Play About Sonia Orwell Opens in London

Domenic Cavendish writing in the Daily Telegraph reviews a play entitled “Mrs Orwell” that opened recently in London. This is about Sonia Orwell, the secretary at Cyril Connolly’s Horizon magazine who married George Orwell a few weeks before his death. There has frequently been speculation about whether her motives were those of a golddiger or that she was simply naive or altruistic. No one seems to have suggested that there was any romantic attraction on her side. According to the Telegraph review:

“I want her to come out of this as an energised force for good,” says Tony Cox, the playwright. “She was so life-affirming, so determined things would get better. And that was what Orwell needed more than anything else.” The role promises to be a breakthrough for 28-year-old Cressida Bonas, and there is an unmistakable aptness about the casting. Though the actress, model and former girlfriend of Prince Harry shudders at the term “It Girl” – a label that has been slapped on her (“I hate it!” she tells me) – there’s a case for describing [Sonia] as an “It Girl” avant la lettre.

The review also discusses some of the literary characters Sonia may have inspired:

Men would drop into the Horizon offices just to gaze at her, and her ability to turn heads, stand her ground and inspire fascination saw her achieve an artistic after-life in fiction by Evelyn Waugh (in his 1961 novel Unconditional Surrender) and Orwell himself, who is thought to have based the character of Julia, the heroine of Nineteen Eighty-Four, on her.

Waugh was involved with Orwell and Connolly’s Horizon in the late 1940s and I believe mentions Sonia in his letters somewhere. I am away from home and unable to determine the identity of the character who may be based on Sonia–probably one of the young ladies (Coney or Frankie) working at Everard Spruce’s magazine, Survival. Perhaps some one might like to comment.

The play is at the Old Red Lion Theatre, London EC1 until 28 August.

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