Orwell at Eton

In the summer of 1917 Eric Arthur Blair signed the entrance book for Eton College. The volume is just one of the treasures on display in Eton College Library to mark the 101st anniversary since Blair – now better known as George Orwell – crossed School Yard for the first time as a King’s

Eton College entrance book

Eton College entrance book for 1917, with Eric Blair’s signature

The display was assembled to complement the Orwell101 school conference and the unveiling of the bust of George Orwell in School Library. While Orwell probably never laid eyes on the inside of College Library himself, on 3 May this year his son, grandson and great-grandson all came to see the display that covers Orwell’s life from his Eton days to his journalism and writing career.

Starting with a mark-book, where we find Blair coming second to bottom in Classics (a subject you feel he would have happily placed in Room 101), it moves on to records of a Wall Game in his final year where Blair was one of a few in the game’s history to score a goal.

College mark-book for 1917

College mark-book for 1917 showing Eric Blair second from the bottom of the class

Further highlights of the display include items relating to Orwell’s investigative journalism, among them first editions of The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) and examples of his literary journalism which cover a broad range of subjects. There are also personal letters from Orwell and his wife Eileen, written while they were in Marrakesh and touching on Orwell’s ill health that he would suffer from for the rest of his life.

Orwell's early essays displayed in College Library

Orwell’s early essays displayed in College Library

Finally, the better-known role of Orwell the novelist is presented through multiple editions of his familiar works of Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen-Eighty-Four (1949), including a number of foreign translations, as well as his lesser-known novels such as Coming Up for Air.

Throughout the display, Orwell’s popularity and impact can also be seen, for example through the editions of Down and Out in Paris and London and The Lion and the Unicorn that Alun Lewis and Sidney Keyes respectively took with them to the First World War.

His academic reputation at Eton was somewhat mixed, but his reputation as a writer is never in doubt. After the publication of Animal Farm his Eton tutor, A.F. Gow, asked Orwell for a copy of the book. Orwell duly obliged, but rather than sign the copy ‘Eric Blair’, as Gow would have known him, he signed it ‘Geo. Orwell’ and left his Eton days behind.

College Library with Orwell101 banners

The Orwell101 display in College Library

By Ceri Sugg, Project Archivist

The display will be on show to visitors to College Library on the Fourth of June. Orwell’s time at Eton is also the subject of an article by our Archives Assistant Georgina Robinson in the Collections Journal.  Please contact us to request a copy of the Journal.

 

Planes on the playing fields: life at Eton in WW1

Letter by Dickie Harington, with diagrams of the wing section and of the RAF circle wing pattern

Letter by Dickie Harington, 30 May 1915

Four letters written by Dickie Harington [Sir Richard Dundas Harington, at Eton 1913-1919] have been purchased by the archives. Sent to his parents, they describe life at Eton during the First World War.

He describes how in May 1915, a bi-plane landed on Agar’s Plough, and includes a diagram and detailed description of the plane “It was built in 1915 by Vickers…I touched its propeller and it was  very greasy, and I touched its wings and found they were made with a vacuum inside…had rings of red white and blue printed on her bottom wings”. The pilot was an Old Etonian, a member of Pop, who boarded at Brinton’s and had come to have lunch there.

Letter by Dickier Harington, with diagrams of the wing section and of the RAF circle wing pattern

Letter by Dickie Harington

Plan of a bi-plane by Dickie Harington, complete with labels

Plan of a bi-plane by Dickie Harington

Another letter describes some of the war work undertaken by boys. “Three boys in my house are making shells, they go to Slough every day and the hours are from lunch till the evening one day, and from early school to lunch another day, and so on alternately”.

Although there was an attempt to continue life as normally as possible, letters such as these give glimpses into the way the war impacted on those boys still at Eton.

By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist

Aiming at the highest peaks: Wilfred Thesiger rewrites his first book

The explorer Wilfred Thesiger never intended to write a book about his travels, but in 1956 he was persuaded, and he began work on Arabian Sands.  Thesiger’s old Eton friend Valentine ffrench Blake commented on the first draft, calling certain paragraphs ‘clumsy’ or simply ‘no good’.  Thesiger was grateful for his friend’s advice and during the next three years the work was subjected to constant revision and proofing.

