BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Jeffrey Meyers, author of "Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a
Generation," where'd you get that title?
Mr. JEFFREY MEYERS (Author, "Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation"):
Well, that comes from Victor Pritchette's obituary
notice of Orwell, January 1950. I think it's a very good phrase
rather than just have the name of the author only because he was a
wintry personality. He was aesthetic. He was hard on himself. He
was critical of others. But he did have a kind of idealistic quality
about him so that people respected his opinion because he had lived a
life according to those opinions. Not just said what other people
ought to do, but did them himself.
LAMB: Where's this picture from?
Mr. MEYERS: This picture is about 1946, taken in his flat in
Canonberry Square, Islington. If you go there now, it's a very posh
part of London. But in those days, it was working class, down and
out, cold, six flights of steps up and Orwell carrying his adopted
baby and maybe some coal for the fire and his groceries. And
everybody said when he got to the top, he was gasping for breath. And
everybody felt very bad that he had had to live in a place like that
when he really had--was very ill with what turned out to be terminal
LAMB: What year did he die?
Mr. MEYERS: 1950, when he was just 46 years old.
LAMB: Now in your last chapter where you talk about his legacy, you
s--have the figure of 40 million books sold. What books? Since when?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, this would be, I think, "Animal Farm" and "1984"
combined from publication until the last couple of years when the--I
think a bibliography came out two years ago which listed those
figures. And part of it is that "Animal Farm" is used for an English
language teaching text in many, many countries in the world. For
example, in Japan.
But I think more important is, you know, the--the beauty of the style
and the imp--importance of the political message, combined with a kind
of lucidity and interest in the story, as well. So that both these
books can be read on many different levels and have this kind of
universal popularity and attraction, which does great credit to
LAMB: Before we go through a lot of details, go over, very briefly,
kind of a sketch of where he lived and what he did and why we should
care about George Orwell.
Mr. MEYERS: Right from the start?
LAMB: Right from the start.
Mr. MEYERS: Well, he was born in Motihari, Bihar, in northern India,
not far from the border of Nepal, where his father worked for the
opium department of the--of the British em--empire government of
India. And I think--I think I made more of this than other people
have. It--it was a kind of disgraceful job in many ways. He
supervised the gathering and export to China of in--of opium. In
other words, he was encouraging thousands of people in China to become
addicts and--with all the social problems that go with them, like gang
wars to control the drug trade, opium dens, crime in order to support
the drug habit.
And I think Or--one of my themes in the book is that Orwell felt a lot
of guilt about not only things that were appropriate to feel guilty
about, like his father's job, but also felt guilty about things that
other people wouldn't feel guilty about: for example, having a
superior education at Eton or even coming from a middle-class family,
which most people do come from, after all, and don't feel guilty
about. But he feel guilt--he felt guilty if he had more than other
people, and that's why he would want to live in a place like
Islington, which was working class and--and hard.
So af--after only a few years in India, he's taken back to England.
His father stays there, his mother returns to England. And eventually
there's two other sisters. And he goes to a prep school called St.
Cyrian's, which is the subject of his fam--very famous essay "Such,
Such Were the Joys," an ironic essay. It comes from a poem by William
Blake, and it's completely the opposite of joyful. In fact, it's
utterly miserable. And a lot of people felt that Orwell exaggerated
his time at St. Cyrian's; that it couldn't really have been as bad as
he said it was because the essay is very, very powerful.
LAMB: Where is St. Cyrian's?
Mr. MEYERS: St. Cyrian's was in Eastbourne, which is in--in Sussex
on the south coast of England, maybe 50 miles south of London. But
a--a very distinguished bunch of old boys went to that school: Cyril
Connally, who was a literary critic and Orwell's very close friend
throughout life, but also people like David Ogilvy, the advertising
man who just died a year or two ago...
LAMB: Ogilvy & Mather.
Mr. MEYERS: Ye--yes.
LAMB: A firm in...
Mr. MEYERS: I mean, he was a real pioneer in advertising throughout
the world. A man called Henry Longhurst, who the golfing
correspondent of The Times; Cecil Beaton, the very famous fashion
photographer; somebody who was the chief of the Canadian Mounted
Police and so on and so on. And all the--and Gavin Maxwell, who wrote
"Ring of Bright Water." All these people went to St. Cyrian's.
LAMB: What year?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, around Orwell's time. He would have been there,
let's say, from nine to 14; that would have been about 1912 to 1917,
something like that.
LAMB: Where'd he go next?
Mr. MEYERS: Then he went to Eton.
LAMB: Now what is Eton?
Mr. MEYERS: Eton is the most aristocratic and oldest and
most--finest, what we would call a prep school call, they call a
public school in England. It's--it's a school you go to before going
to university. And it's very beautiful and very old and has many,
many traditions. And it's always been the training place of the
LAMB: Have you spent time there?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, I--I went there, of course, a couple of times...
LAMB: You did go?
Mr. MEYERS: ...but I never went to the school.
Mr. MEYERS: I just went to the--to visit the school. And it--I had
a--an afternoon left over for a trip in England, and we thought,
`Let's go have a look at Eton again.' And I looked up the librarian
there, who gave me almost a running tour. The Queen Mother was coming
the next day, and he was in a--frantic. But we r--literally ran
through the halls of Eton, and he's pointing out this and that.
Thomas Gray wrote a--a very beautiful poem, "Ode on a Prospect from
Eton College," which I think I quote in the book. And Orwell there
found his feet much more. He was much happier than he was in St.
Cyrians, partly because he was freer to do what he wanted and pursue
his own interests.
And--but the odd thing about that was that--oh, I don't know--maybe 90
percent of the people who finished Eton went on to Oxford or
Cambridge, especially in those days. A few went into the family
business, a few went into the army. But Orwell did something that
nobody in the 500-year history of Eton ever did, and that was to go
into the Burmese police, which is a very strange thing to do.
And years ago, when I started working on "Orwell," I wrote to his
tutor at Eton, a man called A.S.F. Gowe, who later became a fellow at
Trinity College, Cambridge, and a very distinguished classical
scholar, friend of A.E. Housman Housman and so on, and asked him,
`Why did Orwell go to Burma instead of to Oxford or Cambridge, where
most of his colleagues went?' And he said he couldn't afford to go to
Oxford or Cambridge because his family had limited resources, and he
didn't do any work at all, so he couldn't have gotten a scholarship
and, therefore, Gowe didn't encourage him. And he just followed the
old family tradition and went to Burma, where his grandparents had a
teakwood business in Moulmein, a shipbuilding business. And I
published that letter way back in about 1970, and I and everybody else
felt that was the answer.
