George Orwell was a man who could hold a grudge, and yet who also had a softness and kindness which, in a very English way, often found its outlet in affection for animals (he did like children too, including his adopted son, Richard). When he lived in deep rural Hertfordshire before the Second World War he kept not just the poodle Marx but the goats Kate and Mabel, whom his wife, Eileen, was often to be seen walking, while “smoking furiously”, on the common.
Mabel turned up as the literate Muriel in Animal Farm, but the real stars of that book were of course the pigs, creatures Orwell thought nearly as clever and nearly as duplicitous as humans. In a letter written on December 14th, 1948 “as from” Barnhill, Orwell’s retreat on the Scottish island of Jura, but posted from London, his sister and sometime housekeeper, Avril Blair, wrote:
we are all very fit & the farm progressing & expanding by leaps & bounds, the latest addition is a white shorthorn bull – a most docile animal – at present! Our pig was slaughtered last week & I was delighted to see the last of him as his appetite in the last few months has been more than colossal & I seemed to spend my life boiling potatoes & skimming milk for him. However he was a credit to the diet & although most of the carcase went to be baconed, we have been eating at him the whole week.
Orwell may have thought – or found it useful in his fiction to represent – pigs to be the slyest and most malevolent of animals, but it is good to know that in real life he did not hold a grudge. Or am I misinterpreting the data?