Introducing Ida Mabel Limouzin

(Adapted and republished from my old Jack of Kent site, May 2010.)

 

Let me introduce you to Ida Mabel Limouzin.

You will like her.

 

She was born in 1875 and grew up in Burma in the port of Moulmein, where her French family had conducted business since the British annexation in 1826.

The Limouzins were a well-regarded family with wide commercial interests; they even had a street named after them. One family member remembered that the head of the family “lived like a prince”.

She was attractive – slender with striking eyes and thick wavy hair – and highly independent.

According to one author, Ms. Limouzin was certainly a “more lively, unconventional, widely-read and in every way a more interesting person” than the dullard she ended up marrying.

She insisted on a separate bedroom to the dullard. When seen together she seemed to others to be faintly dismissive of him.  The evidence suggests she only married him on the rebound.

When she brought her young family to England – the dullard was sent off to work in India for years and so played no real part in his children’s upbringing – she mixed with Suffragettes and attended public meetings. She often took her children with her: she was remembered by her daughter as being a mother “for outings”.

The house was full of fanciful objects, and she had a passion for art and photography.

In essence, Ms. Limouzin was a bohemian at the turn of the twentieth century, but one devoted to her young children.

 

 

As such, she was one of many; but the reason we know so much about her is because her son happened to grow up to be famous.

You can see him as the baby in the photograph above.

Her son was called Eric, but he became better known as “George Orwell”.

And when one looks at George Orwell from his mother’s perspective, a great deal seems to make sense.

One is no longer trying to explain why the Eton schoolboy decided not to go to university but went to Burma and then Paris instead.

After all, from his mother’s side Orwell was Franco-Burmese in the first place.

One can also perhaps see where his independence of mind and unreadiness to conform came from.

(Indeed even at Eton he was distinctive. He was known as “the college atheist” and he read books which surprised his teachers and friends. Regarding Orwell just as a typical Etonian is  misconceived.)

 

 

But the British obsession with class, and the sexist assumption that the paternal side is more significant, tend to dominate Orwell scholarship and almost all his biographies.

For example, one biography of Orwell which spends six pages lovingly detailing the family and class background of Orwell’s father, including mentioning distant and titled relatives of whom Orwell was probably unaware.

The biography then deals with Orwell’s mother in a couple of sentences.

One rather thinks it should be the other way round.

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Introducing Ida Mabel Limouzin”

  1. I agree that his mother must have had more to do with his upbringing than his father, whom he had barely seen until he was eight. I would say that Orwell always was a ‘one off’. When the Buddicoms first met him, he was standing on his head in a field.
    St Cyprian’s Eastbourne, was his boarding school in his formative years. To read his ‘Such, such were the joys, with his memories of these years and also his analysis of these times is very informative of his acute understanding of his situation. I would say that this school had a great deal to do with the way his mind developed.

  2. On behalf of dullards everywhere I must protest at your… actually that is all a bit too exciting, I will just have a little sit down instead.

  3. I agree with James Inman when he says that was eye-opening, can you tell us your source? as I’d love to read more about her,
    I think this is one of the great things about reading bloggs! You are reading a blog that you have been reading for a while – me with this one – and then suddenly they come out with a fact that makes you go what hang on i want to check that one,
    I really enjoy you blog – thank you for creating it –
    Have a great day.

  4. At nine-ten years old (in Fifth Class at primary school) I was obliged three times to watch an animated film of “Animal Farm”. It was didactic as my teacher, Brother Herbert, was keen to inculcate a anti-Communism in the boys in the top class: the Australian Labor Party at the time had split with an explicitly anti-Communist “Democratic Labor Party” led largely by Catholics and their industrial wing “The Groupers” had successfully wrested control of key trades unions – miners, longshoremen, steel workers, though not metalworkers – from the Communist Party.

    So moved and stimulated by this film was I that I subsequently read the book several times, then “1984”, “The Road to Wigan Pier”, “Homage to Catalonia”, “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” etc, etc. There is a description of the working day of coal miners in “Collected Essays” that I have commended to my sons. They cannot believe that people in England, only a half century before they were born, worked in such atrocious conditions.

    For decades I have wondered what genetic and upbringing influences caused this tall, thin, pale self-described “lower upper-middle class” Englishman to become such an intellectual and social rebel of rare intellectual honesty. There were no clues. He seemed to be a flower sprouted from a weed bed and that very rarely happens. A childhood part spent in Burma was insufficient explanation. Even his name, Eric Blair, was the epitome of blandness; mercifully he recognised this too.

    You have provided it to me. Thank you.

    It is a travesty that Orwell’s mother is neglected by biographers. There is a vein of disdain for his father that can be detected in Orwell’s writing and personal life; all becomes clear now. Lets hope the next Orwell biography delves deeply into Orwell’s mother and his relationship with her.

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