Now looking into it again, talking to the officials at Eton and
talking to the last surviving member of Orwell's class, Sir Stephen
Runcimen, who just died a few weeks ago at the age of 97, a very, very
distinguished historian of the Crusades and of Byzantium, fall of
Constantinople, and he said that w--that's what Gowe said was just a
bunch of rubbish, that Orwell was perfectly capable of getting into
Oxford and Cambridge, which was a lot easier to get into than Eton
was, and that even if money was a problem, Eton supplied boys who
needed scholarship money with sufficient funds if they were admitted
to Oxford or Cambridge.
So I really had to look at that all over again. And--and Gowe and
Runcimen were colleagues at Trinity College, and Gowe--they didn't get
on. And Runcimen, who was a very fine man, I thought, said Gowe was
just an old fusspot and he--he just wanted boys who did their Latin
and Greek, and Orwell was rebellious and, you know, didn't care about
doing the grammar and followed his own interests, and Gowe just
considered him a problem.
LAMB: How long was he in Burma?
Mr. MEYERS: He was in Burma for five years, 1922 to 1927, as a
policeman. Now this is a job he never would have taken in England, a
constable on the beat, you know, a bobby with one of those high blue
hats. But he had much more judicial responsibility in Burma, and he
was placed in about five different towns after he was trained in--at
the fort in Mandalay. And he had, you know, in some ways
life-and-death powers over people, and a very, very small number of
British officers with a certain number of Burmese policemen were
controlling a country of millions and millions of people.
LAMB: At the time he was in Burma, what was his name?
Mr. MEYERS: His name was Eric Blair, which is the name he was born
with. And he did not change his name to George Orwell until he
published his first book, "Down and Out in Paris and London," in 1933,
which was about six years after he came back from Burma.
LAMB: Go back to Eton for a second and then to Burma. What--after
going to Eton--and he had to dress up in fancy clothes every day?
Mr. MEYERS: Oh, they had, yes, striped trousers and cutaway coats,
top hats and then boaters and striped jackets in the summer, yes. It
was a very, very formal attire.
LAMB: What impact did E--Eton have on him?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, everybody always said that even though Orwell
disliked the values of Eton, he put his son down for Eton. Now that's
an English expression. When your son is born, if he went to an--an
illustrious school, you could put your son down 18 years before he
would enter it--or 14 years before. Little Richard, the adopted son,
in fact, did not--he just went to an agricultural college; he did not
go to Eton. Orwell had what they called the Eton manner. It's a kind
of slow, drawling way of speech and a kind of as--assumption of
superiority, which just comes naturally to somebody who's been
educated among the elite of the elite of England, especially in those
days. It's a little more democratic now. But the boys still wear
those very formal clothes.
LAMB: And they live in a house that has caretakers there. I mean,
there are a couple that...
Mr. MEYERS: Housemaster and like a dormitory and that sort of thing,
LAMB: And did the elite of the elite go there in--in Great Britain?
Mr. MEYERS: Oh, yes. And Orwell was--also there were--there were
collegers and there were oppidans. And the collegers were the
scholarship boys, the ones who had got in on their brains and had
their fees paid, and they lived right there at the school. And
the--the opadins lived in houses around the town. So there
were--there were--were these two different groups of people. But the
people who were in Orwell's group, Connally and Anthony Pole, who
later became a very distinguished novelist, they were collegers.
LAMB: Let me just interrupt for a second and talk about you for a
moment so people will know your background. How many books have you
written in your life?
Mr. MEYERS: I'm writing the 40th right now.
LAMB: The 40th book in your li--how many of those are non-fiction?
Mr. MEYERS: Oh, they're all non-fiction.
LAMB: And who are some of the people you've written about?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, my first biography was of Katherine Mansfield, and
that was 1978. And then I wrote one on Windham Lewis, the first one
on Windham Lewis and the only one until this year. And I was very
pleased when a couple of the English reviewers said that my book was
still the best one, even though the second book came out last year and
much, much longer than mine, but in their view, not as good. I
haven't read it myself yet; it's not yet in the American libraries.
Then I did a big one on Hemingway in 1985. I did--I did one on Robert
Lowell and his circle; that is to say, a group of poets who were held
together by personal friendship and also by mental illness, and that
included Lowell, Barriman, Gerelle, Ted Retke and Sylvia Plath. And
now I'm not sure exactly the order. I did one on Poe; I did Conrad; I
did D.H. Lawrence; I did Fitzgerald; I did Frost. I did Edmund
Wilson, the first book on Edmund Wilson, which came out in 19--in--on
the 100th anniversary of his birth in 1995.
And then I took a little detour and I did two film biographies on
Bogart and on Gary Cooper. Gary Cooper's 100th birthday is coming up
on May 6th, so there are going to be some celebrations in connection
with that. And th...
LAMB: And--and where is home?
Mr. MEYERS: I live in Berkeley.
Mr. MEYERS: That is where I got my doctorate in the '60s, and then I
taught in American universities and in England and in Japan for 30
years. And then I left teaching a bit early in '92, and I've been
writing professional--full-time writer ever since 1992, trying to do a
book every year.
LAMB: Where were you born?
Mr. MEYERS: Born in New York and grew up in New York.
LAMB: So--whe--go back to George Orwell/Eric Blair. He's in Burma
five years. I remember once incident that you wrote about where he
would--he threw his clothes on the floor and expected the servants to
pick them up.
Mr. MEYERS: He did that when he came home, too, and that really
annoyed his mother and his sister. And he--that was another thing he
was guilty about, not only because police were oppressors--and he
talks in a very short, but very powerful essay called "A Hanging." And
I went to the prison later on where the hanging took place. It was in
a place called Insein, I-N-S-E-I-N, which is very near the airport in
Rangoon. In those days, it was a separate town, but now it's a kind
And--and, you know, he--he was very strongly against capital
punishment after the war with Arthur Kersler, and he felt guilty about
what he had done. He had kicked, he had beaten his servants. He had
ordered criminals to be beaten. He had been--he had attended
executions. He had watched human beings lose their life. And it's
interesting, in "A Hanging," that he never says what the criminal did.
I mean, he's been convicted of a capital offense and he's hanged, and
Orwell is a policeman on the scene to see that it's done properly.
But in order to maintain sympathy with the convicted as--victim, an
executed man, he never tells us what he did. Mostly likely he killed
somebody himself. But he doesn't tell us that because he doesn't want
us to feel lack of sympathy for the victim.
LAMB: Back to the overview. Burma five years. Then what?
