Orwell Declares Himself A Eunuch, Is Besieged By Hedgehogs

As you complain about the gloominess of my letters, I suppose I must try to put on what Mr. Micawber called the hollow mask of mirth, but I assure you it is not easy, with the life I have been leading lately. My novel, instead of going forwards, goes backwards with the most alarming speed. There are whole wads of it that are so awful that I really don’t know what to do with them. And to add to my other joys, the fair, or part of it, has come back and established itself on the common just beyond the cinema, so that I have to work to the accompaniment of roundabout music that goes on till the small hours. You may think that this is red ink I am writing in, but really it is some of the bloody sweat that has been collecting round me in pools for the last few days.

I managed to get my copy of Ulysses through safely this time. I rather wish I had never read it. It gives me an inferiority complex. When I read a book like that and then come back to my own work, I feel like a eunuch who has taken a course in voice production and can pass himself off fairly well as a bass or a baritone, but if you listen closely you can hear the good old squeak just the same as ever.

When I said that I was going to stay in a slummy part of London I did not mean that I was going to live in a common lodging house or anything like that. I only meant that I didn’t want to live in a respectable quarter, because they make me sick, besides being more expensive. I dare say I shall stay in Islington. It is maddening that you cannot get unfurnished rooms in London, but I know by experience that you can’t, though of course you can get a flat or some horrible thing called a maisonette. This age makes me so sick that sometimes I am almost impelled to stop at a corner and start calling down curses from Heaven like Jeremiah or Ezra or somebody—”Woe upon thee, O Israel, for thy adulteries with the Egyptians” etc. etc. The hedgehogs keep coming into the house, and last night we found in the bathroom a little tiny hedgehog no bigger than an orange. The only thing I could think was that it was a baby of one of the others, though it was fully formed—I mean, it had its prickles. Write again soon. You don’t know how it cheers me up to see one of your letters waiting for me.

—George Orwell, letter to Brenda Salkeld, September 1934

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6 Responses to “Orwell Declares Himself A Eunuch, Is Besieged By Hedgehogs”


  1. 1 possum January 26, 2011 at 6:10 am

    “As you complain about the gloominess of my letters…” Reminds me of recent readers of the blog. I thought that was going to be the subject of the posting, but rather an interesting letter followed. Thanks for the entertainment. Hedgehogs are so very cute how could anyone complain about having one in the house?

    • 2 bluenred January 26, 2011 at 11:46 am

      Yes, this letter caught my eye because of the gloominess complaint. ; )

      I don’t think he was really all that exasperated about the hedgehogs. He just always adopted an Eeyore tone when writing to that particular woman. In a later letter to her, he wistfully observes that the hedgehogs aren’t coming around anymore. So it’s pretty clear that he liked them.

      • 3 possum January 27, 2011 at 11:14 am

        Absence is said to make the heart grow fonder. I wonder if that is part of the change? Or maybe he is not the curmudgeon he makes out to be…

        • 4 bluenred January 27, 2011 at 11:19 am

          I think he’s not the curmudgeon he makes himself out to be. And as I said, when writing to this particular woman, he especially makes like Eeyore. : /

          Orwell really liked nature and animals and was constantly working to grow things, even during the bombs of the Blitz, and when he relocated to a windswept rock off the coast of Scotland. He wrote a truly lovely appreciation of spring that I’m going to reprint here when the season turns.

          • 5 possum January 27, 2011 at 11:37 am

            Let us hope the turning of the season comes soon. Possum Valley got another near foot of snow overnight. We have had enough. Time for daffodils. :)


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