TODAY is the feast day of Saint Febronia, 4th-century virgin and martyr. A purely fictitious person, say the hagiographers, she is supposed to have lived in a convent in Mesopotamia at the time of the persecution under Diocletian. She was stunningly beautiful but always veiled her face, even to meet other women. Febronia was 18 when she was taken from her convent to be tried. The prefect offered her freedom if she would agree to marry his nephew, Lysimachus. Naturally, she refused. She was tortured horribly, and then axed to death. But the prefect, dramatically overtaken by a fit of madness, banged his head against a marble pillar and fell down dead. Lysimachus was so filled with remorse that he converted to Christianity on the spot and gave Febronia's remains a magnificent funeral.
25 June 1903: George Orwell (above), novelist and prolific essayist, was born Eric Blair in Motihari, Bengal. Educated at Eton, he served (aged 19) in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma for five years, later recorded in his novel Burmese Days (1935). His first major work, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), set him on his life-long odyssey to define a peculiarly English socialism. After the Spanish civil war (in which he fought with the independent Marxists rather than the Communists) "I knew where I stood," he wrote in 1946. "Every line I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it." He died in 1950.