Mr. MEYERS: Then he does another thing that's almost as odd as going
to Burma. He comes back to Southfold on the east coast of England on
the North Sea, where his father has finally retired. And his father
is much older than his mother, and the father's a bit of a crusty old
conservative fusspot, you know, a kind of real--what they called an
Anglo-Indian, an Englishman who had spent his life in India. And
Orwell has some very funny descriptions in his novels of the interior,
the household stuff of--especially I remember an elephant foot
umbrella stand. I don't know if you've ever seen it. You can see it
sometimes in antique stores in England, and you see those great big
toenails of the elephant and then it's cut off, and then you put the
umbrellas in it. Trichanopoli cigars and brassware, beaten and
benoris and that sort of thing. And Orwell just hated that. And he
found it very stifling at Southfold.
So he decided to--he wanted to be a writer. The question is: What do
you write about? He didn't seem to be able to deal with the Burmese
material as soon as he got back from Burma. So he decided to become a
bum, a tramp, a hobo. He went to Paris, and he worked as a dish
washer in the kitchen of a luxury hotel. And he describes it with
excruciating detail: the squalor, the horror, the filth, waiters
resenting the customers, literally spitting in the food before they
served it in order to get even with this high-class clientele. This,
by the--this time, if you're--if you're talking about the early '30s,
we're in the Depression.
LAMB: He's still Eric Blair.
Mr. MEYERS: He's still Eric Blair. And he didn't like the name
because Blair is a Scottish name, and Scotland was associated with
hunting lodges and snobbery and castles and, you know, boys who had
great wealth. And he didn't like the name Eric because there was a--a
children's book called "Eric, or Little by Little" about a very
goody-goody boy who always did everything right, always did everything
the way he was supposed to. That book has been forgotten, but in the
19th century and into the early 20th century, it was a very popular
book, and he--so he didn't like Eric, he didn't like Blair either.
So he took George because George is the patron saint in England, St.
George and the dragon. And he took Orwell because Orwell was a river
right near his house in Suffolk. It flows into the North Sea. And it
does now seem a very appropriate name. He--one of the other names he
was going to use was H. Lewis Always, which somehow doesn't have the
same resonance as George Orwell. And, of course, if he ever changed
his political views, then Always would be a very unfortunate name, you
know, to have because people do change their views. And they say,
`Well, you're not always.' "Always" was also a kind of sentimental
song. Think of the '20s. Remember?
LAMB: What year did he change his name?
Mr. MEYERS: He changed it when he--when he published "Down and Out
in Paris and London," which was about his hobo--his--he was literally
a bum on the road. He just went from flophouse to flophouse. You
weren't allowed to stay more than a day--and tramped around England.
He picked hops in the summer, which is a very difficult job. And he
did it for much, much longer than he needed to do in order to get
sufficient experience to write the book.
LAMB: I'm going to show the audience here in just a second, when we
get a close-up of it, all the books that he wrote. And you can see
there the top one--there are nine that I have on my list. I wrote up
there on the right-hand corner "Why I Write?" That's not on the list.
Was that a book?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, that was an essay.
Mr. MEYERS: And it's often quoted. An--another thing I should say
in connection with his works is that last year, an English editor
called Peter Davison published a 20-volume, 8,500-page collected works
of Orwell, which is really the most brilliant job of editing. And
I'm--I must say that that was a great help to me in writing this book
because Peter Davison brought into that edition all kinds of material,
not only written by Orwell, but letters written to him, especially
there were some very, very beautiful and moving letters by his wife,
Eileen, just before she died. And there was a lot of new material
which I was able to use that Peter Davison put into the edition. And
he was really a very--very good friend and colleague to me, too,
because when he finished this 20-year job, he didn't want to let go of
it, you know, the way sometimes you just can't let go of it.
So both of us were interested to know if Orwell had published anything
while he was in Burma. He--he couldn't have published it under the
name of Eric Blair because, as a government official, he wasn't
allowed to do that. But Peter actually went up to Colindale and read
through the Rangoon Times, I think it was called, for those five
years, trying to see if there was anything not signed by Orwell or
Blair, but which may have been written by him. And we did find--he
did find another essay about shooting an elephant, not by Orwell, but
to show that every once in a while, an--an elephant really did go on
rampage and did have to be killed. And--and although it was unusual,
it wasn't completely unknown...
Mr. MEYERS: ...for police or...
LAMB: How many years was he a--a cook or tramping, as you'd say?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, he was in Paris, I guess he was there about five
years--five months, I'm sorry. And he was in England, well, off and
on for years and years. And that's when he, you know, started writing
his--his little socialist essays. I think he first essay was actually
published--written in English and translated into French and published
in a French magazine somewhere around 1929.
LAMB: And when was he somebody that people knew about?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, he had two stages of recognition. I mean, the
first was his first book, "Down and Out in Paris and London," which is
still very readable and important to see what that kind of
subterranean life was like. It was modeled on a Jack London book,
whose title I can't remember this second. It's in the index. "Gorky"
wrote about the lower depths. So he was known in a small way, but
these books did not sell very well. And then he--he didn't really
have big fame until "Animal Farm" was published in 1945, just after
LAMB: What--what year was "1984" published?
Mr. MEYERS: In 1949. People say the title of "1984" is the year he
wrote the book, with the last two digits reversed, 1948, turning into
"1984," which is probably as good an explanation as any that you'll
LAMB: Forty million copies around the world. How many translations
have there been?
Mr. MEYERS: Oh, there--well, this new bibliography, which is a very
good book, it was something like 40, 50 different languages, like even
obscure languages like Telugu or, you--you know, I mean, you'd just be
amazed to see what languages that book has gotten into. And when it
was first published, the future Nobel Prize winner, Czeslaw Milosz,
who is a retired professor at Berkeley, where I live, wrote in the
"Captive Mind," a book about living under totalitarianism, he just
couldn't understand how Orwell had such tremendous penetrating
knowledge of totalitarianism without actually having lived under it
himself. And the answer to that, we haven't got to that part of his
life yet--the answer to that really is his experience in the Spanish
LAMB: How--how tall was he?
Mr. MEYERS: Very tall, about 6'3", very thin, prematurely aged.
Grooves on the side of his face. After all, he was only 46 when he
died. Basically, he had TB all his life, even as a child. And I have
an appendix in the back of the book, history of his illness. And
while you're showing that picture, I wonder if we could just briefly
talk about it for a minute because there are some things there that
On the upper left is the bottom part of a family portrait of his
ancestor, Lady Mary Blair, who married an earl in the 18th century.
