The idea for the Ernest Blair Experiment blog came from a combination of Ernest Buckler, writing about the Annapolis Valley and Eric Blair (aka George Orwell) known for his writing about England. When I came across John Sutherland’s book Orwell’s Nose – a pathological biography, it was hard to resist.
Sutherland, Emeritus Professor of English at the University College London describes Orwell’s life (b. 1903 and d. 1950) in terms of his literary career, but within the context of smells.
David Lodge, in his review of the book, states. ‘Orwell’s obsession with smells, agreeable and (more often) offensive, has been noted before, but never explored to such effect, not excluding the smells of shag tobacco and BO he emitted himself’.
Orwell was born before the First World War and died after the Second. He went to school at Eton, served in the Burma police service. He was inspired by social anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski. He spent time ‘down and out in Paris and London’, as well as visiting the North of England (The Road to Wigan Pier).
His final book was Nineteen Eighty-Four, completed on the remote Scottish island of Jura.
Robert MacFarlane, in The Wild Places, writes:
” It is clear that Orwell needed to be in that wild landscape to create his novel; that there was reciprocality between the self-willed land in which he was living and the autonomy of spirit about which he was writing. The price of this vision, though, was his life’. p.140.
It is interesting to reflect on the next generation in England, born around the start of the Second World War and subsequently emigrating to either Canada or Australasia. I am part of that generation, as well as my older brother. This year my artist-brother has put together a series of postcard paintings for his grandchildren, with notes for every five years of his life. This has now been supplemented with a YouTube video matching each postcard painting.
All of this reflection has set me thinking. How does the landscape enter into the writing task?
Thanks to Edward Wedler for his graphics contribution. Peter Maher for sharing his autobiographical work in progress. Shared memories indeed.
John Sutherland. 2016. Orwell’s Nose. Reaktion Books.
Robert MacFarlane. 2008. The Wild Places. Penguin Books.
George Orwell’s books include Burmese Days, Down and Out in Paris and London, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, The Road to Wigan Pier, Homage to Catalonia, Coming up for Air, Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four.