at Bedtime, and The Times Book of the Month. Both books are international best sellers, published in over twenty-four countries. Originally trained as an international human rights lawyer, Anna is a former DAAD Fellow in Berlin, Australia Council Fellow, and Rockefeller Foundation Fellow. She has lived in Paris, Berlin, and Brooklyn, and now lives in Sydney, Australia.
"Simply, a masterpiece. Here, Anna Funder not only re-makes the art of biography, she resurrects a woman in full. And this in a narrative that grips the reader and unfolds through some of the most consequential moments--historical and cultural--of the twentieth century." —Geraldine Brooks, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, author of Horse
★ "An electrifying biography of George Orwell’s first wife. . . . [Wifedom] is not a traditional biography but rather a pastiche of Eileen’s letters to her friend Norah Symes, Funder’s invented scenes of the Orwells’ lives, and a first-person account of Funder’s own life as the mother of teenage daughters as the “revelations of #MeToo erupt,” a time of “unspeakable truths.” Eileen is a worthy subject in her own right, but the author ably depicts the balance of power between the Orwells, particularly the way George wrote Eileen out of the narrative. . . . Funder creates a convincing, vivid portrait of Eileen as an irreplaceable font of unpaid labor for George. . . . Daring in both form and content, Funder’s book is a nuanced, sophisticated literary achievement. . . . A sharp, captivating look at a complicated relationship and a resurrection of a vital figure in Orwell’s life." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"A truly wonderful biography. . . Anna Funder has written another brilliant human portrait." —Claire Tomalin