ETON COLLEGERS REMEMBER ORWELL
To Orwell Today,
re: LOOKING FOR ORWELL AT ETON
I stumbled upon your account of your August 2004 trip to Eton College on your fine website and thought I'd email you with a couple of things that might interest you. I was, like Orwell, a Kings scholar at Eton (1995-2000) and like him I edited both school magazines. Sadly, this is about as far as the comparison goes!
A couple of corrections, if I may: Eton isn't the oldest school in England - founded in 1440, it's about 50 years younger than Winchester College and possibly others. The black cape that EAB would have had to wear is a pretty standard scholar's gown - he wasn't Batman!
Other than that you have a much better idea of the facts than pretty much any visitor i've encountered.
You might be pleased to know that although the museum of eton life curator didn't seem much bothered by our man, he was very much a College hero. The picture of him and the rest of College sitting on the steps by the chapel that you stood on is up in one of the corridors, and present Collegers (or at least in my day) are assiduous readers of his works. One of my friends set up the Orwell Society in around 1998, not a fan club for EAB but a meeting place of political free thinkers and revolutionary spirits inspired by the great man. He is certainly the first place I turn when someone asks me to name a famous old boy, despite his feelings about his school days that Mike Grenier (another old Colleger) points out in his ORWELL TRULY A GLOBAL FIGURE article in the Chronicle that you published on your site.
In my editing days of the Chronicle my co-editor wrote a piece about EAB at Eton and beyond, accompanying it with a wonderful pencil sketch of his face based on the photo in the eton museum. I tried to locate it to attach it for you but it's no longer available on the school website. If you try and track it down, then it was in an edition of the Chronicle published some time in Jan-March 2000 - there were 3 in this period and it's in one of them.
I hope you enjoyed your trip to Eton and this letter stirs some memories. It's great to see where people started out. Even if EAB didn't embrace the whole ethos of Eton, College would have been full of interesting people and he would have been encouraged to think and write independently, so his output must owe a debt to the school. I'm glad that his photo is given such a prominent location in the museum!
Please do email back with any queries about any of this, or observations.
Firstly, congratulations on having been a King's Scholar at Eton which in its own right is a major accomplishment, let alone the fact that it puts you alongside George Orwell, also known as EAB. And with your mutual involvement in the two school magazines I'd say there's hope for you to one day be on that "prominent persons" wall.
Secondly, thank you very much for sending in those Eton corrections. The word "gown" would have been a better choice of word than "cape", or at least I should have said "long" cape so that people wouldn't get the Batman impression (although I had never pictured it that way). Actually, after we left our tour of Eton College we did a bit of shopping in the village and I went into a couple of haberdashy shops asking to see the black cape the King's Scholars wore but no one had one to show me. But I did see a couple of new Eton boys being fitted for their uniforms with their mothers proudly standing by.
As well we came upon a great sports shop which was having a sale and I bought a four-piece HEAD-brand travel set with backpack, swim-suit bag, shoe bag, and duffle bag which I have had many occasions to use and which always reminds me of my trip to Eton. And daily I use the Eton bookmarks which are no longer stiff and new but soft and well-worn between the pages of my Orwell books. It was a great trip to Eton that providence provided.
It's great to hear that Orwell is held in high esteem by his present-day fellow Collegers and that there's a picture of him hanging in an Eton corridor. I didn't realize that the other boys in the Chapel steps photo were his classmates or "election", so thank you for filling in that detail. I assume it was taken on graduation year.
I have the book in which the photo that's on the wall in the Eton museum first appeared. It was taken not that long after the death of Orwell's wife and the publication of Animal Farm:
GEORGE ORWELL AT HOME (among the Anarchists), Essays and Photographs by Freedom Press
...Here for the first time is a full collection of the photographs, which were taken by Vernon Richards and his companion Marie Louise Berneri in 1946, showing George Orwell at home, in unexpectedly informal settings, on his own or with his adopted son, and giving an unusually intimate view of a very private man...
The picture isn't very clear on the Eton wall but in the original you can see that what he's doing is rolling a cigarette in his left hand while his right hand dips into a leather tobacco pouch on his lap whilst his elbow rests on a table with tobacco papers and a tea cup. That's a handkerchief in his breast pocket. All these are personifications of Orwell.
I would very much like to read that article about Orwell that your co-editor at the Chronicle wrote, and see the pencil sketch of the photo. I'd post it on the website to go along with the other articles by Old Boys.
I don't know if you saw my article ORWELL & HARRY AT ETON which makes the point that Orwell had fond memories of Eton and credited it with allowing him to express and be himself which is something we can all be thankful for.
With your having been in the "election" of 1995 your paths must have sometimes crossed with Princes William and Harry who would also have been attending during your times. Perhaps you saw Harry playing the Wall Game.
All the best,
PS - I have the photo I took of the photo of Orwell on the Eton Museum wall in a beautiful silver frame (given to me by an English relative) because it reminds me of the ghostly Orwell who still inhabits our world.
PPS - The other photos Vernon Richards took of Orwell are on the wall inside his flat at 27B Canonbury Square in Islington.
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