Monday, 17 May 2010

Introducing Ida Mabel Limouzin

Let me introduce you to Ida Mabel Limouzin.

You will like her.

She was born in 1875 and grew up in Burma in the port of Moulmein, where her French family had conducted business since the British annexation in 1826.

The Limouzins were a well-regarded family with wide commercial interests; they even had a street named after them. One family member remembered that the head of the family "lived like a prince".

She was attractive - slender with striking eyes and thick wavy hair - and highly independent.

According to one author, Ms. Limouzin was certainly a "more lively, unconventional, widely-read and in every way a more interesting person" than the dullard she ended up marrying.

She insisted on a separate bedroom to the dullard. When seen together she seemed to others to be faintly dismissive of him. The evidence suggests she only married him on the rebound.

When she brought her young family to England - the dullard was sent off to work in India for years and so played no real part in his children's upbringing - she mixed with Suffragettes and attended public meetings. She often took her children with her: she was remembered by her daughter as being a mother "for outings".

The house was full of fanciful objects, and she had a passion for art and photography.

In essence, Ms. Limouzin was a bohemian at the turn of the twentieth century, but one devoted to her young children.

Her son grew up to be famous.

You can see him as the baby in the photograph above.

Her son was George Orwell.

And when one looks at George Orwell from his mother's perspective, a great deal seems to make sense.

One is no longer trying to explain why the Eton schoolboy decided not to go to university but went to Burma and then Paris instead.

After all, from his mother's side Orwell was Franco-Burmese in the first place.

One can also perhaps see where his independence of mind and unreadiness to conform came from.

(Indeed even at Eton he was distinctive. He was known as "the college atheist" and he read books which surprised his teachers and friends. Regarding Orwell just as a typical Etonian is in my view misconceived.)

But the British obsession with class, and the sexist assumption that the paternal side is more significant, tend to dominate Orwell scholarship.

As I type I have in front of me one biography of Orwell which spends six pages lovingly detailing the family and class background of the dullard, including mentioning distant and titled relatives of whom Orwell was probably unaware.

The biography then deals with Ms. Limouzin in a couple of sentences.

I rather think it should be the other way round.

I almost did a research degree on George Orwell.

I had an ambition of looking at each stage of his life and development from a fresh perspective.

(See my blogpost here for an example of this: I argue that the title of Nineteen Eighty-four may owe more to Orwell's utter disdain for Catholic apologists than the usual - but badly sourced - contention that it was a play on 1948.)

But I became a jobbing lawyer instead.

It has been a thrill to be long-listed and then short-listed for the Orwell Prize for blogging.

The reason I entered this blog for the prize was that it was named after one of my two intellectual heroes (the other being David Hume).

I am astonished to have got so far, especially as I am more a clear than an elegant writer.

At least it provides a pretext to resurrect my sadly-aborted academic research.

And it allows me to introduce you to the lovely Ida Mabel Limouzin, without whom the Orwell Prize simply would not be possible.


No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters.


Will said...

Great post.

Pam Nash said...

Fascinating - a wonderful story! Gives more more mileage to the adage 'Behind every great man.........'


tideliar said...

Brilliant. A friend of mine (for whom others may search on Blogger as The Grand Inquisitor) is a lawyer here in the US and is 70% of the way through a year of "Heroes". This post would make him proud, and I think you should be too. Does Limouzin have a biography? Or is there a decent Orwell biography that focuses on this instead of the paternal (non-)influence?

Stephen Curry said...

Thanks for this - lovely post.

And I must also thank you for the recommendation of Orwell's essays which I am also enjoying.

Natalie (@silv24) said...

What strikes me about this, apart from the fact that it is another exceptionally well-written post, is the warmth running through it towards this remarkable woman. Somewhere in my brain it linked to a BMJ blogpost from earlier today by Richard Smith: Where are the women leaders?

Worth a read, especially in light of this post. Why is the role of women so often overlooked or forgotten in history?

