Making Mrs Orwell Visible: Read an Extract from Wifedom by Anna Funder

Making Mrs Orwell Visible: Read an Extract from Wifedom by Anna Funder

How did I get here?

At the end of summer 2017 I found myself at a moment of peak overload: organising separate new schools for my teenage daughters – uniforms, books, dozens of emails – orthodontics, euphonium hire, my son’s holiday program (bring extra shirt for tie-dye!), ferrying a depressed French exchange student to see the sights, arranging for recalcitrant, condescending tradesmen to patch up my old house in three-hour windows of their choosing, sorting out a relative’s hospital care, and hosting dear interstate family at a time of great sadness.

All of this was taking me away from work deadlines ticking under every waking minute. I shopped for groceries, yet again, in the soul-sapping local mall. I wound the car, yet again, down the ramps from floor to floor, following EXIT signs I knew were empty promises: I could never, really, leave. When the greedy boom-gate machine inhaled my ticket, I knew: the mall had sucked out my privileged, perimenopausal soul. I had to get her back.

So instead of going home I pulled in around the corner at a second-hand bookshop, Sappho. The ice cream could melt in the boot; the meat could sweat in its toxic plastic. Sappho Books is a relic from my mother’s liberation era, the 1970s. It is an unrenovated warren of a terrace house, with handmade signs sticking out from the shelves and a café with potted palms tucked in its wobbly, welcoming courtyard. To climb the creaky wooden stairs to nonfiction is to go back to a gentler, pre-digital era of shabby armchairs and serendipitous discovery. This place is a trove of works sifted from the mass of forgettable books published every decade and found to transcend their time. It is what you missed or never got to, it is what you don’t even know you need. Sappho is the opposite of a mall: no one is trying to sell you anything. In fact, the tattooed woman at the till sighs ruefully when you buy one of their books, as if money couldn’t, possibly, make up the loss. This place is entirely soul.

In that upstairs back room I found a first-edition, four-volume series of Orwell’s Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters from 1968. I’ve always loved Orwell – his self-deprecating humour, his laser vision about how power works, and who it works on. I sank into an armchair. The pages, dark and fragile, smelt like the past. I opened to the essay ‘Shooting an Elephant’. It begins…

Continue reading the extract here…

Buy a copy of Wifedom here.

Reviews

Breathtakingly Brilliant: Read Our Review of Wifedom by Anna Funder

Review | Our Review

18 July 2023

Breathtakingly Brilliant: Read Our Review of Wifedom by Anna Funder

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      Publisher details

      Wifedom
      Author
      Anna Funder
      Publisher
      Penguin
      Genre
      Fiction
      Released
      04 July, 2023
      ISBN
      9780143787112

      Synopsis

      A blazing, genre-bending masterpiece from one of the most inventive writers of our time.

      Looking for wonder and some reprieve from the every day, Anna Funder slips into the pages of her hero George Orwell. As she watches him create his writing self, she tries to remember her own…

      When she uncovers his forgotten wife, it’s a revelation. Eileen O’Shaughnessy’s literary brilliance shaped Orwell’s work and her practical nous saved his life. But why – and how – was she written out of the story?

      Using newly discovered letters from Eileen to her best friend, Funder recreates the Orwells’ marriage, through the Spanish Civil War and WW II in London. As she rolls up the screen concealing Orwell’s private life she is led to question what it takes to be a writer – and what it is to be a wife.

      Compelling and utterly original, Wifedom speaks to the unsung work of women everywhere today, while offering a breathtakingly intimate view of one of the most important literary marriages of the 20th century. It is a book that speaks to our present moment as much as it illuminates the past.

      Anna Funder
      About the author

      Anna Funder

      Anna Funder is the author of the acclaimed All That I Am, winner of the 2012 Miles Franklin Literary Award, among other awards. Her first book, the internationally bestselling Stasiland, won the 2004 Samuel Johnson Prize and was published in twenty countries and translated into sixteen languages. Anna Funder is a former DAAD and Rockefeller Foundation Fellow. She grew up in Melbourne and Paris and now lives in New York with her husband and family.

      Books by Anna Funder

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