Sonia Orwell  

Tuesday Dec 16, 1980

John Spurling writes:
  Sonia Orwell, who died on December 11, was of course best known as the widow of George Orwell.   The difficulty of assigning its true value to her life is that nearly everything she did was done through or behind others.   John Lehmann, writing of the time when she captivated Orwell, remembers "her darting, gaily cynical intelligence and insatiable appetite for knowing everything that went on in the literary world: her revolt against a convent upbringing seemed to provide her life in those days with a kind if inexhaustible rocket fuel".   She had been briefly John Lehmann's secretary before going to work for the Ministry of War Transport.   Her first contact with artists came about through living in a flat opposite the Euston Road School, where she was called, because of her beauty and electrifying effect, "The Euston Road Venus".   There are portraits of her by Coldstream and Moynihan.
  From 1945 until it folded in 1950 she was Horizon's Editorial secretary and in fact often the working partner, when its co-founders (Peter Watson and Cyril Connolly) were absent or indisposed.   In the 1960's she co-edited the Paris-based international review Art and Literature.   Her powerful effect on the literary and artistic world of London had been extended to France just after the war,
when intellectual Paris - Leiris, Bataille, Lacan, Merleau Ponty and others - was bowled over by her in turn.
  What was this effect?   Apart from her looks and vitality, she was the most stimulating friend and patron.   She raised people's spirits with parties and celebrations as well as with personal kindness and actual money, but the real help she gave was her passionate and discriminating enthusiasm for art and literature and it's makers.   She believed in the value of art and the humanity expressed in it as Elizabeth in England, and she made those she picked out feel like her Drakes and Raleighs.
  Among the writers she especially encouraged were Angus Wilson, Nigel Dennis and Jean Rhys.   She was a close friend of Francis Bacon, Virgil Thompson, W. H. Auden, Ivy Compton-Burnett and Marguerite Duras, some of whose work she translated.
  She was born on August 25, 1918, at Ranchi in India, where her father, Charles Neville Brownlee, who died when she was a few months old, was a freight-broker.   She married George Orwell in 1949, just before he died, and secondly, in 1958, Michael Pitt-Rivers - a marriage which lasted only four years.
  Her favourite character in literature was Odvsseus and it was his qualities of adventurousness, self-reliance, high-spirits, intelligence, courage and style which she most admired in others and for which she stood right to the end, even though the pain and humiliation of her last illness.