Alchemipedia said...

Interesting post. What a great influence she must have been on George Orwell.

Gammidgy said...

Really, why should anyone think the paternal side should be dominant? This biologist wouldn't.

Great post.

Madam Miaow said...

Sounds like she gave him his centre which, unlike the case of your General Foch, never collapsed.

An elegant read. Thanks for the introduction.

twaza (@wassabeee on twitter) said...

Now I am looking forward to learning from you about David Hume's mother.

Rupert Goodwins said...

Hume and Orwell? There's a case to be made that a year of every child's schooling should be devoted to those two, and nobody should be allowed to sit as a judge, magistrate or in Parliament without passing the equivalent of an A-level in their work.

Lex (@alexiarowan) said...

I did in fact read this on the way to work! Great post, really interesting. Does remind me how little time I seem to have to learn new things now though :-(

Jack of Kent said...

The best of Orwell's biographies on his mother is by Michael Sheldon, which I paraphrase in a couple of places. The quote comparing her with her husband is from the Crick biography.

Queenie said...

Ace post, thanks & congrats again on your nomination. Now I want to find out more about Ida Mabel Limouzin...

nanoamp said...

You do yourself a disservice by suggesting your writing falls short in elegance. After all, you demonstrate the three appeals of rhetoric in the first three sentences alone. If this was crafted, it was skilfully done; if unconsciously, it shows artful flair. [Tips hat]

Flay said...

I like it! Orwell is wonderful. I've only read 1984 and it was stunning. I mean that quite literally. I wonder if even Orwell really believed that we could one day find a man guilty and sentenced for a thought crime. I must read more of him.

Anonymous said...

A most eloquent blog and pleasing to read. It might give a little extra balance to point out that Ida, though she loved her children without doubt, was also constantly farming them out to others during the school holidays. Her political interests became the centre of her life at one time, until they moved from Henley-on-Thames to Southwold. From all accounts of their lives, she then settled down more and had a better relationship with Richard Blair, who maybe also mellowed into old age. Certainly Eric (George) appeared to find them on better terms.
Good luck with the Blog Awards.

Jack of Kent said...

The last comment was a very rare purely anonymous comment publsihed on this Blog.

It was clearly by someone new to this Blog, and it was a constructive and informative comment.

And it was about George Orwell's mother.

Such are the criteria I adopt in exercising my discretion to publish purely anonymous comments...

Steve Jones said...

I tweeted this link to the wonderful musician Nerina Pallot, who recently wrote her dissertation on George Orwell in gaining her first class honours degree in English at Birkbeck (part time whilst finishing an album and training for the London Marathon).

She signed my copy of Down and Out in Paris and London.

Mike from Ottawa said...


I followed the link to the post on 1984's title and was amused on checking the Orwell wikepedia entry to find the only mention of Chesterton as being one of the writers Orwell admired.

Have you considered tuning up the Orwell entry there or creating an entry for the lovely Ida Mabel Limouzin? I am, of course, aware that other people's time seems infinitely expansive.

As to your surprise at making the Orwell Prize shortlist, I'm not surprised. I'd think that for such a prize, clarity really would matter more than elegance. I've not read much Orwell, but the theme of the use of language to obscure rather than make clear runs through 1984 and Animal Farm and informs his criticisms of Chesterton and his followers that you lay out in the 1984 title post. And, as an examination of my post will confirm, from my POV, you're no slouch on the elegance, in an appropriately spare way, given your usual metier of explaining technical legal issues to laymen (and lawyers unfamiliar with the specifics) with clarity and precision.

PhilB said...

Thank you, that certainly does help make sense of Orwell's background. Wasn't it Ida's sister Nellie Limouzin who helped Orwell out while he was down and out in Paris? I'ld be really interested in any more information about the pair of them.

Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...

Just received the Orwell diaries as a prize. Reading the Hop picking diaries at the moment. Wasn't sure how I would find them - daily diaries that is.

Absolutely facisnating.