Orwell’s Southwold (III)

In this third and concluding part of her series, Ann Kronbergs describes the works that Eric Blair would publish as George Orwell, and the relationships that finally helped him achieve publication.

George Orwell in Southwold Concluded: Part 3

Eric Blair’s chance encounter in Southwold in August 1930 with a married woman, Mabel Fierz, led to the transformation of his literary career. Whilst his relationships with younger women such as Brenda Salkeld or Eleanor Jaques proved ultimately frustrating, in Mabel Fierz he found the first woman who recognised his talents as a writer and who was in a position to introduce him to her contacts in literary London. For a time the two of them were also lovers.

Mabel Sinclair Fierz was brought up by English parents in Brazil and was married to Francis Fierz, a successful engineer. The couple owned a house in Golders Green and Mabel wrote reviews for The Adelphi, whilst her husband was a Dickens enthusiast; Mabel especially took an interest in the work of young writers. She was in her late thirties when she first met Eric who had lately taken up watercolour painting as a recreation; according to her own account, he was working at an easel on Southwold beach when she engaged in passing conversation with him. On leaving Southwold that summer, Mabel offered an open invitation to Eric to use the Fierzes’ house whenever he needed a place to stay in London.

mabelfierz[35034]A rare and faint photograph of Mabel Fierz (R)

The Adelphi was a link between the two of them and the living proof to Mabel of this young unknown writer’s credentials. Eric Blair’s account of two days spent in a casual ward, The Spike, had already been accepted for publication by the magazine, although it did not appear until April 1931, twenty months after its acceptance. Early in 1930 he had had a London meeting with the editors Sir Richard Rees, an ex-Etonian three years his senior, and Max Plowman. Mabel Fierz served to strengthen this connection since Max Plowman lived near her in North London and was part of her social circle. In a letter to him written from No 3 Queen Street, Southwold (Eric never used the words ‘Montague House’ as his address) in November 1930, Eric thanks him for sending him some books to review, and also for passing on his manuscript to John Middleton Murry. When he visited London from time to time he stayed with the Fierzes and it was from their address at 1B Oakwood Road that he first represented himself, acting on Mabel’s advice, to the literary agent, Leonard Moore.

For financial reasons between April 1932 and December 1933 (when pneumonia forced him to stop) Eric taught in private schools in Hayes and Uxbridge. Without doubt, at this time, Mabel Fierz acted as a facilitator in the pre-publication stages of Down and Out in Paris and London. Faced with letters of rejection first from Jonathan Cape and then from T.S. Eliot at Faber & Faber, Eric handed her the manuscript, advising her to throw it away, but to save the paperclips! On his behalf she then took it in person to her husband’s friend, the literary agent Leonard Moore, at his office on the Strand. At first Moore thought there was no hope as nobody knew this young writer, but then he read the work properly and in April 1932 agreed to act for Eric. By the end of June, Moore informed him that the firm of Victor Gollancz was prepared to publish his work with an advance of £40. Writing to Moore in November, Eric proposed the pseudonym of George Orwell (a controversial subject which has led to much well documented comment) to be used for Down and Out in Paris and London, primarily as a way of sparing his parents’ embarrassment at the seedy and sexually explicit content of the work.

Montague House

The advance copies of Down and Out in Paris and London arrived at Montague House, High Street, Southwold in time for the first Blair family Christmas in this house: December 1932. On Boxing Day Eric travelled to Bedford to present a copy to Brenda Salkeld.

MH Plaque
Montague House is where Eric Blair turned into the writer George Orwell. The five years between his return from Burma and the publication of his first book show an astonishing output of work, along with the dawn of his literary reputation. Whilst Southwold friendships prevented him from total isolation as a writer, in no small part Orwell’s first book contract was due to the efforts and patronage of Mabel Fierz. By the time he moved from Southwold to London in October 1934, not only had he published Down and Out in Paris and London, but he had also published his first novel Burmese Days in New York and completed his second, A Clergyman’s Daughter.

Ann Kronbergs

Uploaded 21 November 2017

The End


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