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In other ways it is an advantage The great thing is to be your age, which includes being honest about your social origins. In the same year Orwell, writing from his bed in Hairmyres Hospital, East Kilbride, to his friend Julian Symons, reflected on children and childhood with a kind of cheerful gloominess, very much the mark of the man:. Many times George Orwell referred to the torments of his childhood. Most people writing about him have accepted that he had a uniformly unhappy childhood, and some have built upon it.

Yet experience is not always all of one piece, particularly for children who have little control over their immediate environment; and nor is behaviour. Other things that Orwell wrote about his childhood carry connotations explicitly more mixed, torment and happiness, shame and nostalgia. Odd things triggered his memory. He gave them a few examples.

Here is the full list, for he did have such a notebook. Thus in a traditional country like England even the middle classes have their folklore: most of these will be familiar to English readers. But even if all such recall is induced memory tainted by later events, the picture of childhood he evoked by his list has humour and pleasure in it as well as pain; or at least — another Orwellian trademark — the bizarre and the ordinary intermingle as he looked at his own country as if he were a traveller from afar.

It is unclear whether they are notes towards a story or whether they are simply autobiographical, but the theme, while mainly condemnatory, also carries notes of sad comedy and willing nostalgia. They nevertheless had to rediscover this knowledge after having more or less possessed it and then passed through a period of ignorance. Thus at the age of six, B.

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Yet at about 9 years of age B. The whole subject made him feel so sick that he disliked thinking about it. But at about 13 he thought more frequently about sexual intercourse, chiefly because of the constant references to it in classical literature and the Bible, but it still disgusted him. As his practical knowledge of the subject was derived from rabbits, he believed up to the age of 15, or nearly 16, that human beings do it in the same attitude as animals. At 15 he suddenly discovered that sex was attractive after all, and began masturbating; but he had no lifelike image of sexual intercourse for a year or more after this.

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Till the age of 16 he continued to believe that babies were born through the navel, and he only learned of menstruation at the age of For several years after beginning to masturbate, he believed that this would lead to insanity, but this did nothing towards curing him of the habit. Such ignorance and repression were, indeed, typical of an Edwardian child.

Yet the interpretation, the boy feeling so sick that he disliked thinking about it, is the reflection not merely of a grown man but of a writer possibly beginning in his notebooks to shape a character, largely or partly autobiographical. How terrible was the mental damage caused to many by Victorian and Edwardian sexual repression and hypocrisy, but also how heartening that so many grew out of it relatively unscathed.


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We must neither judge by ideal standards nor make psychological bricks from wisps of biographical straw. How long did that idyll last? Not even as long as spring I think the May was still in bloom When I did the deathly thing. A sick and solitary man amuses himself by recalling his childhood and, despite the obvious irony of sky, stickleback and egg all being brighter, this is far from gloomy memory.

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Who can say which was his dominant view, still less which was true? But it is likely that both happiness and misery were present. This prelude on memory is only a warning that we all resurrect and reinterpret our past according to our present perspectives; Orwell is no exception. Memory unsupported by documentation is not to be trusted, though it has to be used when other evidence is lacking, but carefully and critically. The opium trade with China had been legalized as a government monopoly from For nearly twenty years he moved posts annually, and they were not good postings.

Life had not dealt Richard Blair, as he might have put it, particularly good cards. His great-grandfather Charles Blair had been a rich man, an owner of plantations and slaves in Jamaica, who had married into the aristocracy; but his fortune had dwindled away by the time his tenth and last son was born. There is a family tradition that he stopped off at the Cape on his way home to England on leave, got to know a family called Hare and actually became engaged to one of the older sisters.

Returning from leave, he stopped off intending to marry the girl but found that she had already married someone else. Thus his son Richard had to fend for himself from the age of He retired on his pension with no family inheritance beyond some monogrammed silver and a few pieces of furniture. Perhaps the best bit of luck that Richard Blair had was his marriage. He married in , at the age of 39, Ida Mabel Limouzin who was She had been born in Penge near London, then a semi-rural, new residential suburb as painted by Camille Pissarro. Her mother was English and her father French, and she had lived most other life until marriage in Moulmein, Burma, where her father kept up a business, founded by his father, as teak merchant and boat-builder, but later lost much of his money speculating in rice.

