Books: Orwell's Boyhood Dream Realised Too Late; George Orwell. by Gordon Bowker. Little, Brown Pounds 20

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Byline: Reviewed by Monica Foot

On June 25, it will be the centenary of the birth of Eric A Blair, better known as the writer George Orwell. And he is all over the place, like a rash. The Newcastle Playhouse is touring a production of Animal Farm, complete with farmyard mud ( 'Warning: Flying mud - don't sit at the front if you're wearing your Sunday best!' says the promotional brochure, rather unalluringly).

Elusive American author Thomas Pynchon has written a huge reassessment in the literary pages. There's this new biography and doubtless much more to come.

There is certainly plenty to examine; a life which spanned the beginning of the end of empire; England's top public school, Eton, and England's most squalid doss and workhouses; a devotion to radicalism combined with a loathing of communism; and educated reading habits mixed with expertise on popular culture, such as seaside postcards, the music hall and boys' comics.

As a young boy, Eric dreamed of becoming a 'famous author', with his books published in a uniform edition. And it is his journey to that end which engrosses Bowker, who has had access to Orwell's KGB file, and is thus able to cast new light on aspects of the author's life.

Previous biographers have had to contend with the odd fact that Orwell stated, on his death bed, that he wanted no biography - an impossibility in itself - and that, again, on his death bed, he married the flighty young Sonia Brownell who was to become his literary executor, ill-suited though she was to any administrative role.

So the legend of his life got off to a rocky start.

Bowker writes: 'There was something undoubtedly romantic both in Orwell's life and his work, standing as he did in the same revolutionary tradition as Byron and Shelley. He was a born adventurer, a man of action, drawn often by the romantic dream - drawn to Burma, drawn down into the lower depths, drawn to Spain, drawn to London to suffer its Blitz, drawn to the dream of a socialist utopia. And, as his friends have pointed out, he enjoyed acting out roles, putting himself into dramatic situations - even in his relations with children.

'In his work there is always a part of him - the down-and-out, the alienated Anglo-Indian, the poete maudit haunting the London slums, the married man in mid-life crisis, the cynical donkey, the last free man battling against Big Brother's Inquisition, always the only one in step, battling against a world of injustice.

'Always, too, was the man who revered the natural world and drewinspiration from it. …