Jennie Lee on George Orwell’s December 1936 arrival in Barcelona

George Orwell had hoped to leave England for Spain about 23 December 1936 after seeing Victor Gollancz on the 21st about the publication of The Road to Wigan Pier. He arrived in Barcelona about 26 December 1936. Some months after Orwell died, Jennie Lee (Labour MP for Cannock)1 wrote on 23 June 1950 to Miss Margaret M. Goalby of Presteigne, Radnorshire, who had asked her about Orwell. This is part of that letter:

In the first year of the Spanish Civil War I was sitting with friends in a hotel in Barcelona when a tall thin man with a ravished complexion came over to the table. He asked me if I was Jennie Lee, and if so, could I tell him where to join up. He said he was an author: had got an advance on a book from Gollancz,2 and had arrived ready to drive a car or do anything else, preferably to fight in the front line. I was suspicious and asked what credentials he had brought from England. Apparently he had none. He had seen no-one, simply paid his own way out. He won me over by pointing to the boots over his shoulder. He knew he could not get boots big enough for he was over six feet. This was George Orwell and his boots arriving to fight in Spain.

I came to know him as a deeply kind man and a creative writer. . . . He was a satirist who did not conform to any orthodox political or social pattern. . . . The only thing I can be quite certain of is, that up to his last day George was a man of utter integrity; deeply kind, and ready to sacrifice his last worldly possessions – he never had much – in the cause of democratic socialism. Part of his malaise was that he was not only a socialist but profoundly liberal. He hated regimentation wherever he found it, even in the socialist ranks.

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Notes:

1.  Jennie Lee (1904-1988; Baroness Lee of Asheridge, 1970). Born to a Scottish miner, James Lee, who was chairman of his local ILP branch, she became the first Minister for the Arts and served in the Labour governments, 1964—70. She made a profound impression as Minister for the Arts. She married Aneurin Bevan in 1934.
2.  This advance was for The Road to Wigan Pier.

Jennie Lee (Baroness Lee of Asheridge) in 1943

Jennie Lee running as an independent candidate in 1943

Source: CW11-355A

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