However, the meticulous revisions of the work took their toll and Thesiger became disillusioned with the whole thing.  Thesiger’s literary agent Graham Watson of Curtis Brown had to persuade him not to throw in the towel, writing in a telegram that ‘those who aim at the highest peaks must be judged by the highest standards’.  Watson was sympathetic but stern, insisting Thesiger labour through a steady working day even if redrafting was ‘darned discouraging work’ — good advice for any writer.

The words had the desired effect and Thesiger went on to complete Arabian Sands and a further eleven books.  Thesiger maintained that Arabian Sands was his finest work.

By Ceri Brough, Project Archivist

Dame Judi Dench’s rehearsal script

The coffee stained pale blue card cover of this item does not divulge what you will find inside. There are some clues; some doodles, the handwritten name “Jude”, but it is otherwise unassuming. Opening it up you quickly realise it is a typescript of a play, and a good one, Edward Bond’s The Sea. Concurrently there is the recognition that this is covered with highlighted lines, annotations, a ms. cast list, and character and costume sketches, all in the hand of the person whose name appears at the top of the first page: “Judi Dench.”

The script really tells the story of working on the 1991 production from an actor’s perspective and shows the evident care that was taken in getting to know the character, in this case that of Mrs. Rafi. One of the best examples of this is the drawings of different glove styles, next to the passage in which Mrs. Rafi is shopping at a drapers’, examining their line in gloves. An amusing annotation appears at the end of a page of ms. notes made after a run-through: “VOICE INSTRUMENT OF BRAIN.” This item was kindly donated by Dame Judi to a charity auction.

By Louise Anderson, @LibrarianLCA

Discovering the modern collections, one book at a time

I have now been cataloguing the post 1800s printed collection at ECL for just over three years. Building this extensive collection is the work of half a decade of our Curator of Modern Collections, who started it under the guidance of the bibliophile John Carter in the 1960s. There had been no catalogue made of this collection until I started working on it, book by book. Although we had a good idea of what was there, exact details were hazy.

This is exciting for two reasons: The librarian in me loves creating order out of chaos. The human in me loves the element of discovery; and of these there have been some exciting ones. In the middle of a first edition of W. H. Auden’s City Without Walls sat a postcard about a trip to Europe and Egypt, casually signed from Alfred Wainwright. Scrawled across the front endpapers of Edward Thomas’s Collected Poems in pencil is the name Irene Rathbone, actress turned feminist author of We that were young, a woman’s experience of working in a WWI munitions factory.

Of the first discovery I am fairly confident that the postcard is in the hand of the hiking hero. The second is conjecture based solely on the likely subject of the book and the publication date falling within the lady’s lifespan. But the possibilities keep on coming. Dicken’s illustrators and Thackeray’s Rose and ring carry signatures of Fred Bennett and Mason Jackson respectively, both important illustrators of their time. Most recently I found the signature of an H. Gay Hewlett on the front wrappers of a couple of numbers from Robert Browning’s Bells and pomegranates, possibly the same H. Gay Hewlett that wrote a history of Europe. As I write this, that discovery was only yesterday, I wonder what I’ll find tomorrow…

discovering-the-modern-collections

By Louise Anderson, @LibrarianLCA

The Suffragettes : marking the death of Emily Davison

suffragette-openingEmily Davison threw herself under the King’s horse on the 4th June 1913, almost 100 years ago to the day of Eton’s recent 4th June celebrations. She died of her injuries a few days later, on 8th June. The Suffragette began publication in 1912 following a spilt in the Women’s Social and Political Union, born of their increasingly militant action. This Friday 13th June 1913 issue of The Suffragette commemorates her sacrifice.

suffragette-front

Emily Davison achieved a first class honours in English Literature at Oxford but could not graduate because of her sex. Her later writings are mostly about her militant activities; she hid in the House of Commons three times and threw herself down the prison steps because she felt ‘a tragedy was wanted’ for the cause. This lends credence to the argument that her protest on the 4th June was an act of suicide, but a return train ticket was found on her person.

Written by Louise Anderson, @LibrarianLCA