Funder’s book excoriates a fundamental truth unchanged from both before and after Orwell’s time: that what women do in a marriage, in a family, creates more time for the other members of that family than they would ever have if they had to manage their lives without her.
The wife is an enabler, and a bearer of the mental and even physical load in ways that make her work both crucial and unvalued, all while it is also completely invisible. It’s a story as old as time and as powerfully present, to greater and lesser degrees, in all our relationships. And it’s driving many of us crazy.
Funder’s demolition of the patriarchal structure that keeps many of us trapped in this place is something to behold, but her main quest in this book is to bring to light Eileen O’Shaughnessy: a brilliant writer erased by history, criticism and biography, and she wants to reveal her quite incredible contribution to the work Orwell produces. I don’t want to spoil all that Funder uncovers — but there’s a reason almost every critic notes that Animal Farm is unlike anything Orwell wrote, before or after.
Funder makes clear that she does not want to cancel Orwell, a writer she adores — but she doesn’t have to: the history she uncovers condemns a great deal around this man, most particularly his awful neglect of the woman who types, edits, counsels on and advocates for all his books; who kept his houses, got him out of war-torn Spain and tolerated unspeakable infidelities.