Letter to Sonia Brownell regarding trip to Jura (April 1947)

Isle of Jura

12 April 1947

Dearest Sonia,1

Sonia Brownell (1948)

Sonia Brownell in 1948

I am handwriting this because my typewriter is downstairs. We arrived O.K. & without incident yesterday. Richard was as good as gold & rather enjoyed having a sleeper to himself after he had got over the first strangeness, & as soon as we got into the plane at Glasgow he went to sleep, probably because of the noise. I hadn’t been by plane before & I think it’s really better. It costs £2 or £3 more, but it saves about 5 hours & the boredom of going on boats, & even if one was sick its only three quarters of an hour whereas if one goes by sea one is sick for five or six hours, ie. if it is bad weather. Everything up here is just as backward as in England, hardly a bud showing & I saw quite a lot of snow yesterday. However it’s beautiful spring weather now & the plants I put in at the new year seem to be mostly alive. There are daffodils all over the place, the only flower out. I’m still wrestling with more or less virgin meadow, but I think by next year I’ll have quite a nice garden here. Of course we’ve had a nightmare all today getting things straight, with Richard only too ready to help, but it’s more or less right now & the house is beginning to look quite civilized. It will be some weeks before we’ve got the transport problem fully solved, but otherwise we are fairly well appointed. I’m going to send for some hens as soon as we have put the hen house up, & this year I have been also able to arrange for alcohol so that we have just a little, a sort of rum ration, each day. Last year we had to be practically T.T. I think in a week everything will be straight & the essential work in the garden done, & then I can get down to some work.

I wrote to Genetta2 asking her to come whenever she liked & giving instructions about the journey. So long as she’s bringing the child, not just sending it, it should be simple enough. I want to give you the complete details about the journey, which isn’t so formidable as it looks on paper. The facts are these:

There are boats to Jura on Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays. You have to catch the boat train at Glasgow at 8 am, which means that it’s safer to sleep the preceding night at Glasgow, because the all-night trains have a nasty way of coming in an hour or two hours late, & then one misses the boat train. The times & so on are as follows:
8 am leave Glasgow Central for gourock.
Join boat for Tarbert (tarbert) at Gourock. About 12 noon arrive East Tarbert.
Travel by bus to West Tarbert (bus runs in conjunction with the boats).
Join boat for craighouse (Jura) at West Tarbert.
About 3.30 pm arrive Craighouse.
Take hired car to lealt, where we meet you.

If you want to go by plane, the planes run daily (except Sundays I think), & they nearly always take off unless it’s very misty. The itinerary then is:
10.30 arrive at Scottish Airways office at St. Enoch Station, Glasgow (the air office is in the railway station).
10.40 leave by bus for renfrew.
11.15 leave by plane for islay. (Pronounced eyely).
12 noon arrive Islay.
Hire a car (or take bus) to the ferry which leads to Jura.
About 1 pm cross ferry.
Hired car to lealt.

It’s important to let us know in advance when you are coming, because of the hired car. There are only 2 posts a week here, & only 2 occasions on which I can send down to Craighouse to order the car. If you come by boat, you could probably get a car all right by asking on the quay, but if you come by air there wouldn’t be a car at the ferry (which is several miles from Craighouse) unless ordered beforehand. Therefore if you proposed coming on, say, June 15th, it would be as well to write about June 5th because, according to the day of the week, it may be 4 or 5 days before your letter reaches me, & another 3 or 4 days before I can send a message. It’s no use wiring because the telegrams come by the postman.

You want a raincoat & if possible stout boots or shoes—gum boots if you have them. We may have some spare gum boots, I’m not sure—we are fairly well off for spare oilskins & things like that. It would help if you brought that week’s rations, because they’re not quick at getting any newcomer’s rations here, & a little flour & tea.

I am afraid I am making this all sound very intimidating, but really it’s easy enough & the house is quite comfortable. The room you would have is rather small, but it looks out on the sea. I do so want to have you here. By that time I hope we’ll have got hold of an engine for the boat, & if we get decent weather ve can go round to the completely uninhabited bays on the west side of the island, where there is beautiful white sand & clear water with seals swimming about in it. At one of them there is a cave where we can take shelter when it rains, & at another there is a shepherd’s hut which is disused but quite livable where one could even picnic for a day or two. Anyway do come, & come whenever you like for as long as you like, only try to let me know beforehand. And meanwhile take care of yourself & be happy.

I’ve just remembered I never paid you for that brandy you got for me, so enclose £3. I think it was about that wasn’t it? The brandy was very nice & was much appreciated on the journey up because they can’t get alcohol here at all easily. The next island, Islay, distills whisky but it all goes to America. I gave the lorry driver a large wallop, more than a double, & it disappeared so promptly that it seemed to hit the bottom of his belly with a click.

With much love

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊


1. Sonia Brownell (1918-1980), whom Orwell met in the early nineteen forties and married in 1949, some three months before his death, was one of two editoral assistants on Horizon, for which she worked from 1945 to 1950. Orwell’s friend, Tosco Fyvel, wrote in George Orwell: A Personal Memoir, “after Eileen’s death in 1945 [Orwell] had … a brief (and unsatisfactory) affair with Sonia Brownell”.
2. Janetta Woolley was a friend of those who ran Horizon and Polemic. She may have met Orwell through her former husband, Humphrey Slater, but it seems more likely it was through Cyril Connolly. Her daughter Nicolette, then nearly four years old, is the child mentioned in this letter. Sonia Brownell had suggested to Orwell that Nicolette would be a suitable same-age companion for young Richard, hence Orwell’s invitation, but in the end Janetta and Nicolette did not go to Jura. Janetta and David Astor were witnesses to the marriage of George Orwell and Sonia Brownell.

Source: CW19-3212

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