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Blue Plaque Honour for Eileen O'Shaughnessy

A commemorative blue plaque has been unveiled in South Tyneside in honour of a South Shields-born Oxford scholar and the first wife of famous author George Orwell.

Eileen O'Shaughnessy was married to Eric Blair, mostly famously known by his pen name George Orwell. Orwell is renowned throughout the world for his novel Animal Farm and the dystopian classic Nineteen Eighty-Four, among a wealth of journalistic essays, social and political commentaries and literary reviews.

A writer herself, Eileen met Orwell in 1935 and they married a year later in Wallington, Hertfordshire. She is thought to have been a strong influence on Orwell's style of writing, on Animal Farm in particular in which he credits Eileen for help in planning the book.

It is also thought that Eileen's futuristic poem, End of the Century 1984, which was published before she met Orwell, influenced the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four published after her death.

The Mayor and Mayoress of South Tyneside, Councillor Pat Hay and Mrs Jean Copp unveiled the blue plaque at Eileen's former family home in Beach Road, South Shields.

They were joined by Eileen and Orwell's adopted son Richard Blair alongside members of The Orwell Society and the building's current owner David Harland.

The Mayor said: "It was a real honour to unveil a special blue plaque in tribute to Eileen O'Shaughnessy - a little-known local woman who shaped, supported and likely even saved the life of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

"George Orwell wrote masterpieces in the world of literature, but Eileen's influence over him and the impact she had on his creative writing is often overlooked. There's no doubt she was a guiding force in his life, nursing him through injury and illness and playing an influential role in his novels which have continued to stand the test of time.

"It's particularly fitting that the blue plaque is unveiled during Women's History Month, a celebration of women's contribution to history, culture and society. We hope that this new memorial to Eileen O'Shaughnessy will inspire more people to learn more about her life and inspiration in literature."

Eileen was born in 1905. She attended Westoe School and was later educated at Sunderland Church High School. She also earned a degree in English Literature at Oxford.

Her father Laurence O'Shaughnessy was Head of Customs in South Shields and the family lived at what they called Westgate House, after Eileen's mother's maiden name.

The blue plaque was funded and installed on the property by The Orwell Society.

Quentin Kopp, Chairman of The Orwell Society said: "I am delighted that after the enforced two year delay Eileen has been given great recognition at her family home. The Word has copied of her exhaustively researched biography Eileen, The Making of George Orwell by Sylvia Topp."

Eileen and Orwell's son and Patron of The Orwell Society, Richard Blair added: "Sylvia Topp has done so much to highlight the often-overlooked but vital role my mother played in Orwell's life, not just as a supporter and at times, when he had bouts of illness, a carer, but also as a creative inspiration.

"I am thrilled that we are finally able to celebrate the life of my mother in this way, and the huge amount of work that Sylvia has put in to tell the world her untold story."

The plaque was originally due to be unveiled in March 2020, marking the 75th anniversary of Eileen's death in 1945, at the age of 39 during an operation.

However, the covid pandemic led to the unveiling being postponed at that time.

The plaque was unveiled over the weekend to mark the 77th anniversary, coinciding with a special event celebrating the life and work of Eileen O'Shaughnessy at The Word in South Shields.

This included a screening of Wildflower- a short film created about Eileen by local filmmaker Gary Wilkinson, as well as an author talk from Sylvia Topp on her biography of Eileen and a reading of You, you, you - a poem written about Eileen by Jarrow-born writer Tom Kelly.

George Orwell was born in 1903. He died from tuberculosis in 1950, aged only 46.

Further information about George Orwell and his first wife Eileen O'Shaughnessy visit The Orwell Society at www.orwellsociety.com

For more details of South Tyneside's Blue Plaque scheme visit www.southtyneside.gov.uk/blueplaques  

 

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