orwell hotel continental barcelona
Barcelona,  Culture,  Hotel Continental

Homage to Eileen O’Shaughnessy: Orwell’s ignored wife

Orwell couple is part of Hotel Continental history

George Orwell and his wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy are part of our history. They are illustrious guests of the Hotel Continental Barcelona. They arrived for the first time in December 1936, just when the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) began.

 hotel continental Orwell


Why Orwell couple choose Hotel Continental?

At that time, our hotel occupied the entire building of La Rambla 140 and probably Orwell chose us because we were in Las Ramblas corner with Plaza Catalunya, two places that he visited frequently and that excited him. This is explained in his book “Homage to Catalonia”, whose first edition was published in 1938.

During the war, the Continental Hotel was collectivized and converted into a seat of local government. Orwel’s first impression, as he relates in his work, was especially triumphant:

“The appearance of Barcelona was surprising and irresistible: it was the first time in my life that I was in a city where the working class was in charge, almost all the buildings were in the hands of the workers and covered with red or red and black flags; the walls had sickles, hammers and the initials of the revolutionary parties. […] Along the Ramblas, the wide artery of the center of the city where an endless river of people circulated, the loudspeakers thundered the revolutionary songs during all day long into the night. ”

orwell homage to catalonia hotel continental barcelona

“Homage to Catalonia” written from Hotel Continental Barcelona

It was precisely at the Continental Hotel where Orwell wrote much of this “Homage to Catalonia.” A personal story about his experience during the Spanish Civil War, written in first person. Orwell served as both a private and official in parts of Catalonia and Aragon from December 1936 to June 1937. In May 1937, the political party in which he was active, the POUM, an anti-Stalinist communist party, was declared illegal and he was found forced to flee or face imprisonment.

That’s how at dawn on June 23, 1937 Eileen and George left the Continental escaping from Barcelona.

Orwell received the visit of JF Kennedy and Indira Gandhi at the Continental Hotel

It is interesting to note that during their stay with us, the Orwell couple received the visit of two 21-year-old students who came to Barcelona to learn more about the political situation in Spain and Europe. Remember that some of the causes that led to the Second World War were already being woven. These were two people who, years later, would get the highest positions in politics in their respective countries: it is the daughter of Nerhu, Indira Gandhi, and the son of the US ambassador to England, John F. Kennedy, future president of the United States.

Homage to Orwell’s wife: Eileen O’Shaughnessy

In this post we want to pay homage to his wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy, whom history has invisibilized and whose role was paramount for the work and legacy of George Orwell.

“Now,” George told a friend the night he met Eileen O’Shaughnessy, “that’s the kind of girl I’d like to marry.” The previous year, Eileen had published a futuristic poem called “End of the century, 1984.” Later, George would name his best work, 1984, in homage to Eileen’s memory.

Eilleen Orwell Continental Barcelona Hotel

Eilleen’s first biography published by Sylvia Topp

“Eileen: The Making of Orwell” is the first biography of Eileen Orwell written by Sylvia Topp. A lover of Orwell who wanted to know the profile and life of the woman he had chosen. An untold story about the life of George Orwell’s first wife, a woman who shaped, supported and even saved his life.

The book is a living image of Bohemism “modernist prose”, poverty, political commitment and sexual freedom in the 30s and 40s, with an outburst of sadness. A moving story that offers a completely new perspective on Orwell himself.

Eileen was an extraordinary woman, whose nine-year marriage to Orwell went from a small town where they grew vegetables and cared for their own goats and chickens, to live together the dangers of the Spanish Civil War, to take care of George in Morocco after a serious attack of tuberculous bleeding, and narrowly escaping the destruction of his apartment in London in World War II. Together they adopted a baby when it became clear that they could not have their own child.

Both died at an early age, Eileen at 39 years of age during an operation and Orwell with 47 years of tuberculosis.

With no doubt, their union has been the site of one of the best works of English literature of the twentieth century.

Eilleen orwell hotel continental barcelona

More information and details?

If you want to know more information, we recommend you visit our blog:

“George Orwell at Hotel Continental Barcelona”
“George Orwell: Homenage to Catalonia and Hotel Continental”

And the interesting video presentation of “Eileen: The Making of Orwell” written by Sylvia Topp with unpublished images.

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