Orwell, socialist as he was, was very proud of this aristocratic
connection, although another source of guilt was the fact that that
same family did own slaves in Jamaica when slavery was still legal in
the British empire. So obviously, this was a very brutal and horrible
way to earn money. These were slaves who worked on sugar plantations
On the middle right-hand side, behind Orwell, is a screen, maybe three
or four feet high, which Orwell decorated by cutting out pictures from
magazines and pasting them onto the screen in a kind of collage of
mish-mosh of art. He was very, very proud of it. His friends found
it slightly embarrassing and ludicrous. But there it is. He is
wearing very heavy, a kind of Harris tweed jacket with a sweater
underneath and a thick flannel shirt because it was very cold in
English houses after the war. There was still a fuel shortage right
up to 1948. This picture's in 1946.
I want to point out his proletarian haircut, very short over the ears
on the sides, with this high, typically Orwell high crown of hair--not
flat but high in front--and this extremely unusual mustache, which
Englishmen did not wear in those days and even today looks much more
French than English. And Anthony Pole points that out and says, `It
must have been a lot of trouble taking care of that little mustache
and cutting that--that space between the top of the mustache and the
bottom of his nose.'
I would also point out that he has a handkerchief in his pocket, which
looks slightly dandyish, but, in fact, it was practical because he--at
this point, he had very serious TB, and there was a lot of coughing
and a lot of spitting and sometimes even blood.
LAMB: How many times did he marry?
Mr. MEYERS: He married twice. The first marriage was around 1935, I
think, just before he went to the Spanish War. And he married a--a
woman that everybody thought was just terrific, Eileen O'Shaughnessy,
very pretty woman. And she was long-suffering because Orwell had what
I would call a kind of hairshirt need, a--a need to kind of punish
himself in--in living in very, very difficult ways. And they got this
house--or a shack, a country shack, in Wallingford, sort of roughly
speaking between London and Oxford, very, very hard to get to. No
indoor toilet, no heating, no electricity, no running water. They
kept a little sh--village shop, which didn't amount to much more than
selling some groceries and candy to children. They kept some animals.
He was always very fond--this is the beginning of "Animal Farm." He
knew goats and pigs and chickens and so on firsthand. But the place
was so uncomfortable, so leaky when it rained, so windy when the wind
was high that even if he offered it to friends on weekends free of
charge, nobody would ever come and stay. It was just too
And, of course, Eileen had been a graduate student at the University
of London as a child psychologist, and she was close to finishing, and
it would have made so much more sense to let her finish her degree,
her masters, and then to live in a place where she could continue her
career because Orwell was desperately, desparately hard up until
"Animal Farm" was a success 10 years after he married. But he really
didn't want his wife to work, and Eileen kind of went along with him.
And then they had very uncomfortable places when they moved back to
London during the Blitz, which is interesting because many, many
people in London left London during the Blitz.
LAMB: What year was that?
Mr. MEYERS: That would have been 1941 or so, '42, you know, when the
V1 and V2 rockets were shot into London and also London was--was
bombed. And then the Battle of the Britain--Battle of Britain,
which--which England won, prevented German planes then. But there
were still raids on the east coast of England, and--and whole towns
like Coventry were destroyed.
LAMB: Now we've been to Eton, we went to Burma, came back and went to
Paris, back to London. And then as I'm looking at your history of
illness here, there's one thing that--that jumps out at--at--Huesca in
Spain of May 20th, 1937, shot through throat by sniper's bullet.
Mr. MEYERS: Well, he had...
LAMB: How did he get to Spain?
Mr. MEYERS: Yes. That's--we have to go back to that. A--a lot of
committed leftists throughout Europe and--and in America went to Spain
because they thought it was the big fight against fascism by democracy
LAMB: What was a leftist back then?
Mr. MEYERS: A leftist would be somebody who supported what was
called the loyalists or the republicans; that is to say the legitimate
government of Spain, democratic government, which had been overthrown
by Franco in a revolution, not from the left, but from the right. And
so the Spanish Civil War broke out in I think it was July 1936, and
shortly after that people from all over Europe came to fight in the
International Brigades to try to fight Franco and defeat fascism in
LAMB: What was Franco all about?
Mr. MEYERS: Franco was really right-wing government supported by big
landowners, the Catholic Church and the army.
LAMB: And at the time, in 1936, '37, what was the world like, what
was Germany doing then, and what was Russia doing then?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, this is very important, because Mussolini had been
in power in Italy since 1922. Hitler--so there was a Fascist
government in Italy. Hitler had been legally elected to power in
January 1933. So you had a Fascist government in Germany. And
Germany and Italy both sent huge numbers of troops, planes, tanks,
weapons and soldiers to fight on Franco soil. And they had much, much
more military aid on the right, on the Fascist side, than they did on
The left was al--the democratic governments in Europe, like England
and France, and the democratic government in America--Franklin
Roosevelt was president then; it was his second term--took a policy
which later turned out to be very faulty of neutrality. That is to
say they--they wouldn't support actively either side. They allowed
citizens to go there. So the active intervention was by Germany and
Italy on the right; and on the left by Stalin's Russia.
LAMB: Now by the time he got there, he had written "Down and Out in
Paris and London" in '33; "Burmese Days" in '34; "A Clergyman's
Daughter" in 1935. What was that about?
Mr. MEYERS: "A Clergyman's Daughter" was a--his weakest book, sort
of slightly autobi--autobiographical novel. It takes place in Suffolk
where he--his family was living. And it--it's really about small-town
life and this woman who wants to find some kind of sexual and
emotional fulfillment. And she kind of runs away from an unwelcome
suitor and from an oppressive father and has a kind of adventurous
existence. She even sleeps out with bums in Trafalgar Square one
night. And then eventually, in a circular format, she goes back and
kind of resolves to accept the life that's cut out for her there.
It's a kind of defeated novel, in a way.
LAMB: In 1936, "Keep the As--Aspidistra Flying." What was that?
Mr. MEYERS: That was a very personal book, also. The--the main
character there very much like Orwell, Rabelston, based on Richard
Rees, who was an aristocratic friend of his who had gone to Eton a
little bit before Orwell, and who supported a magazine called The
Adelphi, which Orwell wrote for, which Rees edited, which was later
edited by John Middleton Murray. It was kind of left-wing, Socialist.
Orwell didn't much care for those early novels. So there's a certain
real power, I think, in "Keep the Aspidistra Flying." It's a terrible
title. Aspidistra is this kind of house--rubbery houseplant which
Orwell took as a symbol of middle-class life.
LAMB: The '37 book was "The Road to Wigan Pier."
