Ask Mamma; Plain or Ringlets

[ORWELL, George] / SURTEES, R. S.

I was really charmed to get these very rare books with their lovely illustrations.

[ORWELL, George] Ask Mamma; Plain or Ringlets

Bradbury, Agnew, and Co., 1892.

Two volumes, both subscribers' editions. Original publisher's cloth, decorated in black and gilt. Inscribed by Muggeridge on the front free endpaper of each volume, "To George & Sonia, on the occasion of their wedding, with love, Malcolm Muggeridge, Oct. 1949." Each volume housed in custom a red clamshell box, with morocco title labels, lettered gilt. Hand coloured illustrations by John Leech throughout both volumes. Both volumes in near fine condition indeed, with a little light wear.

Malcolm Muggeridge's wedding present to Orwell upon his deathbed marriage to Sonia Brownell.
Orwell married Sonia Brownell by special license in Room 65, University College Hospital on October 13th 1949. Despite Muggeridge's prediction that "it will probably be a rather macabre wedding", Anthony Powell reported that "in spite of the tragic circumstances of Orwell's failing condition, marriage immensely cheered him... in some respects he was in better form than I had ever known" (Infants Of The Spring).
All who saw him around this period noticed profound change in Orwell, whose health had been deteriorating rapidly through the late summer and autumn. Muggeridge thought him "remarkably cheerful" and Powell was able to observe elements of "the old Wodehousian side". Robert Kee remembered Orwell "in bed, but wholly participating and showing real attachment to Sonia".
However, "the improvement was short-lived. By mid-November he had relapsed, 'desperately ill' Janetta Kee recalled, propped up against the pillow with Sonia by his side". - D. J. Taylor (biography of Orwell). By Christmas Orwell had become weaker still, and after various palliative schemes had been exhausted, he died on January 21st 1950.
Muggeridge was probably Orwell's closest friend in the final years of his life. Whilst they had known one another in the thirties, their friendship seems to have begun in earnest immediately after the War and developed apace from then. He was, outside of family, Orwell's most frequent visitor in the last period of his life.
Muggeridge's wedding present is the only one recorded in the accounts of the deathbed marriage. He recorded the purchase in his diary: "Bought two volumes of Surtees at Hatchards as a wedding present for George. Very pleasant books with coloured prints, which I would like to have kept for myself." Orwell thanks him in a letter of October 1949:
"I am so sorry not to have written several days ago to thank you for your beautiful present, but you know how it is when one is in bed. I was really charmed to get these very rare books with their lovely illustrations."
Orwell had a love of the countryside and in an essay published in Inside The Whale, he refers to admiring "the boxing, racing, cock-fighting, badger-digging, poaching, rat-catching side of life, so wonderfully embalmed in Leech's illustrations to Surtees". One can imagine Orwell, while he still had the strength to handle books, enjoying the two volumes of Surtees, and the hand-coloured John Leech illustrations while sitting in his bed.
Any books owned by George Orwell are rare in commerce, and none hitherto offered have possessed such matchless poignancy.
Orwell's will allowed Sonia six months to choose which books she would like, after which his executor, Richard Rees, was to be the beneficiary. The majority of the books in Orwell's possession at the time of his death, some 350 volumes, were sold by Rees to UCL. Peter Davison's work suggests that Orwell owned some 389 at the time of his death, meaning that only the forty most meaningful books were retained by Sonia Orwell.

PROVENANCE: George Orwell (1903-1950), presentation inscription from Muggeridge; Sonia Orwell (1918-1980).

Stock ID: 41525


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