“I have begun the Chartreuse de Parme, but have read only a few pages as yet, for I saw a reference in some work to The Prince and, as I had never read it, I have begun that also and am about half way through it. I suppose you have read it long ago, probably at school. It is rather more historical than I had expected and interesting if only as some kind of picture of the Renaissance period. There is a very long Introduction in the edition I have (a French one of E’s.) which annoyed me when I looked at it, but I found it quite enlightening in the end. I don’t know whether you dislike introductions; to me they are irritating as a rule, because they hold one from the real text and yet one doesn’t like to miss them. But in this edition of The Prince, what is more annoying is the addition of footnotes by Queen Christine, daughter of Gustavus Adolphus, who appears to have ended her days in Italy.”
Aunt Nellie, letter to Orwell (1933)
Only one letter to Orwell from his favourite aunt survives. It provides a tantalising glimpse into the diverse range of topics – literature, journals, money, sex roles, Paris, socialism, gas masks, pacifism, friends, Americans etc. – that interested aunt and nephew c. 1933. One cannot even begin to speculate what the lost record of their complete correspondence would reveal but it is increasingly obvious that Nellie Limouzin was a seminal influence on the young Eric Blair!
“Aunt Nellie” was the sister of Orwell’s mother, Ida Blair (1875-1943) and was known by many names during her lifetime. Official records show she was christened Ellen Kate Limouzin on the 21st December 1870 in Moulmein, Burma and was Helene Kate Limouzin-Adam at her death in Wandsworth, London, aged 79. Occasionally she was known as Hélène when living in Paris. Theatre programmes reveal that her stage name was Elaine Limouzin and least well-known of all, she wrote articles and letters in Esperanto under the pseudonym, E. K. L..
Mostly though, she was just “Nellie”.
Nellie was a feminist, suffragette, socialist, activist, prisoner, communist, writer, editor, teacher, actor, vaudevillian and Esperantist. She was an inveterate writer of letters to journal and newspaper editors on a vast range of topics. It has now be become evident, from my recent discovery of two books published by Oxford University Press, that she was also a literary scholar.
Oxford University Press
In 1916, Oxford University Press published new editions of two novels with “notes by E. Limouzin”: George Eliot‘s first novel, Scenes of Clerical Life, with an introduction by W. Warde Fowler (1847-1921); and, Elizabeth C. Gaskell‘s, Cranford, which included an introduction by Clement Shorter (1857-1926).
Warde was an ornithologist and historian with an established reputation as an expert on ancient Roman religion and festivals. He was a tutor at Lincoln College, Oxford. After the carnage wrought during the First World War he “declared his sympathy with the international outlook of Labour” (ODNB).
Shorter was a journalist interested in popularising literature with a talent for finding wealthy patrons. He founded The Sphere, an illustrated weekly in 1900 and The Tatler, a year later. He contributed a weekly “literary letter” in the former, on whatever he pleased, until he died (ODNB).
E. Limouzin contributed 35 pages of notes on Gaskell’s novel and 43 pages for Eliot’s, Scenes of Clerical Life. Evidence of her personality and interests are scattered throughout the notes (which are worthy of lengthy analysis after I have read both novels).
There are no other Oxford University Press publications that have contributions from her. How can we be certain this literary scholar was indeed Aunt Nellie?
92 Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square
A slim file on Cranford survives in the OUP Archive. It reveals that Miss E. Limouzin lived at 92 Charlotte Street in London and was most likely a freelance editor/annotator. Although this is quite convincing supporting evidence for identifying Orwell’s Aunt Nellie as having a previously unknown career as a literary scholar, the address is unfamiliar.
My previous research into Limouzin’s residences had been quite extensive as it was essential to discover when she had moved from London to Paris. Reviewing my notes revealed there was a gap for the years 1916-1918 although I had assumed she was at 195 Ladbroke Grove. Nellie had leased this apartment for every year from at least 1907 until April 1928. During this period she advertised for flatmates in suffragette newspapers and may have sublet, including when she moved to Paris c. 1925-26.
In 1916, 92 Charlotte St was a Y.W.C.A. hostel for female theatrical employees who were out of work or poorly paid. Limouzin may have been employed here in some capacity or possibly was down on her luck.
