Celia Goodman

Sensitive presence in the literary worlds of Connolly, Koestler and Orwell

DJ Taylor
Wednesday November 6, 2002
The Guardian

Beyond her immediate family and friends, Celia Goodman, who has died at the age of 86, will be chiefly remembered for the small, but significant, part she played in mid 20th-century English literary life.

The sister-in-law of Arthur Koestler, through her twin Mamaine, she was also one of the young women to whom George Orwell - traumatised by the unexpected death of his first wife, Eileen - proposed marriage in the winter of 1945. Not wanting a romantic involvement, she declined. But she was impressed by Orwell's personality, and the resulting friendship lasted until the writer's death in 1950.

Little in Goodman's upbringing could have prepared her for the world of writers, musicians and artists she came to occupy. Born to parents who were offshoots of the aristocratic Paget clan, she and Mamaine were orphaned at the age of 12 by their father's death - their mother had died a week after their birth - after which they were brought up by a cousin in an exclusive world of English and French boarding schools. Presented at court, and a fixture of late 1930s Mayfair ballrooms, they made "glamorous appearances at concerts and Glyndebourne", as one friend put it, which passed into society legend.

Celia worked as a wartime nurse - there was an unsuccessful marriage to the Irish writer Patrick Kirwan - but the intellectual side of her character had already begun to declare itself. She was briefly employed on Cyril Connolly's 1940s monthly, Horizon, and was an edit- orial assistant on Humphrey Slater's shortlived Polemic, a highbrow quarterly designed by Ben Nicolson and featuring contributions from, among others, Orwell, JD Bernal and AJ Ayer.

Drawn into Orwell's orbit at a Welsh house party at Christmas 1945 - they met for the first time at Paddington station, where Orwell arrived with his 18-month-old adopted son, Richard - Celia was left in a quandary. Koestler, then living with Mamaine (they were married in 1950), strongly favoured his friend's suit, suggesting that Celia might "pep him up a bit" - exhausted by the war and his wife's death, Orwell was about to become seriously ill. In the end, however, Celia wrote an equivocal reply, and, shortly afterwards, when Polemic's backer withdrew his support, she moved to Paris to work on the tri-lingual magazine Occident.

Back in London in 1948, she became Robert Conquest's assistant at an innocuous-sounding Foreign Office subsidiary called the information research department (IRD). It had been established by the foreign secretary Ernest Bevin to support democratising influences across Europe by issuing pamphlets about communist infiltration.

Orwell's involvement in this scheme, and the dispatch from his sickbed of a list of alleged crypto-communists, has become notorious. However, both Orwell at the time and Celia, when selected details of the list were published in 1996, were concerned to downplay its significance; though quietly emphasising the need for such items, Orwell thought it "not very sensational".

This, after all, was the height of the cold war. And, indeed, many IRD contacts were later revealed to have had communist sympathies. Celia herself remembered seeking an opinion on something she had written about China from Guy Burgess.

In 1954, the year that Mamaine died of asthma, a condition which also afflicted Celia, she married her second husband, the diplomat Arthur Goodman. They had two children, but the marriage was cut short by his death in a shooting accident in 1964. Frances Partridge was not alone in wondering "what will this delicate and sensitive woman, with children to support, do without the husband on whom she seemed to lean for everything?"

In the event, after moving to Cambridge, Celia became part of a social circle that included Noel Annan, then provost of King's College, the Tory politician RA 'Rab' Butler, and their wives Gabrielle and Mollie. Her later work included an edition of Mamaine's letters, published in 1985.

Esteemed by friends for her "gallantry and goodness" (Frances Partridge, again), Celia remained tolerant of the countless researchers who arrived in pursuit of revelations about her famous friends, only discouraging them from climbing into the loft where the diaries of her cousin, the writer Inez Holden, another of Orwell's friends, were stowed.

"I don't suppose you got a great deal out of me," she wrote to one Orwell sleuth. In fact, he got a great deal, and not all of it about Orwell. In old age, as in her lively youth, Celia was a woman of spirit.

From her second marriage, she is survived by a son, a daughter, a stepson and a stepdaughter.

Celia Mary Goodman, literary socialite, born September 7 1916; died October 19 2002