Mr. MEYERS: Yeah, "Wigan Pier." Well, that's important because that
really was about life, especially among the coal miners in
industrialing them during the Depression. And Orwell went up there
and lived in incredible squaller. He describes renting a room above a
tripe shop. They used to have--well, you know, poor neighborhoods
during the Depression, they--they ate tripe, which is kind of animal
intestines, innards, stomach innards.
And evidently it was just--it really turns your stomach. Orwell loves
it. He delights in these kind of horrible details, like the kitchen
in the Paris hotel or the tripe shop.
Basically, he investigated industrial conditions in mi--in the
Midland--English Midlands during the war, during the Depression, and
it--it's a very grim kind of book, but it tells you, as no other book
does, what it's like to be a coal miner. For example, I never
realized, till I read the book, that coal miners have to, what they
call, travel to work. They have to go as long as a mile underground,
after they've gone down the shaft, and they don't get paid for that.
The ceiling's about 3 feet high or 2 1/2 feet high, and they are
crouching or crawling on their hands and knees for a whole mile, till
they get to the coal face, and only then do they begin to get paid.
Tremendous silicosis. I mean, miners were just physical wrecks by the
time they were 30.
LAMB: What's he getting paid at--for all this up till now?
Mr. MEYERS: Very little. He was just struggling through on
subsistence wages and managing to exist by little bit of vegetable
gardening, these animals, the shop. He was getting 40 or 50 pounds
for a book.
LAMB: What would a pound be worth back in '36-'37?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, it was about $5. But, you know, that's $250, you
know, for a book.
LAMB: A year.
Mr. MEYERS: Yeah. I mean, it's not much.
LAMB: And then the next book on here--and I know you think it's his
best book--"Homage to Catalonia" in '38.
Mr. MEYERS: Well, "Hom"--Catalonia is the region of northeast Spain
which--where Barcelona's the capital. Part of it includes the Basque
Country, and that's where Orwell fought, in northeast Spain. And
Huesca is a town in that region, and he was at the front. There's a
n--sort of fuzzy picture in the book, and not a very good one--a
snapshot--but it's interesting because Eileen is there. She came to
Barcelona to work in the--in a political office, and she did visit
Orwell at the front, which was brave because a bombardment was going
on, bullets were flying.
Orwell was a tall guy, and he had had experience with the OTC, the
Office of Training Corps, in Eton. He had gone--he knew how to handle
a gun. But he was a tall guy, and he took risks. And one--one day,
with the sun coming up behind him, he stood up, which made him a
perfect target, and if the bullet had been a couple of centimeters
t--in a different direction, it would have severed his spine
and--spinal cord and killed him, and we would have never had...
LAMB: Where was he shot directly? Right into the...
Mr. MEYERS: Right--right through the throat and out the other end.
So he--he did manage to survive. He had a--his vocal cords were
damaged. He had a kind of a weak voice afterwards. He--he went to a
field hospital, and then he took a--an ambulance and a very, very
rough ride back. But eventually he got into a clinic in Barcelona.
But the really horrifying part was not being wounded, but when he got
bar--back to Barcelona on leave, medical leave, after the wound,
before--before going back to the front again, he found that his
contingent on the left, the independent Labour Party, was being hunted
by the Communists, who were supposed to be their allies, but which had
turned into their enemies.
So instead of having a civil war between the right and the left, there
were really two wars. There was a war between the right and the left,
and there was also a civil war between factions or parties or elements
on the left, as Stalin tried to eliminate all the different splintered
parties who--and bring everybody under Communist rule. So Orwell was
actually hunted in Barcelona. He was not allowed to go back to the
hotel, where Eileen was. The Soviet secret police went to the hotel
and searched the room, and Eileen had the presence of mind to sit on
her bed and sit on the papers that they were looking for. And they
never asked her to get up, so that was kind of lucky.
And Orwell, sleeping out in abandoned churches or on the street or in
parks, gradually got on the train in Barcelona, met--met Eileen and
had the guts to go to the main prison, where his commandant, George
Kopp, the hero of "Homage to Catalonia," a--a Belgian, a great
soldier, very brave, had been rounded up when the Communists were
catching their enemies on the left. George Kopp eventually got out of
that jail, but he was tortured and he--he was very badly treated. But
he went--he's a tough guy, and he went on to have a very distinguished
career with the French underground. During World War II, he was
parachuted in by the--by British intelligence, and he sent reports
back. And they met...
LAMB: You said he...
Mr. MEYERS: ...they met after the war.
LAMB: You have a picture in here of Quenton Kopp.
Mr. MEYERS: George Kopp is in there holding up a baby.
LAMB: Who's Quenton Kopp?
Mr. MEYERS: Quenton Kopp is George's son. George had about five
children, and I managed to get in touch with three of them, and I
interviewed them all quite extensively. I think two are living in
France. And Quenton was the son who was living in England and who
looks, in fact, quite a lot like his father. So there's a picture at
the end of Quenton, the son of George Kopp, Orwell's commander in
Spain, and Richard, Orwell's adopted son. So the two sons became
friends, as the two fathers had been friends previously.
LAMB: You--you say that Orwell attacked imperialism in "The Burmese
Days," capitalism in "The Road to Wigan Pier," Fascism in "Homage to
Catalonia" and then communism in "Animal Farm" and "Nineteen
Eighty-Four." What did he believe?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, he was a Socialist.
LAMB: What did that mean then?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, it meant--well, there was a Socialist Party, which
eventually got in. Clement Attlee was elected after the war, and
Churchill, who had led England through the war, somehow just didn't
seem to be the right leader after the war. It meant--it tried to make
all people equal in society economically insofar as that was possible,
so that you don't have a very rich and a very poor class, and you
don't have people who are oppressed and downtrodden and unemployed and
starving the way you did during the Depression in England and in this
country, too, which really means that the government takes over big
industries, railroads, utilities, airlines. It's really
nationalization of big corporations.
LAMB: What did he think of capitalism?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, he thought capitalism was an oppressive system,
which--which--which had broken down and failed during the Depression
and which had led to tremendous misery.
LAMB: You say in the book that the John Birch Society in this country
sold his book "Nineteen Eighty-Four," though.
Mr. MEYERS: That's because after Orwell died, the book was taken up
by the right in America in order to use as a stick to beat communism.
See, Orwell was the--virtually the only writer on the left in the
1930s who was not only critical of the right, as all the left writers
were, but also critical of the left. And in "The Road to Wigan
Pier"--in the second half of "The Road to Wigan Pier," he has a n--a
long autobiographical section about how he became a Socialist, going
all the way back to his father and his elite education and his police
experience in Burma, his--his working as a bum and so on--tramping as
a bum, working in the hotel.
