Martin Tyrrell at the Dublin Review of Books:
Eileen Blair, George Orwell’s first wife, is the subject of this welcome and assiduously researched biography by Sylvia Topp. Eileen married Orwell in 1936 when he was a virtual unknown and, until her death in 1945 at the age of just thirty-nine, shared with him a life that was lived primarily on the unreliable income from his writing. She did not live to see even the beginnings of the worldwide fame that would come her husband’s way with Animal Farm, which was published in the year of her death.
“She was a good old stick,” Orwell famously remarked when Stephen Spender offered his condolences. To Spender this was an affected stoicism: deep down, he reckoned, Orwell was hurting. Others thought the same. Still, it is that throwaway “good old stick”, ever so faintly on the wrong side of cold-heartedness, that has, well, stuck.