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About Sonia Brownell
Sonia Brownell (born August 25, 1918 - died December 11, 1980) was the second and last wife of writer George Orwell. She was also known as Sonia Blair or Sonia Orwell.
Brownell was born in Calcutta, the daughter of a British colonial official. When she was six, she was sent to the Sacred Heart Convent in Roehampton (now Woldingham School). She left at 17, and after learning French in Switzerland, took a secretarial course.
Orwell first met her when she worked as an assistant for Cyril Connolly, a friend of his from Eton College, at the literary magazine Horizon. After the death of his first wife Eileen O'Shaughnessy, Orwell became desperately lonely, and on October 13, 1949 married Brownell, two months before his death from tuberculosis.
In later life, Brownell often went by the name Sonia Orwell; however, this was never legally her name as 'Orwell' was merely a pen name that her husband (real name Eric Arthur Blair) had chosen. Some commentators have argued that she helped Orwell through the painful last months of his life and gave him a hitherto unknown sense of joy. Others saw her as a mercenary who was only interested in becoming his literary widow. However, there has never been a word of reproach from Orwell's adopted son Richard, who would certainly have opposed her had she been a mercenary. She was fiercely protective of his estate and edited, with Ian Angus, the four volume edition of his collected essays, journalism and letters first published in 1968. The writer and academic Frank Kermode has suggested their marriage was a case of Orwell acquiring, as president of his foundation, the most promising young talent he could find.
Brownell later married the homosexual Michael Pitt Rivers in 1958 and had affairs with several British painters, including Lucian Freud, William Coldstream and Victor Pasmore. She also had an affair with the French phenomenological philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who she described as her true love; she hoped he would leave his wife for her.
She died of a brain tumor in 1980.