October 26, 2013 - 17:24 AMT
New book on legendary writer George Orwell published to wide acclaim

An English historian’s new book about legendary writer George Orwell has been published to wide acclaim this week, The Shields Gazette said.

Professor Robert Colls, who was born and brought up in South Shields, has spent several years working on George Orwell – English Rebel.

Broadcaster Melvyn Bragg called the book “a major achievement and a major work on George Orwell”.

Meanwhile, leading UK thinker John Gray – another South Shields-born academic – reviewing the book in the latest Literary Review, said Colls had produced “the closest and most intimate portrait of Orwell to date”.

Professor Colls, who teaches cultural history at De Montfort University, Leicester, explores the contradictory nature of the man who wrote classics Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four.

The book follows the writer, born Eric Blair, from Eton to his life as a police officer in Burma through to his formative experiences as a volunteer soldier in the Spanish Civil War.

As Professor Colls explains in the book’s introduction: “A deep-seated contrariness marked his writing and contributed to the wide and conflicting range of his appeal. Any attempt to understand his thinking must attend to life as he lived it, a step at a time, in and out of argument, right up to the end.”

Professor Colls, who attended the former South Shields Grammar Technical School, also explores the life of Orwell’s first wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy, who was born in South Shields.

The author told the Gazette: “One of the pleasures of writing about Orwell was not only getting to know him, but getting to know Eileen, who as you know was a Shields girl.

“The evidence is sparse but I really liked her, what I read of her and by her, and made the case, as far as I could, that Orwell’s writing lifted after he met her, both in spirit and in quality.

“Her letters show great fun and sharp wit, although by all accounts she, like him, was no proletarian. So getting to know Eileen was an unexpected treat. I think the Gazette should host an annual Eileen O’Shaughnessy Memorial Lecture – and I should give the first!”

South Shields film-maker Gary Wilkinson travelled to New York and Barcelona while preparing his new documentary about Orwell’s South Shields-born first wife.

George Orwell – English Rebel is published by Oxford University Press.