But he also has a hilarious description of what he calls vegetarian,
teetotalers, saddle-wearers, bearded cranks; you know, these kind of
off-the-wall Socialists that he used to see in Socialist summer camps
or at Socialist magazines. So he was--I think it's very healthy to be
critical of your own side as well as the other side, not simply dig in
and take a partisan view and say, `We're right and they're wrong, or
they think they're right and we're wrong,' and there's never any kind
But people still think Orwell betrayed the cause, old lefties, because
he criticized the left in the Spanish Civil War, although the right
was the real subject of his criticism; he criticized English
Socialists; and two of his girlfriends, who are still around--I
interviewed them. They were, say, in their late 80s. Both called
themselves Communists, and both were still pretty annoyed at Orwell
because he had dared to criticize the left.
LAMB: Who were those two girlfriends?
Mr. MEYERS: One was Kay Eckfall, and the other one was Sally Jerome.
And these were girlfriends--these were girls that he was taking out,
you know, as a young man in the early '30s, before he married Eileen.
LAMB: Now why do we know, through your book, how far he would get
with a woman in his life? You know almost everything.
Mr. MEYERS: Well, it's really kind of amazing in a way. I think one
of the things I do in this book that wasn't done before, and partly
I've done it with the help of this edition, is we know much more about
Orwell's emotional and sexual life than we did before. And I find
that very interesting because Orwell was always considered a cold
fish, you know, somebody very reserved, didn't show his emotions. For
example, he said after Eileen died, `She was a good old stick,' and he
was criticized for saying that, as if, you know, `Is that all she
meant to you?'
But that was very high praise for Orwell, and it was really saying a
lot, if you understand the--the nuances and the--the suggestion that
she really was, you know, not only a wife and a lover, but really a--a
good companion, a good pal, somebody who would go to Spain and risk
her life and share Orwell's life in every way a--which meant
LAMB: For a moment, talk about the women and name them and tell us
what you know about them?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, I--I mentioned Kay Eckfall and Sally Jerome. A
very important woman was Mabel Fierz, who everybody knew was in his
life as a--as a patron who helped get his first book published. It
happened that I had met, during my Katherine Mansfield book, Mabel
Fierz's daughter-in-law, who was the headmistress of Katherine
Mansfield's old school. And I remember saying to her, `That name,
Fierz, does--doesn't your family have something to do with Orwell?'
And she said to me, `You are a clever young man.' And I always
thought--I just loved being called `a clever young man' by Mrs.
So when I got back to "Orwell," I thought, `I'd better get in touch
with her again,' and I did. She was still in London. And her name is
unusual. It's a Swiss-German name. And her husband was the son of
Mabel Fierz, Orwell's patron. But while I was going through the
papers in the Orwell Archive, which many people had done before, I
come across a letter from Mabel to Orwell, which strikes me obviously
as a love letter, and it struck my wife, who was reading the--the
papers with me. And I said, `Surely--I mean, th--this is a love
letter.' Nobody ever saw that before.
So I went to see Mabel Fierz and her son, Adrian, and I said, `Did you
ever ask your mother, you know, whether anything was going on?' He
said, `Oh, yes.' She lived to be over 100, and she just died maybe
five years ago. A--she outlived Orwell for almost 50 years. And they
said, `Yes, yes. You might say we were lovers.' So now it turns out
that Mabel Fierz was not just a patron, not just a helper, somebody
whose house Orwell stayed in when she was married, someone who took
his first manuscript and brought it to a literary agent, who was in
her tennis club in North London, who then gave it to Victor Galangst,
the publisher who published it, but, in fact, they were lovers as
well. And I thought that was awfully interesting that that letter had
been there all that time, and all these people had read it, and nobody
had really seen what was in it.
Then there are the letters that Eileen wrote to Orwell during the war,
when he was still on the farm and she was in London. And when she was
in hospital and everybody was told that it was just for a kind of
minor, simple operation, in fact, she had uterine cancer, and she
didn't really want to upset Orwell about it. He was then in Europe
reporting the end of World War II in Germany for The Observer. This
was about the early months of 1945. And literally minutes before she
was wheeled into the operating room, she wrote these, to me--I mean,
they're so moving and so beautiful, and--and they really could make
you weep to read them because you realize what a terrific woman she
LAMB: When did she die?
Mr. MEYERS: She died in '45, early '45.
LAMB: And who was...
Mr. MEYERS: Very unexpectedly.
LAMB: Who was Sonia Brownell?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, Sonia Brownell was somebody who worked for Cyril
Connally on Horizon. Horizon was a very important literary magazine
which ran for 10 years in the 1940s, edited by Connally. Connally had
been to Eton with Orwell, and he'd even been to St. Cyrian's with
Orwell. And he was a very sybaritic, aesthete, very fat--loved food,
loved the good life, didn't care for details. So he was the editor,
but Sonia kind of did the nuts and bolts of running the magazine.
And when the magazine came to an end in about 1949, Sonia, who had
love affairs with a lot of famous people, like Lucien Freud, the
painter, and Victor Pasmore, the painter, and quite a lot of other
lovers--she looked around and picked up with Orwell again because
Orwell--I mean, the--the--this is harsh on Sonia, but I think it's
true: that Orwell had two qualities or three qualities that Sonia
really wanted in a husband. Number one, he was a big literary name.
Number two, a lot of money was coming in from "Animal Farm" and
"Nineteen Eighty-Four." And number three, he was dying, so there were
no sexual demands. The marriage was never consummated.
They were married in Orwell's hospital room, and David Astor was there
and described to me it was just the most ghastly and embarrassing
thing. Orwell could hardly sit up in bed. They gave him a new
smoking jacket with the velvet trim, like a bathrobe, sort of. And
then when Orwell died, Sonia became the--the heir of the Orwell
estate. She was very mean, in the English sense; ne--very stingy in
the American sense, not really giving much money to little Richard,
who was the adopted boy that Eileen and Orwell had adopted in 1945.
And right after they adopted this baby, Eileen died.
So here was Orwell left with a--a baby that everybody thought he would
give up, but he w--he loved the baby. He always wanted to have a
child, and he couldn't, for whatever reason. We don't know whose
fault it was.
LAMB: Is Sonia alive today?
Mr. MEYERS: No. She died in 1980.
LAMB: Is Richard alive?
