Sonia Brownell (1918-1980) married George Orwell in 1949 because he said it would help him recover his health. Unfortunately, the marriage proved no panacea for tuberculosis, and 14 weeks after the wedding, he died, leaving Sonia, a talented editor associated with the magazine Horizon, as his sole heir. She also inherited his pseudonym (which she continued to use as her surname till the end of her life), and, in time, assumed the role of the ferocious Widow Orwell, jealous guardian of her husband's literary reputation. Her battles with upstart biographers and established publishers, her vicious tongue and her propensity for drink led to her being vilified as a grasping opportunist. Mary McCarthy used the occasion of Sonia's memorial service to summarize her weakest points, notes Spurling, and David Plante anatomized her in Difficult Women. Now her good friend Spurling, a highly regarded biographer, seeks to set the record straight with a portrait that emphasizes Sonia's vitality, generosity, kindness and support of writers like Jean Rhys, who were much in need of it. Though Spurling treads lightly over the more intimate aspects of Sonia's life and two marriages, she does remind readers that Sonia was more than just Orwell's relict; she was closely involved in the lives and careers of many of the most influential British, French and American artists and writers of the mid-20th century. Spurling's brief, warm biography appears a touching act of friendship; if she perhaps overstates the case for Sonia, she makes clear that Sonia's critics have exaggerated the case against her. B&w photos.
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