Limouzin had been listed on the 1901 census as an “actress” and the last evidence of her performing on the stage was in 1921 where she was reviewed as playing her part in At Mrs Beam’s “successfully”. During 1916, she appeared in All-of-a-Sudden-Peggy at The Lyceum in Ipswich.
The 1921 census has a lengthy list of unemployed, or just “badly paid” actresses, musicians and performers residing at the hostel. An advertisement from the same year confirms the address was a “theatrical hostel” in need of donations to support their clientele.
The hostel can be identified from many classified and other advertisements after 1911. For example, in 1914 a woman endeavours to to find employment as an assistantant to a “Conjurer and Illusionist”. She has her “own smart up-to-date wardrobe” and “perfect figure”. Her address is 92 Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square.
In 1919, five shillings per annum is the price of membership. One of the benefits, especially while on tour, luggage could be stored in a locked-up room. The “Committee” had the “right to veto” undesirable applications for membership.
It is interesting to note that prior to becoming a theatrical hostel in 1911, this address had been the ‘Home of the Guardian Angels’, an establishment for unmarried women, over 14 years of age, who were pregnant for the first time. They were able to stay here until about to give birth. The remaining lease at the address had been sold to generate cash flow for the home which was then re-located.
“One of these independently minded women, Aunt Nellie Limouzin, would have more influence on his literary and political development than any other member of his family, and perhaps more than the teachers he encountered at his various schools.” Gordon Bowker
The growing body of evidence that Nellie Limouzin was the most important intellectual, literary and political influence on the young Orwell is very convincing.
During the war years and in the period immediately after, Orwell had many theatrical and cultural experiences with his aunt. He visited the literary salon of sorts she hosted at her apartment in Notting Hill and was excited about her friendship with H.G. Wells, G.K. Chesterton, Edith Nesbit and Conrad Noel. Her political radicalism, feminist activism, flirtation with communism after the Russian Revolution and passion for Esperanto were all important formative experiences for Orwell.
These two novels, published in 1916, demonstrate Limouzin was also a literary scholar with sufficient talent to work for Oxford University Press on two of the most significant female novelists of the 19th century. Limouzin must have laboured over these notes during 1915-16, as the war in Europe worsened, while her nephew was working harder than ever in the “scholarship factory” that was St Cyprian’s.
Ironically, Orwell does not appear to have read Gaskell’s books (he certainly did not mention them and owned none) and was not at all enthusiastic about George Eliot, saying to Julian Symon’s in a letter (21 March, 1948):
“I read your article on George Eliot in the Windmill with interest, but I must say I’ve never been able to read G. E. herself. No doubt I’ll get round to it someday.”
Less than two years later, Orwell was dead. His library did contain three of Eliot’s books, including her first novel, Scenes of Clerical Life.
Bowker, Gordon, George Orwell, London: Abacus, 2004
Cockin, Katharine, Women and Theatre in the Age of Suffrage: The Pioneer Players, 1911-1925 ,London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2001
Crick, Bernard, George Orwell: A Life, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, second edition, 1992
Eliot, George, Scenes of Clerical Life, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1916
Gaskell, Elizabeth C., Cranford, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1916
London Gazette, 8 July, 1911
Matheson, P. E., and Myfanwy Lloyd, “Fowler, William Warde (1847–1921), historian and ornithologist”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004; Accessed 1 Sep. 2023. https://www-oxforddnb-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-33229.
Moore, Darcy, “Orwell’s Aunt Nellie”, George Orwell Studies (2020) Vol. 4, No.2 pp. 30-44
Orwell, George, A Kind of Compulsion: 1903–1936, The Complete Works of George Orwell – Volume 10, Secker & Warburg, 1998
The Evening Star and Daily Herald, 7 March, 1916
The Gentlewoman, 17 December, 1921
The Stage, 23 April, 1914
The Stage, 27 February, 1919
The Stage, 3 March 1921
Zilboorg, Caroline, “Shorter, Clement King (1857–1926), journalist and magazine editor”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004; Accessed 1 Sep. 2023. https://www-oxforddnb-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-36076.
Sincere thanks to Kathryn Le Gay Brereton for her willingness to undertake extra research on short notice and to Phil Baker for his generous assistance with sources at the British Library. I also appreciate Dr. Martin Maw’s help.