Mr. MEYERS: Richard's alive. He was a farmer. And he grew up in
Scotland, brought up by Orwell's youngest sister, Avril. And he's a
very nice fellow, not an intellectual, you know, completely
unpretentious, very well off. He was a farmer. He went to
Agricultural College, and then he sold agricultural machinery, and
he--you know, he takes an interest in "Orwell." He's helpful, very
unpretentious, nice, just a good guy.
LAMB: Are there places to go in this world that are Orwell? I mean,
you see the name George Orwell on the outside: a home or a museum
Mr. MEYERS: Well, there's a--there was an Orwell pub at Wigan Pier.
Wigan Pier is a kind of joke because a pier in England is usually
associated with a pleasure resort, like Brighton, where the pier goes
out into the water and they have entertainment there or places to eat
or that sort of thing. So th--there never really was a pier at Wigan
in the sense of a--of an extended pier, but there was a--a dockside
where coal barges came in. And I went to Wigan, and it--it's pretty
grim. I mean, the water is all brown and polluted and slightly
smelly, and, you know, Wigan is--it's the kind of, well, like
Appalachia is in this country. You know, it's kind of backward and
poor and--and industrialized and polluted. And--but there was a kind
of Orwell tavern or Orwell pub that we ate in, you know? And I
remember taking a--a beer--a beer ho--holder. What else is there?
There's the Orwell Archive in London, which has his papers, but it's
not really a museum.
LAMB: Did you have access to his papers?
Mr. MEYERS: Oh, yeah. I spent a lot of time there. And as I
mentioned to you before the program, after my book was finished and
after even it was printed, but not yet published--it was published
last September--in August, I got a chance to lecture on a cruise that
went from Mandalay, where Orwell was trained before he became a
policeman, all the way up the Irawadi River to Baumo, near the Chinese
border. And I took this opportunity of being in Burma, which had just
opened up this year, the spring of 2000, where you could stay more
than a week. You can now stay a month. And there were no travel
restrictions. The Burmese government, repressive as it is, had made
peace with a lot of the warring tribes on the border of India and
So I had a list of all the Orwell places, and I had some very good
Burmese contacts, people at the--at the library and at the university,
and I think I managed to see about eight out of the nine Orwell
LAMB: What surrounds Burma? What other countries?
Mr. MEYERS: On the west is India, and on the east is China. And
they kind of come to a point at the top of Burma almost like a
mountain peak, and that's where these kind of remote-hill tribes are.
Mr. MEYERS: And Thailand is also on the southeast of Burma.
LAMB: Go back to the best-sellers, the--"Animal Farm." By the way, of
all the nine books he wrote, which one was the best-seller? Which one
was number one?
Mr. MEYERS: I think "Nineteen Eighty-Four."
LAMB: "Nineteen Eighty-Four." What--"Animal Farm" was written under
Mr. MEYERS: "Animal Farm" was written during World War II when
Stalin and Russia was an ally of England and France and the United
States. So the British government, quite reasonably, did not want
published in England during the war a book that attacked Stalin and
Russia. Fair enough. So Orwell, at one point, decided that he would
publish it himself. You know, he--paper was very short in England
during the war, but he found a little magazine that had some paper.
And then, in the end, he f--he found a new publisher called Fred
Warburg, who had just bought Secker and had turned it into Secker &
Warburg. Now it's a very important firm, but you have to imagine back
in 1945, Fred Warburg was just starting. He belonged to the Jewish
banking--Jewish-German banking family, the Warburgs.
And they brought this out. It had been turned down by many people,
and it had even been turned down by Orwell's acquaintance, T.S.
Eliot, who was the chairman of Faber and Faber and who saw some of the
strong points. But nobody really saw where that book was going and
what was in it and how good it would be. And one American publisher
even completely missed the political allegory and said, `There's no
market for animal stories in England,' which was maybe the dumb...
LAMB: What was the story? How was it set up?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, the story was--it was really an allegory of
Russian history from the Revolution up until the Yalta Conference,
which took place in about '44 or '45. W--and it--it--the theme of the
book is, really, how the idealists take power and then--the
revolutionaries--and when they do, they just become as repressive and
corrupt and rotten as the people they replaced.
LAMB: What were the animals' names?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, wh--one was Major, who I think was--I can't
LAMB: Who was Napoleon?
Mr. MEYERS: Sn--Snowball was Trotsky. Napoleon was Stalin. But the
interesting thing about it--and I worked this out years ago, and then
re--refined it in this book--is--is that every single detail in the
book, right down to Molly, this kind of vain little horse, is--Molly,
I think, is based on Sonia because she loves fine clothes and she's
very pretty, and she's looking in the mirror all the time and likes to
LAMB: His wife, Sonia.
Mr. MEYERS: Yeah, 'cause he knew Sonia, you know, from Horizon all
the way through the '40s before they married in 1949. So every detail
has something to do with what happened in Russia at the time: the
Five-Year Plan; the NEP, the new economic plan; the collapse; the
whole fight between Trotsky and Stalin; the exile of Trotsky; the
murder. I mean, it's really kind of amazing to see the way he used
the kind of simplicity, and I think some of that came from "Gulliver's
But we know what--all the different sort of literary influences.
There was a Russian futuristic novel by Zamyatin called "We," which
Orwell was one of the first people in England to read. There was a
novel by Jack London called "The Iron Heel." There was a non-fiction
book by the American James Burnham called "A Managerial Revolution,"
where Burnham predicted that the war would be divided
into--th--now--this is "Nineteen Eighty-Four" now--would be divided
into three parts. So it's the combination of a kind of charming,
witty, amusing style with a kind of real satiric political allegory
that makes "Animal Farm" so effective. It can be read in these
LAMB: And what impact did it have when it was published back in 1945?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, people saw it. I mean, they did understand it,
but it took a while to take off. I mean, the first printing was 3,000
copies or something like that, nothing much, but then it was reprinted
and reprinted and reprinted, and it really make Secker & Warburg as a
firm. And then "Nineteen Eighty-Four" solidified it, and that's
wh--what's really got them on the ground. And they were able to have
all these high-brow, European writers. I mean, Thomas Mann, Kamu,
people like that, Kafka, were published by Secker & Warburg. But all
of those authors put together never sold as much as either "Animal
Farm" or "Nineteen Eighty-Four" in the...
LAMB: Do you remember how much he was paid to write an--"Animal Farm"
Mr. MEYERS: Just--again, little. Nobody really saw where that book
was going. Nobody saw it...
LAMB: Couple hundred dollars a year?
Mr. MEYERS: Yeah.
Mr. MEYERS: Just a few hundred dollars, nothing...
