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George Orwell’s peculiar palate

Ullstein Bild/Getty

George Orwell had peculiar taste in food, says Gustav Jönsson in Jacobin. As a new biography by DJ Taylor recounts, the author’s wife once went out for the night, “leaving a shepherd’s pie in the oven for her husband and a dish of eels on the floor for the cat, and came home to find that Orwell had eaten the eels”. He would wolf down meals that even wartime Londoners would reject. After a Fleet Street lunch with the anarchist writer George Woodcock, consisting of boiled cod and turnips “so foul that Woodcock sent them back”, Orwell patted his stomach and remarked: “I never thought they’d have gone so well together.”

Though the writer talked up his poverty, he was “comfortably off” after joining the BBC in 1941, and “outright rich” once Animal Farm was published four years later. “He’d make a point of showing up to smart cocktail parties in his shabby corduroy suit, but everyone could plainly see that it had been cut by an expensive tailor.” In 1933’s Down and Out in Paris and London, he neglected to mention that his aunt lived a few blocks from the hotel where he was supposedly starving, and that he might have “popped in for the occasional meal”. Likewise, he omitted that he was only reduced to working as a plongeur – a dishwasher – “because a prostitute nicked his wallet”.

Orwell: The New Life by DJ Taylor is available to buy here.