Simply, a masterpiece. Here, Anna Funder not only re-makes the art of biography, she resurrects a woman in full.
A marvelous book… I just loved it all, and have a permanently marked-up, dog-eared copy on my shelf for the next generation.
Electrifying… Daring in both form and content, Funder’s book is a nuanced, sophisticated literary achievement… A sharp, captivating look at a complicated relationship and a resurrection of a vital figure in Orwell’s life.
Exquisite… reminiscent of Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts or Julian Barnes’s The Noise of Time.
One of the most startling explorations of life-writing (Eileen’s, Orwell’s and Funder’s) in recent times . . . Wifedom is a genre-bending tour-de-force that resurrects an invisible woman, and relitigates the saintly image of the man she called “Eric” . . . a moving, forensic act of biographical reconstruction.
‘A virtuoso performance on the theme, adding personal memoir, some fictional reconstructions and a glittering sense of purpose.’
With the precision of a historian, Funder cobbles together scant details to reconstruct a life. And with the imaginative force of a novelist, she speculates in clearly sign-posted moments on what that life was like . . . A spectacular achievement of both scholarship and pure feeling.
Blending forensic research, fiction, life writing and criticism, Funder upends the legacy of literary triumph to reveal the woman behind it . . . Wifedom: Mrs Orwell’s Invisible Life is a brilliant, creative hybrid of life writing, feminist polemic and literary criticism, which upends the way we read.
Electrifying . . . a genre-melding hybrid that allows Eileen’s likeness to be partially recovered through her own words and the testimonies of those who remembered her, as well as reimagined in fictional passages to flesh out the gaps in the record . . . Wifedom is a vital, if incomplete, portrait of a woman whose unseen work was instrumental in the creation of books that became cornerstones of 20th-century literature.
Funder is a boundary-breaking, risk-taking writer whose previous books synthesized memoir, fact and imagination to impressive effect . . . At her best, Funder shows that radical compassion – which is not the same as forgiveness – will move one closer to understanding, in marriage and biography, every time.
Anna Funder is a premier-league writer who can roll fiction, reportage, criticism and memoir into glinting prose, her sentences like handheld treasures you keep turning over, admiring for their graceful contours and crafted precision.
Anna Funder’s fascinating, furious, inventive biography of Eileen takes us more immersively into the Orwells’ world. And Funder is a formidable writer for the job . . . In Wifedom she blends fiction, biography and autobiography to bring Eileen vividly alive.
A chilling and spellbinding revisionist history about one of the 20th century’s most imposing authors. It could not exist without such a nimble and generous imagination.
In this rattlingly fierce book, Anna Funder sets out to unmask the “wicked magic trick” by which Eileen O’Shaughnessy Blair has been made to disappear. . . readers will be simply thrilled – and shaken – by this passionately partisan act of literary reparation.
An act of sisterly resurrection . . . Wifedom offers an imaginative, gripping and sometimes enraging account of a dysfunctional marriage.
Funder is the perfect writer to integrate Orwell’s legacy. She, too, has devoted her writing life to the subject of surviving tyranny.
Radical in its outlook and distinguished by a creative writer’s imaginative insights . . . Funder’s evocation of Eileen’s fugitive life haunts this reader’s imagination. It is a spellbinding achievement.
A truly wonderful biography… Anna Funder has written another brilliant human portrait.
Astonishing . . . Wifedom is no less than the rescue of a remarkable woman from the deliberate ellipses of default male history.
Eileen O’Shaughnessy, George Orwell’s first wife, takes center stage in this potent biography. Funder (Stasiland), a former human rights lawyer, suggests that O’Shaughnessy, who married Orwell in 1936 and stayed with him until her death nine years later from a botched hysterectomy, was crucial to Orwell’s success; she typed and edited his manuscripts, managed his correspondence, cooked his meals, nursed him through ill health, tolerated his sexual affairs, and even cleaned the outhouse at their country home. According to Funder, she also directly influenced some of her husband’s most famous work, encouraging him to express his criticism of Stalinism as a satirical novel (Animal Farm) instead of the essay he had planned, and possibly inspiring 1984 with her poem “End of the Century, 1984,” about “a dystopian future of telepathy and mind control.” Funder pulls no punches when discussing Orwell’s cruelty, taking him to task for allegedly demanding that O’Shaughnessy let him sleep with one of the “young Arab girls” he had been eyeing while the pair were traveling in Morocco. Stylistic flourishes enhance the account, most notably the novelistic interludes interspersing Funder’s narration with first-person passages drawn from O’Shaughnessy’s letters that recreate scenes from her life, such as lying ill in London while the city was bombed during WWII. Full of keen psychological insight and eloquent prose, this shines.
There’s exhilaration in reading every brilliant word.
This book is an utter triumph and nothing short of a miracle.
Mrs. Orwell's Invisible Life
An electrifying biography of George Orwell’s first wife.