Her mother, a woman of strong character and considerable intelligence, was still very much alive when her grandson, Eric Blair, went to Burma in Ida Blair, eighteen years younger than her husband, was a more lively, unconventional, widely read and in every way a more interesting person all her grandchildren agree. Why did they marry?

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The evidence is lacking; no papers or letters of either of them survive relating to that period. The opportunities for marriage were very limited in the small British communities in the minor postings, or were somewhat now-or-never, frantic and hasty affairs by home standards in the summer hill stations. Ida Limouzin was a realist who could make light of, even be merry in, difficult circumstances.

Incompatibilities of age and temperament were taken for granted in those days as part of the institution of holy matrimony. A woman could have done far worse. Perhaps he did not approve of all her opinions, but then in the tradition of the Opium Department itself he would have extended to her the kind of official tolerance for indigenous deviations which he exercised in his administrative capacity — within, of course, the well-known institutional limits of matrimonial propriety and power. Ida Blair took their two young children back to England, as was then quite common, some time in Avril was conceived at this time.

He returned to Monghyr before she was born and did not rejoin his family until his retirement, four years later. This arrangement would not have been thought of as anything extraordinary. She seems to have had a lot of visitors, both French and English relatives including her sister Nellie and her brother Charles, and new friends; and she went off on small visits frequently. She walked, played bridge and tennis, and took up photography and developed her own plates.

Monday, 6 February: Baby not at all well, so I sent for the doctor who said that he had bronchitis Admittedly the weather was bad. Was she just playing the tourist, or possibly visiting a Suffragette friend other sister Nellie, who was active in the movement? Ida was no more than a sympathizer. In August, at Frinton-on-Sea, he paddled for the first time and enjoyed it, but became ill and was taken to the doctor immediately on returning home.

And again in November. His mother appears to have been, in the very nicest sense, a bit of a gadabout. The diary gives the impression of a woman who could be very protective towards her children, but not ever present, perhaps over-compensating when at home. Certainly at that time, when Richard Blair must have been sending back much of his pay, they were not hard up, even if they were not well off.

It cannot be accepted as primary evidence about his childhood feelings, only as evidence of how the writer could skilfully shape his memories for literary and polemical effect. He claimed no memories whatever, of course, of life in India.

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Iain Sinclair Downriver

I wrote my first poem at the age of four or five, my mother taking it down to dictation. A good mother for a writer, indeed, to take dictation and to read William Blake to a child so early; but, of course, that is the kind of first memory one would have in writing such an essay. The essay went on, however, to take a more general view of his formative influences:.

I was the middle child of three, but there was a gap of five years on either side, and I barely saw my father before I was eight. For this and other reasons I was somewhat lonely, and I soon developed disagreeable mannerisms which made me unpopular throughout my school-days. At the age of 5 he was sent, like his sister Marjorie before and sister Avril after him, to a small Anglican convent school in Henley. He never referred to it, but he must have done very well for them to recommend him for a scholarship to a crack prep school. Avril was taught to read and write by a Marjorie Dakin whose brother Humphrey was later to marry Marjorie Blair.

The Dakins and the Blairs remained close to each other. It was an inconceivably silly song, but it was certainly popular. Again this is a selective use of memory. In his notebooks he admits both charges, the sexual and the social — for the context seems to be that of making notes towards future novels; but in The Road to Wigan Pier the context is severely political, so only the social charge is mentioned.

At this time I was in an almost sexless state, which is normal, or at any rate common, in boys of that age; I was therefore in the position of simultaneously knowing and not knowing what used to be called the Facts of Life. At five or six, like many children I had passed through a phase of sexuality. About the same time I fell deeply in love, a far more worshipping kind of love than I have ever felt for anyone since, with a girl named Elsie at the convent school which I attended.

She seemed to me grown up, so I suppose she must have been fifteen.

After that, as so often happens, all sexual feelings seemed to go out of me for many years. Children are not very good at estimating ages. She may have been more of the age of the village girl paid a few pence to take Eric for walks on holidays or weekend afternoons.