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growing up on animal farm

March 24, 2009

[TLS] Freedom, even in farm boots, had its risks. Once, when he went to check the farm’s sheep with Bill Dunn, a former soldier whom Orwell hired to do the heavy work and who later married Avril, he got lost, and was recovered some hours later, frightened and crying. The plan, it seems, was to allow him to learn by making mistakes. He found an old tobacco pipe in the garden and, after lunch one day, filled it with cigarette butts retrieved from the fireplace. He was surprised that his father, far from stopping him, handed him his cigarette lighter without so much as a break in the conversation. The result was announced by Orwell in a letter to Astor: “I’m sorry to say that Richard took to smoking recently but he made himself horribly sick and that has put him off it.”

There was a more serious mishap when he balanced on a chair to watch his father making a wooden toy. A cautious parent would have lifted him down, but Orwell carried on, and Richard fell, breaking a big china jug on the washstand and, as his father proudly reported, “cutting an enormous chunk out of his forehead”. Even Orwell decided that this merited a trek to the doctor for a couple of stitches. His breezy confidence that it would leave no scar proved false, and Richard obligingly showed me an inch-long indentation on his right temple.

George Orwell’s son Richard talks about his father.

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