The Girl from the Fiction Department by Hilary Spurling
A Portrait of Sonia Orwell

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Synopsis

Here is the real "Julia" from 1984--George Orwell's wife and widow Sonia, in all her sadness, splendor, and ferocity. "A full and fascinating portrait of a complex, strong, and puzzling personality." --Literary Review.

The portrait of George Orwell's second wife drawn by his biographers is a travesty. Determined to set the record straight, her friend, biographer Hilary Spurling, reveals the whole story of Sonia Orwell's sad and splendid life.

Beautiful, intelligent, and idealistic, Sonia was the model for Julia, heroine of Orwell's 1984. Her friends and admirers included W. H. Auden, Lucian Freud, and Francis Bacon. She was Cyril Connolly's indispensable assistant on the influential literary magazine Horizon during the 1940s, and in the '60s she co-edited the groundbreaking four-volume collection of Orwell's nonfiction writings.

But after the failure of her second marriage, Sonia's life began to go wrong, ending in penury and despair due to the burden unwittingly placed on her by George Orwell at his death. Some have since seen her as a mythical heroine; others have depicted her as mean and mercenary. Spurling portrays the real Sonia Orwell in all her generous, spirited, ferocious, and self-doubting complexity.

 

About Hilary Spurling

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Hilary Spurling is a regular book reviewer for the Daily Telegraph and The New York Times.
 
Published January 1, 2002 by Hamish Hamilton. 194 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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(Some male writers, however, lost their fondness for her when they received her crisp, professional rejection notices.) Spurling reveals that Sonia is the model for the luscious Julia in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the novel he finished shortly before he died of TB in 1950.

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The Guardian

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The Girl from the Fiction Department: A Portrait of Sonia Orwell Hilary Spurling Hamish Hamilton £9.99, pp194 Orwell's Victory Christopher Hitchens Allen Lane, Penguin Press £12.99, pp160 Best remembered for having married George Orwell on his death-bed, and as the inspiration for the fearless, b...

May 19 2002 | Read Full Review of The Girl from the Fiction Dep...

The Guardian

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She is not alone in feeling that Sonia Orwell has been maligned in the years since her death as an obstructive and grasping widow who shamefully exploited her control of Orwell's estate.

May 25 2002 | Read Full Review of The Girl from the Fiction Dep...

Publishers Weekly

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Though Spurling treads lightly over the more intimate aspects of Sonia's life and two marriages, she does remind readers that Sonia was more than just Orwell's relict;

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Scotsman.com

AS GEORGE Orwell lay dying of tuberculosis in 1949, Sonia Brownell finally accepted his proposal of marriage.

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London Review of Books

She slept with him, but only once, then Orwell went off to the island of Jura to write Nineteen Eighty-Four, with Sonia as the model for the innately freedom-loving, contrary Julia: ‘the girl from the Fiction Department .

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