In 2017, Funder, author of Stasiland and All That I Am, found herself embarking on a massive Orwell reading project in an effort to excavate herself from the domestic drudgery that seemed to be dominating her life. Coming across a strange passage in Orwell’s private notebook that cites the “incorrigible dirtiness & untidiness” and “terrible, devouring sexuality” of married women, Funder sought more information about Orwell’s first wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy (1905-1945), an Oxford graduate and working woman. As the author notes, she is a somewhat inscrutable figure in the major male-authored biographies of Orwell. This book is not a traditional biography but rather a pastiche of Eileen’s letters to her friend Norah Symes, Funder’s invented scenes of the Orwells’ lives, and a first-person account of Funder’s own life as the mother of teenage daughters as the “revelations of #MeToo erupt,” a time of “unspeakable truths.” Eileen is a worthy subject in her own right, but the author ably depicts the balance of power between the Orwells, particularly the way George wrote Eileen out of the narrative. With a combination of excitement and indignation, Funder recounts how, during Orwell’s stint in the Spanish Civil War, Eileen, who had followed her husband to Spain, was doing complicated and dangerous work in the office of the Independent Labour Party, producing its English-language newspaper and radio program. Funder creates a convincing, vivid portrait of Eileen as an irreplaceable font of unpaid labor for George. Not only did she take care of domestic affairs; she also edited and typed for him, prioritized his work above all else, and suffered through his many extramarital affairs (on the latter note, the author rejects the oft-repeated notion that the Orwells had an open marriage). Daring in both form and content, Funder’s book is a nuanced, sophisticated literary achievement.
A sharp, captivating look at a complicated relationship and a resurrection of a vital figure in Orwell’s life.
Ah, the life of the literary spouse, typing up manuscripts, making tea, doing laundry, scrubbing solecisms… Such was the lot of the likes of Vera Nabokov, Sophia Tolstaya, Valerie Eliot (and, sure, let’s add Leonard Woolf in there for a little variety). But until now no one has had much to say about Eileen O’Shaughnessy, a writer who married another writer, George Orwell, in 1936. As Anna Funder reveals in her genre-bending biography of the hitherto forgotten O’Shaughnessy, the Orwells’ was a marriage of literary equals, as George relied on Eileen for much, much more than afternoon tea.
Full of keen psychological insight and eloquent prose, this shines.
This magnificent novel/memoir/biography writes O’Shaughnessy back into existence and cements Funder’s place in the writers’ pantheon.
Wonderful, unexpected and exciting from beginning to end.
A strikingly original study that casts Orwell in new light. Deeply perceptive, it is a testament to forgotten wives of famous men everywhere.
When researching a new book on George Orwell, powerhouse writer Anna Funder noticed an interesting omission—Eileen Orwell, George’s first wife, was curiously absent. The basis of Wifedom is six newly discovered letters from Eileen to her best friend, Norah. It incorporates other letters and facts from the Orwells’ lives and Funder’s exquisite imagining of Eileen’s days. By reading between the lines, piecing together letters, clues and mentions in other people’s diaries, and analysing George’s books and biographies, Funder conjures Eileen as intelligent, funny, dry and self-effacing. Through this process, she provides insight into Orwell that other biographers staunchly avoid mentioning: his womanising, his weakness, his cruelty, and his selfishness. Wifedom also includes the author’s reflections and questions about creative expression and the nature of art. What do you do when your favourite author was a misogynist? What does that mean for you as a reader, writer and wife? What are the conditions required to create art? Are you the wife or the writer? Can you ever be both? In its innovation and coherence, it is reminiscent of Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts or Julian Barnes’s The Noise of Time. This intriguing work is a mix of styles and genres, blending academic research, literary reading and philosophical reflection into a riveting biography that not only rediscovers Eileen and paints a picture of a volatile period of history but also poses questions about what we value in art.
A brilliant hybrid of biography, memoir and literary detective work, which demonstrates how patriarchy allows men to exploit women’s unpaid services. Funder brings Eileen to life through her letters, supported by forensic re-reading of male-authored biographies and Orwell’s classics about tyranny and truth.
Wifedom is both an immovable and an irresistible book, an object and a force… another great and important narrative of oppression and covert suppression.
It’s hard to think of many other contemporary writers with such an acute eye for writing into the absences in the historical record.
George Orwell’s first wife emerges vividly from Anna Funder’s new book… welcome and necessary, returning life to a woman who was gifted, vivid, complex and highly intelligent, who gave up her own ambitions in the furtherance of her husband’s.
Elegantly and imaginatively (resurrects) Eileen.
An extraordinary blend of forensic historical detective work and evocative fiction, as well as snatches of memoir. It not only writes O’Shaughnessy back into the story but also questions how far we’ve really come in terms of gender equality. To read about O’Shaughnessy is to fall in love with her.
Meticulously researched and intelligently imagined, Funder’s masterpiece of creative non-fiction is exquisitely written with the humour, heart and boundless empathy Eileen O’Shaughnessy always deserved
Genre-bending, eye-opening, wonderfully written.
Dazzling, infuriating . . . A biography, a critique of the art of biography, a witty essay and an act of rescue.
‘Wifedom is both an immovable and an irresistible book, an object and a force. Anna Funder . . . has written another great and important narrative of oppression and covert suppression’