LAMB: Now what about "Nineteen Eighty-Four"? What were the
circumstances? What was the story about?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, there, it's a much darker book. That's the one
influenced by Zamyatin and by Burnham and by Jack London. I want to
make that clear; that it's different from the--an "Animal Farm." A lot
of the torture--and Winston looking at his body...
LAMB: Winston is...
Mr. MEYERS: Winston Smith is the hero. And he looks at his body in
the mirror, after he's been tortured, and he's all emaciated and
broken and ghastly, coughing, and that's what Orwell looked like when
he wrote the book because...
LAMB: Wh--which--where did he write it?
Mr. MEYERS: ...because he had TB. Well, he finished it in '48. He
started it after the--he finished it in '48, and he--and it was
published in '49, and he started writing it after the war, after
"Animal Farm's" finish.
LAMB: Where does it take place?
Mr. MEYERS: Takes place in--in the f--in London, in the future, 35
years ahead of time--ahead of the writing time. When the world is
divided up into three parts, Eura--I think it's called Eurasia,
Eastasia and Oceania, which basically stands for the Communist part,
the European part and the sort of American--American part. And,
basically, it's a kind of totalitarian dictatorship, where every
single aspect of your life is under scrutiny. There's a
television--television had, I think, been invented in the '30s and
became commercial after the war. I remember when my family had a
television in, you know, 1947 or '8. But this is a television that
watches you; you don't watch it. So it--it--it spies on you. It's on
all the time.
LAMB: Y--I've got a copy of one of the many paperbacks you can buy
in--in stores called "Nineteen Eighty-Four." There's three slogans in
the party: `war is peace,' `freedom is slavery,' `ignorance is
Mr. MEYERS: Well, these are--I think the model for that is a German
motto over the gate of one of the concentration camps: (German
spoken) `Work makes you free.' And it's--it's bitterly ironic because
these were slave laborers, and they weren't free at all. And I think
what Orwell's trying to do there is show how political slogans are
turned into lies that people, through unremitting propaganda, are
forced to believe.
LAMB: What do you think he would think if he was alive today and sees
this country and this world in the year 2001?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, he was very prophetic, and a lot of the things he
said are apt today. W--he wrote an essay about nationalism in sport,
for example, where he showed that, you know, a soccer game, for
example, is not just a sporting event, but it's one country against
another. And you see--we don't have that so much in this country, but
in--in Europe, you know, during the World Cup, you know, you have
these soccer yabos, and they go over to another country, and they--you
know, they get into fights, and they beat people up, and, you know,
they fight with the police and th--their heads are cracked, and
they're sent to jail and so on.
He was--he was interested in pollution, for example, environmental
pollution. And in his 1939 novel "Coming Up for Air," he goes back to
the village where he had grown up, which is based on Henley, in
Oxfordshire on the Thames, and he finds the whole thing polluted.
People say, `What would Orwell believe now?' Everybody wants Orwell on
their side, so in a famous essay by Norman Podhoretz, who's a
neo-conservative, he said, `If Orwell were alive today, he'd be a
neo-conservative.' In other words, `Orwell would agree with me,'
Podhoretz says. I don't think he would, though he did have a
conservative strain. I mean, somebody called him a Tory anarchist,
which is a way of saying he was both conservative and anarchistic at
the same time. I mean, he could be left and he could--he was a
conservative in the sense that he wanted to preserve what he thought
were the best in England, traditional life. And sometimes he
associated it as simply as--as just simply an ideal pub or a fire or a
garden or--or frogs in nature or listening to birds in the spring.
LAMB: What were the circumstances of his death?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, that's very sad. He went to live in this island
off the east coast of Scotland called Jura. Even today, it takes 24
hours to get there from London.
LAMB: He said it took 48 hours then.
Mr. MEYERS: Yeah. I mean, it's just, you know--like, you can get to
Burma faster than you can get to Jura if you get on a plane. It was
very, very harsh. It rained all the time, very high wind, extreme
discomfort, very, very far from a doctor. Little Ri--Richard, the
baby, fell off a stool once and cut his head, and he had to have his
head stitched, and it took six hours to get him to a doctor. If
Orwell had ever had a hemorrhage while he was on Jura, that would have
finished him because there was no way to get him to--to medical
Anyway, he liked it. Most people, when they had their first success
with "Animal Farm," after 12 years as a writer, would sit in London
and say, `This is what I've been waiting for.' You know, `Now I'm a
famous literary guy, and they all want me.' Orwell didn't like that.
He wanted to be alone in Jura. He knew he was dying; he wanted to
write "Nineteen Eighty-Four" in peace. So he wrote it up there under
very, very harsh conditions. And I interviewed a lot of people who
went up there to see him and who lived there with him.
LAMB: Did you go there?
Mr. MEYERS: I didn't. I was discouraged from going there because
there's just the house, which is all closed up. It was November.
You're likely to get marooned on the island for a week, you know, if
the seas come up. In a way, there was nothing to see there. Next
time I go up to Scotland, Richard promised me he would just take me
across on his boat. That's the way to go.
LAMB: Did he die in a hospital?
Mr. MEYERS: He died in University College Hospital, where it happens
my daughter was born, by chance--same hospital--and he died there in
January of 1950. It's right around the corner, virtually, from the
British Museum, from the University of London on--on Garrow Street.
It's a very good hospital, but by the time Orwell got in there, he was
LAMB: When he died, what kind of a story was it in the world?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, this is the beginning of--you know, the middle or
the beginning of the Cold War. You know, Churchill had made his Iron
Curtain speech, I think, in Missouri in 1946. Stalin was alive till
1953. The Korean War was just heating up. I think the Korean...
LAMB: But did anybody know who he was then?
Mr. MEYERS: Oh, yeah. I think they did. I mean, he had a very
modest funeral. He's buried in--in a--in a little country town, in
Oxfordshire, in the same cemetery where Asquith, the World War I
British prime minister, is s--and--and right near some huge nuclear
reactor, which is really kind of horribly appropriate since Orwell,
you know, was kind of warning against, you know, what atomic bombs
LAMB: We're out of time, but you told us you sold 40 million copies
of this. What's your next book going to be about?
Mr. MEYERS: I'm writing a life now--a father and son biography of
Errol Flynn, the actor, and his son, Sean, who was a war correspondent
in Vietnam and who was captured in 1970 and disappeared. And I have
been on his trail and found out what happened to him.
LAMB: Again, this picture on the cover of this book was taken when?
Mr. MEYERS: '46 in London.
LAMB: And our guest has been Jeffrey Meyers. This is the cover of
the book called "Orwell," formerly known as Eric Blair. Thank you
very much for joining us.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2001. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.