Susan Midalia's Review
Anna Funder’s new book comes twelve years after the publication of her novel All That I Am, winner of the prestigious Miles Franklin Award. Wifehood is well worth the wait. The book is impelled by the desire to ‘rescue’ Eileen, the first wife of acclaimed writer George Orwell, from the erasure to which the partners of famous artists have too often been subjected. In the process, Funder also exposes ‘the lies’ propagated by history of George Orwell the man: be prepared to be outraged or dismayed by some of his behaviour, particularly towards women, his failings as a father, and an inclination to misrepresent details of his political activism. Wifehood is a compelling example of creative non-fiction. Its factual sources include transcripts of letters, interviews, photographs, the many biographies of George Orwell, investigative journalism, and glimpses of Funder’s own life as a writer, wife and mother. It is also a work of the fiction in which Funder imagines, with great sensitivity and psychological astuteness, the inner lives of the Orwells, as well as a host of their friends and associates in wartime and in work. But as the book’s title suggests, its focus is to honour the courage, intelligence and compassion of an undervalued wife, and to critique the institution of wifehood itself. It offers an impassioned ethical analysis of a patriarchal system that denied, and continues to deny, women the opportunity to develop their talents and to lead more personally fulfilling lives. An informative, exhilarating, provocative read.
Looking for wonder and some reprieve from the everyday, 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.
'So, she will live writing the letters she did - six to her best friend, and three to her husband. I know where she was when she wrote them. I know that the dishes were frozen in the sink, that she was bleeding, that he was in bed with another woman - and she knew it. . . .I supply only what a film director would, directing an actor on set - the wiping of spectacles, the ash on the carpet, a cat pouring itself off her lap.'