Monday, 17 May 2010
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.
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